How the Olympics Explain College Admission– Part I

Like much of the world, our family was hooked on the Olympics for the last two weeks. So many incredible stories of perseverance and life-long dreams, not to mention many memorable performances. We were distraught by the early losses of US Women’s soccer and Men’s basketball teams, elated by the heart and spirit of Suni Lee and Caleb Dressel, and torn as to which was the more surprising sport included at these Games: walking, trampoline, or sport climbing. 

While Olympic coverage and commercials may fade away in the months ahead, don’t forget the important lesson they’ve taught us—evaluation is made in one of two primary ways: purely quantifiable numbers/times (track, swimming, etc.); or with a certain degree of human judgment and subjectivity (diving, gymnastics, etc.).  

The college admission process is really no different. As we have established in prior blogs, there are nearly 4,000 colleges in America. While they vary as widely as Olympic sports, they essentially make determinations in one of these two ways: formulaic/quantifiable or holistic/ less quantifiable. 

Formulaic Admission Process (aka The High Jump)  

If you apply to a school using this framework for selecting students, you will be asked to sprint down a thin lane carrying a long stick and miraculously catapult yourself above a bar. What?! Nobody told you about that part? I hope you’ve been stretching.  

Formulaic review is typically found at public universities who have determined that academic factors alone (high school GPA and often test scores) are sufficient to evaluate and enroll students who will be successful at their institution. Formulaic admission is based on just that—formulas or regression models derived from evaluating the performance of current students (college GPA, retention rates, graduation rates) and then back mapping that information to establish that college’s admission standards.  

If you watched the high jump in the Olympics, the height of the bar was  immediately evident, and it was obvious who ultimately cleared it and who did not. Colleges with formulaic processes operate the same way. The “bar” is set and simple to understand because it is completely transparent. You’ll find these published on schools’ websites, often with an accompanying calculator for you to plug in your academic credentials.  

A good example of formulaic admission is found in Iowa  where students can plug their GPA and test scores into an online calculator, in order to determine their admissibility to the University of Iowa, Iowa State University, and University of Northern Iowa. The admission standards for most of Georgia’s public universities are dictated by the Freshman Index, and the California State System outlines its standards here. In these examples, just as with the Olympic high jump, anyone who clears the bar advances/ is admitted.  

The truth is there are lots of incredible colleges around the country operating this way. As you are making your college list for visits or applications, I  encourage you to check out your options in this space. Ask yourself these questions: 

  • Does my state university system have a publicly available admission formula? If so, does it apply to all universities in my state or only some?  
  • Can I find a college or university in my city/state/region (or one that has mailed me material lately) that uses a formulaic admission review process? 

I’m confident that if you took the time to read and consider your personal rankings after our recent blog (Hint: hyperlinks =  suggested reading), you will be able to find at least one college using formulaic admission that: offers a major that is of interest to you; is located in a town or area you would enjoy going to college; matches with your outside interests; and would offer you admission based on your current grades and scores.   

Holistic Admission Review (aka Gymnastics All-Around) 

In stark contrast to the objective, “clear the bar” process for advancing, you have gymnastics, specifically, the all-around competition. Gymnasts perform vastly different routines with varying levels of rigor and style on multiple elements (just learned that term) — and ultimately receive scores from human judges.  

Through history there have been constant claims of a lack of fairness, evidence of bribing, and consistent complaints from participants, their coaches, and fans about slight differentiations that have made the difference between standing on the podium or not. In the rules book for judges (I skimmed it), you will find references to metrics and guidelines, but also the undeniable presence of nuance and subjectivity. 

I’m guessing this all sounds pretty similar to how you have heard the holistic admission described. The good news, if you apply to colleges using this style of review, is you will not be evaluated solely on your high school grades or test scores. More good news– admission reviewers are trained to use empathy, judgment, trends, and context. Translation: If your vault is not perfect, you can still impress on the beam.  

