Subtle Leadership

This week Georgia Tech’s Vice Provost for Enrollment Services, Dr. Paul Kohn, joins us on the blog. Welcome, Dr. Kohn!

Colleges want to enroll leaders: in how many ways are YOU a leader?

Traditionally, leadership is defined as both having a vision and the capacity to engage others in the pursuit of that vision. The persuasiveness of a person and the resonance of the idea or vision usually act like magnets, drawing others in a desired direction. Because leadership is contagious, colleges see leaders as contributors to the student body, campus culture, and the classroom, as well as potential contributors of ideas to make the world a better place. When an applicant combines leadership with a commitment to service, they may be considered a competitive candidate by the most selective institutions in higher education.Leadership is not about titles, positions, or flow charts; it is about one life influencing another.

Some institutions clearly state their commitment to leadership and service, while for others it is a more subtle characteristic of the student body. In either case, leadership is likely to be a component of the application review process and admission criteria at many schools.

While there is a limit to how high test scores and grade point averages can climb, there are limitless ways in which leadership and service can manifest. And these attributes can manifest in ways you hopefully find enjoyable, which can feel satisfying in the midst of enduring high stakes testing, or reaching for perfect grades.

If you are on the verge of submitting your college applications, you may be concerned with your leadership resume. Maybe you worry you didn’t do enough… or you wish you could have done more. If so, how can you convince the university of your dreams that you WILL do more in the future?

The Range of Leadership

The range of leadership opportunities for high school students can be limited. For many students, leadership experiences are usually found within student clubs, or religious or athletic activities. However, if your circumstances have kept you from becoming captain of the _____ team or president of the _____ club, there may still be a wide range of experiences for you to highlight as examples of your leadership experience or potential.

You may need to look deeply for examples of subtle leadership, and the extent to which those can be seen as precursors of leadership potential in the future. Have you really captured all your leadership experience, or is some of it less obvious? Is some of your leadership experience atypical and not often cast as “leadership?” For example, a subtle way in which you may have demonstrated your ability to lead is by giving a voice to those who may have otherwise not been heard. Has your writing or public speaking reflected a commitment to helping people in this way?

Here are some other questions to consider:

  • 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?

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.

Connecting Subtle Leadership to Your Application

I hope these examples will help you think differently about the experiences you’ve had through school, your work, your family, or your community. Using this lens, you may see a much larger number of examples demonstrating your leadership ability. In fact, there may be so many that you now need to sort out which are the worthiest to put forward in your college application. First, identify the ones which mean the most to you. Then, consider which ones hint at the ways you will get involved during your college years and possibly beyond.

Leadership is not a position or a title, it is action and example.If you’ve done your research about the colleges to which you are applying, you should have a sense of the campus culture. Where does your sense of that campus ethos intersect with the leadership experiences you have now uncovered?

For example, a student who did a notable science fair project about recycling might connect the dots to a campus-wide emphasis on sustainability. This student might describe the influence their project had on the behavior of their family or classmates and couple that to their intent to participate in the college’s campaign to reduce waste or become more energy efficient. If this student were planning to major in environmental studies, the intersection works even better at building the case that the applicant has shown leadership potential, has researched the college, is committed to the idea, and plans to devote time beyond the classroom to this interest.

Highlighting your past actions can show an admission staffer you are committed to improving the world, your school, your class, or your family. All of these should be evident in the ways you have spent your time and the ways you think about your future. Hopefully you’ve strived to set a good example for others to follow—and that is leadership.

Dr. Paul Kohn joined the Georgia Institute of Technology in August 2010, coming from the University of Arizona, where he was Dean of Admissions and Vice President for Enrollment Management. As Vice Provost for Enrollment Services, Dr. Kohn oversees Undergraduate Admission, Financial Aid, Scholarships, Registrar, and Strategy and Enrollment Planning. Dr. Kohn serves as Chair of the Student Information System (SIS) Governance Committee, served on the Strategic Technology Initiatives Committee and sits on the SIS-Planning Committee and Technology Governance Steering Committee. Dr. Kohn also serves as the Institute’s representative on the University System of Georgia’s Enrollment Management Administrative Committee.

