Here Comes the Sun: A Parent’s Perspective on Deny

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This week we welcome Regional Director of Admission for the Mid Atlantic, Kathleen Voss, to the blog. Welcome, Kathleen!

Rick Clark, I actively AVOIDED your previous two blogs about messages for parents of students applying to college.  This was very hard for me to do, as I am huge fan of your blog and a huge fan of you.  This morning, I grabbed a cup of coffee and, even with 200 applications sitting in my queue, braced myself and sat down to read all about the mistakes I have made.

You see, recently this whole “parent with a child in the college search” thing has become a real drag… and I want to send it and your blog to a place where the sun doesn’t shine!  I say this with the greatest admiration, respect, and love for you Rick, but on Friday my daughter received her first “deny” from a college.  Now I find myself in uncharted waters. The gate was closed on the gatekeeper’s kid…. and it stinks!

Becoming “That Parent”

As much as I hate to admit it, in that instant I became THAT parent.  I am 100% more disappointed than she is. Before you ask, of course I did not let her see my disappointment. I checked my emotions, took a breath, and said, “It’s their loss.”

While we both anticipated this result (my enrollment manager brain crunched the numbers weeks ago), I could not get it out of my head that this college was a great fit for her. The proximity to home was perfect. She could realistically start on day one as an Admission Office tour guide because she knows so much about the history of the institution.  We have a close relative who is recent graduate and has so much in common with my daughter. I LOVED THAT SCHOOL!

We are in the last lap of this search. DANG IT! Remember your PRONOUNS!!!!  My DAUGHTER is in the last lap of the college search process. SHE is waiting to hear from a few more schools. She seems to be dealing with everything well…. even the deny. She is calm and reasonable. After living with a college admission counselor for 18 years, she seems to have absorbed my trade craft.  She recognizes what she can and cannot control in the process. She feels confident that she put forth the best applications that she could. She spent time on her essays and only asked me to look over her final draft.  She has and continues to work hard in high school, though senioritis is starting to creep in. Sounds like a dream, right?

So why do I feel like I have been hit by a Mack truck?

I’ve had hundreds of conversations with students and parents about the reasons behind Tech’s admission decisions.  I have comforted, counseled, and moved on. I get it…  at least, I should get it. “It’s not you, it’s me.” Rick’s blogs make perfect, reasonable sense. This feels personal– but it’s not.

I hurt for my daughter and this first taste of rejection. And selfishly, it stings for me and my ego.  No, I am not planning to follow anyone into a parking lot to ask “why?” and I won’t be calling our Governor (he clearly has his hands full right now).

But there is value in seeing both sides of the same coin.

Another Challenging Year 

It has been an incredibly challenging year for our admission staff.  A fair number of us in the office have kids who are juniors and seniors in high school.  We all read applications from students who remind us of our own: a shared birthday or hobby, similar family dynamics, the same senior schedule, a common class that was especially difficult. When we open these files, we can’t help but think, “I sure hope the admission counselor at XYZ University is REALLY looking at all of my child’s amazing qualities.  I hope they aren’t too tired, and they really READ her essay, recommendations, and activities.”

While we face every year with professionalism and rapt attention, this year, we senior parents have been laser focused on ALL those holistic points, searching for answers, double checking our work, and willing our colleagues at other schools to do the same for our kids.

Add to this seeing so many young people being put through the absolute wringer during Covid.  I have read more essays about trauma, grief, depression, and anxiety in the past four months than I have in my entire 29-year career.  It has been heart breaking. The respect I have always had for my colleagues in school and college counseling offices across the nation has increased 1,000-fold. If we are seeing this volume of stress in applications, I can only imagine how it must impact their daily lives.  Then we add having to deny applicants during an already really challenging time.

But we do it. We must. We have over 50,000 applications. We will deny more than half of them. And by the way, that half is amazing, like my daughter, which makes it all the harder. Supply and demand. Mission driving admission. All valid and logical, but this year especially, it is a part of the job that just sucks.

It WILL Be Okay

If you know me, you know I am a positive person, and there is no way that I can write a blog that starts with me being insubordinate to my incredible boss and ends with me almost swearing. So, let me end on a high note: to the parents reading this, it will be okay.  Whether your child was denied at YOUR first-choice college, or THEIR first choice, it will be okay.  It has been a joyful, emotional, and eye-opening ride and I have newfound perspective and patience.

As the end of this amazing college search is in sight for my family, I’d like to recognize and give gratitude to the following.

West Virginia University, you were the first school to admit my daughter.  I can still see the excitement on her face when she opened that email. We sang “Country Roads” at the top of our lungs. I am so impressed by your communications. They are warm, welcoming, and positive!  You seem to intuitively know the questions that we have at any given time.

Providence College, you hosted a FANTASTIC open house. I know how much work went into that event and you did it with grace and style…. and SNACKS!  You made my daughter feel welcomed and comfortable from the start.

