College Admission: It Depends

Traditionally, the work and world of college admission is cyclical. The early fall is about recruiting- hosting students on campus, traveling to high schools, college fairs, and communities to spread the word about your school. While Covid-19 may have disrupted how that was done, the concept held: fall= spread the word and plant seeds for the future. 

Late fall and winter, at least for schools that have a holistic admission process, is about reading applications and making admission decisions. In many ways it requires the opposite skills and focus from the prior cycle- very inward focused and lots of time spent with colleagues vs. constituents.   

In the spring, we turn our attention back to recruitment- convincing seniors to “choose us” from their other options via on campus programs or virtual or regionally hosted “yield” programs, as well as starting to talk with juniors or sophomores about future application.  

And then there is the summer. While students are still visiting campus for tours, and there are orientations and documents arriving to ensure the new class is ready to enroll, this is the primary season for reflection.  

What did we do well?  

What do we need to improve, ditch, change for the year ahead? 

Reviewing My Predictions 

Right on cue last week, Sammy Rose-Sinclair, the “woman behind the curtain” of @GTAdmission social media handles and the engine behind our podcast, The College Admission Brief, asked if I thought I had gotten more of my admission/enrollment predictions right or wrong in my October 2020 blog “The Future of College Admission?”   

A valid and timely question to consider. And, like so many answers in college admission, the truth is “it depends.”  

Is a 3.9 GPA good? Well… it depends. Is that on a 4.0, 5.0, or 13.0 scale (yes, those are all out there). 

Should I take AP English or dual enroll for English 101? Well… it depends on where you are dual enrolling, where you might ultimately apply to college, how those schools accept credit, which one you think you’ll actually learn more from, and so on.   

The truth is you can basically answer any question with those two words and then just walk off stage- or exit the Zoom room, as it were. But I’m not going to do you like that. So, let’s take a look.  

 1- Application volume.  

I wrote: “Most colleges will see fewer, or the same, rather than more applications this year….”  

Well… it depends. Obviously, you have Colgate, UGA, several UCs, along with some nationally known and highly covered universities (known for their plant-based athletic league) saw significant application increases. In fact, so much digital real estate went to covering that handful of schools that many believe it to be the real narrative.  

However, community colleges, regional publics, less selective private schools, as well as large swaths of colleges in geographic regions across our country lost students this year, and were either flat or down in 2021-2022 interest.  

What does that mean for you as a future college applicant? 

Well, only you can answer that question, but here’s another one to consider: Do you care?  

Application Totals Through March 1 

Institution Type  One-Year Change in Applications 
Private, large, less selective  2.23% 
Private, large, more selective  20.66% 
Private, small, less selective  0.41% 
Private, small, more selective  14.11% 
Public, large, less selective  12.97% 
Public, large, more selective  15.53% 
Public, small, less selective  -2.13% 
Public, small, more selective  -0.64% 

In 2020, Colgate’s first year class was approximately 800. UGAs non-resident number was not far from that. Recently, too many people have cited those two schools to be me as signposts of the “craziness of the year.” But if you are more interested in watching Hamilton than living in Hamilton, NY, or you don’t look good in red and can’t bark anyway, do these two places matter to you?  

Let’s be honest- it’s normally “adults” fueling the frenzy of consternation. If you have one of those in your life quoting limited statistics or regularly breathing heavily about college admission because of the headlines, you may have to be the adult by providing perspective and level-setting. Last I checked there were less than 65,000 total undergraduates in the Ivy League, whereas there are over 100,000 studying in Texas A&M system schools; there are 450+ schools still accepting applications right now; and many of the colleges receiving more applications this year also admitted more students due to concerns around yield.  

Mixed bag.  

GRADE: B-ish.  

2- Fewer Apps/ Student, aka A Narrower Net

I wrote: “As much as we’re all fatigued by this pandemic, it is not over. The financial impact on families, businesses, and communities is yet to be fully felt. As a result, I foresee 2021 seniors casting a narrower net when applying to college resulting in a lower application: student ratio.”   