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Advocacy is the New Application

This week we welcome Admission Counselor Mikala Bush to the blog. Welcome, Mikala!

School counselors and teachers, this blog’s for you!

Over the summer our staff prepared for the upcoming recruitment and application cycle. While we were certainly busy, we also had time to have fun, share ideas, and enjoy being together. We had a huge list of must-see movies and TV shows on our whiteboard to check off before summer ended. A few of my personal favorites include Ladybird (which should have won every Oscar!), Waiting for Superman, and Precious Knowledge (especially if you’re into educational documentaries), and most importantly the phenomenon known as O.I.T.N.B.

I’ve joined the millions of binge watchers who are currently hibernating with the newest season of Orange is the New Black, an Emmy-award winning show. In its sixth season, the theme is all about advocacy. The characters are advocating for themselves, for each other, and for better conditions while serving their time.Orange is the New Black

Are you in(mate)?

Advocacy, in most situations, is giving voice to those who do not have one or expanding/amplifying someone else’s story. In college admission, students certainly have the opportunity to advocate for themselves (in their essays and supplemental questions), but they also rely heavily on school counselors and teachers to do this for them through recommendations. In fact, I’d go so far as to say Advocacy is the New Application (see what I did there?).

Before starting in admission at Georgia Tech, I was a college adviser at an amazing public high school here in Atlanta. In that time, I often wondered how best to advocate for applicants.

As admission counselors, our advocacy looks a bit different but we still fight hard for your students. We highlight their self-awareness, passion, grit, perseverance, and we defend the setbacks that are out of their control. We ask where did this student start in the race and how have are they finishing? Each student is given full analysis with respect to their high school – be it the culture, policies, or the community that surrounds it.

Now that I’m on the inside (get it) I’m here to help you highlight important elements of a student’s story in your letters of recommendation.

What are you in for?

Letters of recommendation can be extremely helpful in the review process when they provide insight into a student’s story. Unfortunately, the majority of letters sound like this:

Johnny is a caring, charismatic, courageous student. He has a 4.0 GPA and a 34 on the ACT. He is involved in X, Y. AND Z activities. He would make a great addition to your campus.

While all of these characteristics may be true, admission readers have seen this information elsewhere in the application. A recommendation letter should highlight something new. If you are a teacher, highlighting a project that a student completed, how they interact with others in class, how they react to challenges, or the insightful questions that they bring to the discussion can really help tell a more complete story. Your voice is invaluable to us because it represents an on the ground angle that we simply do not hear anywhere else in the application.

If you are a counselor, ask yourself: How is this student different from others in the class, grade, school, etc.? How is this student perceived by peers and faculty? What might this student undersell or not see in themselves that I can highlight? Addressing these questions will ultimately lead to a better letter that shines a new, broader light.

Your past crimes don’t define you.

One of the subtle points students, and recommenders, forget is that we, as admission counselors, are human! We don’t expect perfection. When I worked as a school counselor, I once hosted a college visit in which I noticed there were more students in the session than had registered for the event. I then realized five students skipped class to meet with this particular college. I made a stern announcement about visit protocol and how to participate with the approval of teachers. Of the five, only one came up to me after and said “Ms. Bush, I was one of those students who did not get permission to come today. I am sorry and promise it will never happen again.”

This student showed courage to admit her mistake, apologized, and corrected it rather than slipping off quietly like her peers. The situation spoke to her character, which I was happy to later write about and advocate for in her recommendation letters.

Give yourself permission to write about students as humans – beautiful, flawed, and improving over time. I realize vulnerability and imperfection may seem contradictory to a process that is supposed to be about putting the best foot forward, but providing somewhat sensitive, yet unquestionably authentic information in your recommendation letters allows you to highlight growth and potential—and to both celebrate the student’s past and advocate for their future!

Are you a supporting witness?

