College Admission Brief Podcast

We started the GT Admission Blog in 2015. At the time, I had a regular Thursday afternoon “running meeting” with our former director of enrollment communications, Matt McLendon. We’d set off with a full agenda to cover, but inevitably somewhere along the Beltline I’d start rambling about a particular challenge or admission issue. One day (mid-run/ mid-rant), Matt gently suggested I “write this stuff down.” He asserted that families needed to hear more honesty and openness from admission deans and directors, and my random analogies and anecdotes may actually be a refreshing way to present subjects that often stir anxiety. (Is it likely he was just trying to enjoy the run and stay on task? Absolutely. Nevertheless, here we are.).

In the early days of the blog, I was the sole/soul author. And for the first month, it was basically just my wife, mom, and aunt reading (using several email accounts to up our subscriber number). Since that time, we’ve found ways to bring in a variety of different voices from our admission team, enrollment division, as well as campus partners. The goal remains to provide perspective, insight, and helpful tips in a relatable and accessible tone–and hopefully to also bring some levity and solace along the way.

At the time of this writing, we have over 3,550 subscribers. We know that parents and counselors regularly share our blogs in their communities and friend sets. Thank you! And while we occasionally hear from applicants who have read an entry or two, we understand high school students may not always be up for reading another 1,200-1,400 words in an already word-filled day/week of going class, studying, taking notes, etc.

Still, we know from questions in and after presentations, as well as from emails, calls, and online posts, students want to get perspective about college admission. They want to know how decisions are really made, what they mean (and don’t mean), and often simply need to be reminded that the people reading their apps are just that—people.

College Admission Brief Podcast

College Admission Brief Header

To that end we just launched a new podcast, The College Admission Brief. Just like our blog, we hope to personalize the admission process by sharing timely tips and encouraging advice from colleagues and campus partners. While we’ll sometimes use Georgia Tech as an example, the goal is to include general information, advice, and broadly applicable admission insight for students to use in their college admission experience.

A great example of why we launched this podcast is my obnoxiously long (2,160 words to be exact) blog from last week. If you read it, thank you. Grit is a valued trait and you have it in spades, my friend. (Plus you now have a sense of what Matt was dealing with on those runs). The actual title was “What’s Taking So Long?” and anyone who is honest would admit they asked themselves that precise question several times during the reading.

If you skimmed a few paragraphs and clicked back over to Instagram or scrolled down twice hard with your thumb only to realize you were only to the second picture, I understand why you bowed out. Seriously, I get it. Good news- our latest podcast episode with our Senior Associate Director, Mary Tipton Woolley, covers the same content in under 10 minutes. Bonus- you can listen while walking, driving, or waiting around for a practice or rehearsal to start. (Multitasking is a skill and we’re here for you.)

Listen to “How Are College Admission Applications Reviewed? Episode 3: Mary Tipton Woolley” on Spreaker.

We are still tweaking the audio and working out some behind the scenes kinks, so just like: the world; my laundry folding skills; the admission experience; or any one of us, it is not perfect. Still, we hope you’ll find these interviews and recordings encouraging, relatively light, shareable, and at times humorous. But if nothing else we guarantee this—they’ll be brief! Each episode is less than 10 minutes. How bad can it be? Download and listen on iTunes, Spotify, or Spreaker to check it out. Happy listening!

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What is taking so long?

Listen to “How Are College Admission Applications Reviewed? Episode 3: Mary Tipton Woolley” on Spreaker.
Every parent develops their own strategy for how to fend off the inevitable question kids ask on road trips: “When will we get there?”

Early on, I decided the best way to help a toddler understand distance was to use the rear view mirror.

“Okay, if this is our house,” I’d say while pointing to the far-left corner of the mirror, “and this is grandma’s house,” moving my hand to the far-right side of the glass, “then we are here.” Inevitably, “here” was about an inch away from where we had started- and that was being generous.

Last week my kids had Winter Break. On Tuesday, we headed to North Carolina to see my wife’s family. Inevitably, about an hour into the drive, Elizabeth (9) asks, “Where are we, dad?”

