What Will Your Sentence Be?

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.  

 

Finding REST

This fall we are designating one “quiet day” each month for our staff. Essentially, this means we won’t schedule meetings on those days, and we’re encouraging our team to protect their schedule as much as possible.  While we are not being overly prescriptive, our hope is this will help create margins for people to refresh, plan, catch up, spark creativity, or do something that brings them joy.

Covid-19 is testing everyone physically and emotionally. Between ad nauseam Zoom calls, work/school responsibilities, family obligations, and the underlying stress of navigating life amid a global pandemic, it is critical to not only take good care of ourselves, but also to look for opportunities to serve those around us—family, friends, teammates, colleagues, classmates, and neighbors.

As you head into the school year, and especially if you are also applying to college, you know plenty of work is coming.  You’ll need to be intentional about finding REST.

Read (or watch… or listen)

One of my 2020 resolutions was to read books or magazines on the train ride home each day (no Kindle or other digital content). This daily, scheduled time gave me a chance to avoid screens, decompress, and check out topics that interested me. It was life-giving.

Initially the pandemic sidetracked me because my train time was gone. However, I quickly realized since I was basically homeschooling my kids, I could assign them an hour of reading each day. Bam. Win-win. Solace regained!Reading is fundamental

Soon you will return to the land of assigned readings. Before school starts and the deadlines and assignments roll in, I encourage you to schedule time each week to check out an author, genre, or topic simply for enjoyment. Whether it be a fiction novel, an article about the controversy surrounding your favorite professional team, a children’s picture book (yes, I’m serious), a research piece only true wonks could appreciate, or a mindless paperback you skipped this summer when the beach trip got canceled, don’t let reading purely for fun/entertainment/curiosity get squeezed out.

Simply cannot bring yourself to read more? Okay, I get it. Find a new podcast, check out a documentary, watch a classic movie, or discover a foreign film. Go off the beaten path. Ask friends, family members, Siri, or random pedestrians for recommendations. Do something different. As a high school student, much of what you are exposed to will be dictated by your classes. Frankly, this is true in college as well. Set a pattern now for exploring beyond the curriculum.

Escape.

Most of us could tell you exactly where we were last Thursday at 2:45 p.m. by glancing at our phone. Routines, calendars, schedules, agendas, and deadlines effectively rule our lives. Understandably, for most of the week this is necessary… but not for all of it.

This fall, especially since it is likely many of your activities will modified, limited, or canceled, I implore you to escape both physically and mentally. Find something that will stimulate your mind and spirit. Do something you’ve long wanted to—or try something random on a whim. Get outside. Learn Irish dancing. Try Frisbee golf. Start photographing scenes in your hometown. Embrace spontaneity.

It is far too easy to fall into patterns and ruts. Fight against the trap of status quo and explore something new and unfamiliar. Find adventure this fall—and regularly in life. You will gain perspective, meet new people, and grow. Aren’t those a few of the reasons you want to go to college in the first place?

Socialize.

Covid-19 is teaching us lessons and forcing us to consider how we have been living, and how we want to live in the future. While going to high school during a global pandemic has plenty of negatives, I’m hopeful it will serve as a focusing point for you too. Do something newDon’t miss this opportunity to seriously consider (and perhaps even write down) the activities and classes you are bummed are off/altered, and conversely, those you have not particularly minded being limited or canceled.

Similarly, pay attention to the friends, classmates, co-workers, teammates, and others in your “normal” life that you miss seeing regularly. From a culture standpoint, understanding the role these specific folks play in your life, as well as the type of people who bring out your best, is instructive as you consider where you want to go to college.

More importantly, I hope you will consistently reach out and be proactive in your relationships this fall. Instagram will tell you one story, but reality is always much different. Whether it be your grandmother or your best friend since kindergarten, there has never been a more critical time for people to hear your voice. That’s right. I am asking you to go visit them (socially distanced, of course) or call them, rather than merely send a text.

We all have a role to play in taking care of one another during this time. If you are reading and escaping, your cup will be full, allowing you to pour that good stuff out into the lives of others. What do colleges want? Obviously, in part the answer is successful students. But their long game is to enroll good community members, graduates who will extend the school’s reach by being a positive influence in their company, city, and community. Check in on your people.

