Why Go to College?

This week we welcome one of our admission counselors, Laila Flores, to the blog. Take it away, Laila!

Why go to college?

Our Director, Rick Clark, likes to ask prospective students first why they want to go to college, and next, to consider where they will best study. I could not agree with more with his approach, and I wanted to share some thoughts about “the why” and, as examples, draw lines to “the how” from my own family’s college experience.

To impress a girlfriend, ahem… future family

My grandfather enrolled in college because he wanted to win my grandma´s favor.  He did not feel an immediate need to enroll as he was to inherit his father’s factory (devoted to making parts for automobiles). But to keep his girlfriend happy, he decided to pursue a degree in Mechanical Engineering and it proved to be a great idea! He graduated among the top in his class in 1947, mastering the skills to build his own machines (and eventually marry my grandmother).

At Georgia Tech you can find lots of opportunities to amaze your family and friends by building your own machines or enterprises. For example, if you join our Create-X, you and your team will gain the expertise to understand market demand, build a working prototype and potentially win $20,000 in seed money to start a company.

So: if you want to go to college to impress, it will work… but first and foremost, think about YOU! Which brings us to another popular reason for attending college…

To get ready for the job of your life.

When my dad was young, he dreamed of being a truck driver. As he grew older, his admiration was fixed on his brothers who were pursuing engineering degrees. As one of nine children in a loving but crowded home, he was ready to gain his independence! He loved math, and his confidence in that subject matter was enough for him to dream of becoming an engineer, an economist, or an accountant. Luckily, he was admitted to a civil engineering program, and his passion for engineering was reaffirmed when his older brother (who held a job at the Mexican ministry of public works) brought him along to the construction sites of highways and housing projects. Later, his undergraduate thesis was directed by a professor that also worked at the Ministry. By the time he graduated he had the experience and network to land a job, and he was ready to pay the bills and have a home of his own. Can you imagine having your own place and house rules?

At Tech you can take advantage of our co-curricular programs like co-op and internships to develop professional connections and build experience and be ready for the job market. More than 90% of our students have a job lined up within 6 months of graduation, some have offers by the end of their junior year!

Not all people are seeking to win approval or gain a job.  Some people go to college because they care about the social good.

To make a difference by helping others

My mother wanted to pursue a career in medicine or dentistry to help others. Dentistry, she reasoned, would provide a better work/life balance. It proved true! She had an office in our house, so she could see patients in the mornings and spend the afternoons with me.

There are many opportunities for students to make a positive change through Georgia Tech! GT´s Engineers Without Borders or Key Club and those who participate in the Inventure Prize Competition build products that make can change the world! The last round of winners rolled out inventions to keep firefighters safer, provide fast medical screenings and make water potable in developing countries.

Complete a young adult rite of passage.

I arrived to college by default. No one I knew in my high school questioned that after graduation we were to attend college. I thought it was my duty to complete a college education, so it was more of a brain vs. heart decision. YOU, on the other hand, have time to snap out of the social conventions and take the decision to heart! You have time to think about your strengths and skills, research your options, and own this process!

In terms of then selecting a school, it helped me to compare information about the location, costs, infrastructure, number of full time/part time professors, and curriculum. If I were to choose college again I would also consider extracurricular activities, access to green space, opportunities for internships, as well as job placement rates. After graduation you will likely have to pay bills on your own, so I recommend to keep your eyes open for all the opportunities that can prepare you for the job market.

Once you get into college, you will see that some people are there to…

Experience a new lifestyle/see a new world outside your bubble

I did not pick a college that would “rock my world,” but I know that many people out are seeking just that! They want to live in a new part of the country, be in a city, or escape to a small town. They want to be part of a community that has lots of clubs, events, and traditions, or they want to get lost in a sea of people that will let them be.

For me the novelty came about during my study abroad program in Canada at University of Regina. For the first time I lived in a dorm and had to worry about my laundry, grocery shopping, cleaning the bathroom… I also got to mingle with students from different parts of the world and my home, Mexico. Back at home, our classrooms were pretty homogenous. I went on a road trip with seven other friends to Banff, Edmonton and Calgary, and would have never dreamed of doing that journey sans “grownups” before that! Stepping out of my comfort zone was a great choice to learn and grow.

