That’s Not How It Works, Part 2 (#TNHIW)

Attempting round two or part two of anything comes with risks. Clearly there are some shining examples of building on a story that went exceedingly well–Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, and The Lion The Witch and the Wardrobe, to name a few. Sci-fi and superheroes seem to have the advantage in the film space (pun moderately intended). Just look at Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, The Dark Knight, The Empire Strikes Back, and Spiderman 2.Alvin and the Chipmunks

Kids’ movies are spottier. For every Home Alone 2 you have Chipmunks 2- The Squeakquel. Feel free to Google for best and worst in this category—I’m sure you can add some of these to your Netflix queue (or Nutflix Squeakque as the case may be).

After last week’s post I had some good suggestions from both my staff and colleagues at other schools. So, at the risk of an epic fail like Dumb and Dumber To, here are a few more #TNHIW:

Deposits and Canceling

 “I was admitted to several schools but I can’t decide, so I’m going to deposit at ALL of them.” No!!! #TNHIW. If you can’t decide on a college, don’t put down multiple deposits at $200-$1,000 a pop while you make up your mind. If you want to spend money, send me half that amount—I’ll put it towards a new dartboard and a popcorn machine (the way we make admission decisions) and mail you a quarter to flip.

Colleges and universities are part of a national organization, the National Association of College Admission Counseling (NACAC). NACAC has established a specific timeline to help you through the college admission process—that’s why you don’t see application deadlines before October 15; it’s why you can wait on financial aid and housing details before committing to a school; and it’s why May 1 is the established national deposit deadline. (NACAC is also why schools at college fairs are not doing raffles or cheap parlor tricks, but that’s a post for a different day.)

We often hear of students “sitting on admits” without canceling because it makes them (or their parents) feel proud. If you need an ego boost, DM us on Twitter—we’ll show you some love. Look–if you decided a school is too far away, too expensive, too cold (or the opposite of any of those), or there’s another reason why it’s not a good match for you, cancel your application. At Tech, in all of our emails to admitted students and in our admission portal, we include a cancel link. If schools you’ve been admitted to are not making this process obvious, email or call them and find out how to do it.

Canceling allows colleges to re-distribute financial aid dollars and to take students off their waitlist. Good for the goose and good for the gander. Not big into the common good? Then think of canceling like breaking up with someone. It doesn’t take long and eliminates irrelevant calls, texts, and letters.

In-State Tuition

“We used to live in Georgia.” “Her grandparents have a lake house in state.” “The Falcons loss in the Super Bowls still burns…” This one may fall under the “it never hurts to ask” category, but ultimately the bigger umbrella is #TNHIW. Each state has its own rules on in-state tuition rates, but as a rule you’ll find it necessary to have lived in the state for a year prior to starting classes, and claimed it as your primary residence on your tax records. It’s helpful to know public universities operate as a part of a state system, and must adhere to the policies they set forth. So when you’re on the phone with an admission or financial aid representative and they’re saying you do not qualify for in-state tuition, it’s not because you’re the unlucky fifteenth caller of the day. They are simply conveying their state’s law, and they have to uphold it. (See policy 4.3.2)

Comparative Decisions

“My classmate/neighbor/cousin got in and I’m a better student.” “We both know my son’s smarter than…” “Last year you took a girl who is exactly like her.” Again, #TNHIW. First, we will never discuss another student with you. When applicants submit their application, they do so under the assurance their information will be used solely for the purpose of admission review and continued Apples and Orangesindividual communication. A student’s application is not to be used to influence elections or talk to their “friend’s” uncle (who happens to be an alum) about how they compare to other students from their school–specifically said uncle’s nephew.  So if your lead question in an email or phone call is comparative, we will politely but consistently redirect the conversation.

And be honest—do you really know all the details about the other student? Grades, classes, testing, life circumstances, content of essay and short answer questions, major, interview dynamics, recommendation letters? In a holistic, selective review where institutional priorities and goals for the class are at play, there are infinite nuances making applicants unique and decisions less predictable and consistent from one year to the next.