On the flip side (pun intended), this type of review is gray, and they will be utilizing a variety of qualitative factors that don’t fit neatly into a rubric or published/standardized criteria spreadsheet. Additionally, holistic review signals that in addition to assessing your ability to succeed in the classroom, they also want to enroll students who will enhance their campus community and help fulfill their mission (e.g., institutional priorities). Therefore, it will be difficult, and in some cases impossible, to predict whether you will end up on their particular podium or not.  

If you are like me, you may have felt this way as a spectator of gymnastics this summer. “Oh, WOW!! That was great. Impressive.” Next gymnast performs. “Okay. Also, amazing. Hmmm… I’m not sure. Can we give out more medals?” Answer: NO. Just like the medal podium, holistic review exists because of a supply and demand challenge. In other words, there are more incredible applicants than there are seats/beds/space available. 

Context is everything for colleges using a holistic admission review process. This means when they analyze your transcript, they are not simply going to take the weighted or unweighted GPA at face value. Instead, those humans are going to ask specific, detailed questions to understand your academic and environmental context: What clubs/organizations did you have access to in your high school? What courses did you take and how did you perform in each class, grade, subject area? How did you invest your time outside the classroom? And what impact and influence did you have on your family, community, school, and so on?  What barriers and challenges did you face academically and beyond the classroom? 

Before you ever submit an application to a college using holistic review, take the time to write down or say out loud that you are intentionally competing in gymnastics, rather than the high jump. You are choosing a nuanced, gray, and subjective competition and evaluation, and you are comfortable with the fact that numbers alone will not dictate your results. Promise yourself now that you will not waste time or energy (or precious weeks of your senior year) trying to predict the outcome. And, if you don’t end up on the “podium,” commit to handling your disappointment with class and grace. Is any of that easy? No. But this is Olympic gymnastics! What did you expect?  

Honestly, there are too many parallels…and unevens (Sorry- couldn’t resist) between the Olympics and college admissions to fit into one blog, so look for Part II later this month.

 

The Basics of College Admission 2.0

Listen to “We’re Going Back to Basics! | Basics of College Admission 2.0” on Spreaker.

Is this a blog about a podcast? Yes.  

Do you realize this is not the first time you have done this? Yes. But hold on let’s acknowledge that the first time I did that was on March 5, 2020.  A year plus is always a long time ago in the life of a teenager, but a friggin’ eternity ago for humankind in general given the pandemic blur. 

How do you feel about using the term “friggin’” in writing? I’m more comfortable with that than I am the fact that I’m interviewing myself in writing. Let’s get to it, shall we? 

The brief on The College Admission Brief  

65 produced episodes 

53,600 total listens 

Top Countries outside the US for listeners: India, Taiwan, Japan, United Kingdom.  

No commercials, minimal product placement, and generally PG-13.  

Each month we dive into the analytics on our website, social media channels, blog, podcast, etc. Recently, as we did an annual review of the podcast, it was clear that the topics students most listened to surrounded a series we launched last year entitled: “The Basics of College Admission.” That series provided tips and insight about the college application, including how admission readers consider your GPA, rigor of curriculum, activities & leadership, essays/supplemental questions, as well as test scores (particularly in a test optional environment).  

FYI- another very popular podcast and blog from last year that is particularly timely right now was “Five Practical Tips for Writing for Colleges.” After seeing those analytics, I both re-read and re-listened. Other than giving me a bit of PTSD and reminding me of the “BRU-TAL!” experience, that is one that I’d definitely recommend to seniors getting started with their essays or short-answer responses this fall.  

With all of that said, since we are headed back into application season, our plan is to re-boot the application breakdown series this fall with new episodes and new voices. We thought long and hard about a good title. We brainstormed, white-boarded, design thought, post-it noted, and even brainboarddesignposted. Fueled by Sour Patch Kids, pour over coffee, and Lance crackers (this is the minimal product placement section), we came up with an incredibly fresh title…. “The Basics of College Admission 2.0” Thank you. Thank you very much.  

So, in the upcoming weeks/months, you can expect us to both write and talk about all of the key elements of the application, including tips, pitfalls, and inside the admission office perspective on the how/if to write about “community disruption” on the Common Application, why the “Additional Information” section is there and how to differentiate that from the “Covid-19” prompt, and much more.  

