NEEDED- New College Admissions Map

Listen to “JUNIORS: Create a New College Admissions Map – Rick Clark” on Spreaker.

I have traveled extensively throughout the United States and overseas. At last count, 45 states, five continents, and 138 of Georgia’s 159 countiesBeyond that I have always loved looking at maps, studying American history, and can generally hold my own at Tuesday Night Trivia when geography questions come up.  

However, a few years ago I visited Minneapolis for the first time. I flew in late and woke up early to run through the city before the day got rolling. At the hotel’s front desk, I asked for a recommendation on a good route to get a sense of the area. “Oh. Of course. I’d recommend the ‘Bridge Run.’ It’s about six miles and crosses the river four times. I think you’ll love it.”  

I honestly pray the hotel did not have a camera on the front desk that morning to capture the next part of our exchange.  

“Oh, great. What river is it?”

Honestly, I thought she was going to rattle off some obscure name that I may have vaguely heard mentioned or seen once randomly on a map. 

She paused and I noticed her eyebrows raise slightly as she breathed in deeply.  And then, with a slight bit of pity in her voice, she said slowly… “The Mississippi.” 

Now I am pretty sure I held it together in the moment, but it was all I could do to bottle up the simultaneous combination of embarrassment and shock that ran through me.

“Perfect,” I stammered and headed quickly for the door.  

Arguably our nation’s most famous river, I’d crossed the Mississippi many times— even swam in it once–granted a few thousand miles south. How could I not realize this is the state where it starts?  

The run across the bridges at sunrise that day was breathtaking. By the third crossing I had transitioned from being flummoxed and embarrassed to laughing about it. I texted my wife (who lived there for five years) a picture from the middle of one of the bridges: “Mississippi River runs through Minneapolis…who knew?!” Five minutes later she replied, “Everyone but you, apparently.” Ouch. Insult to injury.  

I am guessing you can think of a similar situation or revelation–something you read, heard, or learned that changed your view, challenged your assumptions, or expanded your understanding of someone or something (If you can’t, start reading more and hanging around different people).  

In many ways, my experience in Minnesota is illustrative of the limited and misinformed perspective most people have on both college and college admission. They have some exposure but lack the full picture. They rely on personal experience and are so heavily influenced by social media or what they hear and observe in their small circle, that their view is understandably narrow–a condition, whether it be in politics, public health, or another issue in society, that inevitably leads to poor decision-making and unnecessary anxiety.  

Mind the Map

If you are a junior in high school, your job this spring is to work diligently to see a bigger, more accurate landscape of higher education, broaden your understanding of the amazing choices and options you have, and commit to navigating a unique path through your college admission experience 

Since traveling is limited right now in the pandemic, here are a few ways to get a sense of the landscape and ensure the “map” you are using is accurate: 

1- Determine Your Starting Point 

  • Write down the names of the first seven colleges or universities that pop into your head.  
  • Now circle the schools that are in your home state; the colleges that a parent, sibling, or other family member attended; the schools that are nationally known in your favorite sport; and any that rhyme with Stanvard. 

Are more than 50% circled?  If so, welcome to Minneapolis!  Hopefully, you see this as an opportunity to expand your horizons  

 2- Survey Your Surroundings– find out where some people you know (or know of) went to college. 

The CEO of your favorite national/international brand. 

Your principal/ school head. 

Your town/city’s mayor. 

Two or three of your neighbors or parents’ friends. 

Your favorite science or math teacher. 

Your favorite history, foreign language, or English teacher.  

Your favorite athletes. 

The owner of your favorite local business. 

Your favorite actor or musician.  

A state or federal legislator you respect.  

A famous person from your city or state. 

What did you learn? 

What surprised you? 

Is there a college or university on the list you had not heard of before? 

3- Drop a Pin

Patrick Winter, Associate Vice Chancellor of Academic Services and Enrollment at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln has a theory that if you were to throw a dart at a map of the United States, or enter coordinates into Google Earth and drop a pin online somewhere in this country, you would find a college within 100 miles where you could get in, meet a friend for life, engage with a professor who would support and encourage you, pick a major you would enjoy, and plug into a campus community where you could build a network and thrive during your undergraduate years and beyond. 

  • Give it a shot! (Just promise to be careful if you choose to blindfold yourself and throw darts.)  
  • After a selecting a random location, drop a pin on your house’s location, and draw that same circle within 100 miles.  

What are your options?  

What if we expanded that to your entire state?  