I started to explain the county we were in and what it was known for. She was uninterested and interrupted me to ask more clearly, “No, I mean on the mirror.” Wow. What started as an age- appropriate tactic seems to have turned into a barrier to gaining knowledge about geography and state history. Since I had worked all day and did not have it in me to protest, I simply pointed about quarter of the way down the mirror.

“That’s it? What is taking so long?!” About 40 responses went through my head in under three seconds, including trucks, construction, idiotic drivers, Atlanta rush hour traffic, and a number of expletive-laden opinions about population growth, city planning, urban sprawl, and more. Rather than utter these, I simply took a deep breath, shook my head quickly back and forth, and turned up the music. My wife was unimpressed.

I’m not sure what Elizabeth did after that, because I left the music up for the next half hour. But I started to think about her question: “What is taking so long?” Our culture has created an expectation of immediacy. We order a coffee, pay, slide down the counter and pick it up. Drive thru lanes are optimized, pictures can be printed at home or are ready for pick up immediately. We expect same day pick up for car repair, dry cleaning, or prescription refills. Actually, all of that requires actual effort. How about 1-click online Amazon orders that appear at our door often within hours?

A Road Trip Through the Admission Process   

When you apply to college, especially one that receives far more applications than they have seats available and uses a holistic and layered admission review, waiting is inevitable. If I were you, I’d definitely be asking, “What is taking so long?!” Don’t worry. I’m not just going to sigh and tune you out. Read on.

The application leaves home:

You hit submit. Now what?

Merging lanes:

At this point, the college matches supporting documents to your application in their database. Supporting documents includes everything from transcripts to letters of recommendation to test scores. The take home message is they’re ensuring your file is complete so they can begin their review.

If it is incomplete, your admission portal will show exactly what you are missing and you will start getting emails/texts/calls/owls about that. (By the way, if you are a senior reading this blog and not checking your email, stop reading this blog and go check your email!)

Carpool:

At this point, it depends on the system or style of application review a school has decided to use, but generally speaking the person who visits your school or is in charge of recruiting your city or state will be the one initially responsible for reading your application. At many colleges, file review begins once it’s complete, while others wait until all applications for that round have been received. Seeing all applications from a particular high school allows counselors to understand how your grades, rigor, trends compare to your peers in the applicant pool.

For example, one student receives a 91 in AP World History. That school adds 7 points of “weight” to all AP grades. While an admission officer would already know the A range extends from 90-107 based on the school profile and transcript, reading all applicants from a particular high school in the same day allows them to also see applicants who may have 102s or 104s. What does this mean for you?

  • Holistic review is both individual and comparative, rather than simply formulaic.
  • In a weighted system, two students can both have “4.0s” that look very different (in this example, 17 points).
  • This does not mean the student with the 104 is automatically getting in. Again, holistic means holistic. The entire goal of these processes is to gain and keep perspective, rather than to draw hard lines or apply a purely academic formula.

In some cases, initial review is conducted by a single individual. That counselor reads your application in its entirety, makes an admission decision recommendation and passes it along to another team member (often one slightly more experienced/senior on the team). Think about this as checks and balances. Schools want to be sure multiple people read your file and have a chance to offer their opinion on your candidacy for admission.

In other cases, schools employ Committee Based Evaluation or Team Based Review. The concept here is a simultaneous and synchronous review. Two team members read your application at the same time. One will evaluate you from a purely academic standpoint by reviewing transcripts, testing, and teacher and counselor recommendations. They take a deep dive into your course choice, grade trends, and how you have performed within your school’s context. The second reader tries to understand how you’ve used your time outside the classroom, as well as the impact and influence you’ve had on others through working, clubs, sports, or other pursuits. That staffer also reads your essays, short answer responses, and, depending on the college, may also read recommendations.  Each staff member makes individual recommendations based on their evaluation. They could both agree to admit or deny, or there could be a split decision.

Traffic Jam:

“Are we there yet?”

No! We are still only mid-mirror.

“But the driver and passenger both agree to head a certain direction.”