At Tech we have over 120 study abroad programs, you will definitely be able to enhance your second language skills and get ready for the global market place after trying one of them.

Why are you going to college?

Keep this question in mind as you create life plans. Attending college is a huge investment of time and money, so having a clear idea of why you want to go, and what you want to get out of it, is key to make the best out of the experience!

 

 

Making the Most of Your Campus Visit: Part 1

This week Elyse Lawson, our Assistant Director in charge of campus visits, joins us as a guest blogger. Welcome, Elyse!

As May 1 approaches, students around the country will be deciding which college they will call their “home away from home.” One of the best ways to do that is by visiting campus and exploring the surrounding areas!

In Part 1 of this two-part series, we begin with a list of College Tour Do’s and Don’ts, to help you make the most of your visit at Georgia Tech!

To Make your Visit Enjoyable and Pain Free, DO:

  1. Register ahead of time: Our daily visits begin filling pretty quickly due to limited space capacity. To ensure that you have a spot, make sure you go online and register for your visit, as soon as possible.
  2. Allow for extra time to find parking and reach your destination: Make sure you do research and check out our parking and directions webpage. It will show you the different visitor parking options around campus.
  3. Wear comfortable clothes and walking shoes: Our tour includes about 1.75 miles worth of walking so you will want to make sure you are comfortable during your tour. If you need any special accommodations please contact our office as soon as you register for your visit.
  4. Allow enough time to soak in everything campus has to offer: Our info session is about an hour long and the tour can take up to an hour and half. Please plan to be on campus for at least 2-1/2 hours when you come to visit.
  5. Ask Questions: Parents, try and encourage your students to think about questions beforehand. It is important to ask questions that will allow you to get a true sense of what the student experience will be like.
  6. Inform your Tour Guide if you have another campus tour or meeting scheduled that day: Our tour guides want to be as helpful as possible! If you have another meeting scheduled at the end of your tour or need to leave a bit early, let them know!

Avoid These Common Visit Mistakes, and DON’T:

  1. Talk on the phone or text: Answering phone calls or texting while on your tour is disruptive for the tour guide and other visitors, and it can also delay the progress of the tour. Don’t use your phone, so that the Tour Guide can keep the tour moving along smoothly.
  2. Lag behind or get in front of the tour: Try your best to keep up with your tour group. It can be challenging for our Tour Guides to keep large groups together, so please make sure you stay as close as possible throughout the tour.
  3. Monopolize the Tour Guide’s time with questions that are not applicable to the group: Tour Guides love to share their experiences with you, but also want to make sure the information they are conveying applies to the entire group. If you have specific situational questions, we ask that you please hold those until the end of the tour. Our Tour Guides usually stick around after tours and love to answer questions and have personal conversations with families!
  4. Engage in side conversations when the Tour Guide is talking: There is time between each stop on the tour that you will be able to speak with your tour guide or get to know other people on your tour. We highly encourage you to take advantage of this time, but please be mindful when the Tour Guide begins speaking about the next stop, so not to interrupt the experience of others.
  5. Solely rely on your tour to help you learn about the school: As you will see in the second part of this series, there is far more that campus has to offer than we have time to show you during a 1.5 hour tour. Take time to explore Atlanta and the rest of campus when you come to town! There are so many great things to see!

Join us next week for part 2 of this series, with inside tips on what to see at Tech, and Atlanta!

The Money Blog

I think one of the toughest parts about the admission process, especially for talented students, is the pure number of college options you have. In the United States there are more than 2,400 four-year colleges, and more US students are going abroad to study than ever before. And in the middle of all of that, everybody is sending you glossy, shiny brochures of happy, smiling students underneath trees with professors blissfully learning in the sunshine. One day it’s the snow covered mountains of Vermont or Colorado, and the next day you’re picturing yourself strolling the beach after class in California or Miami. (Talk about FOMO!)

