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.

Navigating the Path to Graduate School

This week we welcome Dr. Shannon Dobranski, Director of Pre-Graduate and Pre-Professional Advising at Georgia Tech, to the blog. Welcome, Shannon!

Listen to “Episode 20: Navigating the Path to Grad School – Dr. Shannon Dobranski” on Spreaker.

“I want to go to medical school. Have I taken all the steps I need to?”

“What should I be doing right now to get into a competitive graduate program?”

“Will I fall behind if I study abroad?”

The most common questions I hear from college students is some version of “Am I on track?” One of my tasks as a Pre-Graduate and Pre-Professional Advisor is to reassure the students and alumni who seek my guidance that there really is no track.

Because the path to college is often forged collectively with friends and classmates pursuing similar outcomes at the same time, students assume the next step in their journey is also predictable. They might feel uneasy when they see a roommate or friend from home seemingly making faster progress or taking an unanticipated route to graduate or professional school.

But the truth is the journey to professions that require post-graduate education is not a march; it’s a voyage that requires time spent in exploration and self-discovery.

For some, that journey begins in high school and in the selection of an undergraduate university. High school seniors who anticipate graduate or professional school to pursue a career in healthcare, industry, or scholarship can ask questions of their professional mentors and, more importantly, of themselves to determine their possible way forward.

Health Professional School

You may be attracted to a career in medicine or another health field for many reasons. Perhaps you had a good experience (or a bad one!) with a physician when you were young, or maybe you observed a loved one who struggled with illness or injury. Medicine may be a family calling or a way to give back to your community. Perhaps you’ve dreamed of becoming a physician for so long that you’ve forgotten exactly what attracted you to the field. Now is a good time to get in touch with that motive and to practice putting those impulses to words.

Start a journal in which you capture your health-related activities, such as shadowing, volunteerism, research, or other extra-curricular service or leadership. In addition to keeping a record of these engagements, you should periodically reflect on how they are shaping you into a prospective health professional. Think about the following questions:

  • Why do I want to be a healthcare professional?
  • What steps have I taken already to prepare myself for that purpose?
  • What challenges have I encountered?
  • How have my ideas about my career changed?

Of course, not everything you do will be related directly to health, but that doesn’t mean that the things you are currently doing won’t inform the sort of healthcare professional you will become. Writing down your observations about your current activities and capturing your changing perspectives will show that you have chosen your career intentionally.

You also owe it to yourself to explore the career you have in mind by consulting experts. Talking to current health professionals or to pre-health advisors is a great way to learn more about a field and to test whether it might be a good fit. If you have family members or family friends in health careers, you can start with them and ask if they would introduce you to their colleagues for other perspectives.

If you don’t have the advantage of personal acquaintances in the profession, there are websites that can tell you about the career and how to prepare for it, such as the National Association of Advisors for the Health Professions and ExploreHealthCareers.org. Your college or university will likely have advising resources to help you as well, either in dedicated pre-health advisors or in more general career advising or academic advising offices. I also highly encourage you to ask about pre-health advising resources during your college information sessions and tours.

Graduate School

If you are considering a career in teaching or research, or if you want to fast-track your career in some specific professions, you might discover that specialized post-graduate training is in your future. College professors, research scientists, and highly specialized personnel in government and industry all benefit from advanced coursework, usually culminating in a master’s degree or a PhD.

To determine if graduate school is right for you, I again recommend practicing reflection. Get started with these important questions:

  • What subjects am I genuinely curious about?
  • Do I have unanswered questions when I’ve completed a course?
  • Do I enjoy seeking new or additional information to solve problems?
  • Am I able to clearly explain my discoveries to other people?

While your reflection responses will reveal your own inclinations, you should also check with people in your anticipated career to see how much university training is expected for starting positions and advancement. For many fields, graduate school is not necessary, and you could advance more quickly by starting work rather than pursuing a master’s degree. Professors, current professionals, or pre-graduate or career advisors are good resources for this information.

As you consider your college options, ask what opportunities they have for faculty mentoring. A strong undergraduate research program will allow you to explore your commitment to research and provide experiences that will make you a strong applicant when you eventually apply to graduate school.