Scholarships and Financial Aid Awards

“Awesome University gave my son a merit scholarship worth $10,000, and Congratulations College named him a Dean’s Disciple, which is worth $22,000 over four years. You must not really want him or you would do the same.” Well…#TNHIW. Every school has its own overall cost, endowment level, and enrollment strategy. Some colleges keep their rates as low as possible from the outset, while others publish prices and then discount tuition using terms like “scholarship” as a tool for enrolling students. Some put all of their discretionary funds into need-based aid, while others grant merit aid based on clear and defined parameters like GPA or testing.

Tuition at public schools is set by their governing system, and in many states colleges are prohibited from using tuition funds toward meeting the need of other students—a fundamental practice in the case of many schools nationally. I won’t belabor this point. You’ve seen enough variance in the admission process to know schools have extremely different missions, cultures, and recruitment approaches—the same is true with financial aid awards and packages. Money is emotional and it’s not easy to keep your emotions in check when analyzing costs of this significance. Plus, we all want a deal, right? There is great satisfaction in feeling like you’ve gotten something exclusive or special. Hey, I like catching the t-shirt tossed from courtside too. But don’t let pride or frustration or the ability to brag about a scholarship be the sole reason you make a college choice.

Don’t misunderstand me—cost matters. But ironically, each year students will select one university over another because of the difference in aid awarded, rather than the difference in actual cost. At the end of the day, if relative costs are similar and you have either the financial means to pay or the confidence in your financial investment in a particular college, I’d urge you to not let another university’s award keep you from choosing your best fit.

There won’t be a three-peat or trilogy for #TNHIW, but if you want to peel back more admission myths and misconceptions, check out this layered Onion piece.

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That’s Not How It Works (#TNHIW)

Eat all your broccoli. “I did. That entire piece.” Mmm… That’s not how it works. Every single piece on your plate.

You collected all the trash, right? “Yep. It’s all downstairs now.” But, son, it needs to actually go to the street. “Well, I…” That’s not how it works.

Did you wash your body and hair? “Well, the shampoo ran down my body, so…” Uh-uh. That’s not how it works.

Innocent misinterpretations, wishful thinking, or legitimate manipulation? It’s debatable. I’m sure you can think of illustrations in your own family, on your team, in your neighborhood, or at school reflecting similar disconnects and the distance between one person’s interpretation and another’s expectation or reality. I’m sure any professional can also describe common questions or myths in their niche.

To your accountant: “Well, no. I don’t have a receipt for that, but I bet we can call them and they’ll vouch for me.” Um… no. That’s not how it works.

To the city water clerk: “I’m not paying that bill. We had a leak in our pipe and the toilet runs incessantly, but it’s not like we really used the water.” Cocked head, one eye squinted. Lips pursed.

College admission has many of these situations. This time of year there are a few #TNHIW for you to be aware of:

The Waitlist

“I have decided not to come to Georgia Tech, and I have a friend on the waitlist. I’d like to give her my spot.” It’s a kind idea. Not only should you be proud of getting in, but also for thinking of your friend. But no, that’s not how it works. Throughout the month of April you’ll find there’s very little waitlist activity (with a few exceptions). Why? Because other schools are still making admission offers, financial aid packages are being released (and compared), and admitted students are coming to visit campus to compare options. Most admitted students wait until the last two weeks of April to commit to a college and pay a deposit (while colleges would love for you to commit earlier, take as much time as you need before May 1). So schools have to wait and see how their class forms.

In the end colleges use their waitlist to shape their class. For example, Georgia Tech is comprised of 60% Georgia residents and 40% from outside of Georgia. If we do not have enough students deposit from our state, we will make offers to round out that part of our class. The same could be said of any demographic, including major, gender, or another nuance a school is trying to grow. This is why colleges typically tell you that they don’t rank their waitlist. We’re not trying to be cagey—we’re being honest. If we hit our target for students from abroad on May 1, we might offer 500 spots from the waitlist but none to international students.  If you’re on a school’s waitlist, hopefully this gives some perspective. More here.