Adjusting to Choice

Having taught, employed, and regularly observed college freshmen over the years, I’ve found the variety of choices is one of the biggest adjustments to campus life. So I completely get it. High school was a constant cacophony of bells ringing, whistles blowing, horns honking. Start, stop. Begin, end. Go to school, practice or rehearse or work, study, sleep. Rinse and repeat. The big question is what are you doing with your discretionary 37 minutes each day?

Then you land on a college campus and are no longer required to run four miles a day for the cross country team. They have food courts and gluten-free options. And your class of 350 is now a campus of 18,000. “And wait, what?! I only have to be in class 15 hours each week plus a lab? Yeaassss!!!”

In addition to all that, at any time of day or night you can find someone interested in hitting a tennis ball, heading to the library, catching a show, or shooting potatoes off the roof with a homemade contraption (just spit-balling hypotheticals here).  Figuring out how and with whom to spend time is an understandable challenge. Ultimately, you learn to make choices based on hours in the day and week and what you want your experience to look like.

Student Loans & Debt

Unfortunately, when it comes to student loans and debt, we don’t take a similar approach. Instead, discussions of affordability are largely framed by a college’s Return on Investment (ROI) or a family’s perceived tolerance for a particular debt load.

At this time of year, families are usually looking at Net Price Calculators or specific financial aid letters and asking the question,“can we afford this?”

To answer that question you need to go beyond the bottom line number and consider how you are willing to live during and after college.

  • Will you co-op or intern during your time in school?
  • Are you willing to pick up a campus job or one in the surrounding community?
  • Is undergraduate research a paid position, and how much can you earn?
  • Are you willing to put yourself on a budget each week or month during college, and how much is reasonable?

Last week we established that the average debt for a college graduate is approximately $30,000 (the average salary for a new graduate is $45,000). We also heard some good tips from Jeff Selingo and Rich DeMillo on not graduating college with more student loans than your starting salary.

This week I wanted to provide you with a sample budget from a recent Georgia Tech graduate. 

 George P. Burdell

  • Student loans:
    • $40,000 (5% interest rate)
  • Salary:
    • $50,000, entry level, with full benefits (medical/dental)
  • Housing (in-town Atlanta):
    • 2-Bedroom 1-Bath Apartment (shared w roommate)
  • Lifestyle:
    • Eats at restaurants and grocery shops, but eats/orders out more often.
    • Enjoys travel, games, movies and social time with friends
    • Single, No pets
  • Car: Used 2013 Honda Accord:
    • 30,000 miles · Automatic · 29 MPG
    • Bought at $23,000
    • Down payment of $8,000 (earned via college internship and supplemented by graduation gift)
    • Interest Rate: 3%
    • Loan Period: 48 months
    • Payment: $333/month
  • Estimated Annual Costs:
    • Medical: $300
    • Car Maintenance: $500
    • Emergencies: $250
    • Car Tax: $100
    • Holiday Events/Gifts: $350
    • Total: $1500 ($125/month)

Monthly Budget

Monthly take home pay: $2,900

Category Budgeted Amount
Monthly Bills
Car Insurance $180
Car Payment $350
Cell Phone $75
Housing $700
Utilities $150
Loan Debt $675
Necessities  
Groceries $200
Gasoline/Fuel $100
Annual Costs Fund $125
Non-Essentials  
TV (Netflix, Prime) $20
Restaurants/Dining $125
Entertainment/Travel $100
Discretionary Spending $100
Total Expenses: $2900

 

Student Loan Debt vs. Car Debt

Using this budget (which you’ll notice assumes no raises or bonuses), George can pay off his student loans in six years. This is where I completely take issue with people who equate student loan debt to buying a car. Not only does that car require gas, insurance, and routine maintenance, but all the while it’s depreciating in value. Often it’s not long after six years that you end up with another car payment because the one you worked so hard to pay off is now needing to be replaced. In contrast, the investment in your college education continually appreciates due to network of classmates and other alumni. More on that next week.

In the meantime, pick this budget apart. Add debt to the beginning assumption… decrease the salary… increase the amount you might spend in groceries or transportation costs… or lengthen the amount of time to pay off in order to distribute expenditures differently. Each of those choices is a reflection on your values, your priorities and your life goals and vision. Even if you change every row of George’s budget, you’re a lot further along in determining what you will choose to pay for, and how you can and cannot live. “Can we afford it?” is a very personal question rooted in choice. Hopefully this will provide you some of the tools and prompts necessary to answer that for yourself. Happy budgeting!