According to Common Application data, unique applicants who submitted at least one application increased 2% from 2019-20 (sounds like more support of being more right than wrong in Prediction #1), BUT “they have submitted 11 percent more applications than last year — primarily to colleges in the Southwest (up 22.73 percent and in the South (up 15.47 percent). The mid-Atlantic and New England schools saw single digit increases.” Whoops. 

Sure, I could tell you that the Common App, while significant, only represents 900 of our nation’s 4000 colleges and universities. I could tell you that, like in #1, this varied across sector and region of the nation. I could cite my comment from the fall, “Let me be clear. There are going to be exceptions to this. Ivy League and Ivy-like schools with multibillion-dollar endowments will likely not be affected as much, so please don’t email me in six months saying I predicted Princeton’s admit rate was going to double. But here again we’re reminded those places are outliers and anomalies, not the signposts, in American Higher Education.” But those would be excuses and half-truths. Yea, it depends. But if we have to get binary, this one is leaning more toward wrong than right.   

What does that mean for you as a future applicant? 

In four simple words—BUILD A BALANCED LIST!  If you remember nothing else from this blog (and I’m hoping you’ll primarily forget where I was wrong), it is this. If you apply to a set of schools that vary in their selectivity, geographic setting, and school type, you are going to have great offers- both in admission and financial aid. Your job as an applicant is the same as it is as a student: research, listen, ask good questions, seek perspective and stay broad/open-minded.   

The truth is that many amazing colleges, due to losses during the pandemic, as well as concerns about future enrollment (see Demographic Cliff/ International fragility) are looking for students just like you. In fact, check your email or mailbox regularly in the next few weeks and you’ll notice this as truth.  

Here is a question- do you think there is another high school in this country where you could go to make friends, get involved, and learn things? How about within your city or state? Would it be crazy to even say there are 5, 7, 11 other high schools out there where you could also graduate prepared for life beyond high school and generally happy? (Hint: the correct answer is Yes.) 

Well… then take that same mentality and go find colleges with varying admit rates and academic profiles. To be very specific: a few below 50% admit rate and a few above.  

GRADE: C (but not a grade inflated C, fyi.) 

3- Bigger waitlists = longer cycle. 

I wrote: “Selective colleges are going to hedge their bets on yield rates. This means they will likely put even more students on waitlists and start pulling students earlier in the cycle (in other words, expect to see more mid-April admits as healthy colleges see deposits roll come in)…Higher education is an ecosystem. As schools continue build their classes through waitlist offers in May and June, they will be pulling those students away from other colleges. This activity and domino effect will extend deep into the summer, just as it did in 2020. We anticipated a more extended cycle as a result of NACAC’s CEPP adjustments and Covid has served to further elongate that timeline.” 

All of that seems to be true and has played out on some level. Honestly, the seemingly low degree to which schools went to their waitlists this year surprised me. That either means yield was higher than anticipated, or they put out more admits in order to adjust for flat-ish yield (my guess in most cases).  

However, the number of students receiving waitlist offers, again according to school counselors (plus a few Reddit threads) did in fact play out to be “obnoxious” as predicted. We’ll see when Common Data Sets are released in the fall, but reports of more than a few schools waitlisting well over 10,000 students are prevalent. AND, the elongated cycle is also proving to be true. 

What does that mean for you as a future applicant?  

Waitlists are used by the school to ensure they hit their class goal. As an example, Georgia Tech initially offered 6,600 students. 3900 accepted a spot, and we’ve offered admission to 240 from our waitlist to this point. While our class seems to be very close to target at this point, we have not released our waitlist. Why? Because we continue to see students melting due to waitlist offers from other colleges, request gap years/gap semesters, and we are watching the international landscape to determine likelihood of visa issuance, particularly in Brazil and India.   

Covid is forcing schools to re-build the predictive model they use to judge yield and melt. This is going to take several years. If you choose to apply to several schools with admit rates below 30%, you should expect to receive at least one waitlist offer. That may sound a little wet blanket, but again college and college admission are all about understanding history, analyzing statistics, and coming to logical conclusions based on information. Just saying. 