Nametag
If “Someone” told you that you could just show up to a tour without a reservation, definitely bring an email confirmation or number in case they aren’t working that day.

Visiting Campus (particularly in March/April)

“Yes, I saw online you were full today but I thought if I showed up…” “We booked tickets two months ago and now we are here. You have to work us in…” “Do you really think I would come here without a reservation?” “No. I don’t have a confirmation number. But this is the only day that works for us and I talked to someone who said…” At this time of year, thousands (truly, thousands) of students and families visit campus each week. Between spring breaks, admitted student programs, and improving weather, it makes sense.

Look, I’d love to show up at an Atlanta United match without a ticket and have them “work it out” for me too, but you’ve already got people sitting on each other’s laps so that does not seem like a good plan. A big smile and desire isn’t going to change that I don’t have a ticket.  Does not mean they’re not nice. Does not mean they’re not flattered by the interest. That’s just not how it works.

Now, don’t mishear me. If you check online and a school is full for visits, you can still go in the hopes they have some no-shows or a extra tour guide shows up. But be ready to improvise. Ask the front desk for a self-guided tour map, go eat on campus, and listen to students as they talk. Check out the buildings where your major is and ask students walking by some questions. Shy? Bring a Frisbee and a dog and see if that helps break the ice. Just promise me that you won’t show up and give some poor student or junior staffer at the front desk a hard time because what you already saw online days ago is now reality.

Appealing an admission decision

“My son is amazing! Didn’t you see his test scores? And we know someone who got in who is not as good. How do we appeal?” Well… first, it’s very nice to talk to you ma’am. Not being admitted to a school that you really want to attend stings. There is just no easy way to say it. And at most selective schools, denied and waitlisted students can easily make a case for

Don't Be A Jerk
Basic tip for visiting campus and life in general…

why they would be great students on campus. However, applications have been read multiple times in a holistic process and ultimately are made in line with achieving institutional priorities. I see how you could read that as the party line but it’s actually just confidence in our decisions.

A couple of things to know here: first, we want to talk to the applicant in these cases. Not someone who does a good voice imitation of the student, and not someone who really loves the student. Honestly, our first thought when we speak to a parent or connected alum about an appeals is, “does the student really want to come?” If so, it seems like they’d be the one to pick up the phone, send the email, or complete the appeal form.

Second, we explain on our website what makes a valid appeal. It varies from school to school, so check their information. Our reasons for a valid appeal normally include medical information, significant life circumstances, or academic details that were not correct on the transcript initially. We also list some of the invalid reasons for appeal. You’ll notice among others that pictures as an infant on campus, a really strong desire to come, or “it’s the only school I applied to” don’t fall into the valid category. #TNHIW

I could go on about how score ranges don’t guarantee admission or how we don’t have quotas of admits by school, or how the recruited athlete didn’t really take your spot, or the fact that deadline really means deadline, or how remnant shampoo doesn’t really wash your body, but I think we’re on the same page now, right? Got some other admission or life examples? We’d love to see them on Twitter @gtadmission using #TNHIW.

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Change Your Filter

Last week, a friend I grew up with sent me an article ranking Decatur the #1 Place to Live in Georgia with a note: “Come a long way, brother.”

I hear that. When I grew up in Decatur, it was… fine. Great place to get your car fixed, some good burger options, and the standard churches, recreation centers, schools, and city services of most places.

My street was divided– half the houses were in the city limits of Decatur, and half were in the county (DeKalb).  As kids, we did not think much of it other than the city sign made good target practice for an array of launched objects. Adults agreed (not about the sign, but about the six to one, half-dozen the other idea of perceived quality).

When I went to college in North Carolina nobody heard of Decatur, so I would simply say I grew up a few miles east of downtown Atlanta.

