Application Tips for Activities and Leadership

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

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

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

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

What method are they using to evaluate? 

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

Who is reading?

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

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

…So What are they looking for?

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

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

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

What: The Nuts and Bolts (Part 2)

When: October 2017

Who: Mary Tipton Woolley,  Senior Associate Director of Admission

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

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

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

What: Subtle Leadership

When: October 2019

Who: Dr. Paul Kohn, VP for Enrollment Management

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

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

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

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

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

What: Which Activities Will Make Me Competitive?

When: April 2019

Who: Katie Mattli, Senior Assistant Director of Admission

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

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

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

And if you didn’t know- now you know.

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

What: Is it OK if I?

When: October 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

What does all of this mean for you? 

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

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

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

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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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Your Voice Matters

Listen to “Episode 14: Your Voice Matters – Rick Clark” on Spreaker.

If you have ever heard an admission counselor discuss college application essays, they will inevitably say, “We just want to hear your voice.” Having worked at a number of institutions, I can tell you this is absolutely true. While grammar and style matter, conversations in committee rooms center on what your essays tell us you care about and how you think and operate.

Admission interviews are similar. In fact, “interview” is really a misnomer. Admission reps, alumni, students, faculty, or other university representatives you meet with have a battery of questions to ask, but really they are hoping for a conversation. They are interested in the content of your responses, your tone, your ability to build on ideas, and the tenor of the overall exchange and dialogue.

In other words, when an admission dean tells you they “just want to hear your voice,” they are not only thinking about your application, but also who you will be as a future member of their campus community—and ultimately as a graduate and a global citizen.

Your voice matters in the college admission experience.  How and when will you use it?

Your Voice Matters

Your Voice MattersAs someone who works at the unique intersection between high school and higher education; as an educator charged with building and shaping a class and a community; as the father of two young children, I believe all schools and universities should foster discussion, expose you to new ideas, and surround you with people who think and approach life differently. These communities should serve as laboratories for the mixing and merging of perspectives and the facilitation of open, spirited dialogue. None of that happens without your full engagement and commitment—without your voice.

If you are about to begin your college career, go look at your acceptance letter from the school you plan to attend.

I hope it makes you feel proud. I hope you see it as a vote of confidence, an invitation, and a contract.

An offer of admission is our way of saying…

We trust you.

We believe in you.

We need you.

We are counting on you to show up and contribute. We want you to be challenged and to challenge us. We are offering you an opportunity to learn, transform, and improve. And we are also imploring you to teach, transform, and improve our campus community.

Your voice matters in college. How and when will you use it?

Your Voice Matters Now

These are fractured and tumultuous times. Our world is facing a global pandemic. Our nation is in a divisive and contentious election year. Our cities are experiencing protests and curfews.

Honestly, part of what gives me hope right now is you. On Sunday, my family went to a protest organized by the Beacon Hill Alliance for Human Rights. The first 10 speakers were either high school or college students from the Atlanta area. It further convinced me of what I already know from reading your college applications—your voice is powerful and crucial right now and as we move forward.

Whether you are returning to high school or beginning your college career, I want you to know your voice matters. Your voice can help bring about the change and healing our local communities, campuses, cities, and our country so desperately need.

After the recent killings of Aumaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd, there has been no shortage of articles, interviews, speeches, and social media posts suggesting precisely how and when you should use your voice. Ultimately, that decision rests with you.

My hope is you will choose to use it in your school and community to:

  • call out and speak against injustice, inequality, racism, and discrimination.
  • encourage.
  • lift the voice of friends, classmates, or other community members who are marginalized or excluded.
  • inspire.
  • acknowledge what you do not know and commit to listening and learning.
  • forgive.
  • speak truth to power, especially when the reality of an organization or an institution does not mirror its stated values, mission, or vision.
  • challenge.
  • question and protest systems/ status quo that work against progress and equity– and ultimately vote accordingly.
  • engage.
  • call out who is not in the room and work to bring them in as equal partners.
  • love.

I want to be clear. I do not always get this right– far, far from it. The Real Cost of Silence is a story I told several years ago as part of Georgia Tech’s Transformative Narratives project, which demonstrates that fact. But it taught me that my voice matters; transformation comes through experience (often through missteps and failure); our words will never be perfect, but silence in the face of injustice and overt prejudice is patently wrong; we cannot change the past, so we must commit to a different and better today and tomorrow; and perhaps most importantly, not being part of the solution means you are part of the problem.

Your voice matters each and every day. How and when will you use it?

Your Voice Matters, Now More Than Ever

I hope you take this summer to read, listen, watch, learn, reflect, and evaluate.

