Light in the Darkness

Listen to “Episode 29: Light in the Darkness – Rick Clark” on Spreaker.

In the days following the attack on the U.S. Capitol, we have been inundated with social media posts, interviews, opinions, podcasts, and articles riddled with frustration, finger pointing, and fallout. News stories have aired everything from caustic political rhetoric to disconcerting details related to injuries, deaths, and arrests. At this point, hundreds of CEOs, presidents of boards, chancellors of universities and systems, and others in top positions of leadership have released statements condemning these events and expressing their outrage, sadness, and shock.

Simultaneously, we are watching the escalation of  diagnosed cases and hospitalizations related to Covid-19, and learning more about the threat of a new Covid strain. While the 24-hour news cycle would never tolerate succinctly summarizing the beginning of 2021, I think a fair and accurate word to use would be darkness.

Martin Luther King, Jr quoteIn stark contrast, admission officers are spending their days during this time reading essays, conducting interviews, and hearing stories each day from incredible high school students who are investing in their schools, families, and communities. While you would never know it, your descriptions of hopes, dreams, resolve, and purpose, and the indisputable evidence of your growth, resilience, and vision serve as precious gift. Sources of deep encouragement and optimism—or in a word: light.

My goal is to return the favor and provide you with some hope and encouragement.

As a high school student:

As 2021 kicks off and you head back to class, I hope you continue to pour yourself into your sports, clubs, activities, and work. If there were ever a time to dig in and contribute, it’s now. Make something around you fundamentally better this semester.

On college admission panels and during presentations people inevitably ask what we are “looking for.” In most cases, I think they expect us to rattle off some kind of formula that includes five AP classes, at least one award in the junior year, and sustained volunteer work. The truth is admission officers are looking for applicants who have been good students inside and outside the classroom in high school.  Simply put they want to admit and enroll people who will be deeply missed by their school and community when they graduate.

Take some time in the week ahead to thank those who have helped you and supported you along the way. Email your fourth-grade teacher, go for a walk with your little sister, send a note to your ninth-grade science teacher, and as always, hug your mama. Everyone could use some more light in their life right now. Embrace that opportunity.

I also hope you: practice listening; worry less about what people think about you; break out of any cliques or relationships you know are not healthy; be disciplined enough to intentionally put your phone away for specified times each day and week; and start each morning contemplating at least one thing you are grateful for in your life.

As a college applicant:

I hope you are confident enough to consider the opinions of others but think for yourself.

I hope you figure out why you are going to college and ask the questions that really matter to you along the way.

I hope you wait well. Concern yourself more with preparing for college in general than obsessing about the internal machinations and committee deliberations of any particular college.

I hope you will not use the term “top” or “first choice.”  Don’t take an offer of admission for granted, and instead enthusiastically celebrate each one as an exciting option and opportunity.

I hope you remember college admission decisions are not character judgments or predictions of future potential. Getting in, or not getting in, to a particular school does not change who you are, the feasibility of your goals, or define you in a substantive way.

I hope you will be humble and selfless enough to celebrate your friends in their successes and comfort them in their disappointment.

I hope you are proactive in initiating critical conversations with your family about uncomfortable topics like paying for college, loans, distance from home, your major of choice, and colleges you do and do not want to apply to or attend. I hope as a result of those courageous dialogues you and your family will be able to make a unified decision devoid of ego and rooted in authenticity.

I hope you are cognizant of what and how you post on social media related to your college applications and decisions.

I hope your ultimate college choice will be based on an authentic internal compass, rather than on external pressures or commercialized rankings.

Continue to Be A Light 

For some reason people tend to think of the actual college experience and the college admission experience as separate entities. The truth is the two are closely linked.

They are both about developing critical thinking skills, seeing a bigger picture, seeking diverse voices, researching information, being comfortable with some gray and unknowns, weighing options, questioning data, understanding historical context, and keeping a broad (ideally global) perspective.

In a time of division, disruption, and disillusionment, thank you for helping those of us working in college counseling and admission, to see evidence of unity, progress, and hope. Ultimately, as a high school student, a college applicant, and both into and beyond your college years, I hope you will continue to be a light.

What does being admitted mean?

This is the final blog in our three-part series looking at different admission decisions. Check out part 1 (what it does and does not mean to be deferred) and part 2 (how to handle and move forward after being denied) for more details.  

“You are in! Congratulations! Welcome!”