Additionally, over the last year we have been on numerous virtual sessions with students and are beginning to see more visitors back on campus. Our goal is to help you ask more clear, helpful questions in your college admission experience. So in each episode we’ll ask our guests a bit about how you should be framing your questions to get usable and important information. My last blog was about helping you ask and answer “Do I Care?” These podcasts will help you reverse that so you can hone in on the things you do care about and learn more.  

We genuinely appreciate you both reading and listening. As the new year begins, we are excited to continue bringing you helpful, timely, and hopefully succinct and uplifting content. Speaking of- our staff has been using resources from Action for Happiness. Consider downloading August’s calendar and putting this into practice this month. 

Our goal is always to be a resource to you. If you have questions, suggestions, or topics you would like to see covered, please reach out on social media @gtadmission. 

What Will Your Sentence Be?

Listen to “What Will Your Sentence Be? – Lewis Caralla, Head Strength and Conditioning Coach for Georgia Tech Football” on Spreaker.

Lewis Caralla is the head strength and conditioning coach for Georgia Tech Football. Many days, after practice, he records videos for his players that start with, “Hey, guys. Got a message.” While these are brief, they are always poignant, passionate, and indicative of his deep love for his players—reflective of his desire to see them challenged and constantly improving. 

Recently, he started one of these videos with, “I think, in the end, we are all going to be defined by one sentence.” Well…that got my attention.  He went on to ask how people in your life would describe you. What is the “first thing that comes to mind about you?”  

Over the last two weeks, I’ve taken some time to think about that concept and wrestle with how people around me would answer the question. What do my kids say to their friends about me? How do my parents, colleagues, or neighbors quickly describe and summarize who I am? What are the first words, common phrases, and connecting themes? 

At any stage of life, this is a convicting and important concept.  

What do you want that sentence to be?  

What is it right now?  

Where are the gaps between ideal and current?  

If you are feeling really bold, ask the people in your life that you love, respect, and trust to share their summary sentence with you.  

Got a Message. 

When most admission officers, high school counselors, or independent consultants talk about applying to college, they break down the application into various segments. We have done that on our blog and podcast as well. It works well for purposes of simplicity and digestibility, so you won’t have to search online long to find pieces like, “Five Excellent Essay Tips,” “Acing the Interview,” or “Excelling in Extra-curriculars!”   

And we know that most students approach their application this way too. “Ok. I’m going to go ahead and get my Activities section done this week, and then I’ll move on to the Supplementary Questions  next week.” Hey, good on you. I love the time management (just try to avoid “next week” ending with an 11:59 p.m. submission on deadline day).  

Don’t misunderstand me. It is important to step away from your work a few times before submitting in order to either have others give you feedback, or for you to gain perspective and catch things you might not see in your first round of working through the prompts or questions. However, continually talking about the application in this fragmented fashion is misleading, because at schools receiving far more applications from incredibly talented students than they have spots available, that is not how they’re ultimately discussed, nor is that how admission decisions are made.  

I understand movies about college admission will make it seem like these pensive and stoic deans are dressed up, wearing spectacles, and sitting around oaken (a word typically reserved only for admission review and Lord of the Rings) tables, debating for hours the merits of each student who has applied to their prestigious university that year. However, due to the speed with which they’re reading, the volume of applications they are reviewing, and the compressed timeline for making decisions, the notes, conversations, and exchanges of admission officers are more like a Coach Caralla video- informative, personal, passionate, and incredibly succinct.  

The question then is after one of these folks reviews your transcript, reads your responses to essays or short–answer questions, considers the context of your community, family and school, evaluates your activities, and looks over your recommendation letters, what will their sentence be in summarizing your application– and how it fits into the larger applicant pool?   

And, back to the original question, “What do you want your sentence to be?” 

What do you want your sentence to be?

If you are a rising senior, my sincere hope is you will make this a constant question in your college admission search and selection experience.   

What do you want your sentence to be will help guide and lead you as you research and ultimately apply to colleges. It will serve as a signpost for articulating your hopes and dreams and determining if that campus environment and community is a good match.  