Teachers, before you agree to be a recommender, help them answer these questions: Does this person know me well? Can they speak to my personality and character inside, and ideally also outside, the classroom? Have I spent quality time with them? Will they be an enthusiastic advocate? Remind them that often the teacher who can write with the most clarity and excitement is not necessarily the person in the academic area they plan to pursue in college.  That’s right–sometimes the best recommendation for a future physics major is the drama teacher!

My One Free Call…

Finally, I want to take a moment to say, as a former school counselor, to simply say, “THANK YOU!” Thank you for service to students. Thank you for your time, concern, and sacrifices. Thank you for writing and counseling these kids. Thank you for your advocacy!

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The Power in the Process

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

One of the first places I visited after my move to Atlanta was the Atlanta Botanical Garden. It’s now become part of my standard rotation of weekend activities. The grounds are expansive and you instantly forget you’re in the middle of metro Atlanta. Some weekends I sit and reflect while I enjoy the calm, other times I enjoy two-hour “forgot to hit the gym this week” walks around the area. Variety is the spice of life, right?

The gardens recently debuted their exhibit for this year: Imaginary Worlds. A Pegasus, a phoenix, a peacock, and about a dozen more giant creatures made of plants are dotted around the park. And all of them are incredible. The sculptures are examples of the art of Mosaiculture (think half mosaic, half horticulture). I may be biased, but I highly recommend a visit if you’re in the area before the exhibit ends in late October.

I visited the new exhibit as soon as it opened, and surprisingly one of the most impactful parts of my experience was a stop in an unassuming little hall in the middle of the gardens. The room was nearly bare, with the exception of four posters that storyboarded the logistical and creative processes behind the mosaiculture exhibit. I learned that many months of work go into the creation of these sculptures, starting in Montreal with the design, then the framework, then the plantings. Only then are the sculptures finally revealed for display to guests in the gardens.

This process—the length, the planning, and the final reveal—are strikingly similar to what college applicants go through year after year. In August we will open up our first-year application to a whole new class of students. However, the application is really one of the last steps in the process. By the time you start your application, most of the hard work is already behind you. Your long-term efforts ultimately make you successful. You’ve done the exploration, the preparation, and the polish-all that’s left is to showcase your work. Here are a few tips for how to make the most of each year of high school.

Draft your design

Sketches for the mosaiculture pieces started taking shape about six months before the installation of the exhibit. The design process is challenging, exciting, and lays the groundwork for everything to come. My favorite note from the posters was the mermaid sculpture was originally going to be sitting off to the side of a fountain, hanging out on a wall. That idea was scrapped, and the mermaid was redesigned for where she sits today–in the middle of the water, proudly atop the fountain. You can’t always get it right the first time, and that’s okay. Turns out, mermaids love being in the water!

Your freshman year: what do you want to create? Challenge yourself, explore your interests, and start over if you need to! Let yourself be vulnerable and sign up for a class or activity that falls outside that trusty comfort zone. You might discover something that reshapes your long-term pursuits. Maybe you try out for theatre after your English teacher comments that you have a flair for the dramatic. (No? Just me?) Take this time to be authentic and consider what you want to explore—then create a blueprint for your next few years. Don’t worry if you need to start over or change directions. Growth in design is a lifelong process, and there is value in the lessons along the way.

Build your foundation

Underneath the flowery façade of the sculptures is a carefully crafted foundation. Each structure is made of a variety of materials such as internal irrigation systems, steel, soil and mesh. All of these work together to eventually house the plantings.  I dare say this is the most substantial part of the process–after all, what good is a strong design without strong bones to support it?

Your sophomore and junior year: You’ve laid the groundwork, now it’s time to build. Lean into a passion you’ve identified. Explore a leadership role that allows you to have impact, take a deep dive, and contribute to your community. Like the sculptures, the strongest foundations are constructed with a variety of materials. Maybe you develop your skill set with independent projects, build teamwork and solid personal relationships in an organization of your peers, or structure your time with a job, internship, or research. Applying yourself in several settings will present plenty of opportunity to discover your own strengths.

