That’s Not How It Works, Part 2 (#TNHIW)

Attempting round two or part two of anything comes with risks. Clearly there are some shining examples of building on a story that went exceedingly well–Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, and The Lion The Witch and the Wardrobe, to name a few. Sci-fi and superheroes seem to have the advantage in the film space (pun moderately intended). Just look at Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, The Dark Knight, The Empire Strikes Back, and Spiderman 2.Alvin and the Chipmunks

Kids’ movies are spottier. For every Home Alone 2 you have Chipmunks 2- The Squeakquel. Feel free to Google for best and worst in this category—I’m sure you can add some of these to your Netflix queue (or Nutflix Squeakque as the case may be).

After last week’s post I had some good suggestions from both my staff and colleagues at other schools. So, at the risk of an epic fail like Dumb and Dumber To, here are a few more #TNHIW:

Deposits and Canceling

 “I was admitted to several schools but I can’t decide, so I’m going to deposit at ALL of them.” No!!! #TNHIW. If you can’t decide on a college, don’t put down multiple deposits at $200-$1,000 a pop while you make up your mind. If you want to spend money, send me half that amount—I’ll put it towards a new dartboard and a popcorn machine (the way we make admission decisions) and mail you a quarter to flip.

Colleges and universities are part of a national organization, the National Association of College Admission Counseling (NACAC). NACAC has established a specific timeline to help you through the college admission process—that’s why you don’t see application deadlines before October 15; it’s why you can wait on financial aid and housing details before committing to a school; and it’s why May 1 is the established national deposit deadline. (NACAC is also why schools at college fairs are not doing raffles or cheap parlor tricks, but that’s a post for a different day.)

We often hear of students “sitting on admits” without canceling because it makes them (or their parents) feel proud. If you need an ego boost, DM us on Twitter—we’ll show you some love. Look–if you decided a school is too far away, too expensive, too cold (or the opposite of any of those), or there’s another reason why it’s not a good match for you, cancel your application. At Tech, in all of our emails to admitted students and in our admission portal, we include a cancel link. If schools you’ve been admitted to are not making this process obvious, email or call them and find out how to do it.

Canceling allows colleges to re-distribute financial aid dollars and to take students off their waitlist. Good for the goose and good for the gander. Not big into the common good? Then think of canceling like breaking up with someone. It doesn’t take long and eliminates irrelevant calls, texts, and letters.

In-State Tuition

“We used to live in Georgia.” “Her grandparents have a lake house in state.” “The Falcons loss in the Super Bowls still burns…” This one may fall under the “it never hurts to ask” category, but ultimately the bigger umbrella is #TNHIW. Each state has its own rules on in-state tuition rates, but as a rule you’ll find it necessary to have lived in the state for a year prior to starting classes, and claimed it as your primary residence on your tax records. It’s helpful to know public universities operate as a part of a state system, and must adhere to the policies they set forth. So when you’re on the phone with an admission or financial aid representative and they’re saying you do not qualify for in-state tuition, it’s not because you’re the unlucky fifteenth caller of the day. They are simply conveying their state’s law, and they have to uphold it. (See policy 4.3.2)

Comparative Decisions

“My classmate/neighbor/cousin got in and I’m a better student.” “We both know my son’s smarter than…” “Last year you took a girl who is exactly like her.” Again, #TNHIW. First, we will never discuss another student with you. When applicants submit their application, they do so under the assurance their information will be used solely for the purpose of admission review and continued Apples and Orangesindividual communication. A student’s application is not to be used to influence elections or talk to their “friend’s” uncle (who happens to be an alum) about how they compare to other students from their school–specifically said uncle’s nephew.  So if your lead question in an email or phone call is comparative, we will politely but consistently redirect the conversation.

