The Best of Intentions

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

I love stories of wild animals mistakenly brought into people’s homes. While some of these stories are fake, it’s easy for us to believe that it could happen. You know the drill. It starts with a well-meaning, kind hearted (yet naive) individual who sees what they believe is a domestic pet in distress. They bring the creature into their home and give the animal what’s “best” for it: food, a bath, a warm bed. The images become public when this do-gooder posts them to social media, or a neighborhood app, hoping to reunite the scared, mangy, and increasingly irritated “pet” with its owner.

The entire time they are operating with the best of intentions, but unfortunately end up trying to fit a square peg in a round hole (or a mountain lion in a bathtub). It’s only when others chime in to widen their frame of reference (“that’s not a cat, its possum”) does the person start to gain perspective. Maybe the solution offered wasn’t best for the animal in question after all.

Mountain lion in a bathtub
Mountain lion in a bathtub (psst… hoax alert!)

The best meaning people in your community will have an abundance of opinions to offer as you go through the college application process: what is most important about a college experience… what athletic division is best… why you should go Greek… the one thing colleges care about in the application process… the sure-fire way to be admitted. Buckle up – this won’t be the only time you receive rapid-fire, unsolicited advice during a life chapter (weddings and pregnancies have a very similar effect on people).

Stop and Reflect

All of this advice is typically very well intended. Some of it may even resonate with you. But a lot of it may feel like grooming a coyote: it just doesn’t fit. Before you take to heart every piece of college-going advice you receive, stop and reflect:

  • Is the advice from someone who is a repeated participant in the college admission process (like a school counselor)? Or is it from someone speaking from a single experience, like your uncle who will likely disown his own children if they don’t attend his alma mater?
  • Are you learning about campus through the perspective of current students, or an alumna whose time in college didn’t include the internet?
  • Are you learning about requirements admission offices consider while reviewing applications from a representative of the school, or from the friend of your older sister who applied to three colleges five years ago?

Everyone – EVERYONE – has valuable wisdom and insight they can share from their experiences. Take time to listen to what those around you choose to share. After all, wild animal or pet, we can all appreciate a free meal from someone who cares. But please, keep in mind when people speak from their experiences, their perspective can be very limited—especially when it comes to talking about the “right” or “wrong” way to go through a process.

Have Perspective

Instead, think about the perspectives that some of the individuals mentioned above can provide, and how that may resonate with your search. While your uncle may not be the best person to talk about Early Action vs. Early Decision, he can certainly speak to the value of school spirit as part of his undergraduate experience and as an alum. While an older alumna may not know all today’s undergraduate experience entails, she does know how her university experience and network prepared her for life after college. And while your sister’s friend may not be an expert on enrollment management, she can share wisdom into the strategies she used to navigate the process (and keep her sanity).

Consider the SourceEqually important, learn where you should go to get information from the most appropriate source. Repeat participants in the college admission process, like your high school counselor and college admission representatives, can speak to trends and best practices. Questions about common application pitfalls, recommended timelines, and possible outcomes should absolutely be directed to these individuals.

While I love the Institute I represent, the reality is I am a paid staff member of the school. I take pride in the fact that our office and campus community operate with authenticity and transparency, but at the end of the day I am biased about opportunities at Georgia Tech (if I wasn’t, this would be a terribly challenging career). Our brochures, website, and admission presentations are also biased in highlighting the benefits of an undergraduate career spent on our campus. Keep that in mind as you use college-provided resources as part of your search. While incredibly helpful, they also have an agenda.

Current students are an invaluable resource to your college search. Unlike paid staff and faculty, students are consumers of the undergraduate experience and will provide you with a review from their perspective. That’s why so many resources about campus visits encourage you to engage with students in the dining hall, on the sidewalk, or at the student center. They will undoubtedly provide insight beyond the scope of the official school tour or information session you just completed as part of your visit.

Consider your resources and use them appropriately. Understand that those around you are excited for you, want to help you through your search, and are very well intended. But, also understand that wild mountain lions don’t need a good shampoo. Similarly, make sure the tools you’re using and the advice you’re considering makes sense for you and your college search.

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.

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.

You GET To Do This!

Listen to the audio version here!

A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to spend time walking around farms in South Georgia as part of a leadership program. It was fascinating to hear farmers’ perspectives on everything from supply and demand to organic growing practices; from their daily monitoring and speculation about consumer behavior for their crops to the evolution of technology in farm equipment.

What struck me in particular was a simple concept: as a farmer, your job is to put a seed in the ground. Then you water it, fertilize it, pray over it, watch it grow, lose sleep worrying about it, and ultimately harvest it months later.Field

If you’ve read this blog for long, you know that (like the old school Tootsie Roll commercials) pretty much anything I see or hear reminds me of college admission in some way. That day was no different. Standing out in those fields, I could not help thinking about the months ahead and all the planning, time, work, and care it will take to enroll our next class.

#AdmissionsLife 

Fall is all about travel and recruitment—putting seeds in the ground, if you will. In fact, I started writing this post right before midnight on a Friday, and we’re still 30 minutes from landing at the Atlanta airport. This trip began in a very similar fashion to most trips in the fall: in the dark, as I crept out of my house Tuesday morning around 5 a.m. to catch a flight. Over the course of the next month, I’ll take three similar trips—early mornings, late nights, rental cars, and hotel breakfasts. That’s what you do in the fall in college admission: travel, shake hands, give talks, pass out business cards— rinse and repeat. (SIDE NOTE: The next time you see a college admission representative at your school or local college fair, ask them how they’re doing and give them a restaurant recommendation, or a good place to go for a walk or run.)