Plant your flowers

The design is laid out, the structure is built, but it does not look like much until the plants are actually in place. The frames were shipped to Atlanta from Montréal in January, and at that point, more than 200,000 flowers were tucked into soil-filled mesh. In the days leading up to the exhibit the sculptures were transported to the gardens (often they’re transported in pieces, which is wise, as I can’t imagine a 21-foot dragon would do so well in Atlanta traffic) and prepared for display.

Senior Year: You’re nearing the finish line, but you have a serious task ahead of you: it’s time to let years of work take the shape of an application. Add color here, dimension there, and always include your personality. Does your application show off who you are and what you value? Maybe you’re the Pegasus, the peacock, or the giant Rip Van Winkle caught taking a snooze under the tree (I can relate). You have a voice with a story to tell, one of growth and exploration and personal investment. How will you paint that picture—better yet, how will you plant those flowers?

Bonus: Just add water

There is a caravan of three camel statues off to the side of the garden lawn, and as I walked by, a staff member was hosing them down. No, the irony wasn’t lost on me—Atlanta is hot in the summer and even camels need a little H2O. Staff will continue to monitor and tinker away throughout the summer to keep the topiary art in tip-top shape. The exhibit may have already started, but there’s plenty of work to be done to keep the camels and their creature friends looking good for months to come.

After you hit send: You’ve spent years crafting a high school experience that brought you personal growth, and that journey doesn’t end when you close the internet browser on your college applications. It doesn’t end when you get those college decisions back, either. There’s no senior slump, no post-application apathy, (that could make a great band name, dibs!) you’re just getting started! This story you’ve built isn’t just a tool to land that college acceptance–it’s a foundation to build on throughout your academic career, your personal life, and the great big beyond. So take care of your hard work, and keep building away.

Sammy Rose-Sinclair has worked in college admission for four years. A newly-minted southerner, she moved to Atlanta and joined Georgia Tech two years ago as a senior admission counselor on the first-year admission team. She now uses her millennial-ness and love of working with students, families, and counselors to interact with the GT Admission community through our social media channels. If you’ve gotten this far, send her questions about admission or Netflix recommendations on twitter or Instagram- @gtadmission.

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Indivisible

Where is your other sock? How is it possible to only have one?” I said incredulously to my 7-year-old. “I’m going to start waking you up at 5 a.m.” It was 7:45 a.m. Her backpack was half-zipped, she was not wearing a jacket in 40-degree weather, and the snack I packed for her expedition to the zoo was sitting on the counter as she approached the door. Other thoughts also flew through my head, such as “you have one job; I hope you’re wearing underwear; only 11 more years; I’ll brush her hair and teeth tomorrow.” What can I say? This is next level parenting.

Like watching a movie on fast forward we drove, parked, ran across the park and into the school (embarrassingly, I was 20 yards ahead as if it’s my name on the roll). We get to the classroom at 8:00:45 a.m. and the announcements are rolling. My daughter was nervous to go in at this point, so we crossed the threshold of the door as the Pledge of Allegiance started.

A few other things also happened to me this week. I won’t get into the details on workout classes or meetings or books or movies or trips—you’ve heard about those things before. But this week two things in particular stand out:

  • A staff member announced she’s leaving our team. Granted, this has happened before. In my time at Georgia Tech, I’d put the number of colleagues who have left around 60, but some hurt worse than others. Jade is a Tech alumna. She started working for us right after graduation and over the last four years she’s been absolutely incredible with everything we’ve asked her to handle (and that’s been a lot). She’s a spitfire. I’ve walked into my office to find her sitting there eating lunch asking me, “Can I help you?” Funny, smart, caring—she’s beautiful in every way. I love her. Even though she’s staying in Atlanta, it won’t be the same not seeing her every day and I am going to deeply miss her smile, wit, perspective, and infectious personality. 
  • We’ve been making lots of admission decisions. This Saturday, March 10, we will release approximately 21,000 admission decisions. Over the last few months, and particularly the last few weeks, our staff has spent a lot of time together. In our process applications are reviewed by two team members before moving into Committee. At this stage, groups of three or pairs are going back over applications with various recommended decisions to re-examine individual decisions and ensure we meet our class goals. Admitting one of every four applicants is tough. Thousands of incredible students with great stories who we simply cannot admit. Fun? No, it’s not. Every day we have debates and disagreements in our office about a student, a school, a state, a major, our process, our communication and recruitment strategy, if only local honey has allergy countering effects, or if the correct spelling is “grey” or “gray.”