In the last few weeks, thousands and thousands of students have received letters, emails, or portal notifications with these words. Fireworks, falling confetti, gifs with mascots dancing (if you got one with fireworks dancing or mascots on fire, please contact the admission office immediately!). Being offered admission is a little bit easier to understand than being deferred or denied, but there is good reason the letter you received is more than one sentence. So, let’s dive into what it does and does not mean, as well as what you should do and avoid doing after being admitted. (Note: This week I’m pushing my predictions about offers of admission during Covid-19 to the end, so stay tuned!).

What does being admitted mean?  

It means “Yes! You are in! Congratulations! Welcome!” (Cue the music!)

Being admitted means the college recognizes and celebrates your academic ability and preparation, as well as your potential to contribute outside the classroom on their campus. Additionally, it means your writing, interviews, recommendations, or other supporting materials were in line with their mission and goals as an institution. This is what is commonly referred to as match or fit.

It means you have an option, a choice, a possible place to continue your education and pursue your long-term goals. This is a big deal! Congratulations!

What should you do?  

I know this is not really a 2020 thing to do, but you should CELEBRATE! You. Got. In! So regardless of whether you are convinced you are going to that college or not– celebrate. Order out from your favorite restaurant or treat yourself to something you’ve been wanting (we should all buy ourselves at least one thing around the holidays anyway, right?). You do you.

The bottom line is we are all too quick to move on to the next thing in life. You should sit with your success for just a moment.  Consider the hard work you have put in to have this choice. Then thank the people in your life who have made this possible. Family members, coaches, teachers, and so on. Send them a text, write them a note, or bring them a gift. Celebrating is always better in community- thank yours!

Attend admitted student sessions.  In the weeks and months ahead, that college is going to host a number of online or in-person sessions, tours, or virtual programs specifically for admitted students. Register for these. This is a great opportunity to hear from current students, faculty, or alumni about their experience in that community. Invaluable information.

Meet financial aid deadlines. If you were admitted through an ED plan, this will look a bit different. Likely you have a deposit deadline to meet soon and they will be sending you plenty… plenty of information and reminders here.

If you were admitted through a non-binding plan, make sure to submit your FAFSA and any other required financial aid documents as soon as possible. Financial aid is all about deadlines. Check out more on our recent podcast.

What does being admitted NOT mean?  

It does not mean you are smarter, cooler, or a better person than someone in your class, team, or neighborhood who did not get in. I’m not saying you’re not awesome, and the college who offered you admission clearly communicated that in words and graphics. Soon they will be reiterating that message in every medium known to man (phone calls, emails, letters, texts, and potentially owls, too).

But let’s be honest: it could have gone the other way for you, too. As we’ve covered, holistic admission is unpredictable. Again, some crazy qualified and talented students did not get in. They are disappointed and hurting. So, act like you’ve been there before.

It’s okay to post your excitement on social media, but a little humility goes a long way. There is a big difference between: “Got into UVA! Hoo didn’t think I’d get in.” vs. “Accepted to Colorado College. Excited and humbled.”  Whether it be online or in person, keep it classy, my friend.

What should you AVOID doing? 

Do not blow off any offer of admission as being a little thing. Too often we hear students say, “Yeah, I got it, but it’s just the University of X.” C’mon, man. What kind of logic is that? You are the one who applied there! Be thankful that you have an option! In my opinion, that is the entire goal of the college admission experience.

Avoid slacking off in classes or making drastic changes to your spring schedule now that you have been admitted. Go back and read the second or third section of that letter. Inevitably, it discusses how they will be reviewing your final fall and spring grades. They likely discuss their right to revoke admission if you do not continue the academic pattern you set over the last few years, and on which they based their decision to admit you.

If you are going to make changes to your spring schedule, especially if those move away from and not toward additional or equivalent rigor, you should contact the college before spring semester begins.

Want to read more about being offered admission? Read on. And on.

Prediction:  In general, there will be more offers of admission going out in the fall, spring, and summer this year for a few reasons. First, I expect many colleges stay flat or lose applications compared to last year. We are already seeing this in Common App data, and some schools who were up in EA/ED are seeing their gap close as the RD deadline approaches. More EA and ED admits means more closed apps earlier in the cycle, and thus more spots freed up (in other words, look for an increase in admit rate).

Recent National Clearinghouse data supports what many feared: fewer students both started (-4.4%) and returned to college this year (-13%). As a result, many colleges will be looking for ways to build back enrollment. Some will turn the transfer lever harder, but many will seek to grow their first-year class size. Again, more admits.

