The Basics of College Admission: Part 2

Because our family does not watch a lot of TV, my kids are fascinated by commercials. I’m not necessarily proud to admit they quote these regularly and pause to listen attentively when the Geico gecko speaks or the Audi logo flashes on the screen.

While I could not tell you who is currently promoting specific brands, or sing any popular jingles, I do appreciate their ability to emphasize words in order to highlight the quality of their product. Cereal companies seem particularly adept in this arena.

In fact, I’m giving serious thought to utilizing some of these phrases at our next board meeting. “This class is bursting with talent.” “They are simply chockful of future entrepreneurs, innovators, and change agents.” “Packed with students from around our state, nation, and the world, you won’t believe how much better you’ll feel after meeting them.” Then I’ll do that perfect slow pour of milk that bounces off the flakes just enough to entice your appetite without spattering on the table. Incredible!

Actually, since we are on Zoom this year, I’ll probably just stick to a few bullet points and infographics with the board. But this blog is a different story. I hope you are hungry and have a big spoon because these three are filled with nutrients to sustain you through your admission experience. Part II of The Basics of College Admission– It’s burst-pack-chock-O-licious!

Standardized Testing and Test Score Optional

Mary Tipton Woolley (Senior Associate Director) discusses how standardized testing factors into admission decisions, as well as what students should consider this year with so many colleges either test optional or test blind.

Listen to “Basics of College Admission: Standardized Testing & Test Score Optional-Sr. Associate Director, Mary Tipton Woolley” on Spreaker.

Top Tips: Listen for the “signals” schools will send you on the extent to which tests are or are not part of their admission decisions. Ask schools directly about their specific policies and what is going to “replace” testing in their process. An AP score or SAT subject test is never going to be the thing that gets you in or keeps you out.

Listen For: Optional means optional! (It’s not code for spend a lot of time, money, or heartache try to schedule a test during a global pandemic).

Key Quote: “Test scores really play an outsized role in the minds of families.” (Close second: “After asynchronous and pivot, ‘weird’ is my favorite word of 2020.”)

Further Reading: Fair Test and NACAC Dean’s Statement

Early Action/Early Decision & All Things Decision Plans

Ashley Brookshire (West Coast Admission Director) provides key tips for students and families about the alphabet soup of decisions plans, including EA, REA, ED, and more. She provides insight into the college admission timeline and how students can determine which admission decision plan is right for them.

Listen to “Basics of College Admission: Early Action/Early Decision & All Things Decision Plans – Ashley Brookshire” on Spreaker.

Top Tips: Go to the source by seeking out each school’s website, decision plan description, and other requirements. Get organized and know your options. Use your resources (ex: school counselor and family). Apply when you are ready for your application to be reviewed. Never take one number at face value.

Listen For: Beware the traffic jam of applications.

Key Quote: “If you are assuming a decision plan is going to greatly increase your likelihood of being admitted, that is certainly a misconception!”

Further Reading:  Tulane Admission Blog by Jeff Schiffman, Common Data Set.

GPA, Rigor of Curriculum, aka All Things Grades

Laura Simmons (Director of Non-Degree Programs) takes on this behemoth of a subject in order to help students understand what admission readers are looking for when they review transcripts/GPA, grading scales, grade trends, course choice, and how they read/what they’re discussing in committee.

Listen to “Basics of College Admission: GPA, Rigor of Curriculum, aka. all things grades- Laura Brown Simmons” on Spreaker.

Top Tips: Study your transcript the way an admission counselor would. Be on the lookout for terms like holistic, selective, etc. to get a sense of the expectations a college will have for grades and course choice. Context is everything—you or your school should help colleges understand how Covid-19 has altered and impacted your academic experience. (For more on this check out our blog/podcast about the “Covid question” on the Common Application.)

Listen For: 20,000 transcripts in the last four years! (Translation: She’s an expert.)

Key Quote: “NOTHING predicts success in college like success in high school.”

Further Reading:  UGA Admission Blog by David Graves

Stay hungry, my friends, because we will be releasing new episodes each week throughout October. You can fill your bowl and feast anytime by subscribing and listening on iTunesSpotify, and Spreaker.