Any state that borders your state?  

Go online and search for the alumni magazine and student newspapers from some of those colleges you have discovered, or check out their social media accounts. These are great resources as you are researching, preparing to visit (virtually or in person), and ultimately before making a final college choice. In these publications, you will read countless success stories, relationships that started on campus, and interesting, caring faculty and staff who make that school an absolutely incredible environment to learn, grow, and explore. They’ll prove in both statistics and stories of students and graduates that the path to success and happiness goes through hundreds of campuses, rather than the ten or twenty most media cover ad nauseum. 

4- Black Out 

Give a parent or younger sibling a Sharpie and tell them to rip the cover off brochures that come to your house in the next month. Then ask them to use a Sharpie to black out the name of the college everywhere it appears.  

How does not knowing the name of a college change your perspective or opinions? 

How do the questions you ask change when you review colleges this way?  

5- Stay Grounded and Take Flight 

Watch and listen closely to the seniors this spring. You are going to see them deliberate over decisions that involve finances, distance from home, opinions of others, and a variety of other factors. Those who applied to a variety of schools in terms of selectivity and cost are going to have options. Ask the seniors you are close to what advice they would have based on their experience. And  pay attention to what they are saying this fall as they head off to school – and as you are applying to schools too. Notice how stories and perspectives change. Their “dream school” or “top choice” from last fall or this spring is often not the same one they end up attending and loving.   

Like college itself, the college admission experience is all about learning, expanding, researching, and being open to new ideas and possibilities. That takes paying attention, reflection, intention, and sometimes tension. Focus this spring on acknowledging what you don’t know and commit to listening, learning, and exploring. Enjoy the journey  

College Admission Word Association

Listen to “College Word Association – Rick Clark” on Spreaker.

“It’s 7:20! Why are you still asleep?!” I say flipping on the lights and opening the blinds.

“My alarm didn’t go off,” mumbled my daughter from under three sheets and four stuffed animals.

“What?! I can see your clock says, ‘snooze!’”

Stuffed Animals

“I didn’t do that…”

“Whatever! Now you aren’t just lying in bed. You’re just straight up lying. You’re sleeping outside tonight, and the sun can be your alarm. Get up!” (You know. The way you talk to a child.)

I’m not saying I am proud of the threat to sleep outside, but I thought the lying pun was pretty good.

Word Association 

You, on the other hand, are not 10. And unless you are a ridiculous multi-tasker, you are not asleep. You are a high school student thinking about college, so don’t hit snooze here. Instead, flip on the lights, open the blinds, and let’s play a quick word association game.

(Do not skip this or skim down the page.) Write down, voice record, or type out the first three to five words or phrases that come to mind when you read or hear the word “college.” 

1.

2.

3.

4.

5.

Now (again, no skimming, skipping, or snoozing), ask one or two people you know who are either in college or who have graduated from college to give you five words and write those down.

OK. I’m going to trust you to stop reading here and complete the assignment.  Come back when you have your answers and those from the folks you talked to.

—————————

And We are back…

What did you get?

Having asked this question around the country in various cities and school communities, particularly when parents are in the room, the responses are usually extremely hopeful, relational, open, and life-giving. I see a lot of smiles and hear answers centering around friends, fun, travel, sports, and learning. 

Ok. Now I want you to write down or think quickly about the first three to five words or phrases that come to mind when you read or hear the words “college admission.”

1-

2-

3-

4-

5-

How do your answers compare?

The students and families I’ve spoken with typically come up with words like tests, stress, tuition, pressure, and deadlines.

Boo!! Who popped the balloon?! What happened to the fun, friends, growth, learning, freedom, and opportunity of college itself? My challenge to you (especially if you are a junior or sophomore just really starting to think about college) is to keep your answers as closely connected as possible. Here is how.

Change One Word.   

Traditionally, when journalists and college reps talk about admission, they describe it as a process. I want to push back on that concept. Take a minute and search Google Images for the word “process.” (Yes. I seriously want you to take out your phone and do this.)

So, what did you find?

Probably a lot of flow charts, cogs grinding together, and mechanical, sterile, linear graphics. Notice that almost none of them include other people– unless there is some lonely dude in a lab coat closely examining some colored liquid in a test tube.

If you think of all of this as a process, you begin to believe there is a specific and right way to go about it. Your mindset becomes linear or binary or zero sum. Process tightens you up and restricts you to a narrow path that you feel like you must follow perfectly in order to avoid disaster.