True. However, there are other cars on the highway, so now most files sit for a while.

“What does a while mean?”

You know how your Waze App has varying levels of red for traffic? Yea. Kind of like that. Sometimes it’s a dark pink, and often the time just keeps adding up.

“Why?”

Because admission decisions at selective institutions (those invariably using holistic review) are both individual and collective. Students are evaluated based not only on their performance in their school setting, and the other students in their high school (see example above), but also in comparison to the entire applicant pool.

Now counselors move on to that work. They begin reading other applications from schools, cities, or states they are responsible for, and they also help the rest of the team complete their first round of review.

As an example, if a college receives 20,000 applications in their Regular Decision round and has on average 10 pairs of people reading 50 applications a day, five days a week, it would take eight weeks to complete the first round of review. But you know life (and road trips) are never going to be that simple. There are holidays, sick days (for staff or their own children), as well as other recruitment responsibilities. Throw in some technology challenges, a fire alarm triggered by someone microwaving fish in tinfoil, and a good old snow day or two and you’re easily pushing 10 weeks.

“Why don’t you just hire more staff?”

Please call me on a secure line.

Recalculating….recalculating….

Next, schools move into “committee review,” or “cohort review,” or “class shaping.” Deans, directors, and VPs provide additional direction about institutional priorities and empower larger groups of staff to review applications on both an individual and comparative basis. Typically, in this phase discussions are informed by specific targets. Do we have enough admits from certain counties, states, or nations? How are particular majors doing in terms of their specific enrollment targets? Geography, academic major, ROTC, special talents, first generation, financial need, demonstrated interest may all come into play. Some or all of these student attributes, and potentially many more, are discussed as applications move through the committee review stage.  If faculty engage in the admission process, this is a logical time frame in which they’ll be consulted or asked to weigh in on student fit to their programs or the institution overall.

At some colleges, all files are reviewed again in committee, while at others only those who had a split decision in the first round enter this phase of review. Many colleges make admission offers to applicants about starting their academic career on a different campus, abroad, or in an earlier or later semester than the one for which they initially applied, which means committees are also attempting to hit targets for those institutional needs.

How long does this take? Well, that depends on the number of applications, the number of staff, and how bad flu is that year, but it usually takes several weeks. These are often tough and complex decisions that involve more people in the room weighing a series of macro factors and goals.

Re-routing:

We are almost to the far-right side of the mirror. Decision release day is approaching. Your calendar is marked and so is ours. Everyone is nervous. At this point, deans and directors are consulting with their data analysts to gauge their mathematical models for “yield” (the number of admitted students who actually choose to enroll).

Let’s say a college has a yield rate of 34% (this is actually quite common nationally). The dean knows her president, board, and faculty are counting on a class of 1,400. The current number of admits after committee is 5,000, which would result in a class of 1,700 students. The dean knows about 100 of the students who deposit do not ultimately enroll (this is known as “melt”). With residence halls and dining halls built for 1,400 new students, she is over by 200.

Accounting for yield and melt, a small group of senior-level admission folks take on the unenviable task of further reducing the number of admits (in our example by about 600+ students). This pushes previously slated admits to the waitlist, and as a result has a cascading effect on both the number and percentage of students who end up with that particular decision.

Owner’s Manual:

Every road trip and car system varies. I’ve tried to provide a general overview of how colleges review applications. If you want the full details of the operating system from a school you’re considering, check their website or consult one of their admission counselors. As an example, Georgia Tech made a video to illustrate our process.

Buckle Up! Inspirational picture describing the open road

I’m sorry this process takes so long (I’m also sorry this blog is so long). I don’t like to wait either. In fact, I don’t think I’ve never heard anyone say, “You know what I really love… waiting.”

If you are a junior just entering the college admission experience, I hope this gives you some insight and questions to ask as you consider specific colleges. When you visit or talk to one of their representatives, listen for their explanation of the process. Speak up and ask questions if it is not clear. You are going to put a lot of time and effort into applying. It is your right and responsibility to understand how they make decisions, as well as a clear timeline in which they do that.