IndivisibleBack at my daughter’s school, I put my hand over my heart to join in the pledge and we come to the word indivisible. It struck me. It stuck with me after I hugged my daughter and walked back (much more slowly) across the park. It stuck with me on the train, on my walk, all day after, and even as I’m writing now. Indivisible.  I thought about the public finger-pointing, vitriol on social media, drama of the nightly news, bickering and blaming, dearth of humility, and the prevalence and proliferation of fear in our world today. Division seems to be far more the norm and trend these days.

And then I thought about you- as high school students. I thought about the lessons you teach us through your applications. We have the honor of reading incredible stories every year—the essays, emails, and life stories we see, hear, and read challenge us and inspire us. I’m so thankful for my job because seeing the talent, passion, and perseverance you demonstrate through your applications gives me hope.

Indivisible 

The truth is we teach you very little in the admission process. You visit. You apply. You receive a decision. You ultimately come or don’t come. So today I hope to return the favor, even to the smallest extent.

Look Back. Go Back.  

If you are a senior, I know you are excited about next year—and you should be. My guess is you are talking about “moving on” or “our last” this or that a good bit these days. That’s awesome. But remember for your parents, teachers, counselors, and coaches every time you say one of these things, or even when you just walk into the room, they feel conflicted. Sure, some have better poker faces than others. Outwardly, you will get a lot of smiles, hugs, high-fives, and congratulations and best wishes. But when you are not looking they close their eyes, take a deep breath, and remind themselves it’s going to be okay. Even if you are the third of three (some would argue especially if that’s the case) to go to college, they still feel this way. Just because they’re the adult, or they’ve been through it before, or they are the ones who have been encouraging you to do this all along, your absence will leave a hole.
Friends
We have a Facebook page for current and former staff members. When we go to conferences we make an effort to have at least one Tech dinner of current and former team members. Honestly, very little gives me as much joy as to see and hear from our former admission staff. Once family, always family.  So before you walk out of the room, before you leave school this spring, before you close the door, look back. Walk back in one more time to say thanks. Tell them you love them. Tell them something specific about how they’ve helped you. And when you think of them next year as you’re eating in the dining hall or leaving an exam or heading to a game, send them a text or email, make a quick call. Once family, always family. Indivisible.

100%

As I said, our staff disagrees constantly. If you could listen to conversations in committee you’d hear different perspectives on a student’s match for Tech or what the ultimate decision should be. In review, if counselors have opposing opinions they’ll make a note of their disagreement and send the application on for further review. I always admire that, despite not always seeing eye-to-eye in review, they go eat together, go for walks together, and spend time together socially as well.

Last week, our Senior Associate Director and I looked over all recommended decisions and projections for the class. In order to meet class goals (size, geographic distribution, etc.) we asked our team to re-visit many of their previous recommendations. Did they love our directive? Nope. Did they have legitimate questions about timing and rationale? Absolutely. But ultimately they understood the big picture and what has to be done to meet our goals. Within your family, on your team, and in your job, club, and community I hope you’ll both speak up for what you believe is right and experience progress that can emanate from confidence and also from compromise.

As you graduate and move on, I encourage you to look for opportunities to improve things by finding middle ground– and always trying to see the bigger picture, particularly when others around you are taking a myopic view.  Indivisible does not mean 100% agreement in the short term, but rather 100% commitment to ultimate unity. Listen, consider, revisit, and seek out multiple opinions. A holistic admission process is actually a great example of how this can done well, and unfortunately, there are precious few cases of this right now in our society.