Process dictates each piece must fit perfectly and flow precisely from one thing to the next. And then life happens. You make a B+ instead of an A in that history class sophomore year; you don’t get elected president of the French Club; you tear your ACL and can’t play soccer on the travel team; the research project gets canceled; or I don’t know, let’s pick something arbitrary… say a global pandemic.

If this is a process, then you absolutely should or should not “do this the way your older sister did.” Process is filled with don’ts. Process is a tightrope. Process means if you miss a certain ingredient the recipe is a bust. There is absolutely no room for risk, variance, or divergence.

Now take a minute to search Google Images for “experiences.”

The College Admission Experience

What do you find? And how does it compare to “process?”

These images are more open, fluid, and relational. In these pictures you find people looking out over high places considering their options. They have vision, variety, perspective, and freedom. The people in these pictures are not trying to control each and every moment. In fact, they seem to be excited about the unknown as opportunity to explore, learn, and discover. There is no forgone conclusion, precise end result, perfect formula, or exact combination.

Experiences images are filled with boats in the water or bikes on the trail. Experiences facilitate relationships, inspire dreams, and account for a breadth of decisions, routes, choices, results, and destinations. It sure sounds like we are back to where we started with the answers to association with college.

The truth is that done well the college experience and the college admission experience should be more similar than different. Whether you are a junior, sophomore, or a parent supporting a high school student considering college, my hope is that you take time regularly to pause and check in to see if your five words associated with college and college admission are aligned or divergent. If stress, tests, control, and pressure creep in too much, it is a good sign you need to recalibrate and regain perspective.

How to do that? Might I suggest sleeping outside!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

College Admission: Read, See, Discuss (…and Be Thankful)

Listen to “Episode 25: I Applied… Now What? (And More Questions From YOU!)- Rick Clark” on Spreaker.

In my 11 years (and all of the months of 2020) serving as director of admission at Georgia Tech, I’ve had three assistants. Their individual personalities vary widely, but they have all been incredibly talented and deeply committed to helping our entire team succeed.

In addition to the hundreds of other roles they play, one key part of the job description (not listed on the official HR site) is keeping me in the loop on what’s really happening with our staff.

What do they need and want? What is bothering them? What do they need to know? And in general, how can we make their day to day life better?

Over the years, feedback has ranged from family leave policies to microwaves and from office sharing challenges to invaluable suggestions. At some time or another, each of them has started that portion of our meeting with: “I don’t know how you’re going to feel about this…” Or “Don’t take this the wrong way, but…” That’s when I know something specific to me is coming.

A few years ago, my assistant gently (but very clearly) said that while our team really appreciates all of the articles and podcasts and other collateral I send them each week, it can also be overwhelming to get so many emails about varying issues and topics, especially during the busiest times of our cycle.

Noted and valid. So, we came up with the idea for a Friday Newsletter specifically for staff entitled “Progress and Service,” in honor of Tech’s motto. Broken down into four sections: READ, WATCH, LISTEN, BUZZ (something related to GT), this allows me to share timely higher education- related information without totally spamming their inboxes.


Since next week is Thanksgiving and we won’t be publishing a blog, here are a few of the real gems I’ve heard, read, and seen lately in a consolidated (and relatively concise) format:

SEEN: One of my best friend’s just moved back to Atlanta. It’s been such a gift, especially during Covid-19, to get consistent time together. One thing I appreciate about him, and something I’ve seen up close lately, is how quickly he will reach out to his friends and network when he needs a recommendation for an electrician or a place to buy good produce.

While those are mundane examples, this also translates to his work as well, and it is illustrative of his overall humility and desire to improve.

As you go through your college admission experience, I hope you will emulate this by continually asking: “Who do I know that can help me? Who knows more than me about x or y?”

Who can provide you honest feedback and help you edit (not re-write) your essay?

Who has been through interviews or interviews people regularly?

Who has experience in financial planning or explaining debt, loans, long term implications of return on investment?

Bottom line: USE YOUR NETWORK. If you are considering visiting, applying to, or ultimately attending a certain college and don’t reach out to an alum of  your high school, former teammate, or neighbor who is already there, you are missing a big opportunity.

People want to help you. Friends, family, current college students, want to use their experience and knowledge to see you succeed, find your best match, and ultimately be confident in your college admission experience.  It’s on you to reach out.

DISCUSSED: Todd Rinehart is the VP-Enrollment at the University of Denver and the President of NACAC. On a panel recently, he beautifully outlined a truth that most high school students forget when they think about college admission. You control most of this experience.