GRADE: B+/ A- 

FINAL GRADE 

It depends is the story of college admission this year.  

Were apps/admit rates/yield up or down this year? It depends. 

Were my predictions more wrong than right? It depends. 

Should you continue to read this blog given the consistently mixed results? Well… I did include multiple caveats and disclaimers in that predictions blog, so it’s not like I won’t tell you when I am on shaky ground.  

But here is one thing I do know to be true. If you have read this entire blog, you are a talented, smart, diligent, and committed student. So I’m 100% confident in this prediction: BUILD A BALANCED LIST and you will have great choices and options. BUILD A BALANCED LIST and you won’t need to dig into every line of a Common Data Set or maniacally follow sub threads next year. BUILDING A BALANCED LIST means that every school you apply to is your top choice, rather than reserving that moniker for one place. 

Prediction: YOUR FUTURE GRADE=  A+  

What Will Your Sentence Be?

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 Unbroken Cycle of College Admission

This year it seems that the articles, news stories, and headlines surrounding college admission have focused almost exclusively on how significantly things have changed—the “dramatic increase” in applications (at a small set of schools); the disturbing decrease in undergraduate enrollment, particularly in our community college sector; gap year request; no campus visits or recruitment travel, “obnoxious waitlists,” and so on.

I admit to contributing to the chorus of just how unpredictable many elements of the field have been too, including FUBAR yield models, questions about issuance of travel visas, and the eroded “demographic cliff.”

H/T: UC-Davis

So while it is true that the inputs shifted this year, more people wore hats and pajamas to meetings, and the number of cats and kids in admission committee went up exponentially, the rhythm of the job did not change: the fall was still filled with recruitment programming; the winter with application review; and the spring with releasing decisions and convincing admitted students to confirm or deposit.

Ultimately, the actual work of college admission proved to be predictably cyclical, and the comments, questions, and interactions (as well as their timing) remained constant:

  1.  Student calls weeks after application deadline to see if he can submit late.
  2.  Parent disguises voice to receive portal password day before decision release.
  3.  Alumni friend of denied family writes to complain that the admission process is totally jacked up (PG version).

For those scoring at home: The pandemic shook things up but again did not bring in some of these:

  1. You must have made a mistake. This financial package is way too generous.
  2.  I wanted to come clean. I have been emailing you pretending to be my student all year.
  3.  Please audit your process and reconsider your decisions, because it seems you admitted too many kids from our high school.
  4. YES. I’m expecting you to admit her because of her father’s accomplishments.
  5. I wouldn’t call him a late bloomer- he was just lazy as a freshman.

Back to business…

And right on cue, earlier this month we started receiving emails and calls telling us about admitted or deposited students behaving badly.

These accusations come almost exclusively from one of two sources- current college students who “heard something” from their high school or “saw something” online and wanted to report it to the admission office; or from another student or parent in the high school. They almost never come directly from the student involved writing to admit to wrongdoing, a lapse in judgment, or a blatantly immoral/illegal/indecent act.

When we receive these, we pursue them. Normally, this starts by asking the student to provide their summary and perspective. Depending on the response, we will also reach out to the school counselor, principal, or other school official. Most colleges then involve their dean of students, office of student integrity, and when necessary their police department or legal team.

If all of this sounds uncomfortable, messy, and a long way from the earlier jokes about cats and pajamas, that’s totally understandable. Frankly, it’s uncomfortable to write about and the last 17 years of experience.

However, if you’re feeling all of those emotions because you are currently involved in something that you know falls short of the expectations of the college that admitted you, I am strongly encouraging you to be proactive and reach out to your admission counselor.

Owning your mistakes and initiating the review process is not fun, but it is absolutely the right thing to do. Tip: Don’t start with: “My friends made me…” “I didn’t want to but…” “I tried to tell them it was wrong…”

If you have something to report,  own it. Arrested at 2 a.m. for re-distributing neighbors’ leaves back across their yards after they’d lined and bagged them at the street? “Borrow” the car in the middle of the night by putting it in neutral and coasting out of the driveway with the lights off?