What the College Experience Creates

People will tell you college is the best time of your life. Perhaps it’s partly because of what the college experience creates: a diverse community that comes to campus from a wide variety of counties, states, and nations. A group of strangers with varying religious, ethnic, political, and philosophical backgrounds who have the opportunity to live together, eat together, exchange ideas and beliefs in class and in residence halls all week, and then cheer for the same teams at night or on the weekend. One banner, one campus, one motto. Win or lose… Indivisible.

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Would You Rather…?

Would You Rather…? Yep. This question was a big part of the Olympic viewing experience at our house.

  1.  Would you rather have no training and compete in the Skeleton OR Ski Jump? Personally, I’m going Skeleton all the way here. Sure, it would be moderately terrifying to go that fast, but worst case you roll off (careful for those blades on the dismount) and walk to the finish line. Meanwhile, with Ski Jump, I just see no way I’m walking away with less than two broken bones.
  2.  Would you rather be in Ice Dancing OR Curling? Our kids are split here. Our son is adamant that he’d never wear that costume and dance with a girl. (In this case, I am translating “never” as “check back when I am 16.”) Our daughter adamantly argues that Curling is the most boring thing she’s ever seen. “Is this still on?” “Sweeping is not for fun,” and my personal favorite, “He looks like our neighbor.” Hard to argue.

I didn’t pose this one but it did go through my head (because this is the kind of thing that does): Would you rather participate in a sport that has a score/time to win OR one that is judged? I can see both sides here. You’ve trained for four years (some would argue a lifetime). You’ve risen early, worked, sweated, and bled. You’ve sacrificed your time and sleep and diet and even personal relationships to get to this point.  It makes sense that you might want a very objective, neutral, quantifiable measure to differentiate you from the other competitors. And if you compete in one of those sports, that’s exactly what you get. Granted, it must have been heart-breaking for the US Luge Team not to medal when they finished .57 seconds from Gold and .103 from stepping onto the podium for a Bronze, but they signed up for it.  And clearly the German bobsledders who finished upside down were not concerned about impressing any judges on route to their Gold medal. They were the fastest. Period.

In Freestyle Skiing or Figure Skating it is all about the difficulty of your program, the execution of your routine, and your style (could argue personality) that you exhibit to the judges. Frankly, as a native southerner, I was just impressed when someone made it down the hill, landed a jump, or managed not to fall during a routine.  As I watched some of these events, the eventual medalists were not always the athletes I thought were the best from the outside looking in. Of course, I was not privy to all of the metrics or aspects they were looking for to make those determinations. Still, I could see how after all of those practice sessions and injuries that having a group of judges deduct or reward points based on the slightest angle of a skate or hand position on a snowboard would be maddening. And yet, it’s not like they were racing. They were not expecting their results or medal to come from time or speed. They knew that there would be a level of subjectivity leading to or from the medal stand.

So many lessons to be drawn from Olympians about perseverance, dedication, sportsmanship, teamwork, etc. but I am going to stay in my lane and focus on how this applies to college admission.

Let’s start with this.  Most schools make decisions based on quantifiable metrics. Of the four thousand post-secondary options in our country (with over 2000 four-year colleges), the average admit rate is 65% (See page 3). In the vast majority of schools nationally, they have space available for talented students like you, and they are going to use your GPA and test scores to make those decisions.  These are publicly available formulas that are clearly outlined on their sites, in publications, and in presentations. In most cases, these schools have admit rates over 50% and they have determined that if you are performing a certain level in high school, you will be academically successful on their campus. At least one of these schools should be on your list. The good news is that you will absolutely find more than a few where: you will be admitted; you will find a lifelong friend; you will find a professor who will mentor you and set you up for success in graduate school or as you launch into a career; you could take advantage of phenomenal internships, study abroad opportunities; you can afford and may even provide you with scholarships as well.

