The Event Planner’s Guide to a College Application

This week we welcome Associate Director for Guest Experience, Andrew Cohen, to the blog. Welcome, Andrew!

As the leader of Georgia Tech’s campus visits team, part of my role is to plan and execute our daily visit program, open houses and events.  I love the thrill of event planning – from the initial conversations about the vision of the event to seeing it all come together.  Being a professional event planner, I often find my event planning skills and thinking spill over into my personal life… just ask my friends when it comes to making plans… everything is a production!

Georgia Tech Event Planning TeamRight now, our team is preparing for multiple events on campus. We are excited to host a large group of high school seniors this week for our open house event.  This weekend we host our annual counselor fly-in program for college counselors from all over the county and world.

Event planning is much like preparing to submit a college application.  Everything leads up to the moment you press the submit button.  Like an event, there are multiple people involved in this process, like your college counselor and parents. There are also times when things do not go according to plan, and you must be prepared for these situations.  As you work on your college application, here are some helpful event planning tips to help you stay organized and be prepared to hit that submit button.

Understand the Bigger Picture

When planning events, it is crucial to understand the big picture.  Sometimes we get so caught up in our to-do list that we forget we need to take a step back.  This week we are hosting multiple events in a short amount of time.  This requires me to understand the impact different to-do list items have on other people assisting with the event, not to mention the event’s overall success.  For example, although we have several events this week, we also must think long term as space reservations become available for next year.  If we do not reserve these spaces now, we will face challenges when hosting events next year. It’s hard to think about a year from now when there’s something else in the immediate future.

When it comes to preparing your college application, it is essential to understand the bigger picture.  You will need assistance from others, so it is important to think about their schedules and what else they might have on their plate.  Teachers and college counselors are happy to help with your college application, but you need to understand what else is on their plate and remember they are helping multiple students, not just you.

Understanding when a college needs your high school transcript will help you know when you need to request this from your college counselor.  You cannot expect them to drop what they are doing to submit your transcript the second you ask.  They are submitting transcripts for many students to multiple schools.  Putting your request in well in advance is necessary to ensure they are all delivered in a timely manner.  (This also goes for teacher recommendations, so make sure to give them plenty of time to write and submit the letter).

Proofread… Proofread… Proofread!

When we host a large open house event, we have multiple sessions, in multiple locations, with many different presenters.  These sessions and their locations are all listed on a program for guests to use to navigate the event.  We have a separate list of spaces we have reserved for the event, and another spreadsheet listing all the sessions, locations, and names of presenters.  For an event to run seamlessly, we must be sure all these different lists and spreadsheets match what is listed on the program given to our guests.

If we didn’t carefully proofread, anything could happen at the event.  We could be sending guests to a room we do not actually have reserved.  Or maybe a faculty member could show up to the wrong building or room, maybe even at the wrong time!

Whenever I review an event program, I always proofread by crosschecking these additional lists/spreadsheets.  I must be sure all the times and locations are correctly listed on all of them and be sure a presenter has been secured for each presentation.

When finishing your college application, you need to proofread!  Yes, I know you have probably read your essay 100 times, but one last thorough read is worth the effort!  I always print copies of my event programs to review, and you should do the same with your application.  I know it’s not the most environmentally friendly option, but it will help with that final review (plus, that’s why recycling exists!). A final proofread is your chance to be sure all your application details make sense and show up correctly.  After every application deadline, our Communications Center receives hundreds of calls and emails about minor errors on an application (which we cannot update).  I bet many of these could be avoided by printing out your application and reviewing it one final time from start to finish (and ask someone else to read it too!)

Have a Rain Plan

Over the past year the weather has not been in our favor.  We can plan an awesome event that runs smoothly, but the one thing out of our control is the weather!  Torrential downpours can obviously affect our event and we must be prepared for these situations.  This might mean we pre-order rain ponchos for our guests, or we make last-minute changes to the program to keep guests inside a bit more.

An hour of planning can save you 10 hours of doingIt may not be rain that affects our event, but a fire alarm set off by another department, or a power outage in the building (all things that have happened to me before!).  These things are out of our control, and as much as we are prepared for our event to run smoothly, we must be ready to think on our feet and make last-minute changes. Believe it or not, this is one of my favorite parts of being an event planner. It tests me and keeps me on my toes. No, I do not hope we have pouring rain or other disruptions, but I do enjoy the thrill of needing to quickly make a change and implement it with our team.

