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!

Keep it simple. But not too simple…

My wife loves REAL SIMPLE magazine. Their tagline is: Life Made Easier. I think of it as the “EASY Button” of magazines. You’ll commonly see headlines like, “How Lemons Can Simultaneously Clean Your Shower and Shape Your Abs,” or “6 Ways to Get More Sleep without Sleeping.” Typically, I will flip one open, read the first paragraph, skim the second, glance at the picture of some helpful graphic or perfectly trimmed flower in an artisan glass, before I start thinking of the irony that these come so frequently they’re cluttering what is clearly supposed to be a straight-lined house (see page 28).

Unfortunately, in the admission process, especially due to the generalized media coverage surrounding our field, there are many “REAL SIMPLE-fied” subjects. Here are a few tips to help you avoid the temptation to start showering with lemons:

  • Don’t let the “sticker price” keep you from applying to a particular school. As of 2011, all colleges and universities receiving federal funds must post an online net price calculator to provide prospective students and their families estimated net price information based on your individual circumstances. While I’ve literally NEVER heard a family say, “Wow. We are getting that much in aid! That seems too generous,” most families report that the net price calculator serves as a helpful catalyst to gauge likely cost and discuss the reality of attending a particular college. Also, check out online message boards, and talk to friends from your community about their experience at certain schools. Many schools will “discount” or reduce a percentage of attendance in order to meet enrollment goals. You’ll especially see this happen at private schools in the mid to upper tier. As long as your family discusses what the ultimate package/cost of attendance will need to be for it to be affordable, don’t let the broadly published total keep you from applying.
  • Don’t believe the rankings hype. If you have been admitted to two schools and there is a significant disparity (a number for you to define) in ultimate costs, do not choose the one ranked higher based solely on that factor. Look at the current NCAA Basketball rankings. Can you really make a compelling argument that the team ranked number six is significantly better than number twelve? Would you put money on them finishing higher in final polling or that they’ll advance further in the tournament? Let’s say you had to put down $500 to align with number six and only $100 to ride the tide with number twelve? Both schools will prepare you well, they’ll support you academically and socially, and they’ll be broadly known to give you every opportunity during and after your college experience. Just as much as you expect a holistic admission process as an applicant, your selection of a school should incorporate far more than a number on a page (particularly a hotly contested and arguably arbitrary one). NACAC provides a healthy lens to view rankings through here.
  • Think more broadly than quantifiable ROI (return on investment). Thankfully, since about 2009, our nation has been more conscious of discussing ROI. The right questions are being asked about the value of a college degree and the employability of a particular major based on supply and demand. However, the metrics used for determining value and ROI, while helpful, only look at dollars invested vs. dollars earned in starting or mid- career situations. Is this college a place where you will be challenged in what you know, what you believe, how you live now, and how you will live in the future? Are the connections you make—both among classmates, professors, and alumni—the kind of people that you want to surround yourself with and be associated with in both the long and short term?

I know it’s a lot easier to throw in five ingredients that simultaneously make a gourmet meal AND leave your hair well-conditioned for life, but adding nuance to some of these otherwise overly simplified aspects of the admission process means you are doing your job and allocating due weight to the importance of this decision.

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 “D” Word

I don’t swear a lot. Occasionally, but not that often. Partly that’s because I’m not apt to losing my temper, and I also remember being told that cursing lacks creativity. That always stuck with me, and I think it’s had a lasting impact.

THE ‘S’ WORD

Recently, my seven year old son came home extremely upset because a neighbor kid had used “THE ‘S’ WORD!” Despite being the Holidays I was pretty sure we weren’t talking about Santa, so I immediately started considering how I’d respond. I asked him to tell me more and as he began I started thinking about my advice. Something surrounding how “THE ‘S’ WORD” is not appropriate and you can get in trouble for using it and…. then I heard something that made me pause. “Yea. He was like, ‘that is just plain Ssssssss’… and then you know… and then, ‘Pid.'” Ok. Totally different “S word.” Totally different lecture. Totally different approach. Now we are moving into how that word is insulting, and lazy, and all the other synonyms that are more interesting.

THE ‘D’ WORD

But it got me thinking about college admission. Logically. At this time of year a lot of schools are releasing their EA and ED decisions. I’m already seeing posts on social media and hearing more from friends in our neighborhood talk about their son or daughter. One of the biggest questions surrounds…. “THE D WORD!” Nope… not deny. I suppose that’s kind of like the actual “S WORD.” Pretty clear. If you are denied, it’s frustrating, it’s upsetting, it’s a tough blow. But at least you have a decision and you can move on. I’ll write more about this in a future post, but it’s a lot like breaking up. You know where you stand… and who you won’t be standing next to. Unfortunately, defer and deny both start with the same letter. But their implications are extremely divergent.

If you are deferred admission from a school, it’s important for you to remember three things:

1. You are not denied. If a school did not think you were competitive or a good fit, they would have denied you. This sounds harsh but it’s true. There is a reason you got a different “D Word,” so pay attention because the message is as different as the two “S Words” above.

2. Finish the drill. Getting deferred is not fun. It means being in limbo a while longer. Now you are going to need to send in fall grades, you may need to write an additional essay or tell more about your personal activities. But you are not denied. The school that deferred you wants to see more. They need to understand perhaps how you’ve done in a challenging senior schedule, or if your upward grade trend will continue, or if you can juggle more responsibility outside the classroom with your course load within. And they likely also want to see how you stack up with the entire applicant pool. So defer is a “hold on” or a “maybe” or even a “tell me more.” So do that. If you liked a school enough to apply, you should finish the drill. After all, it’s called an admission process. Sometimes that means more than just one round. See it through by submitting what they request and put your absolute best foot forward. OR cancel your application and be done. But don’t go halfway and stop giving your best effort.

3. Check your ego.  The truth is that you should do this when you are admitted, denied, or deferred. After all, an admission decision is not a value or character decision. Don’t blur the lines. If you are deferred from a college you really want to attend, you need to give them every confidence that you should be admitted in the next round, or even from the wait list. If a school asks for a mid- spring report, or they call your counselor, or they ask you to come in for an interview, you have solid grades and interesting new information to share. Your job as a senior is to finish well.

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