Like an Olympic athlete competing in a sport that is evaluated by people, here are some things you should know if you are applying to a highly selective college that has very few spaces and yet a pool of incredibly accomplished students.

  • Numbers are not going to be the deciding factor. Yes, we ask for test scores. We look at them and consider them, but at Georgia Tech this year two of every three applicants had a 1400+ SAT/ 30+ ACT. The College Board and ACT research clearly demonstrates that using “cut scores” (i.e. drawing an arbitrary line between say a 1360 and a 1370 is a misuse or abuse of tests). Our own campus specific research verifies this as well. Testing is far less indicative of academic success on our campus than rigor of curriculum and performance in classes. This is why students appealing a denial at a highly selective institution because they have a 1500 SAT has no merit. This is not short track racing. We never said it was going to be about your testing- and our decision only demonstrates that we were transparent here.
  •  Strength of program matters. If you watched any of the Snowboarding or Aerial or Figure Skating, you heard the announcers talking at length about difficulty of program. An athlete who attempts and converts a quadruple salchow or double lutz or a Triple Lindy is rewarded for that accomplishment, skill, and ability at a higher level than a competitor who hedges their difficulty in order to avoid a fall or mistake. In admission committee and file review, we do the same thing. This is why colleges that have a difficult curriculum (not always directly correlative to admit rate or rankings) also value your course choice in high school. The bottom line is that a student from the same high school, i.e. has similar access to courses, who takes AB Calculus and Physics II and does well is a better fit for our Civil Engineering program than a student who has opts instead for Pre-Calculus and AP Psychology.  You don’t see the Olympic judges walking out of the arena questioning their decision to place value on this element, and we do not either. Rigor matters. Figure Skating

 

 

 

 

  • Paper vs. Practice. “How could you deny my son? He has all A’s.” I understand, sir. However, since his school adds extra points for rigorous courses, an A can range from 90 to well over 100. A 91 and a 103 are not the same… and we are going to differentiate. This year we have a school that sent us nearly 200 applications. Of those 160 had above a 90, i.e. an A average. Now we can go round and round all day about the chicken and the egg here on grade inflation just like we can try to grapple with how Russia’s Alexander Krushelnitsky failed a doping test for Curling, but that seems counterproductive. Highly selective schools, just like Olympic committees, are going to differentiate great from outstanding.
  •  Style matters. Yes, we look at the technical as well as the full program. Review includes essays, interviews, and opportunities for you to tell us what you do outside the classroom. Why? Because you will not just be a student on campus, you will be a contributing citizen. Ultimately, once you enroll and graduate, you will be an ambassador. Judges give style points. Admission committees do as well. We care where you are from. We are listening for your voice. We want to know how you have impacted and influenced your community. We are counting on your counselors and teachers in their recommendations to build context around a GPA or a test score or an IB diploma. And because all of this is plays out in a holistic admission decision, the student with the highest test score or most APs or who sits at the top of a spreadsheet on a sorted GPA column is not necessarily the gold medal winner. Nobody is holding a stopwatch in admissions committee.
  • It cuts both ways. The hard truth of selective college admission is that it is a very human process. The upside? You’re not being sorted out based on GPA or test score alone. We are looking in depth at school curriculum, grade trends, course choice, performance, as well as who you are, who you want to be, how you impact others, and how you will match with our culture and mission. The downside? We are human. Read: judgment calls, conversations in committee, subjective decisions based on institutional priorities. Not gold, silver or bronze… grey.

Ultimately, if you are choosing to apply to a highly-selective university, you have to submit your application with the mentality of an Olympian. The competition will be stiff and there is no guarantee that you “end up on the podium.” Trust your training. You have prepared well. You have worked hard. Watch the closing ceremonies this weekend. Whether an athlete has a medal around their neck or not, they will walk through that stadium with incredible pride in their accomplishments, as well as confidence and hope for the future. If you are a senior this spring, regardless of admission outcomes, this is how you should be walking the halls each day and ultimately across the stage at graduation. Confidence and hope, my friends. Your future is bright.