Upcoming episodes include:

  • Extracurricular activities (Impact, Involvement, and Influence)
  • Special Circumstances/ Additional Information
  • Recommendation Letters
  • Interviews

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.

Key Changes to SAT/ACT– A Disturbance in the Force!

Jedi Manual (002)

Several years ago, more American students took the ACT than the SAT for the first time in our nation’s history. Immediately, on the heels of that, The College Board set out to re-design their test. Ahhh… competition. In its wake, the ACT made concrete adjustments too. A palpable disturbance in the testing force- an interstellar battle of epic proportions.

From the outset these announcements have created consternation in the college admission and counseling field for a few reasons. First, simply change. Anytime you alter something, it’s going to cause some skepticism and unrest. Secondly, the very nature of standardized testing, which inherently brings with it some level of anxiety. But fear not, Young Skywalker, because as with anything new and unfamiliar, information is the best weapon for alleviating concern.

You can read more on The College Board and ACT sites, but here’s your abridged Jedi manual:

  • Test Preparation (a new lightsaber)– One of the best results of the redesigned SAT is The College Board’s partnership with Khan Academy. On this site, you are able to receive free tips, practice questions and tests, as well as strategies for improving your scores in all sections. The test prep industry has become exceedingly overpriced for the results it delivers. Providing this service through Khan Academy not only eliminates cost but allows flexibility in scheduling on your own time and access to expert advice as well. If improving your score is a goal, you should take advantage of this incredible partnership.
  • Mechanics: No penalty for wrong answers– Unlike in the past, on the SAT, students won’t be penalized for wrong answers, which aligns with the ACT’s traditional structure and historically has been student preference. Like Jedi training you’ll benefit from strategy, practice, and a healthy dose of the force. Use deductive reasoning, use process of elimination, or always pick C.  “In my experience there is no such thing as luck.” – Obi-Wan Kenobi
  • New Scoring Framework— SAT scores are back to a 1600 total scale (think Darth Vader coming back from the dark side of the force—not that this is about choosing sides). Both the Evidence-based Reading & Writing and Math sections will be scored 200-800. The ACT has also changed the writing score scale to be 2-12. The SAT change is probably most helpful to parents, counselors and administrators who never adjusted to the 2400 scale, but it also emphasizes the uncoupling of the writing section from the other sections. The ACT change makes writing scores more clear for students, as they will reflect ACT’s clearly articulated rubric within the four writing domains.
  • Content and Questions— Both ACT and SAT emphasize that the exam is based on information students have learned in the classroom and contains wonted reading passages and less clandestine vocabulary (see what I did there?). This change will better align the tests to what students have studied in school, hopefully making the SAT more palatable for a broader range of students across The Galactic Empire.
  • Test Optional– Keep in mind that over 850 schools in our nation do not use test scores to make admission decisions. Fair Test keeps a list of these here. These are schools who have determined, based on their institutional priorities, campus culture, and historical data that test scores do not need to be reviewed in order to enroll a qualified, successful class. Either that or they are simply trying to drive up application numbers, as some cynics would argue. Jedi mind trick? You decide.

yodaGeorgia Tech (and any school utilizing a holistic admission process) includes testing as only one part of the admission decision. Traditionally standardized tests have helped to predict freshman GPA, and all universities will now be rebuilding correlative data, regression formulas, and analytics to assess test scores’ predictive quality in the coming years as we enroll students who have tested with the new versions of both tests.

Students should be closely reviewing websites and asking very pointed questions to colleges about how they will be using test scores- particularly in the coming year. At Tech, we will identify the date of the test taken to ensure we understand which test we are evaluating but will continue to look for a student’s highest section score from any test date.

Flipping the script

So, again, due to the changes and “being the first” to go through the admission process with these new scores, many seniors and their parents are understandably nervous. But remember, “Your eyes can deceive you. Don’t trust them” (Obi-Wan Kenobi)  Instead, consider this: any expert in the testing industry will tell you that there should never be a “cut score” used in the admission process. On the ultra-conservative side, statistics show that there is no predictive variance in student GPA performance on campus within a 50 point band for each SAT section, or a two point spread on the ACT.