So, whether you have recently been admitted or you are still waiting on decisions, the good news is colleges need students! Whether you are currently sitting on an admit or waiting to hear back, I have full confidence one is coming your way. Covid has been rough on the class of 2020 and 2021. This is a bright spot. Get fired up!

What does being deferred mean?  

Listen to “Episode 27: What Does Being Deferred Really Mean? – Rick Clark” on Spreaker.

Recently we modified the final portion of our podcast to field listener questions from Instagram, Twitter, and Reddit. If you have something you want us to tackle, feel free to tag @gtadmission.

A few recent inquiries surrounded how to prepare for the various admission decisions that will be coming out from colleges and universities in the next few weeks, and how/if we think anything will be different this year due to the pandemic.

Since we know you are busy with classes and your time is limited right now, we will hit the highlights of each possible EA/ED decision (deferred, denied, admitted) over the next few weeks and put a few podcasts out on these topics as well.

Deferred

Prediction: I think more students will be deferred this year by selective schools than they have in the past. Keep in mind enrollment managers are doing exactly what their job title says: managing enrollment (you come here for the deep stuff, I know).

Colleges are closely, and quite nervously, watching their spring enrollment numbers. What will retention look like if students were disappointed with their fall experience on campus, online, or in some hybrid delivery mode? If they take an additional financial hit, they will likely be looking to build an even bigger first-year class for the summer or fall of 2021.

Additionally, they have lots of questions about how to predict this year’s admitted student behavior:

  • Will yield go down as a result of test score optional policies?
  • Will international students be able to receive visas at pre-pandemic rates?
  • Will the financial fallout of Covid-19 deteriorate yield of domestic students?

All of this means they will likely defer a higher percentage of early applicants in order to wait and see what they can learn about vaccines, infection rates, economic recovery… you know, little stuff like that.

What does being deferred mean?  

It means maybe, hold onwe’re not surewe’d like to see more. Better than No? Yes. Ideal? Nope.

Being deferred means you have more waiting to do, and that is not easy or fun. This year more than ever before, though, I want to urge you to finish the drill. More defers does not necessarily mean more admits in the spring, but in many cases I think it will. And that is likely true from the waitlist too, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.  

You are likely going to need to submit another application or two. If you’ve already got this covered, that’s great. If not, then good news—many great schools have deadlines in January. Look for colleges that interest you who have higher admit rates and lower academic profiles than the one(s) that deferred you.

What should you do?  

First, read the letter, subsequent emails, and portal instructions closely. Then do what they say.

You are going to have some more work to do. Inevitably, you will need to send in fall grades, so finish this semester strong. Colleges that defer you will want to see how you’ve done in a challenging senior schedule (especially an abnormal junior spring term), or if your upward grade trend will continue, or how you are adjusting based on responsibilities outside the classroom. You may need to write an additional essay, have an online interview, or complete a form indicating continued interest or discussing updates on your fall activities.

What does being deferred NOT mean?  

It does not mean they are questioning your ability, talent, intelligence or potential match for their school. I understand we all desire instant gratification, but don’t miss the fact that the admission process can teach you some lifelong lessons (for example, some things are worth waiting for; some things do not happen your first time out; sometimes getting put on hold gives you a chance to reflect).

While both words start with “De,” being deferred does not mean you are 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. Disappointed? Understood. 2020 has been a clinic in disappointment, so I feel you. But 2020 has also reminded us about patience, seeing the positives, and keeping perspective. You got this.

What should you AVOID doing? 

Please do not take being deferred as code for “try harder” by sending 18 additional letters of recommendation, stalking admission counselors on social media, going to see a fortune teller, or getting a tattoo of four-leaf clovers + college logo on your back.

In my opinion, particularly based on the enrollment uncertainty I described above, you should not write off a school you have strong interest in at this point in the cycle. Hold on, send us some stuff, tell us more– you can do that. Unless you have gotten into another college that is a better match for you, then I strongly encourage you to see this through.

Want to know more about being deferred? Read on. And on. And on.

Next week we will delve into what it means to be denied admission. 

The Basics of College Admission: Part 4

The last several months have led to a lot of finger pointing. The left blaming the right, and the right giving it back to the left. School administrators have been accused of being irresponsible in how they opened, or did not open, their elementary, middle, and high schools, and college presidents have certainly been the targets of plenty of ire and consternation as well.

Photo credit: The Raleigh News & Observer (file photo)

As we head into Thanksgiving and the holiday season, I’m hopeful for a different kind of finger pointing. This is the stuff of the great Dean Smith coached UNC basketball teams—when someone helps you score, win, or succeed, and you acknowledge them by pointing to them in recognition.