What do you want your sentence to be will help you select an essay topic from the various prompts. Students are always asking “which one” is best or “which one” should I choose? Well, let’s flip that. Which one helps you communicate your sentence? 

What do you want your sentence to be will help you know when you are done. Too often students struggle to submit their application because they are either nervous, or legitimately think that one more round of proofing or editing must be done. At some point, that is an exercise in futility.  

Instead, read over your application like an admission counselor would- cover to cover. And then ask your touchstone question—what will their one sentence summary be 

Will they include that you pushed and challenged yourself in the courses that were available in your school? 

Will they include that you were involved, had an impact on those around you, and influenced people positively? Will they answer that you will be missed by your school or community or family when you graduate? 

Will they include that they have a better sense of who you are and what you value from your writing? Essentially, that is what admission folks mean when they say, “we just want to hear your voice” or  advise you to“be authentic.”  

What do you want your sentence to be will help you wait. Clearly, one of the hardest parts of the admission experience for students is waiting on a result. After all of the hard work, preparation, consideration, and consternation, you send your application into the black hole of the admission office. If you are confident that your sentence is truly yours, you will have solace in that silence. 

What do you want your sentence to be will help you handle those admission decisions. We’ve written extensively about this in the past, and while those thousands of words are still accurate and valuable, the bottom line is this—if you are confident that your application accurately and compellingly communicated your sentence, then you will be able to keep perspective regardless of the results.     

Coach Caralla’s video concluded with this, “If you want a defining sentence that matters to you one day, live the one you want.” Bam! 

As you work on your applications, wait for decisions, and ultimately make your final college choice, that’s the mentality I hope you will adopt. It will help you eliminate options, tune out unhelpful voices, focus on what truly matters to you, and maintain peace, perspective, and sanity in the year ahead.  

Live your sentence well, friends.  

 

College Admission: Give Your Full 75%!

Listen to “College Admission: Give Your Full 75%! – Rick Clark” on Spreaker.

In many ways it appears we are nearing the end of the pandemic. While the most uttered term in 2020 was “pivot,” in 2021 “return to normal” is making a strong campaign.

I am urging you not to do that! Do NOT return to normal. Normal is overrated. DO NOT rush back to what was, but instead be very intentional about what you add back to your daily life and commitment list.

If you have not already done so, take some time this week to write down, voice record, or make notes in a document the things that you:

  • Really missed
  • Did not miss at all
  • Can’t wait to get back to
  • Hope will never full return
  • Lessons learned
  • Covid Silver Linings

If you are a junior/sophomore, doing this will be incredibly helpful as you begin your college search. Your answers will point you to identify your needs versus your wants and will help you figure out- and ultimately ask- very specific and pointed questions to admission officers, current students, and faculty members at the colleges you consider.

Maybe what you really missed was the opportunity to discuss what you were reading in smaller settings and receive more personalized interaction with your teachers. Yes, that is important! Yes, that is something to pay attention to and something that actually separates these colleges that, if you simply look at the brochures and online ads seem to all run together with sunny days and kids in pastoral settings earnestly debating issues.

If you are a senior, you are not done. Did someone tell you that? The things you missed really matter as you prepare for your first year. This summer you need to give thought to what those things were and come up with a plan for how you can immediately incorporate them into your life on campus.

Too many students get out of balance in their first semester one way or the other—either they lean too much into academics or allocate too much time and energy into social/community. If you really missed playing soccer or practicing taekwondo when things were shut down, plan to plug into those outlets early and consistently in the fall. First-years often underestimate how important the patterns they set are for mental health, building community, and being successful on all levels in college. This may sound obvious but it’s important- you only get one chance to start right. Make a plan now!

Conversely, if there were certain people (types of people) or habits that you realized during the great pandemic pause that are not healthy and don’t bring you joy/energy, well… don’t go back to them in college. Period.

Control What You Can Control

One of my big lessons from 2020 was: “Control what you can control.” I have now written that on a chalkboard, used it as a screen saver, and am giving some serious thought to ordering a mousepad or trucker hat with that statement soon. (My colleague, Ashley Brookshire, also wrote a great blog on this subject in 2019).