And be honest—do you really know all the details about the other student? Grades, classes, testing, life circumstances, content of essay and short answer questions, major, interview dynamics, recommendation letters? In a holistic, selective review where institutional priorities and goals for the class are at play, there are infinite nuances making applicants unique and decisions less predictable and consistent from one year to the next.

Scholarships and Financial Aid Awards

“Awesome University gave my son a merit scholarship worth $10,000, and Congratulations College named him a Dean’s Disciple, which is worth $22,000 over four years. You must not really want him or you would do the same.” Well…#TNHIW. Every school has its own overall cost, endowment level, and enrollment strategy. Some colleges keep their rates as low as possible from the outset, while others publish prices and then discount tuition using terms like “scholarship” as a tool for enrolling students. Some put all of their discretionary funds into need-based aid, while others grant merit aid based on clear and defined parameters like GPA or testing.

Tuition at public schools is set by their governing system, and in many states colleges are prohibited from using tuition funds toward meeting the need of other students—a fundamental practice in the case of many schools nationally. I won’t belabor this point. You’ve seen enough variance in the admission process to know schools have extremely different missions, cultures, and recruitment approaches—the same is true with financial aid awards and packages. Money is emotional and it’s not easy to keep your emotions in check when analyzing costs of this significance. Plus, we all want a deal, right? There is great satisfaction in feeling like you’ve gotten something exclusive or special. Hey, I like catching the t-shirt tossed from courtside too. But don’t let pride or frustration or the ability to brag about a scholarship be the sole reason you make a college choice.

Don’t misunderstand me—cost matters. But ironically, each year students will select one university over another because of the difference in aid awarded, rather than the difference in actual cost. At the end of the day, if relative costs are similar and you have either the financial means to pay or the confidence in your financial investment in a particular college, I’d urge you to not let another university’s award keep you from choosing your best fit.

There won’t be a three-peat or trilogy for #TNHIW, but if you want to peel back more admission myths and misconceptions, check out this layered Onion piece.

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The Secret Sauce Behind Scholarship Selection (part 2 of 2)

This week Georgia Tech’s Director of Special Scholarships, Chaffee Viets, is back for the second in a 2-part series about scholarship selection. Welcome back, Chaffee!

As I mentioned last week, in my experience as a scholarship director, there are three issues affecting your chances of receiving a major (and sometimes even minor) scholarship: Fit, Numbers, and Composition.

This week we’ll talk about the third issue on the list that affects your chances of receiving scholarships: Composition.

Two Types of Major Scholarships

Before we get into composition, let me define what I mean by a “major” scholarship. There are two key types I am focusing on. The first is the kind that offers more than just money. These scholarships also include personalized mentoring, enrichment experiences, leadership development, research opportunities, shared experiences with a cohort of fellow scholars, and/or admission to an honors program. All or some of these experiences might be offered in addition to a full (or near full) ride to college. There might be anywhere from 5 to 50 scholarships to go around for each incoming class at various schools in the United States (the Stamps President’s Scholarship at Georgia Tech falls into this category).

Scholarship ApplicationThe second kind of scholarship is the most expensive or most prestigious scholarship at a particular school. It’s not unusual to find 5 or 10 of these scholarships sitting there for the students deemed “the best of the best” in the incoming class. Criteria for selection is often very academically focused, but not exclusively. Incentives beyond funding for the cost of attendance are hit or miss, usually miss (though sometimes they come with admission to an honors program). Regardless, there are probably still anywhere from a handful up to 25 or more per incoming class.

Back to Composition…

Now, what do I mean by composition? I’m talking about what type of backgrounds will be sought in a full cohort of incoming scholars. What will they look like with regards to gender, geography, ethnicity, major, and so on? It might have to do with secondary factors like organizations they represent. Each school and scholarship program will have a desired composition or enrollment priority.

This is usually where someone gets worried that their demographics will work against them.