When submitting your college application, you will encounter hiccups and issues.  Many of our early action applicants encountered a curveball this year when they logged into Common App and received a message (in bold red letters) that the deadline had already passed. The deadline had not passed, and students could still submit their applications. But this situation could have been avoided by submitting your application a few days (or a week) before the deadline!  Building extra days into your timeline allows for extra time should there be an issue with the processing of your application or application fee.  Giving yourself a few days helps you avoid panic when you run into an issue at 11:59 p.m. prior to the deadline. (Please note… Admission Offices are not open at that hour and we will not respond to emails/calls until the next day).

As you continue to work on your college application, build a to-do list, similar to the one I have sitting on my desk as we get ready to host a number of events over the next week (bonus tip: when you complete an item/task, it feels great to cross that item off the list!).  As we are busy working on putting the finishing touches on our events, you can do the same with your applications.

Andrew Cohen joined Georgia Tech in 2018 and currently oversees the guest experience for all Undergraduate Admission visitors. His love for providing visitors with informative, authentic and personal experiences started as a student tour guide at his alma mater, Ithaca College. Andrew’s passion for the visit experience has lead him to his involvement in the Collegiate Information and Visitor Services Association, where he currently services as the Treasurer on their executive board.

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Subtle Leadership

This week Georgia Tech’s Vice Provost for Enrollment Services, Dr. Paul Kohn, joins us on the blog. Welcome, Dr. Kohn!

Colleges want to enroll leaders: in how many ways are YOU a leader?

Traditionally, leadership is defined as both having a vision and the capacity to engage others in the pursuit of that vision. The persuasiveness of a person and the resonance of the idea or vision usually act like magnets, drawing others in a desired direction. Because leadership is contagious, colleges see leaders as contributors to the student body, campus culture, and the classroom, as well as potential contributors of ideas to make the world a better place. When an applicant combines leadership with a commitment to service, they may be considered a competitive candidate by the most selective institutions in higher education.Leadership is not about titles, positions, or flow charts; it is about one life influencing another.

Some institutions clearly state their commitment to leadership and service, while for others it is a more subtle characteristic of the student body. In either case, leadership is likely to be a component of the application review process and admission criteria at many schools.

While there is a limit to how high test scores and grade point averages can climb, there are limitless ways in which leadership and service can manifest. And these attributes can manifest in ways you hopefully find enjoyable, which can feel satisfying in the midst of enduring high stakes testing, or reaching for perfect grades.

If you are on the verge of submitting your college applications, you may be concerned with your leadership resume. Maybe you worry you didn’t do enough… or you wish you could have done more. If so, how can you convince the university of your dreams that you WILL do more in the future?

The Range of Leadership

The range of leadership opportunities for high school students can be limited. For many students, leadership experiences are usually found within student clubs, or religious or athletic activities. However, if your circumstances have kept you from becoming captain of the _____ team or president of the _____ club, there may still be a wide range of experiences for you to highlight as examples of your leadership experience or potential.

You may need to look deeply for examples of subtle leadership, and the extent to which those can be seen as precursors of leadership potential in the future. Have you really captured all your leadership experience, or is some of it less obvious? Is some of your leadership experience atypical and not often cast as “leadership?” For example, a subtle way in which you may have demonstrated your ability to lead is by giving a voice to those who may have otherwise not been heard. Has your writing or public speaking reflected a commitment to helping people in this way?

Here are some other questions to consider:

  • Have you demonstrated and preached tolerance of divergent ideas and thoughts?
  • Have you helped a classmate accomplish a goal?
  • Have you helped members of your family through a difficult time?
  • When have you helped others know the path without literally ushering them down it?
  • Have you given a speech or written an op-ed piece about the benefits of voting or contributing to certain causes?

Truly examine your experiences and look for the times you inspired others, demonstrated good decisions, set an example of honesty and integrity, or showed commitment and passion for a goal. Look for moments in which you cooperated with others to achieve an outcome, or you displayed empathy for others.