  • Of the thousands of schools in this country, you decide which ones you want to apply to. In other words, if you apply to seven colleges, you eliminated 99% of possible places. You select where you apply.

So, if you’re about to hit submit on an app (or you have recently), you should celebrate that decision. I hope you will literally say out loud when you hit submit, “Of all the colleges and universities in the nation, I’m choosing to apply to you.” Does that sound corny or cheesy (and more importantly why these midwestern foods associated with that concept)? Trust me. If your mentality when you apply is one of excitement about each college you apply to, then you are preparing yourself well for the rest of this experience.

  • Now, you do not control whether or not you are admitted, or the level of financial aid you receive. That part is out of your hands. Don’t sit around worrying about it. Don’t drive yourself nuts constantly hitting refresh on portals or emailing admission counselors asking them if decisions may be out earlier. Wait well.
  • You choose from your options. Ball is back in your court. If you listened to your counselor, did your research, and were honest with yourself about the set of schools you applied to, you are going to have choices.

People who have never been through the college admission experience often think the goal of this is to get into a certain place. Admission professionals, whether they are on the high school or university side, know the real truth- your goal is to have choice and options.

In the spring of your senior year, you will be able to sit down with the schools who have admitted you, look over your financial aid packages, revisit your goals, hopes, and dreams, listen to your parents insight, advice, and encouragement, and make a choice. That is what this is all about, friends. Don’t let some hack tell you otherwise.

  • At this point, you own and control 66% of this exchange. But I think this pandemic has taught us there is a fourth piece- also one you control. You decide how you show up at the place you ultimately pick. Bam- 75%! (With grade inflation in some schools that is an A.)

This fall has stretched and challenged us all, but I’ve been deeply encouraged by the resilience and spirit of the students I work with on a weekly basis on campus (so I wrote to them to say THANK YOU).

They regularly say, “You know. It’s not perfect, but I am so glad I’m here.” Or “I love being  with my friends and we are finding ways to have fun and enjoy our semester.” Even when the pandemic ends, you are going to find situations or elements of your college that are not perfect.  Your job is to arrive ready to embrace the new community you choose, build a new network, and take advantage of opportunities. That mentality and approach is all up to you.

READ: My friend and co-author Brennan Barnard wrote a great piece in Forbes recently. Per usual he tackles some of the most pressing and relevant conversations happening in college admission with balance, empathy, and (see #1) by leaning on the wisdom of experts. His piece covers the truth about: test score optional; high school quotas; the “magic formula” of getting in; gap year impact on the Class of 2021; how COVID-19 is impacting the college admission world. In some ways, it’s his version of “Progress and Service.” No wonder we get along.

BONUS- On a hike this week, my son asked, “Dad. You know how there is a yellow sun and an orange sun, and also a blue moon?”

Yeah…

“Well, is there a blue sun?”

Hmm…I’m not sure. Let’s look that up (turns out the answer is … kind of).

I get these kinds of questions from my kids constantly. Con-stant-ly. About former first ladies, minor powers of super-heroes, whether penguins are mammals, and the list goes on. But it’s great and I do my best when I don’t know the answer to look things up with them.

I’m imploring you not to lose that child-like curiosity and willingness to ask questions in your college admission experience. All of the points, Brennan makes in his article, you can ask individual colleges. What is on your mind? What do you want to know or ask? Do it. That’s why colleges employ admission counselors—to be available to you and help you get answers to your important, specific, and critical questions. Ask YOUR questions. Whether that is about majors or residence halls or admission policies or origins of mascots or vegan options in the dining hall. Part of being a good college student is being curious, being proactive, and constantly asking questions. Start now!

Happy Thanksgiving, friends. Thank you reading our blog and listening to our podcast. This year in particular I’m hopeful  you will pause, reflect, and embrace life’s simple moments and joys in the week ahead.

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

Better

At home I have a firm “one in = two out” policy—for every one item that enters the house, two others have to go. My kids don’t always appreciate this approach because it can come off as a bit abrupt, especially on birthdays. “Oh, that’s a pretty sweater, sweetheart. What are you getting rid of?” or “Oh man. Look at all these great presents. You are so lucky. While you fill a bin with old things you no longer use, I’ll get the truck and we can head to Goodwill.” Marie Condo sparks joy. I burn it to the ground.