If you are an applicant still waiting for the car to pull into the driveway, I hope you will take a holistic approach to waiting. Like admission officers, your goal is to keep perspective. You only have one senior year. Enjoy it. Go to games, hang out with friends, take trips, and have fun! Nobody ever looks back and says, “I wish I stressed out more and wished away the spring of my senior year in high school.” (Kind of like nobody says, “I want to marry someone mean,” or “I prefer to overpay for my meals.”)

Look around you this week in school.  I am asking you to fight the temptation to look to far ahead. Slow down. 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.

Ultimately, it is the things we have to wait for in life are the ones that shape us the most. You will come to the end of the mirror soon enough. Take in the sights. Share the road. Enjoy the ride!

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More and Less, Part 2

Rick Clark’s time off of screens
This is my auto-generated monthly recap from December. That was 6 “quiet days” more than the November report, so here’s hoping for 2020.

Last week we kicked off the new year with some questions around what you want to see more and less of in your life in 2020. I confessed my need to unplug more and email/text/tweet while walking less. Again, if you have not already done so, I highly encourage you to take some time this week to write down your goals and priorities and revisit them periodically in the year ahead. I also shared my hopes for mores and less’ from my college admission colleagues around the country. You can read that blog here. Now, you’re all caught up.

Since our best work is done in collaboration and partnership, this week Part 2 continues with a focus on school counselors. First, Happy New Year! I am guessing for many of you it already feels like two months back, rather than just two weeks, because the beginning of any semester is a frenetic–especially in high schools.

If you have not heard, “Thank You!” lately, then please pause on those words. I’ve had the opportunity to walk the halls of a few schools over the last week, and it reminded me of how deeply thankful I am that you are there each day. These students walk through your doors carrying such a breadth of burdens, questions, pain, and uncertainty. Your smile, fist bump, hand shake, or offer to simply sit down and breathe is invaluable. As a parent that drops two kids off each day in a public school, I live this. Knowing there are caring adults who see and hear things I’ll never be privy to has made me even more grateful for the pivotal role you play in loving, encouraging, and mentoring our kids. Thank you!

To my school counselor colleagues:

More Advocacy

Nationally, the counselor: student ratio is nearly 500:1. School counselors are frequently asked to proctor exams, assist with class registration and course changes, handle psycho-social and family-related counseling, and much more. As a result, writing recommendation letters, ensuring transcripts are sent, and providing guidance to students in their college search is a small, and ever-decreasing percentage of the work.

My hope for 2020 is more counselors will lift the issue of chronically high ratios to principals, superintendents, PTA/PTO, and broader school community, as well as with local and state representatives. Addressing this problem has short and long-term implications on mental health, high school and college retention and graduation rates, as well as finding the best academic and financial college matches for students.

It is my hope through collective advocacy, as well as telling a broader story, decision makers will gain more appreciation for the value of investing in K-12 counselors, which will improve college performance at their state’s public schools and ultimately reduce student debt due to finding the best academic and financial matches. If you are a parent or student reading this, take the time to learn more about your school’s ratio and then ask your counselor what they could do more, or by necessity do less, based on that number. Want to know your state’s overall ratio? Check here.

Another important point surrounds the fact that many of the degrees counselors need to practice in our high schools require precious little emphasis on college guidance. Equally unfortunate is continuing education requirements rarely include robust college counseling exposure. Add to the equation a severe lack of budget, time, and support for public school counselors in particular to attend professional development programs, and we are left with both a significant gap and an equally viable opportunity.

Whether you are in an independent school with a counselor: student ratio of 40:1 or working at a public high school and carrying a 400:1 caseload, it is imperative for those of you who live this every day to raise your voice and tell your story.

We need your singular anecdotes as well as your aggregate data to provide policy makers compelling illustrations of how helping students find good college matches allows them to earn a degree, graduate with less debt, and find a job quickly, therefore helping them to contribute to the economy.  Easy? No. Critical? Absolutely.