Destination: Decatur

Today is a different story. The standard three bedroom, two bath houses that once filled Decatur are largely gone. It is tough to find anything coming on the market for less than $500,000 and new construction can approach seven figures. People petition for annexation and move to town just for the schools and quality of life.Decatur

Several of the old gas stations have been converted to gastropubs or boutiques with vintage garage doors. Some of the guys working at these establishments have beards that are just as impressive and hats just as dirty as the guys back in the day, but instead of an oil change and tire rotation, they’re charging $30 for tray of fries (frites, actually) with assorted dipping sauces.

During and after college, when friends would come to visit, we never chose to go out in Decatur. Virginia Highlands, Midtown, and Buckhead had the lion’s share of good dining, shopping, entertainment, and nightlife options. Now when friends visit there is no reason to leave this two-mile radius. And typically they’ve already read a review of a local restaurant, microbrew, or other shop they want to check out.

The bottom line: things have changed dramatically. You cannot apply the same filter you did 20 years ago–or even five years, for that matter. Decatur is a destination now. The schools are highly desirable, the shops and restaurants are well-regarded, and the demand for housing is at an all-time high. Even the city sign is nicer.

Destination: College

If you graduated from college before 2000, the changes in college reputation, brand, selectivity, and culture can be equally dramatic.  So if you are a parent just starting to screen and review college literature in the mail, or if you are planning your first college tour for this spring, here are a few quick takes:

“Number 1 Place to Live”

“The University of X? Where the kids from our school went if they could not get into…?”New Perspective

“If you drove slowly down Main Street with your window open, they’d throw a diploma in.”

“On Tuesdays people were already tailgating for Saturday’s game.”

Yeah, yeah. I know. I’m telling you, Decatur was a little sketchy. Even as a kid, I remember looking askance at the lollipops the bank was handing out. The University of X? Yep. Because that college town is getting written up in major national magazines as a great place for food, family, culture; they have invested heavily in student support and programs; they had students win international competitions for research and prestigious scholarships and fellowships. Change your filter. X may be the absolute perfect match for your daughter, so don’t dilute her excitement or willingness to consider it with your outdated stereotypes.

“Gas stations turn into gastropubs.”

“He has a 1460. He’ll get in for sure.”

“They gave me a summer provisional admit offer and I was able to stay if I did well.”

“I wrote a two-word essay: “Go” followed by their mascot, which I misspelled, and they still let me in.”

I hear you. 1460 is high. It is impressive and noteworthy and nobody is taking that away from him.  And you are right, 25 years ago there was room for “creative admission” practices at colleges that now admit less than one of every two applicants and carry waitlists well over 1,000 additional students. There was a time when it was all about numbers. Hit a mark, cross a threshold, clear the hurdle. We all appreciate simplicity, and I’m no different. The good news is many colleges are still operating the same way. But check your filter before you make any assumptions. If anywhere in the school’s literature, website, or presentation they use the word “holistic,” 1460 is now part of a sentence and a conversation, rather than an integral part of an equation.  And your two-word essay still makes a good story, but they are reading closely now and will expect true introspection and reflection.

“$30 frites”

Note: First, can we just call them fries please? I appreciate you use a locally-sourced, all-natural, gluten-free, highly-curated, necessarily hyphenated, multi-syllabic adjective laced oil for them, but they’re still fries. I will take an extra dipping sauce though.

“Tuition was less than $1000 per quarter.”

“I paid my next semester’s bill with the money I saved from my internship.”

“I was able to pay off all of my student loans within five years of graduating.”

The truth is you have as much of a chance buying a new house in Decatur for $200 as $200,000 in today’s market. And as you begin to research college costs, you’ll likely have some eye-popping, heart-stopping, head-shaking (hyphens, they’re infectious) moments. Don’t let tuition or overall cost of attendance keep you from visiting a school or encouraging your son or daughter to apply if they’ve determined it is a good match academically, geographically, and culturally.  Do check out their published Net Price Calculator and start reading up on reliable sources about the school’s financial aid packages and program.

“My Hometown” (cue Bruce Springsteen)

“I have been buying football tickets for the last twenty years.”

“There should be spots held for families who have multiple generation connections.”

“Don’t y’all care at all about preserving tradition? We’ve been bringing our kids there since they were in diapers.”