The Lies We Tell Ourselves, Part 3. Parents.

I slept on the couch last night…. but I relegated myself to it. Here’s how it went down:

My son had a Taekwondo test to get to the next belt level. When they do these evaluations, you are expected to be able to perform specific Poomsaes, which are alternating offensive and defensive forms– essentially choreographed movements. The further along you go in the study of Taekwondo the more complex they become.

Currently he’s trying to go to the green belt with blue stripe, which is halfway to becoming a black belt. My wife is incredibly diligent about working with him at home, especially as the test gets closer. At last night’s test there were about 20 other students testing for various belts. That meant there were easily 30 parents watching, taking video, and being generally supportive. At some points all students of a specific belt may be on the floor, but inevitably, each student has his or her own evaluation.

Fifty people looking on as you attempt to perform a complex set of motions is tough at any age. But at seven? Definitely not easy. He was doing well overall until a particular point in the Poomsae. Surprisingly, it was not the most complex section– he actually nailed that. The Master called out the command and my son just froze. You could literally see his brain working and his body trying to carry out the movement. He just could not make it happen. Fifty people. All of them wanted him to move, to just remember. It was simultaneously encouraging and maddening.

After we put the kids to bed and I was brushing my teeth, my wife came in and said, “I should have worked with him harder on that piece of it. I just thought he had it, so we practiced the tougher parts more.” Now what I should have said was nothing. But what I actually said was, “Are you going to make this about you?” I know, I know. Even as it came out of my mouth I knew I’d screwed up. She turned around, got into bed, put in some ear plugs and rolled over. Cold, right? But also totally appropriate.

(Not actually me)So I just grabbed my pillow and a blanket and headed downstairs. Self-imposed discomfort seemed like reasonable punishment.

Don’t get me wrong, I stand by my question 100%, but I’m the first to admit that the delivery was TERRIBLE. So fresh off of that lovely experience, today we look at “The Lies Parents Tell Themselves.”

Lie 1- I’m just helping. Does the Taekwondo story sound familiar? How about some of these: “I’m just helping my sophomore daughter when I go down to the high school to see if there is extra-credit work she could do, or if the Chair of the department could take another look at her last paper. She can’t make a C in this class, so WE need to rectify this immediately.”  Or “I’m just helping here. You see my son was deferred from your college. I know that you’ve received his transcript and supplement (because I made him give me his login info) and I see from your website that you don’t use an interview or additional letters of recommendation in the process, but I’m going to have two of my business associates email on his behalf anyway.” When does the “helping” stop? Colleges are now utilizing parent bouncers at registration; we’ve had parents ask if they can come to a job fair for their student who is in class at that time. “I just want to ask some questions and deliver her resume,” they say. Some of the nation’s accounting and investment firms now offer parent orientation as their 24 year olds enter the workplace. Is this really helping? Or  is it just controlling? At what point will “helping” prohibit your son or daughter from growing and maturing through life’s inevitable decisions, successes, failures, and freeze ups in front of 50 people?

Lie 2- Where my son or daughter goes to college is a reflection on my parenting achievement.

This is a tough one to admit, but is a very common, incredibly insidious lie. We have already established (hopefully) a few key things that refute this:

  1. Admission decisions are not character judgments
  2. Holistic admission by nature means that incredible students don’t always get in to certain elite schools
  3. Where you go to college does not dictate your future success or happiness

Who wouldn’t love to put a UCLA or Northwestern bumper sticker on the back of their car? But to look back over 18 years of raising a child: the lost sleep, the countless hours in carpool line, the nail biting at dance recitals or attending marathon swim meets (the worst by the way, the absolute worst), and then say a university brand represents your love, sacrifice, and influence? That’s ridiculous. It just is.Now go sleep on the couch! In your restlessness and discomfort get up around 4 a.m. and go to your daughter’s bedroom. Kiss her on the head. Whisper that wherever she gets in and chooses to go is going to be awesome, and that you’ll proudly wear the shirt and show up excited for Parents Weekend next fall.