Connecting Subtle Leadership to Your Application

I hope these examples will help you think differently about the experiences you’ve had through school, your work, your family, or your community. Using this lens, you may see a much larger number of examples demonstrating your leadership ability. In fact, there may be so many that you now need to sort out which are the worthiest to put forward in your college application. First, identify the ones which mean the most to you. Then, consider which ones hint at the ways you will get involved during your college years and possibly beyond.

Leadership is not a position or a title, it is action and example.If you’ve done your research about the colleges to which you are applying, you should have a sense of the campus culture. Where does your sense of that campus ethos intersect with the leadership experiences you have now uncovered?

For example, a student who did a notable science fair project about recycling might connect the dots to a campus-wide emphasis on sustainability. This student might describe the influence their project had on the behavior of their family or classmates and couple that to their intent to participate in the college’s campaign to reduce waste or become more energy efficient. If this student were planning to major in environmental studies, the intersection works even better at building the case that the applicant has shown leadership potential, has researched the college, is committed to the idea, and plans to devote time beyond the classroom to this interest.

Highlighting your past actions can show an admission staffer you are committed to improving the world, your school, your class, or your family. All of these should be evident in the ways you have spent your time and the ways you think about your future. Hopefully you’ve strived to set a good example for others to follow—and that is leadership.

Dr. Paul Kohn joined the Georgia Institute of Technology in August 2010, coming from the University of Arizona, where he was Dean of Admissions and Vice President for Enrollment Management. As Vice Provost for Enrollment Services, Dr. Kohn oversees Undergraduate Admission, Financial Aid, Scholarships, Registrar, and Strategy and Enrollment Planning. Dr. Kohn serves as Chair of the Student Information System (SIS) Governance Committee, served on the Strategic Technology Initiatives Committee and sits on the SIS-Planning Committee and Technology Governance Steering Committee. Dr. Kohn also serves as the Institute’s representative on the University System of Georgia’s Enrollment Management Administrative Committee.

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Lessons and Hopes for High School Seniors

Warning: This one is long. If you are apt to scroll before reading to determine length, save your thumbs.

We really think you are great and have been impressed with the track record you’ve established to this point.

We want you to apply because we believe you are exactly the type of person who would excel here!

Please write a 250-word statement about your background that will help us get to know you more.

If you are a high school senior, these lines probably sound very familiar. I’ve written emails, built applications, and edited brochure content with verbiage exactly like this. However, in this case, I was the recipient rather than the author. These were the messages I received over the last nine months encouraging me to apply to serve on the Board of Directors for NACAC, a professional admission/counseling organization I’ve been part of for about a decade.

I was flattered. I was excited. I was nervous.

As I wrote each statement, I contemplated the perfect way to say precisely how I felt or viewed particular issues. I tweaked, edited, and finally hit submit with nervousness about how my words would be received.

Ultimately, I went through a battery of interviews (actually, a barrage may be more appropriate), including several hours of speaking with delegates who would ultimately cast votes for the candidates they wanted to serve in this role.

After the many months of waiting, the moment of truth came.

Election Day

Last week I, along with six other candidates, was ushered into a small room behind the stage of a cavernous convention hall in Louisville, KY at our national conference. Our group of candidates sat, chatted, paced, checked phones, and made small talk as the votes were tallied. As I stood there looking around at my colleagues, I re-ran the numbers in my head. Seven candidates. Three spots. A 43% chance of winning, 57% chance of not being elected. I listened to the conversations. I considered my company.

Candidates for the Board and President of NACAC
Candidates for the Board and President of NACAC

In that room were professionals from all over the nation. During the nomination process I’d had the opportunity to get to know this group well. I read their campaign statements; sat at dinners and discussed issues; heard about their accomplishments and experience; and was impressed by their passion for serving students, bringing solutions to our education system, and continually growing as people and professionals.

A representative from the organization walked into the holding area and interrupted my considerations. She announced, “I’ll now read the results of the election.” Slowly, she called each of the three names.

Rick Clark… was not one of them.

I took a deep breath and closed my eyes. One by one, I hugged each of my fellow candidates, both those elected and those not chosen to serve the organization in this capacity.

It was not easy. It was not fun.

While the conference was not over, it was for me. I opted out of other sessions or lunch invitations and headed back to my hotel. I ditched the suit for jeans, put on a hat, grabbed my backpack and caught a Lyft to the airport. Honestly, I just wanted to be alone.