Next Steps

Whether you are considering a career in health or one that requires graduate school, you will benefit from a regular practice of self-reflection and from the habit of consulting a network of informed mentors or advisors. Here are some other actions you can take, now and as you enter college, to prepare for your career:

Participate in student organizations, research, or service projects. You may have an opportunity to do this in high school, but it is particularly important once you start college. These organizations and opportunities will advance you on your journey toward a specific career. Others won’t directly relate to your chosen field but will develop competencies or perspectives that will be valuable to you now and in the future. Be sure to reflect on these experiences in your journal!

Be curious. The most satisfying careers allow you to engage in a field that energizes you, so be open-minded early in your college career in case you discover that a different major or a minor would be rewarding. (Be sure to ask the colleges you are applying to about their major changing policies.) Be proactive during your college search and in your first year on campus and talk to an exploratory advisor to discover opportunities that fit your interests, and speak with career advisors about how your field of study might translate to a career.

Read actively. Explore your interests by staying current in your field. In some disciplines, the most recent developments will be captured in news publications and other popular discourse. In many fields, you will want to begin exploring scholarly journals and conference proceedings to discover the latest innovations. As a high school student, notice where some of these professionals attended college. This may help you broaden your list of schools to consider. And please don’t be discouraged if these materials are challenging at first; you will soon speak the language of your field.

Cultivate faculty relationships and maintain existing relationships. Professors may seem intimidating in the classroom, but they enjoy talking about their field of study and their research. Visit them during office hours, and try to set a goal for meeting other members of your campus support team. Check in with academic and career advisors each semester if possible.

Thank you for taking the time to read this blog. Taking the time to do so is a great indication that you are well on your way to an exciting college and professional future.

Dr. Shannon Dobranski has been an educator at Georgia Tech since 1996. She is currently the Director of Pre-Graduate and Pre-Professional Advising, overseeing a team committed to students and alumni seeking careers in education or health, or pursuing graduate admission or prestigious fellowships. She believes that advising is relationship and that effective advising is critical for student success in higher education. 

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

Application Tips for Activities and Leadership

Listen to “Episode 16: Application Tips for Activities and Leadership – Rick Clark” on Spreaker.

Earlier this week, The Common Application sent out an email indicating 166,948 students have created an account to start the process of applying to college this year.

If you are a senior working on your application, you will find the first few sections go pretty fast, and you quickly arrive at the Activities section. On the surface, this is relatively self-explanatory and the directions provided are clear. In other words, completing it should not be hard or confusing.

However, it is always helpful to get some perspective “from the other side.” I believe that’s particularly true during Covid when many colleges will not be using test scores to make admission decisions and some of the activities you usually participate in have been canceled or modified over the last six months.

What method are they using to evaluate? 

Just like individual high school grading scales, the rubrics colleges use to evaluate this section are not uniform. So, if you are applying to five or seven schools, your application will likely be evaluated on a variety of scales. Same application, same activities, same applicant – different systems. While one college may use a scale of 1-5, another could be out of 10 or 100. Alphabetic evaluations, check marks, +/-, or perhaps even emojis and .gifs could be used. Some schools fold their evaluation of this section into an overall admission decision recommendation without even assigning points or a score.

Who is reading?

People– not robots or algorithms. I’m always amazed that students believe we’re just feeding their applications into some kind of a machine that calculates the number of words you’ve used or hours you’ve reported in this section. Nope. These are actual living humans with families and dogs. They have been living through this quarantine just like you. They understand that life looks really weird right now. They get that your drama production was canceled and the internship you had lined up fell through.

The way colleges will read your activities is not going to change this year. They always make assumptions and inferences-and those always (and I use that word intentionally) lean toward providing you the benefit of the doubt. I believe that will be particularly true this year because my prediction is colleges in general will see applications go down and admit rates go up. Translation: They want and need students who are going to contribute on their campus.

…So What are they looking for?

While the training of staff, the number of committee members, and the flow of an application between admission officers will vary from one college to the next, the fundamental questions they are asking as they review your activity section are the same:

  • What was this student involved with outside the classroom?
  • Is there evidence this student made an investment beyond that involvement?
  • What impact is evident through this student’s investment and involvement?
  • Is there evidence that this student’s involvement, investment, and impact influenced others?

In an effort to help you get inside the mind of the admission committee, and also to receive tangible and actionable tips, I dug through the archives of our blog to find helpful advice we’ve provided over the years.