The truth right now is we are all doing our absolute best in a time of great ambiguity. That’s draining and often lonely. My hope is you’ll look around you today and point your finger to (not at) someone who makes your life better—the people who help you learn, grow, and thrive. Finger points during Covid include texts, calls, distanced high fives, long-sleeved elbow bumps, and a variety of other mediums. Be creative and let the folks you love and appreciate know that today.

I’ll go first: This blog and podcast would never be possible without the incredible team I have the honor to work with at Georgia Tech. To Becky Tankersley, editor extraordinaire—THANK YOU! Your patience, attention to detail, and friendship are huge blessings in my life. To Samantha Rose- Sinclair, aka. SAMMY!! who edits our podcasts and cleans up all of my stumbles, mumbles, and bumbles—THANK YOU!

To each and everyone one of my colleagues featured below—Finger point, finger point, finger point! I appreciate y’all and consider it a true privilege to call you friends and colleagues.

Our mini-series “The Basics of College Admission” has been a great success. Thanks to those of you who have downloaded, subscribed, and listened over the last few weeks. If you are just tuning in or catching up, here is a quick look at some recent episodes on very timely topics.

Admission and Scholarship Interviews

Chelsea Scoffone (Associate Director, Special Scholarships) provides key tips and insight into how to prepare and practice for interviews, answer questions well, relax and actually enjoy the experience.

Listen to “Basics of College Admission: Interviews for Admission & Scholarship Programs – Chelsea Scoffone” on Spreaker.

Top Tips: Take advantage of “optional interviews.” Use interviews to learn more about the school and communicate aspects about your background that may not come out as clearly in your application. The best interviews are really a conversation. Translation: Don’t memorize answers!

Listen For: Key questions to ask yourself in preparation. The three biggest misconceptions students have about interviews.

Key Quote: “Don’t restate your resume…we are trying to learn those things that cannot be captured on your application.”

Further Reading: Big Future and US News

Transfer Admission

Chad Bryant (Associate Director, Undergraduate Admission) helps students understand ways students can research, prepare, and successfully transfer between colleges. He provides great tips into how students should learn about course requirements, transfer credit, deadlines, and more.

Listen to “Basics of College Admission: Transfer Admission – Chad Bryant” on Spreaker.

Top Tips: Take time to stop, reflect, and consider your goals for your college experience. Reach out to schools early to understand their specific process—they’re all different by design, which is both beautiful and maddening.

Listen For: An explanation of articulation and transfer programs or pathways.

Key Quote: “More than 1/3 of college students transfer colleges, and nearly half of those transfer more than once.”

Further Reading: National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, National Institute for the Study of Transfer Students, American Association of Community Colleges, NACAC.

The Basics of Financial Aid

Larry Stokes (Customer Service Manager, Office of Scholarships and Financial Aid) explains the “alphabet soup” of Financial Aid. He walks students through FAFSA, CSS Profile, NPC (Net Price Calculator), COA (Cost of Attendance), and EFC (Estimated Family Contribution) and gives critical tips for students and families about deadlines, questions to ask, timeline of submitting documents, and other helpful tips and advice.

Listen to “Basics of College Admission: Financial Aid – Larry Stokes” on Spreaker.

Top Tips: Deadlines, Deadlines, Deadlines! Each school is different. Research each college and their requirements.

Listen For: How to use Net Price Calculators and how to locate “outside scholarships.”

Key Quote: “Schools are not going to be chasing you down to throw money at you.”

Further Reading:  FastWeb, College Affordability and Transparency Center,  and Federal Student Aid

Who is Reading Your Application?

Katie Faussemagne (Senior Assistant Director) gives you a look into the admission committee room. Who are admission counselors? What are their backgrounds and interests? And exactly what are they looking for when they open your application or interview you for their college?

Listen to “Basics of College Admission: Who’s Reading Your Application? – Katie Faussemagne” on Spreaker.

Top Tips: Don’t try to figure out what an admission counselor “wants to hear” in an essay or an interview.

Listen For: “The hidden rubric.”

Key Quote: “The biggest misconception students have is we all wear navy blazers and have a deny stamp in our hand.”

Further Reading: Our five-part blog series on The Admission Team.

Have a great week! Remember, give your fingers a break from the keyboard. Lift them up, extend them out, and encourage someone around you now.

If you would like to subscribe to receive blog entries when they post, please enter your email address in the “subscribe” box at the top of the page. We welcome comments and feedback at @gtadmission on Twitter.