I hope you will ask yourself big questions about who you are, who you want to be, what you care about, and what you believe. Whether you are applying to college in the year ahead or beginning your college career, those questions are critical.

I hope you consider what you want your future and the future of our nation and world to look like.

Most of all I hope you will be reminded and confident in this—YOUR VOICE MATTERS.

How and when will you use it?

More Georgia Tech Voices 

President Ángel Cabrera’s Statement on George Floyd

A Commitment to Drive Change by Archie W. Ervin, Ph.D.

Dean of Computing, Charles Isbell

Dr. Rafael L. Bras, provost and executive vice president for Academic Affairs

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The Real Wonder Woman

As the parent of a 9- and 12- year- old, superheroes have surrounded me in recent years. I’m not talking about watching a few movies or picking up some random trivia or occasionally eating a Marvel- themed yogurt squeezie. I’m talking about intense action figure battles; regular discussions and speculation about individual characters; deep dives into specific qualities, relationships, powers, weapons, and personalities; and more than the occasional role-playing battle that spills out of the house and into the yard (maybe even once into the street, to the utter terror of an elderly neighbor who thought she’d met her end at the hands of three masked figures shooting arrows and screaming about the honor of Valhalla).

I have come to appreciate that while superheroes are pervasive in our culture on billboards, movie placards, and cereal boxes, real heroes have the same attributes, yet they walk among us.

Heroes come in a wide assortment of shapes and sizes.

Nancy BeaneMy hero is a 4’11” spit fire from East Tennessee named Nancy Beane. Nancy is retiring this year from The Westminster Schools in Atlanta after a 40+ year career as a teacher, mentor, leader, and counselor. Don’t let her stature deceive you. She has more wisdom, fight, savvy, and skill in her right pointer finger (one she uses often to emphasize a statement while holding her reading glasses) than the normal human possesses in their entire body.

Heroes know their imperfections and have found strength and perspective in humility.

Whether she is giving a speech, talking in the hallway between meetings, accepting an award, or discussing a topic over a meal, Nancy is always self-deprecating. She’s quick to point out what she does not know or who is more of an expert in a particular subject. However, I’ve come to realize you should always listen a little closer when she says, “Well, I probably don’t have a clue about this, but ….” Or “Now, I’m not sure I know exactly…” That’s when she drops real knowledge. It is kind of like Barry Allen speculating about speed. She knows. She doesn’t just have a clue—she has the entire case solved already.

Heroes use their strength and power to help others.

As far as I know, she does not have laser vision in those glasses or a Batmobile or superhuman strength. Instead, Nancy’s power is her access, privilege, and voice. She works at one of the most highly regarded private schools in the South. She has been the president of every organization I’m part of on the state, regional, and national level. Her husband, John, is a successful lawyer (and a hero in his own right). The people she meets and influences on a daily basis in her neighborhood, at local restaurants, and in her college counseling office run the city (cue Oliver Queen). It would be easy– I’m talking about Sunday morning strolling the beach easy—for her to just live in the status quo.

That’s not Nancy. She is a champion. She is an advocate– for her students, for younger professionals in the college admission and counseling profession, for women (especially as a proud Agnes Scott alumna), for colleagues who might otherwise be overlooked or undervalued, for anyone in whom she sees potential. She may have to pull a stool up to the lectern in order to reach the microphone, but once she has it, you can be assured she is going to use that opportunity to skillfully advance causes, give credit to others, encourage students, and skillfully incorporate wisdom, wit, and calls to action.

Heroes don’t look for credit.

Instead, their reward and satisfaction come from watching the people they serve have opportunities to grow and thrive. A few years ago, I watched Nancy plant a seed with a lawmaker in D.C. that ultimately became an education bill benefiting military veterans. Walking out I had no idea what we’d started, but she did. She always does. I think her comment was simply, “That ought to give him something to think about.”

I think a hero is any person really intent on making this a better place for all people.Because that’s what heroes do. They give us something to think about. They see in us what we cannot or do not see in ourselves. As I look back, it was Nancy who first encouraged me to get involved with leadership in professional organizations. “Rick, you should consider putting your name in the hat for SACAC Board.” Consider is Nancy speak for do it.  Four years later, she called again. “You need to really think about getting involved on the national level.” When Nancy calls, you answer.  Often her calls were about her students. “Now, let me tell you about this boy. He’s really something.” I’m guessing hundreds of admission deans around the country have heard Nancy say those exact words. Always advocating. Always talking about how great others are.

Heroes are in the right place at the right time.