Barry at Pitt, in the middle of a record-breaking season, you took the time to reach out to me and answer my questions. I am grateful to you and can’t wait to sit on a panel together IN PERSON once again.

University of Rhode Island, thank you for recognizing my child’s talent and success.  I whole heartedly agree with your assessment of her!

Eli Clarke I am grateful to you for your wisdom, friendship, and support and for your amazing Tik Tok @mr.c_collegecounselor, which offered my daughter and so many others exceptional advice throughout the process.

WHS Counseling Staff, I don’t know how you do it. This has been such a wild and intense year for you. Somehow you have managed to balance crisis management, mask wars, and 1,000 other things you do in a day and still make yourselves available to help students with their college search questions. I SEE YOU!

Rick Clark, for your great insight, which, even in the throes of disappointment, is calming and rational and brings us back to earth.  Maybe we could just forget that I wanted to stick your blog in a sunless place?

Kathleen Voss has worked in college admission for over 25 years. She joined the Georgia Tech Office of Undergraduate Admission in 2013 as the Institute’s first Regional Director of Admission. Prior to Tech, Kathleen worked regionally for Manhattan College and as the Associate Director of Admission for Regis College in Massachusetts. She is a member of PCACAC and serves on the Admission Practices Committee. She enjoys spending time with her husband and two daughters and volunteering in her community.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

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Rising to the Occasion

Listen to “Episode 9: Rising to the Occasion – Kathleen Voss” on Spreaker.

This week we welcome Regional Director of Admission for the Mid-Atlantic, Kathleen Voss, to the blog. Welcome, Kathleen!

If you have ever been in a serious car accident, you are probably familiar with the feeling. The acrid smoke from the air bags fills your nostrils. You are disoriented, confused and probably hurt. It’s as though you have been hit in the chest with a baseball bat… if you can feel at all.

First, there is the impact which sounds like it is on top of you and miles away at the same time. Then peculiar silence followed by chaos. The sounds of people shouting, sirens screeching, my own cries to my children to answer me and to tell me that they are okay. I couldn’t get out of the car to check on them, in fact, I couldn’t move at all. I couldn’t catch my breath and the airbags blocked my exit.

In the noise and the confusion, I hear my daughter’s voice, clear and calm and sure, “It’s okay mom, we are okay. I am calling Dad. You are okay mom.” I am comforted. I relinquish the control that I have had for the past 16 years and hand it over to her. I trust her. She has risen to the occasion.

Relinquishing Control

I know, likening the college admission process to a car accident is extreme. It is not and should not be as dramatic and terrifying. Many of the blogs that you read here have spoken to the reasons why the process has gotten a bit out of hand.

I have worked with young people for more than 25 years, and while this process has absolutely become more stressful and challenging, once the dust settles and the decisions are made and accepted, the vast majority of students find peace in their decisions and success in the aftermath. I have heard from parents whose children were accepted to Tech, as well as those who were not, years later, and they regal me with stories of their son or daughter’s accomplishments.

They all wish that they could go back in time and tell the parent they were then to just relax, take a deep breath, and that somehow, “it will all work out.”

The college search process IS challenging and the added anxiety of what we must deal with now is certainly not helping. There will be disappointments and perhaps crying and shouting. As parents it’s natural for us to want to step in and help, to fix it, to make things better.

It is so much harder to back away and allow our children to rise to the occasion, or, heaven forbid, fail.

Prepare for… Failure

When I ask students at Georgia Tech what is the one piece of advice they would like to give prospective students, the common replies are; “Tell them to be prepared to fail.” “Tell them it’s okay to fail.” “Know who to reach out to when you fail.” No one likes failure but doing it for the first time, 500 miles from home, without any of the tools to deal with said failure, is just cruel.

As parents, we can teach our children how to react to failure. You can use your own experience or highlight that of another. There are hundreds of books about the value of failure and how to cope with failure and turn it to a positive.

It hasn’t been easy, watching my daughter navigate high school. It seems like her impending adulthood approached at lightning speed. There have been many battles of the will. And while my neighbors and parent friends at church and on the swim team have benefited from my decades old experience in college admission, my own child keeps me at arm’s length, preferring to brush off my advice and forge her own way.

I hear my father’s words echoing in my brain, “If you would only listen to what I am saying! Why must you always do the exact opposite of what I suggest?” It was years later, in my late twenties, that I apologized for not listening to what was his brilliant advice. I am sure my daughter will have the same epiphany, though I hope she recognizes my brilliance in less time than it took me.

Rising and Resilient

In the aftermath of that car accident, as I considered the reality of the dreadful possible outcomes, the list did not include my daughter’s GPA, ranking on the swim team, and advice about college preparedness.

Instead, we talked about how grateful we were. How blessed to be okay and together.