In the days since the election, I’ve been alone a lot. I’ve been on six flights, stayed in two hotels, and made one 10-hour road trip. TRANSLATION: I’ve had time to think.

Here are the three biggest takeaways from my experience that I hope you’ll consider and apply to your college admission experience.

When you apply, give it everything you have.

Trust me: I questioned if my speeches or written statements should have had different themes. I wondered if I was not elected because I’m from the south, or male, or from a public school, or the combination of all three. I pondered if I did not spend enough time with the voting delegates demonstrating my ability and background and how I could contribute.

Ultimately, as I assessed each, I was confident I’d done all I could. I wrote what I believed. I answered the questions honestly and authentically. I ran my race.

Maybe my geography or school type worked against me. Maybe one of my statements did not sit well. I’ll never know exactly why I was not elected.

Similarly, if you are applying to selective schools running holistic admission processes who have far more talented applicants than spaces available in their class, you are not going to be given a specific reason for why you are not admitted. Nobody is going to tell you, “If your ACT was a point higher it would have worked out.” Admission officers won’t say, “Too bad you’re not from Nebraska, because we are all full up on Pennsylvania this year.”

Instead, they will say, “We had a very competitive pool this year.” Their letters, email responses, or phone call explanations are going to highlight the strength of other candidates and the pure volume of applicants. In other words, and this may seem odd, but it’s both true and really important: they’re not going to talk about you in their rationale. They (we) are going to include phrases like, “While your credentials are impressive…” or “Although you are an incredibly talented student…” their ultimate decision not to admit you will point to the other applicants. I hate to say this, but get used to it. If it has not already, that’s what will happen throughout life. Jobs, elections, teams, dates… it’s not you, it’s… you get the point.

You need to point to you. You have to know that you gave it everything you had. Don’t wait until you get admission decisions back to ask these questions. Start now. Is your essay authentically yours? Have you prepared adequately for your interviews. Have you done your homework to know why you are applying where you are? Before you submit your application, ask yourself if you’ve truly given it everything you have!

While you are waiting, live your life.

After I was nominated, and during the months I was submitting statements and going through multiple rounds of interviews, I wondered how this would all turn out. I held dates on my calendar for possible future travel. I considered who I would have the opportunity to meet while serving in this capacity.  But far more importantly, I continued to live my life. My family took a great vacation to Colorado. I completed and published a book. I ran a few races.

As a senior in high school, this is perhaps my biggest hope for you this year. Keep things in perspective. You have one senior year, my friends. Enjoy it. Go to games, hang out with friends, take trips, and have fun! Nobody ever looks back during their sophomore year of college and says, “You know, I wish I stressed out more when I was a senior in high school.” Nobody! Look around you this week in school.  It’s natural to imagine yourself on certain college campuses or to be cautiously excited about opportunities next year, but remember this–  most of the folks you see every day now will not be around (in person) at this time next year. Give them a hug. Grab a meal together. Go see a concert. Just enjoy being together. Does that sound kind of cheesy? Good. Mission accomplished. Who said cheesy was bad anyway? I’d rather be kind of cheesy than cool and alone, or seemingly cool but fake. Embrace the cheese, people. Live your life.

When you receive admission decisions, visualize the other applicants.

If you are applying to a school that admits less than 50% of applicants, more students will be denied than admitted. I know, I know, you didn’t come here for the math. But the truth is you need to say this out loud: “My chances of not being admitted are greater than they are of being admitted.” Seriously, say that.

Thankfully, you are not going to stand in the same room with other applicants while admission decisions are read. That’s tough for a 30 or 40 year- old, but it would be cruel and unusual punishment for a 17 or 18 year- old.

While difficult, I also consider myself fortunate to have had the opportunity to physically see my fellow candidates’ faces. They are amazing. They are the type of people I want to know, work with, and emulate. They’re impressive, genuine, talented, passionate, and capable.

I wish you could see the other applicants who also hope to be admitted to the schools you’re considering. Not their GPAs. Not how may AP classes they’ve taken. Not if they’re 40 points higher or lower than you on the SAT. I wish you could see them, know them, and spend time with them.