Superheroes have an advantage. They can fly or use super speed or swing from buildings to the arrive on the scene. Real heroes just show up. They call. They text. They don’t miss the party or the funeral or the big day. One of Nancy’s greatest powers is being present. She is at the games, shows, meetings, graduations, and celebrations. She calls when she knows you are hurting. She always picks up her phone, or is crazy quick to call back. “Sorry. I was trying to find the darn thing…”  She always asks about family first. She is a hugger.

Heroes pay a severe price.

I am convinced this woman does not sleep. She has sacrificed countless days, weeks, and years serving students and colleagues. Showing up and being available sounds good in leadership books—it’s in there because it’s so difficult to live out. Over the years, Nancy’s advocacy for the under-served has at times drawn criticism from friends, colleagues, and others in power. Using her voice and speaking up has come at a relational cost. This is the price of doing the right thing, of being a champion. But heroes don’t shrink from the fight, and she has only become more invested and committed as her power has grown.

Heroes change the world.

Unlike superheroes, Nancy (to my knowledge) has not moved a literal mountain. But one by one she’s spoken into the lives of thousands of students, professionals, friends, neighbors, and colleagues. One day at a time. One relationship at a time.

In a life that is often challenging, in a time that is extremely unknown and uncertain, in a world that has plenty of darkness and difficulty, we need heroes like Nancy Beane. They inspire us. They challenge us to live more selflessly. They come alongside us, lift us up, and believe in us, even when we are having difficulty believing in ourselves. Heroes beget heroes.

Like all good superheroes, Nancy is known by many names and titles: Mrs. Beane, mom, president, teacher, and counselor to name a few. But those who have had the honor of spending time with her know her true identity: she is the real Wonder Woman!

Congratulations on a heroic career, Nancy. We love you!

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More and Less, Part 1

“You’re going to be out 14 nights in November?!”

Now. What I should have said was… nothing. But what I actually said was, “Yes. But I’ll definitely be home for Thanksgiving.”

Let me back up. My wife and I have a planning and calendar meeting each month. This exchange (well, that and her getting up and leaving the room) was how our October meeting ended. 

I knew I’d bitten off more than I could (or should) chew. In addition to Georgia Tech programs, I was also chairing the search for a new pastor at our church, and had committed to a few speaking engagements connected to the book I recently published.  

Being a keen observer of non-verbal cues, I made sure our November planning meeting went differently. First, it started with flowers and a deep apology. Second, I’m proud to say I made sure I did not board a plane or sleep in a hotel in December.  

The final week of the year was by far the best.  Georgia Tech was closed, and for the first time in my 16-year tenure, I did not try to “catch up” or “keep up” during that time. In fact, I took email off my phone and left my laptop at work. I encouraged my team to do the same. “It will all be here when we get back. Enjoy your break and your family!” 

After truly unplugging, here were my two biggest takeaways: 

  1. Balance within any single day is a myth. We will drive ourselves nuts attempting to squeeze everything we value into a 24- hour period. Whether you are in high school, college, or 20 years past both, we need to continually ask, “What do I value and why?” And just as importantly “Am I making appropriate time for these things? And what frequency is realistic?” 

Happy New YearOtherwise, we end up unnecessarily spinning our wheels, or feeling like a failure when something gets dropped. I’m hopeful in 2020 we’ll all give ourselves more grace and look at balance less in the context of a day, and more in the context of week or month. If you value spending time with friends, reading, or traveling and those things are not happening in a broad period of time, then you are out of balance. 

The beginning of the year is the time to reflect on this. Make time to actually write down what brings you joy and energy. What (or who) challenges you, helps you grow, and adds value to your life? How can you make time for these things and people? And what regularity is healthy and realistic? 

2. Priorities also adhere to Newton’s 3rd Law of Motion (For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction”).  If I am going to make room (or more room) for one thing, something else needs to be reduced or eliminated. While our culture incessantly tells us to keep adding things to our plate, that is fundamentally impossible.

We frequently hear the term “More or Less,” but the truth is we need to think about “More and Less.” As we head into 2020, here is my list:   

Top 3 Mores:

  1. More dates/trips with my wife.
  2. More nights/weekends totally unplugged.
  3. More reading physical (not Kindle) books.

Top 3 Less’: 

  1. Less checking email/social media on my phone (especially while walking).
  2. Less saying “Yes” without considering the implications/trade-offs.
  3. Less tabs open at the same time.

As I thought about the year ahead, I came up with the mores and lesses I hope to see in my college admission colleagues. Parts 2 and 3 of this series will include thoughts for school counselors, parents, and students, but this week I’m writing for those doing admission work in colleges around the country. 