Wondering how to get started? Contact your local government relations liaison through your regional or state affiliate or contact NACAC’s Government Relations Jedi master and esteemed legislative guru, Mike Rose.

Less Rush to Judgment

My hope is 2020 will bring more trust between school counselors and college admission officers. We effectively build and fortify this bridge when admission reps focus on improving transparency, and school counselors commit to being more quick to listen and learn about the pressures their university colleagues face, and less apt to jump to conclusions without first gleaning appropriate context and engaging in conversation.

Recently, a colleague told me about a change that his university has decided to make for next year’s admission cycle. “I’ll tell you what I’m not looking forward to is dealing with the maelstrom this is going to create among counselors next fall.” His statement is reflective of what needs to change in the professional dynamic going forward.

I hope you will remember just as you operate within the framework/pressures/dictates of your school or system, admission offices are doing the same. When they set policies, timelines, or admission decisions, they are responding to institutional priorities which are typically driven by a board, chancellor, president, provost, or even the regents or administration of a state system.

While it is critical for you to challenge us at times, as well as to highlight the implications these decisions have on you, your students, and your communities, too often the tone of comments on social media or the edge voiced in questions is skeptical and accusatory at best, and confrontational at worst.

Comparative questions like, “Why don’t you all do X like Y college?” and comments beginning with “I just don’t understand….” Or “It makes no sense that you….” neither facilitate a healthy exchange nor set an example for students on how to seek information or understand nuanced issues.

I hope in the year ahead, you’ll pick up the phone or reach out to contact admission colleagues more quickly, rather than make assumptions or post speculation/ isolated anecdotes without attempting to glean context.

More Collaboration Building collaboration

Just as I hope more universities will look for diverse partners to travel or host programs with, I’m similarly hopeful for my school counselor friends.  In 2020, I hope you will consider not simply putting on programs for your individual school community, but will look around your area to see who you can partner with. Could you open up your evening panel of visiting college deans to all schools within a five-mile radius, or local CBOs? If you have an admission director coming to speak with your students or families in the evening, could you host a lunch for all local counselors to learn more about that school or set of schools? Can you create or broaden your college fair to include even more high schools and local students?

I can tell you without a doubt that directors and deans will be far more apt to attend your programs if you demonstrate collaboration with counselors at other schools. This is the type of ROI for them that makes it worth leaving campus for a few days or spending time away from family. I’ve seen great examples of models for these types of programs, so please reach out if you want to share your previous models with others or receive ideas or contacts from colleagues (@clark2college).

Looking Forward

As 2020 gets rolling, I am optimistic. While the challenges are many, I am deeply encouraged by the quality of professionals in our field. Want to be inspired? Check out this piece by Brennan Barnard in which he highlights the influential work happening in high school and college communities around the country.

Next week, Part 3- More and Less for parents and students in the college admission experience.

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Same Boat, Different Missions

Last weekend our daughter spent the night out, which meant our 11-year-old got to pick the movie without having to compromise (the first three syllable word he was forced to learn).

He immediately began scrolling through superhero movies and ultimately landed on Captain America- The Winter Soldier. Highlights include seeing Robert Redford and Samuel L. Jackson share the screen, as well as a few truly incredible chase and fight scenes. The trade-off is you end up having to explain to a rising 5th grader that winning WWII took a lot more than an amazing ricocheting shield.

Avengers
Photo credit: Microsoft.com

In one of the first scenes, Steve Rogers (Captain America) and Natasha Romanoff (Black Widow) are sent to free hostages aboard a ship. During the battle, Rogers realizes Romanoff has diverged to complete another mission– extracting data onto a jump drive from the ship’s computers for S.H.I.E.L.D boss, Nick Fury.

This scene not only sets the stage for the entire plot (and encapsulates the complex relationship between Rogers and Romanoff), but also illustrates the differing missions and motivations of high school counselors and college admission officers. Let me explain…

High school counselors are Captain America.

If you know Steve Rogers’ background, you’ll recall he volunteered to give his life and body to his country. He was transformed through an experiment into a super soldier. His quest is always to serve, protect, and advocate. There is no second mission or ulterior motive. He’s always going to choose and focus on people.