You loved your college experience. You love your kids. You see them both enjoying and benefiting from going to your alma mater, and you see a shared college experience/alma mater as another connection in your relationship. Valid, and reasonable. I don’t hate you for it.

But one of the biggest tragedies I see is the reaction of alumni whose kids do not get in because they view it as a personal affront against their family. I implore you–commit to not letting this be your story. University of Washington, Washington University, George Washington, Mary Washington, Washington and Lee? Maybe you went to a school named after another president, or a state, or direction. Whatever. Wanting your son or daughter to go to your alma mater is not wrong. But it’s also not guaranteed. And the decision certainly won’t be connected to how many games you or your family have attended over the years. In fact, fewer and fewer schools consider legacy in their admission process.

Start with the assumption they will not get in or they will not choose to go there even if they do. Then ask yourself what other schools are solid academically, affordable, and are helping students achieve their goals. You need to fall in love with your son or daughter’s choices (not the breaking curfew ones or even the dating ones necessarily, but the college choices). All of them. Even if it was your alma mater’s biggest rival. Eighteen years > four years. You love your kids. Now fall in love with their other college choices.

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Two Truths and a Lie

BalanceWe’re officially in reading season. Recently I read an essay all about the balance beam written by a high school gymnast. She wrote about conquering her nerves and summoning reliance in her training, and then discussed the skill of tuning out the other routines simultaneously being performed and cheered in the competition. While the essay was for college admission it was not about college admission. However, the parallels (not bars– just similarities) are unquestionable.

Conquer your nerves and rely on your training.

Many of you recently submitted Early Action or Early Decision applications. Initially there is some relief in “being done,” but it’s understandable to experience an underlying feeling of nervousness and anxiety as you realize you no longer have control. There is no essay to read over and edit again; you can’t get one more person to take a look to be sure you haven’t missed something.

Good news: admission dean/director totally understands your pain. Think about it: every spring we admit thousands of students. Not only thousands, but thousands more than we have room for on campus. Last year at Georgia Tech we admitted about 7,500 students for a class goal of 2,850. Crazy, right? We admit more students than we can accommodate because of yield (not everyone says yes to our offer). When we initially finish and release decisions it’s a huge relief. We go home, sleep, eat some good food, sleep, remind our families who we are, and sleep. But inevitably in April a faculty member or alumnus will read an article about our admitted class then call or write me and ask, “Did you mean to admit that many? I thought our first year class was closer to 3,000?”

The “what ifs” start to flood in. What if we did take too many students? What if our predictive models are wrong? What if the housing department rounds up a posse and tries to haul me off in the night? The what ifs will kill you. Breathe, my friends. Breathe. You know what you’re doing (and I know what I’m doing).

Truth #1: You cannot control all outcomes. We believe if we pack the night before, leave two hours early and use Waze we’ll be able to tailgate before the game and be in our seats at kickoff.  But then you get stuck in horrific traffic, the ice in the cooler melts, you barely sit down before halftime, and the team you were favored to beat by 13 stages a fourth quarter comeback to win. We don’t know what’s going to happen, right?! And that’s kind of the beauty of it! Isn’t that why we live this life anyway?

The most likely scenario is you will not get into every school you applied to. You may get in and not be able to afford to go. You may get into your dream school, then your girlfriend breaks up with you and decides to go there, and you end up choosing another college 500 miles in the other direction. Listen, we’ve had years when we did overshoot our goal due to yield. One year we had a class of 3,200. Life!

But what does your training tell you? You’ve worked hard. You’ve applied to a variety of schools based on selectivity where you’d be happy to go. Finish the routine. Enjoy your senior year. If you wobble, correct it. If you fall off, jump back up.  You cannot sneak behind the judges table and alter scores or manipulate outcomes. But you can have a great, memorable senior year you’re proud of. Smile while you’re up on the beam and stick the landing.

Tune out the distractions around you. During your junior and senior year in particular, you are going to see and hear some crazy and loud voices.