For example, a few years ago in a public forum someone asked me whether or not we reserved a certain number of spots for students of color in our scholarship program. I asked him if he meant qualified or unqualified students of color. He indicated qualified students. I replied, “If they’re qualified, why would I have to reserve any spots? Did you actually mean unqualified students of color? Because we don’t reserve any spots for unqualified students of any type.”

Judging from my conversations with families in the past, some people seem to fear that our aim to build a diverse cohort means we are selecting unqualified students over qualified students in the name of diversity. While I have no doubt such a thing has happened somewhere at some point in time, I have not encountered that situation in my career anywhere I have worked (or seen it happen among my colleagues at other scholarship programs at other schools).

Each scholarship program you might be considering will want to build a full cohort representing our society, not just one or two predominant segments of it. They will aim to pick scholars from various walks of life. The overall composition of the group of incoming scholars is important because in the programs that offer more than money, they usually want the scholars to work together on various projects, where success is enhanced by having a multitude of different perspectives and backgrounds involved.

It’s about the numbers.

It’s about the fit.

It’s about the composition.

Fake News (or something like it)

College Just AheadHollywood, the media, and broader American culture often provide a distorted picture of the availability of scholarships and what it takes to get them. Popular myths, including having straight A’s, being involved in 10 different clubs, or having relatively good grades and being a great athlete and student body president, send the message that a scholarship is an easy thing to come by. These are all generally fiction. Not exactly what would qualify as fake news, but it’s pretty darn close. So are alarmist stories of how certain students can’t win scholarships based on their demographics.

Here’s the bottom line: if you don’t win a scholarship (or the particular scholarship that you wanted) that is normal, even for gold stars. Don’t take it personally, don’t believe you have been rejected (an awful word in my experience), and don’t be resentful. Above all, don’t let not receiving a scholarship keep you from attending a college if it’s the right fit for you. Attend the  best college for you and pursue a career and life full of meaning … even if it didn’t come for free. The best things in life, despite the old adage, are not necessarily free.

Chaffee Viets has worked in higher education for more than 20 years. He joined Georgia Tech in 2011 where he oversees a team that selects the Institute’s top merit scholars and then develops them along the lines of scholarship, leadership, progress, and service. His experience with various prestigious scholarship programs at four universities drives his passion for selecting and mentoring student scholars.

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The Secret Sauce Behind Scholarship Selection (part 1 of 2)

This week Georgia Tech’s Director of Special Scholarships, Chaffee Viets, joins us for the first in a 2-part series about scholarship selection. Welcome, Chaffee!

Imagine you are a child playing with a blocks and cutouts set. You have stars, triangles, squares, circles, and rectangles. Each block is made of pure gold. You place all of them until you get to the last set. In your hand is a gold star, but the remaining cutout is a square. So the game is over – you just can’t fit a star into a square.Gold Star

This scenario is a good way to think about your chances of winning a major full-ride scholarship to a college or university. Even if you are made of pure gold, among the best students out there, it doesn’t change your shape. It doesn’t change who you are fundamentally. What can change, however, are your expectations for financing college education.

In my experience as a scholarship director, there are three issues affecting your chances of receiving a major (and sometimes even minor) scholarship: Fit, Numbers, and Composition.


I’ll start with the concept of Fit. Many students think if they aren’t selected for a scholarship it’s because they weren’t good enough—that something is wrong with them, or something is wrong with the selection process. Both of those scenarios are rarely the case when we are talk about truly competitive students (the gold stars). Instead, it is usually about a lack of fit.

For example: the most prestigious undergraduate scholarship at Georgia Tech is the Stamps President’s Scholarship. Our program focuses on four pillars: scholarship, leadership, progress and service. Let’s say we see a student who is solid gold in all their pursuits, but they’ve spent only a little time in service. While the student’s overall quality is high, their fit for our program is not, as service is a fundamental trait we value. On the other hand, that same student might be an amazing leader with a very strong background in athletics. Another well-known, prestigious scholarship program at Wooden Blocksanother school may focus on physical vigor among other qualities. So the same student who may not fit in our program very well may fit into another.  When quality is high and fit is high, the chances of receiving that scholarship increase. (For the record, we do have athletes in our program. Other scholarship programs that do not focus on service still have students with great records of helping others. These are just general examples being used to illustrate a point.)