What: The Nuts and Bolts (Part 2)

When: October 2017

Who: Mary Tipton Woolley,  Senior Associate Director of Admission

Why: Because Mary Tipton answers questions students and families always want to know, including how many files do we read a day and how many people are in the room where it happens. But she also provides sage wisdom in her recommendation to “front” your most significant activities by listing them first.

“Then put the remainder in descending order of importance to you. It could be descending order of time spent, or significance of impact – you know best what will work for you. We discussed the review of activities in our staff training, emphasizing the importance of looking at both pages of activities in our review, but we all confessed we’d missed significant activities because they were at the end of the list.”

You can also apply this concept to your essays and admission or scholarship interviews. Make your most important point quickly. “Hook” the admission officer intentionally by prioritizing what matters most to you.

What: Subtle Leadership

When: October 2019

Who: Dr. Paul Kohn, VP for Enrollment Management

Why: Because this blog, written before any of us could have come up with the word “Covid” in a game of Scrabble, demonstrates the continuity of college admission. The way Dr. Kohn articulates leadership and impact proves my point that admission committees’ review of community involvement has not changed due to Coronavirus (Thanks, boss.).

If we were counting hours invested or the number of words on each line of your application, then sure, you would likely have less to include or describe during this pandemic. But check out his instruction to think about the filter in which you consider your influence, and how that comes across in the Activities or Community Involvement section:

Truly examine your experiences and look for the times you inspired others, demonstrated good decisions, set an example of honesty and integrity, or showed commitment and passion for a goal. Look for moments in which you cooperated with others to achieve an outcome, or you displayed empathy for others.”

Importantly, the questions he enumerates are arguably even more helpful this year than when he originally wrote his blog:

  • Have you demonstrated and preached tolerance of divergent ideas and thoughts?
  • Have you helped a classmate accomplish a goal?
  • Have you helped members of your family through a difficult time?
  • When have you helped others know the path without literally ushering them down it?
  • Have you given a speech or written an op-ed piece about the benefits of voting or contributing to certain causes?

What: Which Activities Will Make Me Competitive?

When: April 2019

Who: Katie Mattli, Senior Assistant Director of Admission

Why: Because she keeps it simple. Aaron Burr may have rap sung/ sung rap/ the 10 Duel Commandments in Hamilton, but Katie rocks the Three Extra Curricular Tenants here (apologies in advance for my attempt to lyricize her wisdom).

Number 1 – If you love it, you naturally become more competitive. The challenge demands satisfaction. This is not a reaction. She’s unapologetically repetitive. Simplicity and consistency are her sedative. Don’t write this off as sappy, because it’s true, “’What activities make you happy?’ Do… more of those things!”

Number 2 – If you are interested, I’ll be more interested.  If you are sitting pat, applications fall flat. Don’t concern yourself with what we want to hear. Be sincere. “Nothing engages me more than a student who tells me, “I love XYZ!” See? “Trying to craft a summary of undertakings that you really don’t enjoy.” Oh, boy. No. Want the bottom line? Fine. Don’t let this cause you strife. “Applications have a life and an energy when a student is trying to use every available space to expound on a passion project.”

And if you didn’t know- now you know.

Number 3 – Activities that are difficult can still make you happy.  “I said this was not a softball answer and I meant it.” Hold on a minute. That’s right- “easy and happy are not the same thing.” That line should be on a cover. And that’s why we love her. Because she can cover the basics and make great suggestions. Read her full blog for more insight and guiding questions.

What: Is it OK if I?

When: October 2018

Who: Ashley Brookshire, Regional Director of Admission, West Coast

Why: Because what you do in high school, what you do in college, and what you do throughout life should not be about playing the game or trying to win the approval of others. That box checking, resume padding climb will end up with you looking down/out/over what, exactly?

As we’ve said before, your college admission experience is a foreshadowing of your overall college experience. Don’t miss the important lessons it can teach.

In this piece, Ashley helps you “reverse this idea” and “apply to the colleges that model YOUR interests and values, rather than molding yourself to fit a school.” Now that is a life lesson. You can apply that same thinking to relationships, jobs, and many others decisions. Ashley went to Tech. She worked as a student in our office, and began her career as an admission counselor with us.