Try This: Before you go to bed tonight use a sharpie to write “CWC” on your hand. This will serve as a reminder for tomorrow morning when you wake up. From the very beginning of your day until  you go to sleep, take mental note of what you do and do not control throughout the day.

  • How quickly the shower water gets (or stays) hot
  • What you eat for breakfast
  • The weather/traffic
  • The mood of others
  • The texts, emails, calls you receive

Take note of what pops up in your day that derails you from getting something done or forces you to put in more time than you originally expected at school, work, practice, and so on. Pay attention to the noises, smells, voices around you.

What do you and do you not really control in your day?

What percentage of your day’s experience did you control?

Do you think if you looked over the course of a month or a year your percentage would be higher or lower than today?  

Maybe your control barometer will end up way above mine, but most days (especially during the pandemic) I was not breaking 50%, and often it was way less than that.

Controlling YOUR College Admission Experience

Juniors/Sophomores: How much of your college admission experience do you think you will be able to control? And for seniors, as you look back, how much would you say you controlled?

Do you think that percentage would be higher or lower than your average day? If you trust most of what is written about admit rates, the cost of college, waitlists, and so on, your guess may be in the single digits. BUT after watching this cycle repeat itself for 20 years now, I am here with a very different message. At this point, I am convinced that you control 75%.

25% – Where you apply. There are nearly 4000 colleges and universities in the United States alone. Many of them are already sending you emails, letters, or big brothering their way into your screen and feed. They are courting you, soliciting you, marketing to you, but ultimately it is your choice to apply or not. In other words, you decide the five, seven, eleven (please don’t go much higher than that) colleges you are interested in attending. Where you apply is totally in your control. Think about it this way- YOU are eliminating 99% of possible colleges. Talk about highly selective!

25%- Who offers you admission. So… this would be the part that you DO NOT control. If you or your parents are trying to manipulate or game exactly where you are admitted or how much financial aid you receive, please go watch The College Admission Scandal on Netflix. And if some agent or consultant tells you they “know” how this is going to play out…again, Netflix. Who offers you admission is not up to you, but again that’s only a fourth of this equation.

25%- Which college you select to attend. If you do your research, apply to a balanced list of schools (academically, financially, and selectivity), and remain open to several “top choices,” you are going to have great options. The ball will be back in your court in the spring of your senior year, and you will get to choose from your options.

Unfortunately, most of the conversation, press coverage, and general angst surrounding the college admission experience centers around where students do or do not “get in.” They make it feel like a zero-sum game that ends with either an offer or denial of admission.

In contrast, the people who really know and do this work (admission professionals/ school counselors) are always pointing to options and speaking broadly rather than narrowly. They knowthat true success is putting yourself in a position to make your own decisions. Your goal is to have choice and options. Which college you attend is up to you.

25%- How you show up. Seniors, I am looking at you!

This is the Tom Brady, Steph Curry (insert your favorite athlete, actress, CEO here) portion of college admission. This is about showing up on Day 1 with a mentality of being all in. In my opinion, is the most important part of the pie.

Plenty of kids who “get into their dream school” end up miserable there. Conversely, I’ve spoken to dozens of students in my career who did not end up at their “first choice” (a term I’m campaigning to eradicate) and ended up Kool-Aid drinking tour guides and the college’s biggest cheerleaders (sometimes literally). These are stories and experiences dictated by a mentality, rather than any particular campus.

If you are a senior, this is where your focus needs to be. Regardless of whether the college to which you have committed was your number one in January or not, it needs to be now. Your job is to get your head right this summer. Check your posture and be ready to walk onto campus head up, arms out (this is figurative, my friends), and ready to embrace your new community, and to make the most of the opportunities it presents.

I have said before and will not quit reiterating that the college admission experience, if done correctly, can teach you a ton about your actual college experience and life well beyond. The truth is that being committed, making the best of every day, situation or relationship, and choosing joy, community, and engagement is going to serve you well as a friend, partner, employee, and family member throughout your life.

I always thought it was dumb when people would say, “Give 110%!” because that is not really a thing. But 75%! Now that’s a thing. That is a lot of control. That’s an entirely different story—and it is a good one. Have fun living it out!