Technology.

Last Sunday I gave my wife my phone and told her not to give it back to me until that evening. A day free from texts, emails, social media, and basically anything happening in the bigger world.

It. Was. Glorious.

Find RestThere is simply too much coming at us on a daily basis right now. Between death counts, family drama, hospitalization rates, neighborhood gossip, political grandstanding, senseless tweets, civil unrest, and the inane comments on social media, we are barraged each day with information, opinions, and indirect or direct pressure.  I encourage you to go on a digital diet. Just like an actual diet, I’m not telling you to cut all carbs or completely eliminate sugar.

However, I know you need to cut back. I know you are going to feel better if you will find even a few waking hours each week to shut off your laptop, phone, Xbox, iPad, or whatever USB rechargeable device you have in your pocket or bag. Black out the Bluetooth. Give Alexa some time off. Unplug and power down consistently each week, so you can power back up and recharge yourself and those around you.

I can guarantee you will have plenty of work this fall. Will you make it a priority to find REST?

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Hang Your Picture

Listen to “Episode 13: Hang Your Picture – Ashley Brookshire” on Spreaker.

This week we welcome Regional Director of Admission (West Coast) Ashley Brookshire to the blog. Welcome, Ashley!

At the risk of making myself vulnerable in front of our applicant pool (which, in my experience, is filled with ambitious, intrinsically motivated, mindful, and steadfast students), I want to confess something: I continuously put off doing the things I want to do. The things I should do. The things that are in my best interest to do.

I’m reminded of it every time I walk through my office and stare at the six panels of wall organizers propped up against the wall. They’ve been there for weeks. Every time I walk past them, I’m reminded that I haven’t taken the time to cross this “to-do” off my list. It also reminds me of other “unhung” pictures in my world right now. The habits I’ve wanted to form, but haven’t. The things I’ve wanted to learn, but put off.

Time is what we want most, but what we use worst.At some point, I have to stop telling myself I’d do these things if only “I had more time.” Since my state’s stay-at-home order was issued in mid-March, I’ve been gifted more spare time than I ever wanted.

Don’t get me wrong, the whirlwind of my day is just as busy as ever. Juggling my roles as a spouse, mother, and employee, while managing a house that’s more lived-in than ever, occupies my day exceptionally well. But in the evening hours when I stop trying to spin plates, I have more time than I’ve had in a while. There are no dinners with friends to attend, trips to prepare for, or date nights to go on.

I don’t want to confuse busyness for progress. And as I look at spending my time more intentionally in the upcoming weeks, I first have to stop and assess the hurdles that have kept me stuck-in-place. Hopefully these will give you some questions to ask yourself as you look for ways to hang your own pictures.

Why wait?

There always seemed to be a good (or at least, not bad) excuse for pushing the task to another day. I’d have to find all of the tools that I need. Do I really want to commit to this space? There’s no harm in waiting another day…

For me, the hardest step has always been the first. I’ve found myself asking, “if not now, then when?” In the absence of a valid argument for “not now,” it’s time to get started.

Time to find a friend?

Hanging a group of pictures correctly can be a feat. You have to hold against them against the wall AND step back to gauge spacing. You’ll need to move pieces around WHILE keep everything level. You can’t do this by yourself unless you have an incredible wingspan. You need help. Not to get started, but to do it well and do it right. So why not bring someone along?

I’ve tried (more than once) to regain the Spanish skills I’ve lost in the years since being in a classroom. Duolingo has been my companion (and, at times, nemesis) in this endeavor. The app’s friendly, gentle reminders help me to stay on pace as I progress through the curriculum. When I miss a day, it’s quick to remind me. When I miss several days, it gets snarky (“These reminders don’t seem to be working…”). But still, I’m thankful Duolingo tries to keep me accountable. After all, not all assistance needs to come from human friends – just ask Jill Watson.

Maybe you need help. Maybe you need to be held accountable. Maybe things are just more fun to do together. Create a system for success by including others – human or otherwise – in your plans for moving forward.

What happens if you don’t?