Now, notice I used the word chances. It’s a chance because fit isn’t a check box—there’s more than one aspect of quality being sought in the same student, not just service, or just physical vigor. It’s more than a yes or no. Many different aspects of a student and their background are held up against the desired characteristics of any particular scholarship program. Students are complex and so are scholarship programs.

My Advice:  when it comes to fit, be sure to apply for scholarships that fit you and your accomplishments, rather than chasing awards a well-meaning parent, alum, or counselor told you would look good on your resume.


What do I mean by numbers? On one level, it’s about the quantity of scholarships, and on another, it’s about statistics. We’ll start with quantity of scholarships. If a student is admitted at Tech in early action, that student is in the running for one of our 40 Stamps President’s Scholarships. That’s right –not 1,000, not 100. Only 40. The numbers are similar at many other schools with prestigious, merit-based, full ride scholarship programs-. At Tech, this translates to a less than 1% chance of receiving the scholarship because we admit only about 4,500 students in the early action round.

Why are the numbers so low? The reality is every full ride scholarship a university offers to undergraduates is usually thanks to generous private donors who wish to help fund the education and professional development of a single scholar. Many, if not most, scholars must be funded from the income generated by permanent endowments, especially at public universities. Multiply that by dozens of scholars per year, then by four years’ worth of scholar cohorts. You quickly get a very large amount of money each school must raise from private donors.

The bottom line? There are many more gold star students than there are funds for a prestigious full ride merit scholarships.

What about statistics? Some schools have SAT/ACT minimums or GPAs that must be met, while others do not (for the record, Tech does not have a minimum threshold for our program). Chances for scholarships can, and do, depend on which school and scholarship program you’re targeting. Sometimes scholarship programs make such eligibility factors public, but not always. Even if there are no minimums, the truth is that for students seeking academic scholarships, GPAs, course selection, and test scores still factor into the equation. And even if a program doesn’t have a minimum requirement for academic scholarships, your GPA, course selection, and test scores will still factor into the equation—how can they not? The good news is several scholarship programs use a holistic review just like many admissions offices. Regardless, unless a student with lower academic performance has incredible leadership or extracurricular activities, it is hard to ignore the intellectual superstars in favor of better-than-average students.

Little Fish Big FishOne other thought:  To be a valedictorian or in the top 5-10% at your high school is an incredible accomplishment. But when all the top students at high schools across the nation start competing for colleges, only a portion become the top 5-10% of all applicants. It’s mathematically impossible for all of them remain in the top 5-10% at the college level. Yet that is often the mentality of a valedictorian or salutatorian – being the big fish in a small pond in high school often ends with being among the average when it comes to selection for major scholarships. I can’t tell you how many parents have called me over the years to say “but my child was valedictorian, so that means a scholarship.” Sadly, the numbers don’t make that a possibility. Besides, valedictorian is only one measure of strength.

My advice: apply for scholarships and always hope for the best, but get comfortable with the idea that you will pay for college with student loans, work-study, and other sources, even if you are a solid gold performer. Most students going to college have to pay, and they do so knowing they’re investing in themselves and their future salary will pay off those loans. If you’re still concerned about cost, take a look at the schools ranked high for best value, as these are also excellent choices.

Next week we’ll talk about the final piece of the puzzle: composition.

Chaffee Viets has worked in higher education for more than 20 years. He joined Georgia Tech in 2011 where he oversees a team that selects the Institute’s top merit scholars and then develops them along the lines of scholarship, leadership, progress, and service. His experience with various prestigious scholarship programs at four universities drives his passion for selecting and mentoring student scholars.

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