Parents: LEAVE NO DOUBT!

Listen to “Parents: Leave No Doubt! (Supporting Students in the Admission Journey) – Katie Faussmagne, Kathleen Voss” on Spreaker.

Even though Denzel Washington is the undeniable star of Remember The Titans, the film’s title first comes up in a line that Will Patton (Coach Yoast) delivers in the middle of a big game, “You make sure they remember forever the night they played the Titans!”

If this is a movie you have seen multiple times, you may recall that little piece of trivia. But you likely missed two key things: 1- if you pause or slow mo at the 1:05:53 mark, you may recognize the profile of one of the reporters on the stairs (Yep. I made a solid $50 and got a sandwich out of it too, but meeting Denzel was the real perk.) 2- The emphatic statement Patton makes as he sends his team back onto the field immediately following his Titans line: “Leave no doubt!” It was an encouragement and an endorsement. In those three words, he was basically underscoring that he supported his squad completely and  believed in them wholeheartedly. Powerful, right?

 

If you are the parent of a sophomore or junior, now is the time to double down on that same posture. The truth is students, even amidst eye rolls or sarcasm, are equally attentive to your body language, non-verbal cues, and tone of voice. While they may be pulling away toward independence, they still need you, deeply value your opinion, and long for your approval. As you head into the summer before their senior year, now is the time to be 100% sure they know that your love, pride, and belief in them is based not on where they apply, get admitted, or ultimately go to college.

Maybe you think you have this covered. It is worth asking them that question verbatim or specifically telling them now that you support ALL of the colleges they want to research, visit, and apply to. OR… if you do have some conditions, limitations, or reservations on places you do or do not want them to look or potentially go, NOW is the time to be clear about those too. Leave. No. Doubt!

Free of charge I offer you the patent pending “Clark Doubt Checker.”

Have you bought a t-shirt for yourself recently from a particular college your student is considering – or you hope they will apply to?

Do you ask questions/ make time to visit/ or read the literature of only certain colleges your student is interested in?

Have you used the words “secretly hope” or “my first choice” when talking with friends about your student’s college search?  

These are not hypothetical or manufactured examples. First-year students tell us these stories every year, often with a clear tone of sadness or an expression of dejection. If any of these make you a bit uneasy, well…Will Patton would have some fiery words for you.

The good news is you have the ability right now to be sure this will not be your family’s story. Leaving no doubt does not mean completely resigning yourself to exactly where your student wants to apply or attend or what they want to major in during college. Instead, it means being honest about your hopes and dreams, listening—really listening—to their hopes and dreams, and most importantly reassuring them that you value the health and integrity of your relationship over any accomplishment, GPA, or offer of admission they may receive or not receive. Do not delay. I understand that it is “just May.” But May turns quickly into August, and seeds of doubt can easily germinate and grow with every passing month.

If you are the parent of a senior, basically all of that applies to you too, so go back and read closely if you skipped to this point. As your student careers toward graduation, you may have some triage work to do.

This week take the time to consider:

Does my student know with 100% certainty that I support the college they have deposited with?

If they are still debating between options, do they know that their happiness (not the name on a bumper sticker) is what I truly care about?  

Have I done/said/intimated/worn anything recently that may place a kernel of doubt in their mind?

Have I done/said/intimated/worn anything during this entire college admission experience that may place a kernel of doubt in their mind?

Have I said anything to my friends (or parents of their friends) that does not reflect my 100% support?

If they are on a waitlist, how am I balancing my feelings and comments about what might be versus what currently is?

Again, when you are honest, if you have reservations about any of this, make the time to address it with your student. You are the adult here, so you need to lead. Apologies, transparency, initiation, these are mature skills that, undoubtedly, you would like them to acquire. Now is your opportunity to model those.

Most students arrive on campus nervous about something. Perhaps they are uneasy about making new friends, unsure about leaving home, or questioning their ability to succeed, or possibly any number of other very legitimate and understandable anxieties. Don’t let their security in your love and support be among that group.

Assume nothing- LEAVE NO DOUBT!