To my admission colleagues…

Whether you are in year two or 20, I want to say a big thank you for the great and important work you do! If you (and your team) did not take the time to look back at 2019 and marvel at your accomplishments, make that a priority. Celebrate your wins! It’s easy to get caught up in the cycle and move from one goal to the next. Particularly in the cyclical world of college admission, we need to be intentional about pausing, reflecting, and appreciating how we’ve grown and what we achieved, rather than dwelling on all that could have gone better or the particular metrics we missed. The truth is even when we hit enrollment targets or meet net tuition revenue or increase or decrease what was asked of us, someone will have an issue with how it was done or some nuance buried within the macro. We must learn to focus on and be encouraged by our progress and opportunity, rather than bogged down and burned out chasing perfection.   

More Transparency

Let’s be honest. 2019 was a pretty low point in the world of college admission. Operation Varsity Blues brought our work into the spotlight and called the integrity of the process into question. Far from Hollywood the Antitrust Division of the Department of Justice cited our field’s largest professional organization, NACAC, for violation of Section 1 of the Sherman Antitrust Act due to the Association’s Code of Ethics and Professional Practices. Combined with escalating tuition, a growing narrative around the value of college, as well as more closures of colleges around the nation, public trust naturally eroded. 

As a result, there has never been a more critical time for admission representatives to be honest and open about how admission decisions are made, what we are looking for in students, and how our distinct institutional missions impact our timeline, process, and class goals. I hope admission and enrollment reps from schools with a broad reach and platform will commit to telling a bigger story about the landscape of higher education. It is incumbent upon the enrollment leaders at these colleges to model this approach and empower their teams to adopt a more inclusive mentality and philosophy. Image of fresh perspective

Specifically, I hope 2020 brings more variety and diversity in consortium travel, rather than traditionally narrow groupings. If you work at a school that only collaborates with others similar to you in size, selectivity, or athletic conference, I hope you will question if including a more diverse set of schools could help tell a more robust narrative about the options students have in our higher education ecosystem.  The Colleges That Change Lives Tour and the RACC events in California are great examples, as they convey a variety of campus cultures, missions, curricular focus, and selectivity. (Send more examples via Twitter to @clark2college and I’ll retweet and add those to the list.)

In addition to publishing a macro admit rate, I hope colleges will make more of an effort to display in presentations how these vary based on decision plan, e.g. ED, EA, Regular Decision, by residency (if public), or other influencing categories when possible. Currently, families have to dig too deep into the dark corners of our institutional research sites to procure this. Again, we build trust and raise transparency when we are willing to be forthcoming with data. Going forward highly selective schools should be banned from saying, “We are looking for reasons to admit applicants.” It sounds good on a panel, but if your admit rate is >25% this is semantics at best and patently false at worst. Be willing to articulate how supply and demand and institutional priorities, rather than fairness or purely quantifiable metrics dictate admission decisions.

I hope schools will be more specific about their college’s real costs and net price, and work to simplify and clarify financial aid letters. Too many families are unnecessarily confused and cannot make the best comparisons and financial choices because of the conflation of loans, scholarships, grants, and institutional aid. When astute professional accountants receiving these packages are bemused, something is broken. Additionally, I hope admission offices will collaborate either internally or externally to create videos, provide webinars, or host programs to help families in your community better understand scholarships, financial aid, debt repayment, and other terms.

Yes, this is more. A lot more. But if we truly want to enter 2020 and the new decade committed to being better- more equitable, more positioned as educators, more in line with fulfilling the mission of higher education as a public good, then this is not only necessary, but our fundamental responsibility. 

Less Isolation

College admission is tough work. Between weeks or months of recruitment travel, hundreds or thousands of applications to read, dozens of speeches and information sessions to give, and countless emails and phone calls to return—not to mention occasionally squeezing in some laundry and dishes, there is no wonder our profession sees high turnover, particularly around the three to five year mark. 

As you enter 2020, my hope is you will be committed to building a broad and diverse network and support system. It is easy, especially in the winter, to become myopic and mired in the cycle turning from review to yield, or immediately back to recruitment of the next class. Make an effort this month to find someone outside of your office to connect with. Perhaps that is a colleague on campus, an admission officer from another college in your town or city, or someone you met during your travels who you can commit to keeping in touch with professionally in the year ahead. 

I hope you will be proactive to initiate a monthly coffee or lunch, or a regular call to check in, catch up, and share celebrations or frustrations. What I’m describing is completely free. Don’t allow yourself to be limited by the perspective and opinions of people in your own office or institution. Do not wait around for someone to tap you or fund you to go to a conference or join a professional organization. We all need sounding boards, encouragement, and colleagues who understand our challenges.

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

What are your mores and lesses for 2020? Again, if you have not already done so, I highly encourage you to take some time this week to write them down and revisit them periodically in the year ahead.

Next week, Part 2: More and Less for school counselors. 

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