Four SeasonsWinter is all about reading applications. Like a farmer caring for and regularly inspecting crops, this season is long and protracted, with intensely critical monitoring and attention required throughout. There are no short cuts: tracking down transcripts, reading applications, ensuring test scores have been reported, reading applications, answering emails, reading applications, eating copious amounts of take-out food, reading applications. I mentioned reading applications, right? At Georgia Tech, we likely will receive more applications than we did last year— let’s conservatively say 38,000. To review these in our holistic process will take about 40 of us reading from mid-October to mid-March.

In the spring, we release admission decisions and immediately turn our attention to hosting admitted families trying to make a final college choice, as well as talking to prospective juniors and sophomores on their spring break barnstorm of college tours.

I relate to the farmer who is constantly gauging and adjusting to supply and demand. Based on applications and class size, our expected admit rate this year is around 20%, meaning we will deny admission to over 30,000 students (three times the number of applicants we had when I started at Tech). It’s not fun, and not why I got into this business. So spring is also about speaking with hundreds of incredibly talented students who are frustrated and deeply disappointed they were not offered admission. Ultimately, if our predictions are right, we will “yield” our crop… I mean class… of 2,900 students by the May 1 National Deposit Deadline.

I’m not that smart, and I’m no fortune teller. But college admission is cyclical, so I know these things are coming. It would be easy to look at the next eight months as time away from home and family in the fall; an over-caffeinated, pizza-fueled hibernation of sorts in the winter; and an oxymoronic persona of happy host/dream killer in this spring. (Anyone want a job?)

I GET to Do This

Immediately after leaving those farms in South Georgia, we heard from the Commissioner of Agriculture. One of the phrases he used was, “I get to do this.” His point was every day, every week, every month, and even every year, we make a choice about how we’ll approach life. Will our mentality be: “I have to do this” or “I need to do this”? Or, instead, “I get to do this.”?

That’s the phrase that went through my head early Saturday morning when I dragged myself from bed, shot Visine into my jet-lagged eyes, made a cup of coffee and headed out to coach a 7-year old girls’ soccer team. I get to do this!

That mindset fundamentally changes my outlook. I get to travel around the country to cities and states many people will never see. I get to read the applications of truly remarkable students who tell stories about innovative ideas, inspiring dreams, ambitious goals, tremendous impact, and amazing  challenges they overcame. I get to spend months working closely with a caring, funny, smart, dedicated staff. I get to constantly meet new people and tell them about a college I love and believe in. I get to articulate the value of higher education and try to bring some levity and solace to the often-anxious college admission experience. While we cannot admit everyone, I get to offer admission to thousands of students. I get to do this. What a privilege! What an honor! What an opportunity!

You GET to Do This

What do you have to do today? What must you do this week or month? What do you need to do this year?I Get To Vs I Have To

How does your mentality, perspective, attitude, and motivation change when you consider what you get to do today?

If you are reading this, you are one of the incredibly fortunate people who gets to apply to college. You get to go to school— probably one that offers a lot of really good classes, alongside peers who want to excel, and taught by teachers who hope to see you learn, grow, and succeed. You get to work or practice or be with your family. Sadly, these are opportunities too few around our country and world enjoy.

This should not make you feel guilty. However, I hope it’s motivating. I hope it alters your perspective. Admittedly, I hope it results in you giving someone in your house or school a hug, a note, a text, or a sincere, “Thank you!” You get to do this.

You get to spend another year at home. You get to share a room or a car or a meal or clothes with a little sister. You get to listen to your dad’s stories or your mom’s lessons or your neighbor’s jokes a few more times over the upcoming months. What a privilege! What an honor! What an opportunity! EMBRACE IT.

Again, I’m no fortune teller, but here is what I see coming for you in the months ahead:

  • You will likely be denied or waitlisted by a school or three. I did. Most of my friends did. I am guessing if you talk to many friends who are in college now they did too. It’s not the end of the world. In fact, sometimes those closed doors help point you to the right place.
  • You probably won’t get all the scholarships or financial aid you hope to receive. I have a colleague who says, “The students who don’t get in want in. The students who got in want money. The students who got money want more money. And the students who got in and got all the money wanted it from somewhere else.” (What can I say? Some of us admission farmers are a bit cynical.)
  • You’ll see a few people you don’t think are as talented, capable, or deserving as you get into schools you want to attend. College admission is not fair—it’s driven by supply and demand and institutional mission. If you are a carrot and that college needs more squash that year, well…you cannot control those market conditions.

But just as I know the great essays, amazing stories, and community changing ventures are coming, you need to trust and know you will also get some great admission offers. You will to find a college where you will make lifelong friendships and create a lifelong network. How do those long-term results come about? You put a seed in the ground. You change your mentality. And you can do that today!

If you would like to subscribe to receive blog entries when they post, please enter your email address above, or click the “Subscribe” button in the header at the top of this page. We also welcome comments or feedback @gtadmission on Twitter.