When you are admitted, remember that many were not. Be cool. Visualize those who were not offered admission. Think about their efforts, their families, and their disappointment. Do you get credit for this? No. This is the development of empathy, and you’ll be a better human by developing it. The admission experience, if you’ll let it, can teach a lot of life lessons– this is one of them.

If you are not admitted, I’m not saying it won’t sting.  Don’t get me wrong, I ate more fries the day I found out about the election than I had in the last two months combined. I played some loud music on the plane home, went for an “angry run,” and may or may not have referred to the group I’d not been selected to join as “The Bored.” I never said I was perfect. But I do hope you will try to visualize the other applicants when you are not admitted. Be happy for them. Congratulate those you know. Wish them the best. Try to take the focus off yourself. I promise you it will help you start to move on.

MY HOPE FOR YOU

Rick ClarkAfter a 20-hour day, I arrived in Cocoa Beach, FL where my family was staying that week. Around 1 a.m., I crept in and slept on the couch. Six hours later I woke up to my kids staring at me from about 7 inches away. “Let’s go to the beach!” And that’s exactly what we did. On the walk there, they asked, “Did you win?” Nope, I replied. “Good. That means you won’t have to go on any more trips.” And then we jumped into the waves.

My hope is you will surround yourself with family and friends who are 100% in your corner and encourage you; people who know you and love you, regardless of the college hoodie you wear or the diploma you ultimately put on your wall. College is four or five years. They matter and this is a big deal, but family is forever. So, if you remember only two words from this ridiculously long blog, they are, “Family first!”

We often call all of this the “college admission process.” However, too often that process is something that happens to you or that you go through. I hope you will embrace the word process and see your senior year as a real opportunity to grow, learn, mature, and prepare not only for college but for years well beyond it. The odds are somewhere along the line in your admission experience you are going to be disappointed. You may not get into your first choice school. You may not receive a big enough financial aid package to afford the college you want to attend. You don’t get into the Honors Program, don’t get your first choice major/residence hall, and so on.

The truth is we learn more about ourselves when we don’t get something, or when something is taken away, than when everything is smooth, easy, and going our way. Growth comes after discomfort or pain. My hope is you won’t just get through the admission process, but rather embrace it as an opportunity to remember the decisions of others are not what define us. They may change our direction, but character, mentality, and motivation is ours to choose.

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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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Time To Make The Donuts

We don’t watch a lot of TV in our house. In fact, until recently we only had Amazon and Netflix. But as big soccer fans we broke down earlier this summer and got a few cable channels so we could watch the Women’s World Cup. Now with college football upon us we (okay, I…) decided not to pull the plug just yet.

The other day at a commercial break I muted the TV and our 8-year old daughter looked at me as though I had thrown her favorite stuffed animal away.

“What? It’s just a commercial,” I said bemused.

She gave me the international facial expression for “What?!!!” and replied, “I know! That’s my favorite part.”

They seem to be big fans of GEICO and the Michael Bublé ad about sparkling water. However, understanding their sample size is limited to about four months and less than 10 channels, I searched “best commercials ever.” (I do realize that by providing this link you well may not read further, but I can’t hide gold from you.)

The phrase “internet rabbit hole” does not adequately describe what happened next, and before we knew it, we heard a car door slam and saw my wife on the back porch. The kids dashed into the other room and picked up books to feign reading.

“All finished with homework?”

“Uhhhh… pretty close. Yeah.”

Real Life Catchphrases

Whether they be movie quotes or pithy lines from commercials, what sticks with us are phrases that we can apply to everyday life. Can you say, “Dilly dilly!”

Time to make donutsOne phrase admission directors around the country are saying right now is, “Time to make the donuts!” It comes from this campy 1981 Dunkin Donuts commercial. It’s not polished, the acting is terrible, and the production costs had to be close to $0. But “time to make the donuts” caught on. For a solid decade (and occasionally even today) you would hear that reference as people headed to work, went in to take to take a test, or dealt with a variety of imperative tasks.  Now that classes on college campuses have resumed, admission deans and directors are waking up with those words on their minds. Time to do this again.

Before they start frosting, baking, or reaching for the powdered sugar, they start by talking to the shop owner, e.g. president, provost, board of trustees, deans, and so on. (please don’t tell them I made this parallel). Essentially, we need answers to two questions.