The Lies We Tell Ourselves. Part 2: Admission Counselors

CODE RED

If you’ve seen A Few Good Men (sidenote: ranks in my wife’s Top 3 of all time) then you remember this exchange in the Navy courtroom as Lt. Kaffee (Tom Cruise) examines Col. Jessep (Jack Nicholson—never married to Cruise) about whether or not he ordered a Code Red that led to the death of an enlisted Marine.

Kaffee: *Colonel Jessep, did you order the Code Red?*

Col. Jessep: You want answers?

Kaffee: I think I’m entitled to.

Col. Jessep: *You want answers?* a-few-good-men-quotes_288x288

Kaffee: *I want the truth!*

Col. Jessep: *You can’t handle the truth!*

Anyone else’s blood pumping?! Man, what a great scene. Anyhoo… yesterday we looked at some of the lies students tell. Today we spin the mirror around and take a look at college admission counselors.

I frequently have the opportunity to speak on panels and hear colleagues describe their college or university at high school programs. Some of the trite responses and canned information gets incredibly frustrating at times, and this is one reason we urge our staff to rely on “stories not statistics” in relaying the Why Georgia Tech message. You can only listen to so many admission folks talk about “great study abroad programs” or “find a professor and a few friends and you too can start a club” before you start having flashbacks to Charlie Brown cartoons. Yet while those lazy, vague descriptions may become mundane, they’re far more tolerable than the lies we tell.

Lie 1- “We are looking for reasons to admit you, rather than deny you.” I’ve heard this from numerous admission representatives at highly selective schools and I’m only two utterings short of standing up next time and coughing, “BS!”

I always suspected this was false, even when Tech was admitting more than 50% of applicants. Now that we’re closer to 30%, I see that it’s a confirmed lie. (Note: schools admitting more than 50% likely would not say this because they don’t have to, but if they do, it is true in their case, so please don’t reference me if you call them out in public).

Here’s how you know this lie can’t be true: You are shopping online for a new backpack for an upcoming trip, and you have some parameters of what you need. You land on REI’s website and they have 638 different backpacks available. Here’s your criteria:

  • Less than 5 lbs… hold more than 65 liters…. include a hydration component… allows for a sleeping bag compartment… water resistant… and less than $300.

All of a sudden that 638 becomes only 10 options. Your search ruled out things that did not fit your criteria, and left you with fewer options to find the best choice. I realize that all metaphors ultimately break down, but stick with me. Let’s say that the backpacks are applicants and you are an admission counselor. Isn’t the same concept true? You start by filtering out what’s not “in range” based on the number of students you can admit given class size and traditional yield projections. That’s why when you hear colleges say, “most of the students who apply could be successful here” they are being honest. If you did not have all of those specific parameters, then easily half of the backpacks would do—they hold stuff, go on your back, and are in price range. It’s a backpack. But schools admitting only one in every four or five students have lots of various filters, parameters, needs, and wants. When it comes down to that last 10 and they can only “buy one pack,” they may be looking for reasons to admit you rather than deny. But like Lt. Kaffee, you are entitled to the truth—and now you have it.

Lie 2- “Be Yourself.” You will most often hear this line referring to essay writing or interview preparation. It’s unhelpful, insincere advice… and it’s a lie. Be myself? Ok, well I enjoy violent war movies, I sneak out with my friends and drive around town most Saturdays at 3 a.m., and I am excited about all of the good looking girls at your college. How do you like me now?! I think we debunked this one a lot faster than number one.

Here’s the translation: use your essay or interview to communicate something insightful or revealing that does not come through in your grades, classes, extra-curricular participation, etc. Readers and interviewers are wanting to take something away that provides additional insight into your life, background, quirks, passions, etc. They’re looking for something that will help them advocate for you in committee that tells your story beyond the numbers. You don’t have to hide the fact that you sneak out, but if you go there give perspective into why that is indicative of who you are more broadly, i.e. it is representative of your curiosity or your sense of adventure. We owe you explanations of why and how we make admission decisions, and you owe us a more reflective and insightful illustration in your writing.

Tomorrow we’ll look at the Lies Parents Tell.