She’s since gotten married, moved to California, and had a baby. Lots of changes in her life, but what has not changed is her ability to things down to their essence and help bring out the most salient and important point. In this case:

“Is it ok if I…? Yes. Yes, to however you finish the question, because it is, and will be, okay! You can and should invest your time and energy in the things that feel most beneficial for your personal development and growth, regardless of which college you end up attending.”

What does all of this mean for you? 

Ultimately, your job is to convince the admission committee that you will be missed once you graduate– whether that be by a coach, a club sponsor, a boss, your family, a non-profit in your community, or another group or organization.

I’m confident after reading these excerpts you will have no problem doing that. Enjoy the experience. Take some time after you’ve completed this section to marvel at what you have done—and equally as important what you will inevitably contribute on a college campus.

Bonus Listen: Want more on this topic? Here’s an excellent conversation from CollegeWise to check out.

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.

University Scholarships in the Time of Covid-19

Listen to “Episode 15: University Scholarships in the Time of Covid-19 – Chaffee Viets” on Spreaker.

This week Georgia Tech’s Director of Special Scholarships, Chaffee Viets, joins us on the blog. Welcome, Chaffee!

“What is going to happen with college application processes this year?” While much is still unknown and will continue to be, I know higher education professionals are working hard to answer that question every day. For my part, that work involves considering how applications for major scholarships at our university will be affected. Part of that work includes talking with scholarship program administrators nationwide to get an idea of best practices in a world affected by Covid-19.

There is a lot of uncertainty right now. I would like to draw upon some wisdom from one of my very favorite movies: Hoosiers. Despite the obvious 1980s-era sound editing, this story set in 1950s Indiana has a number of great lessons. One among them? Focus on the present in urgent situations rather than the future. Coach Dale tells his team – which is about to play in, but unlikely to win, their upcoming playoff game – they should not even ask about going to the next stage until they have won the game in front of them. What does that mean? I will come back to that.

Dates and Application Format

Even in a normal year, I advise students to double check the deadlines when applications for scholarships are due. Why? Every year some universities change the date when their applications are due. Date changes are likelier this year as institutions adapt to the effects of Covid-19. I conducted an informal survey with a few of my scholarship program administrator peers and slightly more than half of them said “yes” or “unsure” when asked if their timeline would change.

A few years ago, Georgia Tech moved its early action due date up by two weeks. Despite notifications going up on our main admission site and our scholarship program page, despite information sessions held across the state and in key parts of the U.S., we still had students, parents, and counselors who submitted materials late. Even though we gave a few days’ grace, there came a point when late was simply late, and we could not accept the applications.

The application format can also change, and I suspect that will be truer this year than in past years. Several schools consider you for all scholarships simply because you apply for admission, but many do not. Regardless, typically one or more applications for financial aid must also be submitted, including the FAFSA, CSS Profile, and institutional applications. For some colleges, early versus regular admission does not matter. At Georgia Tech, you must apply for early action admission to be considered for our most prestigious merit scholarships. We have other institutional scholarships which are available to students who apply via either plan (regular decision and early action).

There are still financial aid applications that must submitted as well. One of our sister institutions requires a separate application for their top scholarship and the due date, at least in past years, did not coincide with either early action or regular decision admissions dates. The take home message is, you must check in early fall for instructions on scholarship applications just like you would for admissions.

A few years back, I received in the mail – yes, on paper – a recommendation form along with a letter for the scholarship program I manage. The recommendation form and instructions were from a decade earlier. Yes, 10 years! Rather than checking the internet for current instructions on how to apply, the individual somehow had a paper form from years before they found and submitted. In 22 years of working with scholarship selection processes, it was one of the most baffling experiences I have had!

Take home point: Whatever schools most interest you … check the dates and procedures for applications. Never assume two schools will handle these processes the same exact way or identically from year to year.

Test Scores

Even before Covid-19, questions about the use of test scores for admission and scholarships were being asked. A strong test score may indicate high aptitude or ability. However, issues such as bias, testing anxiety, and test circumstances reveal high test scores don’t always correlate to educational success. Over the years I have seen scholars who had perfect or near perfect grade point averages in high school and college, but weaker test scores.

I do not bring this up to debate the issue. A quick Internet search will provide hundreds of articles on the subject. Rather, I bring it up because of the debate’s possible effect on you. Some schools have moved to test score optional (TSO) situations in which you can choose to report your scores or not. If you choose not to report them, you will be evaluated on all other data available, including your course selection and availability in conjunction with your grade point average (that is at least true for the academic part of a college or scholarship application).