Yesterday you said tomorrowWhen I fall short of the goals I set for myself, I’m the main victim. Others aren’t impacted when I push a nagging task to another day, hold off on learning about a new topic, or delay creating a habit. But I certainly have constant reminders that I haven’t taken action. My increasingly mobile child lets me know the wall organizers are on the ground are ready to be destroyed every time she crawls into the room.

One of the biggest losses is the positive impact I could have had if I moved forward. The skills I could share. The people I could help. The clutter and chaos I could remove from my family’s home.

Be kind to yourself, especially given the new-normal we’re all still adjusting to. But sometimes (and more often than sometimes, in my case), being kind includes giving yourself a kick in the rear to get going. Make a move. Use your new found time in this different reality to develop a skill. Dive into a new topic. And hang your picture.

Ashley Brookshire is an Atlanta native and Georgia Tech alumna who has worked in college admission for nearly a decade. Ashley serves as Georgia Tech’s Regional Director of Admission for the West Coast, making her home in Southern California. She’s been a California resident for more than 5 years and is a member of the Regional Admission Counselors of California.

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It’s The Most Wonderful Time of Year?

While the air may be filled with songs and the streets lined with lights and decorations, the holidays can be a frenetic and stressful time. If your family is like ours, the number of obligations over the next few weeks is staggering. Parties, school functions, visits from relatives, and holiday travel quickly result in a full calendar and empty energy tank. If you are the parent of a high school senior, you also juggle a unique set of concerns and pressures, as many college admission and financial aid decisions and deadlines loom just after the new year.

I do not purport to have all the answers to combat this stress, but after watching the college admission process repeat itself for the last 20 years, I do have a few tips (and hopes) for your family as you head into the holidays.

Ask big questions. The end of one year and beginning of the next lends itself to reflection. Families in the middle of their college admission experience should do the same. Instead of becoming mired down in the details about deadlines or grammatical perfection in essays, my hope is you’ll slow down and zoom out.

Your son or daughter has plenty of classmates, teammates, and random strangers asking them, “Where are you going to college next year?” Make time in the weeks ahead to have them consider a question far too few people ever ask, “Why do you want to go to college?”

Whether they have already been admitted to a few schools and are waiting to hear back from others, or have yet to submit a single application, this question is foundational. Encourage them to write their answers down. Knowing why will help answer where. It will help them think through each school they are considering and ensure it aligns with their purpose. Ultimately, it will serve as a filter this spring  when they are choosing between a few universities to which they’ve been admitted.

Protect Your Time. Discussions about college, especially during the holidays, can creep into far too much of regular life. This is the last winter break with your daughter or son living full-time under your roof—do not lose sight of that fact. These are fleeting and limited moments, my friends. What’s next is important, but what’s now is precious.

My hope is your family will put some ground rules in place. Establish an hour or two a week for a college conversation. This is more than enough time to look over an essay, double check deadlines, or schedule an interview or campus visit. Everyone must agree to show up with an open mind and a commitment to listen, but without a cell phone or terribly crunchy snacks.

Outside of those times, college conversations are off the table. The beauty of holding these “family meetings” is they allow everyone to truly rest and enjoy each other, and the much-needed vacation. If you find not talking about college outside of these isolated times is challenging, it is a good indication you should recalibrate in 2020.

Escape Your Local Echo Chamber. The great thing about the holidays is they bring people together. Unfortunately, that is also the downside. Conversations at parties often surround which students were and were not accepted in Early Action or Early Decision at certain colleges. Understandably, it is easy to leave wondering what that means for your own child or how unfair and confusing the admission experience can be.

Take time to look at the Fortune 500 or Fortune 100 lists of companies and their CEOs. Most come from schools that are not categorized as “highly selective.” Need more reassurance? Pick up and read a copy of Frank Bruni’s book Where You Go Is Not Who You’ll Be.

My earnest hope this holiday season is you will talk to fewer parents who have kids in high school and more who have kids in college. Ask them about their family’s experience. You’ll hear them say they wish they had not stressed as much. They will tell you about their daughter who was not admitted to her first choice school, ended up elsewhere, and is thriving now. They’ll talk about how their son did not receive the merit scholarship he had hoped for, selected another option from his choices, and now has an incredible internship and a girlfriend (who they actually like) that he never would have met otherwise.