I am not perfect and absolutely know in the next few months we will need to focus. Junior year is no easy ride, whether at a distance or in a classroom. I have to accept I may or may not always be heard. Mistakes will be made. Classes will not come easy. There will be (gulp) failure.

I will try to remember the strong girl from the car accident, who took control, aided her sister, calmed her mother, called her father, and spoke to emergency workers with authority.

That girl is resilient. And that girl is going places, with or without my brilliant advice.

Kathleen Voss has worked in college admissions for over 25 years. She came to Georgia Tech in 2013 as the Institute’s first Regional Admission’s Director. Kathleen has worked with students and high schools in the mid-Atlantic since 2003.

College Admission: Same as it Ever Was?

This week we welcome Regional Director of Admission, Mid-Atlantic, Kathleen Voss to the blog!

In the college admission world, I am considered a dinosaur – which is a polite way of saying I am a fossil.  To put things into perspective, the summer after college, the president walked into my office and said, “We’re implementing a revolutionary new platform called EMAIL.”  When I started on this journey, way back in nineteen hundred and ninety-three, I was 5 years older than most of the high school students that I was working with!  

I remember talking to the kids and completely relating to them.  After those students enrolled, they became like my younger sisters and friends.  We had much in common, I listened to the same music they did, watched Days of Our Lives in the dining hall during the lunch hour, and understood their struggles with school work and social pressures.

These days, I tend to relate more to the parents, many of them graduates of the class of 1993. We commiserate about our kids and share our worries.  I am still musically savvy and can tell the difference between the Justins (Timberlake and Bieber) but I no longer have the time or brainpower for Days of Our Lives, and the memories of youthful struggles are fleeting.

Sometimes, while standing behind my table at a college fair (over 500 of them in my career!), I look around at all of those young faces, and I hear that Talking Heads song… “And you may ask yourself, how did I get here?”

While I am not sure where time has gone, here is what I DO know after 23 years of working with high school kids.

They Are Socially and Culturally Aware.
By the nature of their generation they have been developing skills since early childhood that have aided them in better understanding and “acknowledging the importance of harmonious social interaction.”  Today’s young people are more open to diversity than we were 20 years ago. I like that kids today have more sensitivity to people who are different, and more confidence in sharing those differences.  There is no doubt in my mind that young people are evolving by being exposed to all types of diversity.

They Work REALLY HARD!
According to Business Insider, kids today are taking 27.2 credits, compared to the 23.6 that high school kids took in 1990. At Georgia Tech, the average number of AP/IB courses our admitted students have taken is 10, and that’s on top of logging hours of service learning outside of the classroom. We see first-hand the volume and personal benefit of service learning. These hours, in addition to sports, work, and all of those other activities found in high school, make for very busy teenagers!

Often I am asked, “Should Johnny take AP Chemistry or stay in band?  His schedule won’t allow for both.”  My response is, “What does Johnny love?”  I tell my own children, “too much of anything isn’t good for you,” and that includes AP’s.  For many kids, they need the freedom that band, art or sports provide to help recharge their brains for those higher level courses.

They Face Pressures That Would Have Given Me Nightmares.
YouTube, Instagram, Snapchat.  Your entire life captured for the world to see! That Facebook meme that says something about being glad that there was no Facebook when you were in high school… it’s the truth!

Many of the young people I meet are burned out. They suffer from chronic stress.  While I do meet kids who thrive on the pressure, I have to be honest folks, if my parents were like some of the parents I’ve met out there, I would be stressed out too!  Asking about the college profile for your 1st grader because you want to make sure they are in the “right” classes, calling the admissions office to tattle about the disciplinary infractions of your child’s classmates, writing your daughter’s application essay because “I can just do it better,” berating guidance counselors when your child doesn’t get into the school that only accepts 5% of its applicants… where does it end?

One of my colleagues at an exclusive private school in the Washington DC area begins his college night presentation for parents with the following statement; “think about your alma mater…. over 50% of you would be denied admission if you applied there today… can you give your kid a break?”

They Are Going to Be Okay.
I have answered the same questions for 23 years: “What is your average GPA? SAT? ACT? How hard is it to get in? My friend said you don’t accept grades under a B, is that true? My counselor said that I don’t have enough safety schools on my list, what do you think? ”  I’ve seen some kids come in on fire and burn out in a semester… others needed a few months to acclimate and then take off. But in the end, most made the right college decision, especially if they were true to themselves.  In his book Where You Go Is Not Who You’ll Be, Frank Bruni does a great job explaining why it’s what the student does in college, not where they go, that determines success.

I’ve told parents and students at all of those college fairs and visits to high schools is that it IS going to be okay.  A year from now you will have landed, and if you stay true to yourself, it will be enough.

Finally, there really will come a time when all of this will be a blip on the radar. Your college journey will be a story that you tell your own kids when you, too, are a dinosaur.

“Same as it ever was… Same as it ever was…”

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