The Basics of College Admission: Part 3

It’s good to know your limits. It’s good to understand when the best thing to do is step aside and let someone else handle things. It’s also hard to miss those moments when family members communicate these things gently (but clearly) in statements such as:

  • “Just hand me the remote. I’ll show you how to find that.”
  • “I think we are good to go on virtual school today. It might be better if you go into the office.”
  • “That’s not an aerial. That’s not even a somersault. Watch this!”

This also happens to me at work. I’m fortunate to have an incredibly talented team of colleagues and friends around me. So, when it comes to communication strategy, data analysis, file review training, technology enhancements, and much more, I’ve learned to let the experts lead.

In that spirit, I’m cutting this intro short so you can hear directly from my insightful and experienced colleagues about key elements of your college admission and application experience.

Activities and Contribution to Community

Ellery Kirkconnell (Senior Admission Counselor) helps you understand what admission counselors are really looking for when they read and discuss your involvement, influence, and impact outside of the classroom.

Listen to “Basics of College Admission: Activities & Contribution to Community – Ellery Kirkconnell” on Spreaker.

Top Tips: Focus on what you’ve contributed to your school, community, or family. This section is critical, so don’t short sell your involvement or rely on your strong academic background. “Tell us more” is the rule of thumb!

Listen For: Ellery’s crystal ball predictions on how this section will be reviewed in light of Covid-19.

Key Quote: “Impact does not necessarily mean you were a president of an organization… elected official… or the captain of a sports team.”

Further Reading Viewing: Ellery’s YouTube clip on C2C.

Letters of Recommendation

Kathleen Voss (East Coast Admission Director) provides key tips for students as they consider who to ask for letters of recommendation. She also provides helpful insight into what college admission readers are (and are not) looking for when they come to this section of applications.

Listen to “Basics of College Admission: Letters of Recommendation – Kathleen Voss” on Spreaker.

Top Tips: Good recommendations showcase your character/compliment your story. Help your recommenders help you by giving them the time/direction/info they need to do their best job.  Only send the number of recs any particular college asks you to submit.

Listen For: The Starbucks Test (Honorable mention- Jerry McGuire hat tip).

Key Quote: “You are the book. And this is the person reviewing the book.”

Further Reading:   Big Future’s recs on recs. Insight from the Georgia Tech of Boston, aka MIT.

The Additional Information Section

Katie Mattli (Senior Assistant Director) explains what this section is (and what it’s not), as well as what readers are really looking for when they come to this section.

Listen to “Basics of College Admission: Understanding the Additional Information Section – Katie Mattli” on Spreaker.

Top Tips: It’s okay to leave this section blank. It’s not an additional essay or continuation of your resume and extra-curriculars. It’s an opportunity to include critical details of your story that you’ve not been able to include elsewhere. Google “the art of brevity.”

Listen For: Katie’s patented “two-part method” for approaching this section.

Key Quote: “I am a human being- and I’m trying to understand you as a human being.”

Further Reading: The Write Life.

That’s it for the real wisdom and helpful advice. In other news, here’s one more.

College Essays and Supplemental Writing

Rick Clark (Director of Undergraduate Admission) walks students through how to get started, possible topics to consider, and what “your voice” really means. He also touches on supplemental essays for colleges and walks you through very tangible tips for making your writing better.

Listen to “Basics of College Admission: Writing for Colleges – Rick Clark” on Spreaker.

Top Tips:  Voice record your essay and listen back for ways to improve. Your application is a story: how can your essay fill in gaps and round out the most complete picture of you? Have an adult who does not know you very well read your essays to simulate the experience and takeaways of an admission counselor.

Listen For: Personal secrets and confessions.

Key Quote: “Essays should be personal and detailed. The worst essays are vanilla. They’re broad and have a bunch of multi-syllabic words.”  

Further Reading:  Blogger, coach, author, and overall good person, Ethan Sawyer, aka The College Essay Guy. Five Practical Tips for Writing for Colleges.

Thanks for reading—and thanks for listening. We will be wrapping up our mini-series, “The Basics of College Admission,” in the next month with episodes including financial aid, interviews, transfer admission, and more.

At this point, we’ve reached about 18,000 listeners on The College Admission Brief podcast. Admittedly, my mom and kids have a few accounts I created which is inflating those stats, but in general we’re pleased and truly appreciative. The annual podcast fee just hit my credit card, so we’ll definitely continue to be around and want to make this as helpful as possible as you navigate your admission experience.

If there is topic you think we missed and want us to cover, please reach out to @clark2college or @gtadmission.

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