Take A Break From Social Media.  I hope you will not post anything about your son’s or daughter’s college search online this holiday season. They call this an “admission process” and it should be just that. At this point, unless you have a kid who has gotten in ED to a school and is definitely going, you are only part of the way through. Hold off on putting things online about decisions, frustrations, deliberations, etc. This is not only healthy for you and your family’s relationships, but it also helps people in your community as well.

Unfortunately, social media is largely filled with terribly misinformed opinions, negative banter, catty comments, and frequently bold-faced lies. I’d encourage you not to read or engage in college admission dialogue online. Instead, take opportunities in-person to re-center the conversation with your friends, neighbors, or relatives.  If anything, my hope is you will use your platform to encourage, reassure, and provide healthy and desperately needed perspective when discussions go off the rails and fan the flames of anxiety.

Do You Hear What I Hear?

The college admission experience can seem incredibly complicated because it is filled with a myriad of dates and deadlines. It seems confusing because the press and marketed how-to guides provide incomplete and frequently inaccurate data. It seems consuming because friends and colleagues incessantly share “inside” information and anecdotes (or the alleged stories of relatives) on social media. It seems confounding because those same friends and colleagues have widely divergent experiences and opinions and are quick to share each time they see you at the school, store, or stadium. It seems complex because colleges and universities all have different processes, review different factors, and operate on different timelines.

Things seem this way because most people are solely focused on “getting in.” This holiday season I hope your family will instead ask big questions, protect your time, and escape your local echo chamber; and take a break from social media. In short, focus less on getting in and more on being and staying together as a family.

Happy Holidays!

A version of this blog originally appeared in the Atlanta Journal and Constitution on December 11, 2019. See article here.

Just Get Started

This week we welcome Communications Manager of Strategy and Enrollment Planning (and former Assistant Director of Admission) Becky Tankersley back to the blog. Welcome, Becky!

Last week I chatted with the mom of a high school senior. She shared how her son came home in a flurry at 4 p.m. the Friday before fall break, stressed out over finishing an assignment that was due at 5 p.m. Of course, she’d given him the usual “why didn’t you start this earlier” speech, but it was too late at that point. We each conceded there are times in life your kids have to learn hard lessons for themselves.

ProcrastinationAs we talked about “his” procrastination, I had to admit that even as an adult I deal with the same issue. Just like a high school senior, I tend to put things off until the last minute, OR until everything is just right (call it the Enneagram 9 in me—not familiar? Check it out). Write a blog? I’ll troll the internet and think about it. Organize the closet? Let me make sure I have all the right storage solutions and containers. Make dinner? Let me first get everyone’s vote and then I’ll get on Pinterest. Sometimes my distraction isn’t even useful. Take a shower? Let me scroll through my Instagram feed…

The difference between me now (an adult) and me 20 years ago (a high school senior) is I have enough life experience to know my “sweet spot.” I’ve found the balance needed to produce quality work in a short amount of time. And while it’s good to know my sweet spot, there are situations when nothing can replace the investment of time—real, actual time—to complete a long-term project or goal.

No Substitute for Time

A year ago I started running. If you don’t want to take a trip down memory lane, here are the highlights: in my 20s I was super fit. In my 30s I had babies. After baby #2, I was NOT super fit, and went on a three-year exercise hiatus (oops). The hiatus lasted until “the photo” was taken, and it was then I knew something had to change. I researched different workouts and chose running—the ONE activity I swore I would never do (“why would anyone run for fun?”). I started a Couch to 5k program and finished my first 5k two months later. I’ve continued running and am now staring down my first 10k (less than one week away!).

I’ve gone from struggling to run 10 minutes to successfully running for an hour. But I’m not here to talk about my fitness journey—I’m here to talk about time. No matter how adept I become at procrastination, there are moments when I have to spend extended time to get things done. I can’t expect my body to go from running one mile to four miles in a single week. Building up that kind of endurance takes time (and a lot of it!). The key to maximizing that time is simple: just get started.