Having spent time at conferences this summer with nearly 100 college admission deans and directors from schools using a holistic process, I can say with confidence that they recognize if there were ever a year to de-emphasize test scores and their place in the process, it’s this one.

It all means, what does? (For more Yoda translations go here) Scores matter, sure. But due to testing alterations and lack of data, grades, rigor of curriculum, and your ability to demonstrate how you will improve a college campus and those around you through extra-curricular impact and essay and short answer writing will be even more critical. Bottom line: “Stay on target.” – Gold Five 

What’s Next for College Admission?

While there’s never a slow time for college admissions, the cycle is about to pick up as a new crop of high school seniors work on their applications and think about where they’ll be next fall.  There are several changes that will affect the class of 2021 and beyond. Here are a few trends I’m keeping a close eye on.

Prior-Prior Year FAFSA

Starting this fall the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) will be available earlier, now in October as opposed to January. And the forms will now use tax information from two years ago, known as Prior-Prior Year, as opposed to just the previous year.

Why does this matter? The change will enable students and families to file FAFSA earlier and receive federal aid eligibility information sooner in the college application process. Currently, financial aid information doesn’t become available until students and their families are nearing college decision deadline dates. While the schedule for Georgia Tech’s financial packages will not alter this year, the new rules will allow families applying to many schools nationally to receive their financial aid information earlier in the process, which will allow for more thorough and informed discussions about where to attend college. Even though the changes start this year, it will take a couple of years before we see the full impact across the higher education landscape.

Every individual family handles things differently, but I think that for the majority of people this is a very good thing. You will have more complete information on the table earlier and be able to rule in and rule out some places. I’m for anything we can do to eliminate some of the stress and anxiety over deciding where to go to college.

Turning the Tide

Turning the Tide, a report, released by Harvard University, calls on colleges to attempt to reduce application angst by not putting as much emphasis on test scores, redefining achievement and promoting meaningful contributions to the public good.

It is forcing people in admission to think differently and strongly consider what’s on their applications and how they are training their staff to review applications. These outside reports put colleges in the healthy position where we are asking good questions about how we can refine and improve the process.

For example, we’ve changed one of our supplemental questions on the Common Application to line up with the Institute’s motto of progress and service as it relates to how applicants are within their families. The new prompt is: Tech’s motto is Progress and Service. We find that students who ultimately have a broad impact first had a significant one at home. What is your role in your immediate or extended family? And have you seen evidence of your impact on them?

The idea is to communicate to students that impact is not only achieved through playing sports or involvement in clubs, etc. We care about your relationships, character, and who you are in your family. These are indicators of your fit for Georgia Tech.

Changes to the ACT and SAT

The two major college entrance exams – the ACT and SAT – have both gone through major changes, and students who are the first to take the revamped exams are stressed over how these new tests will impact admission decisions. Students, and their families, need to remember that colleges aren’t changing how they use these scores. The scores are just one of many factors considered during the holistic review of applications.

I know people don’t like change, and being the first to do something is scary. But I’m looking forward to getting an admission cycle under our belt with these changes so students will see they are being admitted and that this is not something they have to be worried about. Once colleges start releasing admission decisions in December, the tension and anxiety surrounding both entrance exams will begin to subside.

Statewide Tour

Part of Georgia Tech’s mission as a public university is to serve the state and help produce a more educated workforce and a stronger economy. Later this month, Georgia Tech, Georgia State University and University of Georgia will kick off the annual Peach State Tour information sessions to meet with high school counselors, students and parents.

This year’s program is bigger than ever. Georgia State was added to the tour, and the three colleges will hold information sessions in 23 different towns and cities, nearly double what was done last year. This means Georgia Tech’s admission team will be within 50 miles of every Georgian.

I’m excited to travel across the state and meet with counselors, principals, students and families in communities to develop relationships that will last years. We want the best students in our state to strongly consider some of Georgia’s research institutions. We will not only talk about the opportunities at our three premier universities, but we will also answer questions in general about the college admission process.