Coronavirus quarantine (and perhaps a few threats from my wife) has made me realize I can’t be quite so draconian on a daily basis with things like clearing and cleaning up dishes, picking up idly strewn clothes, or hanging up towels or bags. Do I deny threatening to “take everything left downstairs at the end of the night and torch it all in the fire pit?” No. But, in general, I’ve taken a more progressive and repetitive approach.

In fact, for a solid week I just had one word written on our kitchen chalkboard: Better. I told them my challenge is to leave every room better than they found it. Three months into Covid cloistering, I have to say… they’re not doing terrible. I’m seeing progress. I’m seeing better.

Better – As an applicant

I have written about this before but I sincerely hope you will ask, “Why do I want to go to college?” as often as you ask, “Where do I want to go to college?” Write your answers down or record them on a phone or iPad. While you are working on your application (and definitely before you pay and hit submit), honestly assess whether or not that school truly aligns with your why.

Too often students are admitted and later say, “Yeah, but I can’t really see going there.” Or “I only applied to College X because (insert adult name here) told me to.” Worse, they actually choose to attend a college based on pressure or expectations of others, or because they are trying to fit an image.

This pandemic may have robbed you of many experiences and a sense of normalcy but it has also afforded you the rare opportunity to really reflect and be honest with yourself in a way most students unfortunately are not. If Covid-19 has taught us anything, it is that we should be genuinely excited about what we actually “get to do.”

Because of your hard work in high school; because of your family’s support and commitment to your education; because of coaches and teachers and other community members who have built into your life, you get to go to college. Better means having the courage, self-awareness, and confidence to honor that investment in how and where you apply.

Challenge: Before you “leave the room” and hit submit on an application, be sure that school aligns with your why. Better is knowing and embracing your goals, hopes, dreams, aspirations, and motivations. Better means every college you apply to is your first choice.

Better – As a family member and community member

Let’s be honest, no one knows what the next few months or year are going to look like. From daily news stories to your neighbor’s sidewalk musings, the level of uncertainty is absurdly high. Making it through 10 minutes of a conversation or a meeting without hearing at least one “if,” “we’ll see,” or “assuming that” is as likely as finding the toilet paper aisle fully stocked or people creating human pyramids in your local park. Between major macro concerns (unemployment, protests, and elections), as well as micro consternations (haircuts, pool restrictions, limited professional sports) people are stressed. Now is the time for better.

Whether they are saying it or not, your parents, siblings, friends, and neighbors are carrying more anxiety than normal. They are wrestling with their fears, doubts, and unsettled moments. In the weeks and months ahead, I hope you will bring better into your house, your relationships, your job, your clubs, teams, and your group of friends.

Challenge: Before you “leave the room” and head to bed each night make sure you’ve taken some time that day to send a text, make a call, give a hug, or offer up a virtual or a socially distanced high-five to someone in your life. Will this help you get into college? No. Will this help you be a much better friend and community member? Absolutely.

Tell your family “Thank you” and “I love you” every day. Don’t be fooled by the Coronavirus trance. You are not going to be at home forever. Hug your mama every day.

Better – As a high school student and future college student

In her recent Chronicle article, Sarah Brown describes the compacts and pledges students will be asked to sign on many campuses this fall in order to comply with health guidance and safety protocols. Many of the current college students and faculty she interviews are skeptical about their campus community upholding those agreements. In other words, they are expecting student conduct to make things worse rather than better.

My hope is you will run as hard as you can in the opposite direction. As you return to high school this year (in person or virtually), I hope you will constantly ask: How can I improve and contribute to this class, discussion, campus, community, and school? Who can I lift up? How can I invest my time and unique talents to improve the people and place around me?   

Challenge: Before you “leave the room” and graduate, be sure you have made someone or something in your high school irrefutably better. Students love to ask admission officers, “What are you looking for?” They expect to get a GPA average or a specific number of AP classes.

What are we looking for? We are looking for students who will be deeply missed when they graduate from high school. We are looking for students who are unmistakably and unabashedly committed to better.

Better

A few weeks ago, our family went to see the Space X shuttle launch. As we were leaving the beach, I sent my kids to throw away the remains of our lunch and snacks. While I was collecting our blanket and chairs, my wife tapped me on the back and nodded toward the trashcan. My daughter was picking up the garbage that someone else had left. Sand must have blown just then because my eyes legitimately started welling up.

Better is possible. Better is inspiring. Better is in you. Bring it into every room you enter this year, and you will be sure to leave it when you go.

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