Hard to admit? Embarrassing and regrettable and serious for sure, but trust me- it is much, much better to be honest and proactive than to have an admission counselor receive information from another source and have to contact you to provide an explanation of circumstances.

A Note to Seniors

Your final semester is supposed to be fun. You have lots to celebrate and enjoy. But I am asking you to be mature and thoughtful enough to hit pause when you find yourself in certain situations or when a “great idea” gets proposed in these next few weeks or over the summer. Each year we see incredibly smart and talented kids do indescribably dumb stuff that has lasting implications or consequences. So before you get behind the wheel; before you go to (or throw) that party; before someone brings out another bottle; when “everyone” is going to jump off that bridge naked in the dark into water at an untested depth; when cramming 12 people into a hearse to go blow up the principal’s mailbox gets suggested as a senior prank; before you post pictures or gossip or antagonizing content on social media, I hope you will thoughtfully consider your beliefs, character, and goals. (If all of that sounds too specific to be made up, well…).

I implore you not to rationalize with phrases like “everyone else is” or “she told me to” or “someone said it was okay.” Have the vision to say no or walk away or stand up or defuse the situation by speaking calmly in frenetic moments.

I encourage you to read your offers of admission from colleges closely. They are promises of a future community. They are based on your academic potential but also upon their belief you have and will continue to enrich those around you.

My hope is you will look around you this week (and every week between now and the time you head to college). Be reminded of how much your friends, family, class and teammates love and respect you– not for what you do or don’t do (or will or won’t do) in a certain moment on a particular night– but for who you are.

Above all else, my hope is you will have the composure and confidence to lead yourself and others with the maturity and character that earned you offers of admission. Finish well.

BONUS: Other “never heards” receiving votes:

  • I hear it’s easier to get in from our school than the one down the road.
  • I understand that my child’s admission experience, and likely their actual college experience, will be almost complete different from mine.
  • I got your helpful & carefully worded email on my next steps, and I read the whole thing!
  •  I have objectively concluded that my child’s unfavorable decision is just a reflection of a competitive applicant pool and not a fundamental bias in your process perpetuated in an urban legend.

 

Predicting Yield in 2021: Everyone Shorts It 

Listen to “Predicting Yield in 2021 – Rick Clark” on Spreaker.

“$10 says he shorts it.” Just one of the countless quotable lines in the must watch classic, Oceans 11. 

After assembling the perfect crew, stealing a massive explosive device, falsifying identities, and recreating identical vaults, the heist of three Las Vegas casinos comes down to the ability of Yen (Shaobo Qin) to pull off a 10-foot backflip and land squarely on top of a cabinet inside a heavily protected vault that contains $160 million

As the other members of Danny Oceans’ team watch from their secure location, Frank (Bernie Mac), says, “$10 says he shorts it.” While several of the crew jumped in to not only take the bet but raise the stakes during the simulated heist in their workshop, when it comes down to the real thing, they quickly and nervously reply, “No bet.”  

If he misses, alarms will sound, guards will show up, and disaster is imminent. After all the planning, pouring over details, considering scenarios, deliberating, discussing, and ad nauseum scrutiny and analysis, success ultimately hinges on a single leap. Welcome to college admission in 2021! 

Right now, admission and enrollment leaders around the country are obsessing over the models they developed to predict student “yield” behavior. They are looking back at pre-pandemic information and weighing that against 2020, in addition to praying more, sleeping less, and stretching out to make the “leap.   

Will students be willing to travel as far from home given the uncertainty of fall course delivery being in person? 

Will international students be able to physically get to the U.S., whether as a result of visa issuance or travel restrictions? 

Will test optional admits yield differently than their historical model predicts? 

How will females from the northeast admitted to the sciences yield? 