The same is true for high school counselors. This is why they spend countless hours at school, wear far too many hats for too little pay, and still find, or make, time to go to games, dances, performances, and graduation celebrations. Like Captain America they are uniquely made and fully committed.

Admission officers, deans, and directors are Black Widow.

Still a super hero… but it gets complicated.  They care about people. They want students to be happy, healthy, and successful, and they spend a lot of time in Hampton Inns eating extremely questionable breakfasts to prove it. Their direction comes from S.H.I.E.L.D. (read: an institution). They are not independent agents. Their measurement of success and ultimate objective is getting that jump drive. Save as many people as  you can along the way, but the data and numbers are the supreme mission.

For many years, people have described admission officers and school counselors as working on either “side of the desk.” Frankly, I think it’s time to Marvelize the dynamic to “same boat: different missions.”

Over the last two years, I’ve co-authored a book to guide families through the college admission experience with my friend and colleague Brennan Barnard, a school counselor who is also the college admission program manager for Harvard Graduate School of Education’s Making Caring Common Project. As a result, we talk regularly about various components of this intersection between high school and college, and have written before on the varying perspectives on our field and work. He has helped me appreciate and consider how admission messages, decisions, and policies play out “on the ground” in school communities.

To Serve and Protect

He may not wield a shield, but you can hear his Captain America serve and protect mentality in our email exchange about UVA’s recent announcement to reinstate a binding Early Decision application plan with a deadline of October 15.

“October 15th for a seventeen-year-old student to decide where they want to go to college? I feel the same way about this as I do about back to school sales at the end of June, snow blowers for sale in August,” (he’s from New Hampshire, so this one was kind of lost on me), “or Halloween decorations in stores before Labor Day.”

When the UVA made their announcement, he talked at length about issues surrounding access and equity, rightly pointing out that under-resourced students often do not know about early deadlines, nor do they have the ability to visit multiple colleges to appropriately weigh their options.

He also pointed out the anxiety he and his colleagues on the secondary side observe in their schools and how he sees the move to earlier applications as part of the problem. Frankly, he’s a better writer than me, so I’m just going to hand it off here:

“It is no secret that mental health is a huge concern on college campuses and in high schools as well. In a recent NPR interview, the authors of “The Stressed Years of the Lives” identify college admission as one of the primary stressors for young people. It aligns with evidence found at Harvard Graduate School of Education’s Making Caring Common project about achievement pressure and concern for others and the common good in college admission. While Early Decision is not the singular cause of stress, it certainly contributes to the arms race and students feeling that they need to game the process.

Increasingly students are asking “where” they will go to college before they even answer “why” they are going, because they know the reality of acceptance rates. All we have been learning about brain development and decision-making suggests that, if anything, we should be giving them more time! We need further national research on retention rates, freshman year GPAs, mental health struggles and other indicators, split out by students who came in through early and regular application, including demographic information.

Early Decision has the unintended consequence of pushing everything earlier in high school and is rendering the senior year impotent. Not only do we see students obsessing over college in 9th and 10th grades, but the second half of senior year looks really different when more than half a class is already into college by December.”

Same Boat, Different Mission

As an admission director (aka Black Widow), I join in his concern about equity, stress, and senioritis. I absolutely care. My colleagues on other college campuses care as well. We want to save everyone on the boat. But ultimately S.H.I.E.L.D. is telling us to get that jump drive. Our job is to bring in a class of students who will succeed academically, proliferate the brand of the college, and ensure the revenue generated by tuition is in line with the overall budget.

Note guy in back right. Told you someone always has an eye on the data.
Note guy in back right. Told you someone always has an eye on the data.

This is an unprecedented time in college admission (and I’m not referring to the Varsity Blues scandal). As author Jeff Selingo discusses in “How the Great Recession Changed Higher Education Forever,” state appropriations for public universities have continually been reduced. As a result, publics with the regional and national brand to attract non-residents made up for their budget shortfall by looking out of state for more students. The population is declining and will continue to do so in the Midwest and New England. In response, population dense California now has almost 200 representatives from institutions outside the state who live and recruit there, including regional admission directors.