In an ironic twist of fate, I work in an industry where I routinely remind students via blogs, emails, and other marketing materials of the perils of procrastination. When I worked in the admission call center, student workers and I would regularly shake our heads at the number of panicked calls and emails we received from students who waited until THE LAST MINUTE to meet a deadline, ran into an obscure technical issue, then called us when they were melting down. And I’ll be candid—as a rule, our student workers didn’t have a lot of sympathy.

Early action/decision deadlines are right around the corner. Even if you don’t plan to apply early to a school, applications are still open and being reviewed at colleges across the nation right now. And if you’re like me, you may be sitting… and waiting… to start. After all, you’ve still got a (week? month?) to get it done.

Imperfect action is better than perfect inaction. Just start.It’s easy to fall into this trap. Don’t do it! We’ve written about time management, essay topics, and deadlines on this blog many times in the past. These posts are all worth reviewing again (hint hint!). When it comes to meeting admission deadlines, there are three main areas that tend to trip students up the most. Here are a few tips to get past those hurdles.

1 – The Essay

Take it from someone who writes (and edits) for a living—your first draft is NOT your final draft. Your first draft will, must, and should change. Seasoned writers go through multiple drafts to get their content right, and you’re no different than them. Yes, you need to think through your essay and find a creative way to tell us about yourself. Thinking is great, and necessary—but that’s not ACTION. Jot those thoughts down. Grab your phone and voice record your ideas. I’ve found I never actually listen to any of my voice recordings, but the simple act of talking it through—sometimes multiple times—is enough to get my brain to focus on my topic and narrow my thoughts. The most important thing is to write. Something. Down. Once you have a “brain dump” in a Word document, come back to it—two, three, maybe even four times—to make edits and changes. Each time you look at it with a fresh pair of eyes you’ll discover something new to say (or remove). If you wait until the last minute to actually write your essay, you lose those precious chances for review. So grab your laptop and write something down. Just get started!

2 – The Activity List

The amount of activities students list on their college applications astounds me. I don’t know how you squeeze so much activity into your schedules (kudos to you!). But some students get lost in how to best record those. Do you list by longevity? By contribution? In chronological order? If you have more than 8-10 activities, which ones should you leave out? It can become overwhelming. Similar to the essay, voice record your thoughts, jot them down, write them in a Word document (or a Google doc, I have no preference here), and let it sit there. Come back the next day and review it. Maybe what seemed important in that first draft no longer resonates. Perhaps you left out something significant. Or maybe you need to highlight your own personal contributions in a different way. Like the essay, if you wait until the last minute you lose that crucial time for reviewing, and re-reviewing, what you’ve written down. Just get started!

3 – Hitting “Submit.”

This part is possibly the biggest challenge you’ll face. There’s something about that final “submit” button that almost taunts you. Are you sure? Should you look again? Did you remember to say everything? Wait, did I use my legal or preferred name? Hitting the submit button is the final thing within YOUR control—once you submit, control no longer belongs to you. The ball is officially out of your court. This makes it tempting to wait until the last minute to check that box and call it done. After all, as long as it’s still in your hands it’s still within your control, right? While that may feel empowering, it’s also a weight that you don’t have to carry. Remember—if you’ve followed the steps above then you’ve done your job. The last thing on your to-do list is finish the race. Hit submit. Just get started!

Just Start!

As a mom, I implore my 2nd grader every day to just do your homework! Get it done and you can do whatever you want (within reason). But like me, she drags her feet—eats a snack, gets water, goes to the bathroom, wait, does the dog need a walk? Last week she had the light bulb moment: “Wait a minute,” she said thoughtfully. “If I do all of this right now, does that mean the next two days I don’t have to do this when I get home?” “Yes,” I emphatically replied. “That’s exactly what it means. So do you want to power through and get this done?” “YES!” she said.

Progress. She just had to get started. So did I. And so do you. Stop thinking about it, stop waiting for “x” to happen, and for all that’s good in the world, stop scrolling through your social media feed. Just get started!

Becky Tankersley has worked in higher education for more than 10 years. She joined Georgia Tech in 2012 after working at a small, private college in the mountains of Northeast Tennessee. Prior to working in higher education, she worked as a television news producer. Her current role blends her skills in college recruitment and communication. Becky is the editor of  the GT Admission Blog, and also serves as a Content Coordinator for the American Association of Collegiate Registrar and Admission Officers.

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