Some of the colleges that have garnered headlines in recent months for shattering application records are perhaps the most disconcerted. They know that while Common App data indicates the number of applications submitted increased by 500,000+, unique applicants (students using the platform) only increased by 80,000. While that’s not nothing, it’s also important to note that 40 new schools began accepting the Common App this year, including several big public schools that historically receive tens of thousands of applications. Translation: the average number of applications students submitted is what really increased. So, while app counts may please the Board of Trustees in the winter, what really matters is the fall census.   

And that leads us to yield. What do the next few months hold on converting students? Obviously, the easy/classic admission answer is, “it depends.” Granted, that is true, but I’m not going to do you like that. At the risk of being wrong or even “right-ish, my prediction is everyone shorts it… just at different times and for different reasons.  

At the more selective colleges (especially that incredibly small number meeting 100% of need without loans): Yield will likely remain relatively consistent. However, since those are also colleges counting beds and heads to a very precise numberand they are also the ones who saw larger gap year requests, you should count on them intentionally coming in short of their class target and working their waitlist extensively.  

Applications up, raw number of admits flat or negligibly up, sizeable raw number added to the waitlist. When you have more money in your endowment than there is in the vault, the game is to slowly walk over and climb up, rather than risk flipping over (or out as the case may be)If that’s too much of a mixed metaphor it goes like this: more students waitlisted but likely a higher percentage of the class filled from it over a longer period of timei.e., activity beginning pre-May 1 and continuing deep into the summer.  

At colleges and universities (primarily national publics) announcing an increase in their class sizeIf you have applied to a school in this category, it will be interesting to watch how those increases factor into admit and yield rates.  

My prediction is these schools see flat or slightly higher in-state yield, and slightly lower non-resident/ international yield, due again to financial, health, and mobility impacts of the pandemic. I anticipate these schools will also build a bigger waitlist than last year, in case they misjudge the vault flip. 

Here’s how it looks at Tech: We received about 4,400 more applications than last year. However, we are also increasing our class size by 150. Last year’s yield was nearly 70% for in-state and closer to 30% for non-Georgia. So, our model calls for admitting nearly 1,000 more students through EA, RD, and waitlist. Ultimately, due to the 11% app increase, our admit rate would move +/- >1%. Told you—there  is nuance in the numbers. 

At less selective colleges (private and public): I expect many/most to miss their class goal by their deposit deadline, be that May 1 or June 1.  Since higher education is an ecosystem, the dominos will start to fall as selective schools go to their waitlists, which will create even more problems for colleges already “hearing alarm bells in the vault.” Last year undergraduate enrollment was down 4% with first-year enrollment down double-digits. Expect to see a big swath of higher ed again come in short of their enrollment goals this fall for both new and returning students.   

In rare cases: yield could increase unexpectedly, and in combination with more admits, they could end up like Yen in Ocean’s 11 sliding over the cabinet. However, higher anticipated summer melt should keep them off the vault floor, so I don’t foresee any/many stories like those out of Virginia Tech in 2019.  

Bottom line 

1- If you applied to a handful of selective colleges, don’t be surprised if you get waitlisted this year. If you are so angry that you want to write them off, don’t accept your spot on the waitlist. If you can put your ego aside and temper expectations (since hundreds, or possibly thousands of other kids are also on the waitlist), deposit elsewhere and sit tight. Don’t expect to come off the waitlist, and don’t expect much financial aid if you do. In some cases, you will be pleasantly surprised on one or both counts. But set your expectations based on fiscal reality and statistics.  

2- When you get accepted (or if you already have been) ask your questions. Colleges need students, now more than ever. Yield is what it’s all about and you are precious to the places that offered you a spot. Want to know about a deposit extension? Gap year policies? Financial aid reconsideration? Fall plans for course delivery? It’s all on the table, so ASK YOUR QUESTIONS! 

3–  I could add something else here for symmetry but that’s really all I’ve got. Hang in there. Be safe, wear a mask, take care of the folks around you, and as always, Hug your mama! 

 

Waiting Well in Uncertainty

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

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

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

Still waiting…

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

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

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

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

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

Getting excited about a new adventure is a good thing.

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

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

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

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

Here’s a bit of tough love for you:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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