  • You might read or hear you need to pay $800 for a test prep class in order to raise your ACT score by two points. Don’t look down. Tune out the distractions and remember the number of free, online options is growing and their results are equal to and outperforming many high-priced (highly marketed) companies in this space. If you or your parents believe you need to pay for something for it to be valuable, also look at local options. Many community colleges and area high schools offer great test prep for a fraction of the costs you’ll see when you simply Google for “SAT/ACT test prep.” (I’d also encourage you to go for a hike to disprove the theory of pay = value, but that’s a blog for another day.)
  • You might hear mom or dad tell Aunt Carol, “We are really trying to get that Calculus grade up,” or “Our first choice is Vanderbilt.” Keep your balance. Eyes straight ahead.
  • You might see a classmate get into your dream school who you think is not as academically talented or generally qualified as you, while you get deferred. Someone clapping and high-fiving them as they come off the floor exercise has no bearing on your beam performance. Take a deep breath. Finish strong.

There is nothing noble in being superiorTruth #2: You can control yourself. This is your routine. You own thisContrary to what some may say or write or tweet, your job is not to get in–your job is to get ready for college. You have a choice on how you get ready as you search for colleges, tour colleges, apply to colleges and ultimately select a college. Want to know if you’re doing it right? When your classmate gets in, you are the first one putting your hand up for a high-five. I came across a Hemingway quote in an essay last week: “There is nothing noble in being superior to your fellow man; true nobility is being superior to your former self.” Grow, encourage, explore, and improve. That’s a college admission process done well.

One Lie: (Yeah, this is not like the game. I’m just straight telling you the lie. You call it not as fun–I call it transparency–it’s all semantics.) The college admission process is not a balance beam. You are not on your tip toes, placing one foot in front of the other while performing flips, turns and twists. You can, and will, make missteps. You can score a point below your goal on the ACT, make a B+ in a class, score a 3 on an AP exam, or forget to underline a book title in your essay, and still get into your first choice college. You can do all of those things and not end up at your first choice college, and still be phenomenally happy.

How do I know? Because we have plenty of students on campus who will tell you Georgia Tech was not their first choice. They either didn’t get into their first choice school, or they did get in and couldn’t afford it. Similarly, there are students we denied who are now thrilled about being on another college’s campus and would not change it for the world.

The bottom line is there is not only one place for you. There is not one college that will help you get where you think you want to ultimately go in life. The truth is college admission– and college itself for that matter– is not a four-inch wide beam. Don’t let anyone tell you differently.

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Ask Better Questions

In the world of college admission there is always debate about the “best school” in the nation. As quickly as someone holds up Stanford or Harvard, someone else will poke holes in the methodology, or challenge that they may not be tops for  every major, and so on and so forth.  There are so many varying “sources” online these days that almost every school can tout a high-ranking or review in one area or another. “We’re among the nation’s best in ROI, or in STEM fields,” “We are the nation’s Greenest college” or “We have the best ice cream.” There is almost never a consensus or agreement on who really is “the best.” Perhaps that’s the beauty of this field– lots of great options and a desire to be the best in one thing or another, but clearly there is not a unanimous #1.

But in the world of music  a definitive leader is apparent; a band that rises above the rest and leaves no room for debate:  U2. From their lyrics to their history to their longevity, they simply define greatness. Glad we’ve established that.

A lesser known but important U2 song is 11 O’Clock Tick Tock. And in typical fashion, they always bring a lyric that is profound and broadly applicable to life:

“We thought we had the answers. It was the questions we had wrong.”

Asking the right questions, and being persistent in the asking, is a fundamental life lesson. And it’s absolutely vital as you go through the college Q&Aadmission process. So as you head out to college campuses this spring, whether you are a sophomore or junior who is just starting to understand how one school varies from another, or an admitted senior who is trying to figure out the best fit for the next few years, commit to being a relentless questioner. If you leave the question asking to the colleges, you can bet you’re  going to hear the same answers over and over again. “Oh, yes. Our biology program is great.” “Sure. You can double major in English and Sound Design. That’s actually extremely common.”