A growing number of colleges are closing their doors or re-examining their mission and viability. In “The Higher Education Apocalypse,” Lauren Camera outlines these challenges and highlights specific cases. She also cites Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen who predicts that as many as half of all universities will close or go bankrupt in the next decade.

One way to protect your class (and tuition revenue) is to install a binding ED plan. Is it a perfect or fair solution? No. Are there sometimes other motivations for having an ED process? Yes, of course. It can serve to lower admit rate, increase yield, and could have implications for some of the methodology within US News rankings. (Why do all of those caveats feel like the end of a commercial for pills combating the other type of ED?)

Is UVA in danger of closing? No. They have a different challenge. Since 2008 applications for first-year admission have more than doubled. You know what hasn’t mirrored that growth? Their staff size. As the director of admission at Georgia Tech, I can relate, because over the last decade our story has been similar.

Running a holistic admission process demands time, and a lot of it. Understanding the differences between school grading scales and curriculum takes time. Reading essays and understanding how a student’s high school experience has prepared them for college takes time. If we were just plugging test scores and GPAs into a formula, we could turn decisions around in a day. But, in a simplistic example, that would mean a student with a 1400 and no demonstrated impact on his community edges out the team captain, hospital volunteer, all-around good person with a 1390. Nobody wants that (except the uninvolved 1400 kid).

Ultimately, we set a deadline. Whether that be November 15 or October 15, basically nobody applies until three days before that date. In fact, there are typically more applications submitted four hours before the deadline than four days ahead of it. Once those applications are in, we are on the clock. Financial Aid is breathing down our neck so they can package students. Academic departments want to contact students. And there is a constant concern (particularly among the board, administration, or boisterous alumni) that other institutions are moving faster, releasing decisions more quickly, and taking our applicants.

If staff size is not changing, and application volume is increasing, what can we change? The timeline. Spread out the submission of applications. One solution is to move the deadline up. One solution is to employ ED. In the case of UVA, it was both.

Do I see the challenges this may present? Absolutely. As an institution with an October 15 deadline, I hear them every year.

Agree to Disagree

Brennan’s take is this, “Let’s face it, early deadlines for college admission really are designed to benefit colleges not students. Sure, it is nice for some kids to know early in their senior year that they have a college acceptance locked in. But that nicety is far outweighed by the myriad reasons why the creep of early applications is detrimental–Early Decision being the worst of these evils.” (He expounds on our conversation in Forbes.)

My response?

Black Widow: The truth is a matter of circumstances, it’s not all things to all people all the time. And neither am I.

Captain AmericaThat’s a tough way to live.

Black WidowIt’s a good way not to die, though.

I told you it was complicated.

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What The…?!

Listen to the audio version here!

Young kids are like productivity’s kryptonite. A good day is two steps forward, one step back. I’m not saying they aren’t cute. I’m not warning you not to have them in the future. I am saying any adult who manages to keep these young beings alive, while also accomplishing more than the most mundane, perfunctory tasks, deserves to be praised, exalted, and cheered in the city square.

Just when you think you’ve washed all the dishes, you turn around to see an abandoned half glass of milk and two casually nibbled carrots on the counter top. And what is this in your periphery vision? Why it’s a lone striped sock, discarded by someone next to the fireplace. Mowing the lawn now involves an extra 30 minutes of post-cut clean up because of the 23 Nerf bullets shredded into hundreds of tiny pink, green, and orange pieces and sprayed all over the walkway and bushes.

If I’m being honest, in these moments I really have to watch my temper, tone, and tongue (a different three T’s than discussed a few weeks ago). Typically, I exhale deeply, close my eyes, and slowly bow and shake my head. Sometimes the sage words of Jimmy Buffett assuage my frustration, “If we couldn’t laugh, we’d all go insane.” But in most cases, amidst a swirling combination of confusion, exasperation, and uncertainty, all I can utter is, “What the…?!”