  1. What kind of donuts do you want this year?

Known as “institutional priorities” this helps donut makers determine the proportion and representation of certain flavors, such as demographics. Everyone on a college campus has their own opinions about which ingredients are essential. Deans from each academic unit will want more or less students in their program depending on faculty: student ratios or the health of job prospects in their industry. For example, Tech recently added a major in Music Technology. That means students who may not have been a good fit in the past are now very much on our radar. Conversely, if a college enrolled too many computer science or biology majors the year prior, or if they eliminated a major or a sport, the strawberry sprinkles or maple frosting that were popular in the past may not be as much of a priority in this year’s batch.

A college seeking to increase its academic profile will create a different mix than one whose primary objective is to increase international diversity, raise net tuition revenue, bolster its percentage of first-generation students, or enroll a student from each state. If a school does not enroll “enough” business majors one year, the next fall that donut maker is told to ensure more business donuts are included and prioritized. Therefore, not only do admit rates vary based upon donut type, but financial aid packages do as well. Bottom line: the mix matters. While I’m a sucker for the “Hot Doughnuts Now” sign at Krispy Kreme, I’d be fired if our class was made up completely of cinnamon donuts.

2. What is the size of our box?

Each school has a different quantity target. A dozen, two dozen, 64 count of munchkins? It’s not the same from school to school—and interestingly it’s not always the same from year to year.

There are lots of reasons why the quantity changes: a university adds a new dorm, the public system issues an edict that demands the addition of 200 more students in this year’s class, the list goes on. Virginia Tech made news this summer by over-enrolling their first year class by 1,000. That is absolutely going to have an impact on the type and number of Hokie donuts moving forward.  Conversely, Bucknell missed their class target in 2019, so you can guarantee the Bison donut factory is altering their formula as they make admission decisions and determine financial aid packages in this year’s batch.

DonutsWhat does this mean for you?

  • You are not necessarily competing against ALL other applicants.

Public schools in North Carolina are legislated to enroll at least 82% of their class from their state. In other words, the Tarheel Donut Shop is largely locally sourced. You may be the sweetest, most flavorful spice out there, but if you were grown in Boston or Chicago, your odds of being included in that lovely sky-blue box are simply not as high as those grown in Wilmington or Asheville.

Fair? No. This is a donut making. The state you are from, the major you want to study, or the background and interests you bring to the table (pun intended), dictate your admission prospects.

  • Ask specific questions.

When you visit the campuses you’re interested in, ask them about students like you. “What is the admit rate from my state?” “Do you make admission decisions based upon the major I’m applying for?” These answers will help you determine how percentages vary beyond the macro statistics published on outward facing sites. At Tech our Early Action admit rate is higher than our Regular Decision admit rate, often by more than 15 percentage points. Part of that is driven by the fact that Georgia students apply early, and our total undergraduate population is 60% Georgia. Historically our most talented in-state students apply in the first round. Takeaway: Don’t just look at the numbers—ask them to give you nuance within the stats too.

Some schools won’t know all the various admit rates or demographics off the top of their head. Are they trying to protect their recipe? Usually not. A donut maker (admission rep) walking around your school in the fall has his/her mind on telling the story of the shop (university). That’s not cagey. It’s human. Ask them to get back to you with the answers. This demonstrates your interests, continues the conversation, and gives you a better understanding of how donuts like you are viewed.

The truth is when you ask these questions to highly selective schools nationally (less than a 20% admit rate), you’ll often get a confounding answer that sounds a lot like a Jedi mind trick or political stump speech. Don’t be frustrated. Just translate that as a reminder that there are scores of donut shops around your state and thousands in the country.

  • Control what you can control.

Your job is to express your flavor on your application and send it to a variety of shops with different size boxes and admit rate ranges. You cannot control the year you were born, or the macro directives or strategic changes made in boardrooms around the country. An admit rate might rise or fall the year you are applying to a specific school. That impacts you, but it’s not really about you. Quit comparing yourself to older siblings or classmates or teammates.

If you are looking at highly selective schools, you very well may end up in a different place than you have in mind right now. But the fact that you read this entire post, rather than getting totally derailed by random commercial links, gives me 100% confidence there is a donut maker waking up today who can’t wait to get you into their shop. And trust me, they are going to ensure the other donuts in the box around you are just as unique, interesting, and flavorful as you!

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