The emails and the brochures paint the same Pollyanna pictures, mixing appropriate diversity with studious learners closely inspecting a beaker or electrical circuit.. Don’t accept the Charlie Brown speeches. As you talk to people at different colleges,  turn off the switch that has them rambling about studying abroad or the number of applications they received and ask them something better.

1) You ask: “What is your faculty: student ratio?” This number may not include faculty who are doing research and teach only one class, or those who are on sabbatical, and so on. For example, Tech’s ratio is 18:1, but that doesn’t mean you and 17 buddies will be sitting around a table in Calculus I your freshman year. These stats are compiled for publications to be comparative. So while helpful in that regard, they don’t tell the whole story.

You SHOULD ask: “What is your most common class size?” This question gets you right into the classroom. Schools rarely publish average SATs or GPAs but rather bands or ranges. Likewise, you want to look at their ranges and variances within class size. Our most common class size is between 26-33, and around 7% of our courses have over 100 students in them. That type of information will be far more helpful to you in framing expectations and determining what kind of experience you will likely have.

And THEN ask: How does that vary from freshman year to senior year? Is that true for all majors? What does that look like for my major? I had an intro Econ class at UNC-Chapel Hill that had 500 students in it. But that was not my undergraduate experience. In fact, that was the only course I took all four years that was over 100. Similarly, one of my favorite student workers at Tech was a senior Physics major whose classes had seven, 12, and 16 students in them. But rest assured that during her freshman year she sat in a large lecture hall for Physics I.

Your job is to probe. Your job is to dig and to clarify.Rewind

2) You ask: “What’s your graduation rate?” Schools do not answer this the same. Some will give you  their four-year grad rate, some five, and some  six. The variance is not an effort to be misleading or nefarious; they have been trained to respond with an answer that is  most representative of their students’ experience. Most four-year, private, selective liberal arts schools would likely not even think to respond with a five or six-year rate because there is no significant differentiation and their goal is to have all students graduate in four years. That’s how they structure curriculum and it is their culture.

You SHOULD ask: What is your four and six-year graduation rate? And at those two intervals what  percentage have either a job offer or grad school acceptance letter? Who cares if you have a high graduation rate if your job placement rate is low?

And THEN ask: How does grad rate vary by major? What percentage of students who double major or study abroad or have an internship finish in four years? My opinion is too much emphasis is put on this clock. Unfortunately, much of this is antiquated and driven by US News and World Report rankings (we won’t delve into this too much, but you can read about here). If you are taking advantage of opportunities on a campus like picking up a minor, or participating in a co-op, or working to offset costs, or going abroad to enhance your language skills, and all of those things are translating into lower loan debt and more job or grad school opportunities when you are done, then who cares about the clock?

3) You ask: “What is your retention rate?” Great question.. and an important one. Most put the national average somewhere in the 60-65% range.  But as you can see from that link, it varies by school type and student type. So when a school says their first-year retention rate is 85%, that’s great, right?

You SHOULD ask: Why are those other 15% leaving? Is it financial? Is it because the football team lost too many games? Is it academic and they’re not prepared for the rigor of the school? Is it because the school is too remote or too urban or too big? Follow up. Ask them to articulate who is leaving. Tech has a retention rate of 97.3%, which  is among the top 25 schools nationally and top five for publics (these are statistics here, friends, not rankings). But we are constantly looking at who is leaving. Surprisingly, for many alumni and others who know the rigor of Tech, it’s not exclusively academic. It’s a balanced mix that also includes distance from home, seeking a different major, financial reasons, and, increasingly, because students are starting companies or exploring entrepreneurial options.

Some schools have retention rates below the national average, but they’re losing  students who are successfully transferring to state public flagships or into specialized programs in the area. If that’s your goal, then you can be okay with a lower retention rate, right?

Don’t be too shy to ask questions. This is your job… Not your mom’s job…. Not your counselor’s job. Your job. DO YOUR JOB!

And THEN ask: What that’s it? Nope. We’ll continue this next week because I have more questions…and so should you.

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