Here are a few recent examples:

Rick Clark's Kids
I admit this could be called progress after the peeing in the vent story from a few years ago. That, however was more like no steps forward and $1200 back.

Yesterday, I received this Facebook memory of my kids. Looks innocent enough, right? Creating a work of art out of old cereal boxes on the surface may look like a commitment to sustainability and artistic expression. No. This was a mandated “project” that resulted after finding bins of wrappers, boxes, cartons and other trash our son had been hoarding in his room for months. Bins—plural! What the…?!

Just before bed one night last week, my wife asked me, “What is that goo on the floor in the kitchen? It’s an odd green color and seems to be spreading.”

I don’t know. Where? You didn’t smell it or try to clean it up?

“I wasn’t touching that. Could not tell what it was.”

Stumbling downstairs, I saw the substance in question. It was a brownish-green puddle a few inches in diameter. Food? Human discharge of some kind? Melted Play-Doh? A combination of all three? What the…?!

And today, I went to the refrigerator in the morning for some yogurt only to find a few mechanical candles randomly placed on the shelves. Not destructive, but again, “What the…?!”

On The Road

It’s recruitment season, and while traveling to high schools recently I have had a disproportionate number of questions about the open-ended section of the application called “Additional Information” or “Special Circumstances.”

“Is it going to hurt me if I don’t answer that question?”

“Can I include one of the essays I could not fit anywhere else here?”

“I’m a poet and was thinking about including…”

“Would you call filling this section out demonstrated interest?”

I get it. Most of the college application is straightforward. Name: check. Address: got it. School information: no problem. Activities, Essays… all of it makes sense.

Then there’s this: “Do you wish to provide details of circumstances or qualifications not reflected in the application?” If you select yes, you have a free form box that allows up to 650 words. No additional instructions. No examples. No guidance.

Most applicants neither use nor need this section. In other words, unlike the unidentifiable goo on the floor, you can just leave it be. For those that do complete it, these are the three big bucket reasons:

Significant life events.

You had mono as a junior and missed the first two months of school. Your parents’ divorce was finalized in the summer before senior year but the end of eleventh grade was filled with turmoil. You moved three times during high school due to a parent’s job transfer, promotion, or loss. These are just some of the examples we see in this section. Readers appreciate the perspective you can provide and they will make notes or highlight pertinent pieces they believe are relevant to their review and admissions decision, especially as it relates to overcoming challenges, persevering, or demonstrating tenacity/grit. In some cases, this information may lead them to add to or revise their notes from prior sections.

Academic Context.

Readers want to know if your schedule choices were impacted during high school. Are some courses only offered at certain times? Was a class you had hoped to take canceled due to low enrollment? If you moved multiple times during high school, readers will see that on your transcript, but you also have an opportunity to tell them what impact that may have had. If your move precluded you from being able to take a certain course or begin on a particular curricular track upon arriving at your new school, feel free to elaborate in this space.

Additional Activities.

There are times when the activity section is too limited in space for you to demonstrate the extent to which you contributed. Often this surrounds a business you started, a fundraiser you need to provide more details about, or additional levels of achievement from an activity you listed earlier in the application. Remember, this is “additional” for you– and to an extent it is additional for admission committees. HINT: Put your strongest, most compelling information FIRST in the activity section. Do not intentionally bleed over into additional information unless it is absolutely essential to convey the depth of your work or time.

Still unsure?

Ask your school counselor for their advice. See what their experience has been in the past with students who have used this section. You can also simply call or email the school you are applying to and ask them for their advice.

This is a section about necessary whys or what else– not the place for another essay. Instead, readers evaluate this section looking for pieces of information that provide valuable context (inside or outside the classroom) that you cannot convey elsewhere. Do not over think it! If you believe you have something noteworthy to add, then use this section. Readers will incorporate what they deem helpful and dismiss what they do not. It is as simple as that. It will not hurt you if you do not complete this section (again, most students do not), or if you include something that is deemed irrelevant.

It is called “extra” or “special” because it is not standard. Readers will not combine those two words in their head and assume any applicant completing this section is “extra special.”

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