Take home point: Because there is no national agreement on the issue of test scores, you must do the legwork to determine if a school requires test scores for admission or scholarship consideration and if the due dates have changed due to Covid-19 complications and available testing dates. Right now, many schools have still not decided on this. At least one of my scholarship peers says their university will not require test scores, but their scholarship program will. Nearly two-thirds of my scholarship peers surveyed will be test optional this fall.

Application Questions

It is common for scholarship (and admission) applications to change each year to avoid predictability and issues with candidate authenticity. Certainly, the old standby of “pick a topic of your choice” will be there in many cases, but you need to be prepared to answer a new question, or variant on an old one, for each scholarship application you submit.

I am no soothsayer, but I suspect some applications will include a question on either Covid-19 or race/police issues. Others will probably avoid those types of questions in favor of something more distinct. No matter what you find, it’s going to be important to show your unique voice or perspective. It will be very easy to fade into the background and repeat the same frustration, rage, sadness, trite solutions, etc. Being able to express your thoughts on those topics perhaps and of course others in an authentic and thoughtful way will be very important.

Take home point: Not only should your essays be strong, but also tailor them to each school or scholarship to which you apply. For example, if one question asks how you spent your time during Covid-19 quarantine, and another asks how you felt leadership handled Covid-19 related issues, only a rare essay could realistically answer both questions adequately. Be prepared to vary your responses.

Interview Formats

This may be the easiest element of scholarship evaluation to predict. Let me say up front that many scholarship applications do not require an interview. So, this section is only relevant for scholarships that use an interview as part of their evaluation process.

If the spring is any indicator, and I think it is, we will see more video interviews this year. For large processes that have regional or semifinal interviews, moving to video has not only become technologically easier due to available software, it will save money and time. Once upon a time, a phone call or video interview was thought of as a poor alternative to a handshake and face-to-face interview. Now, multiple people in various cities can conduct an interview by video that achieves nearly the same goals in getting to know you, all with social distancing and reduced cost. To that end, none of my scholarship peers surveyed said they would use entirely in-person interviews, though a few anticipate offering hybrid options. Most said they were unsure; only one said they would use video alone.

Campus interviews or visitation weekends may be a different story. Last year we held our Scholars Weekend the beginning of March. This included not just interviews but campus introduction activities, get-to-know-you panels, and a banquet for finalists. Within a week, almost all of our peer scholarship program weekends cancelled their on-campus events and moved to a video format. What will Fall 2020 and Spring 2021 bring in such cases? There’s no way to predict this, considering the level of variance among how national, state, county, city, and institutional leaders have handled Covid-19 in their regions.

Take home point: Be flexible. Adapt to the circumstances. Be prepared for video interviews but ready if they are on campus. If travelling to a campus puts your or a loved one’s health in jeopardy, ask for an exemption. If you participate virtually, pay attention. Do not grow weary. Scholarship weekends and campus visits are designed to show you the environment you will experience if you join that particular scholarship program or attend that school. Virtual replacements can never fully suffice, but if you tune out, you will be basing your college and scholarship decisions on the shiny bits alone, not the authentic package you are being offered and showcased.

Prepare to Have an Open Mind

Remember the Hoosiers story? I am not going to ruin the film and tell you if they won that game or not. What I will say is many questions which are vital right now regarding your admissions applications must be answered by various universities before the next round of questions can be addressed.

So, reduce your stress and anxiety and focus more on what universities and scholarship offices DO know right now, rather than what they will not know until later in the year. Covid-19 has thrown normal prediction models out the window.

You have already had to adapt to life in a Covid-19 world, and you may be tired of doing so. Sadly, the world isn’t going to stop moving simply because of that. Set your mind to be open to whatever application processes throw at you this year, and do your best to meet those challenges head on.

Remember, you’re not alone—everyone else is being thrown by all this too. That means everyone has adversities to overcome and that should help you feel a little better about your own chance at success.

Chaffee Viets has worked in higher education for more than 20 years. He joined Georgia Tech in 2011 where he oversees a team that selects the Institute’s top merit scholars and then develops them along the lines of scholarship, leadership, progress, and service. His experience with various prestigious scholarship programs at four universities drives his passion for selecting and mentoring student scholars.