What I Do and Do Not Know…

Listen to “Episode 11: What I Do & Do Not Know – Rick Clark” on Spreaker.

Georgia Tech Admission Staff Webinar Meeting
“Dress up/formal” staff meeting theme

Each of the last seven Wednesdays at 2:45 p.m., we’ve held a full-staff meeting. While smaller teams are also meeting at other points, this is our weekly chance to all be “together.” As our time sheltering in place has lengthened, and reports and articles of other universities around the country issuing furloughs or discussing re-entry timelines proliferate, I’ve found it increasingly important to begin each meeting by laying out what I do and do not know. The latter is way longer most weeks.

When it comes to how COVID-19 will impact our work in the months ahead, however, the story is far more balanced.

What I DON’T know

In April and early May, admission deans and directors around the country get a lot of questions from their faculty, staff, alumni, and administrators such as, “How are the numbers looking?” or “Are we on target for next year?” Normally thousands of visitors are touring campus, neighbors’ or friends’ kids are weighing college options, and they’re seeing social media posts and online articles about high school seniors graduating and heading off to various colleges.

In most years by this point I have a great sense of how August will look. In fact, we often host a Cinco De Mayo gathering for our campus partners to thank them for their assistance and tell them about the incoming class in terms of size, demographics, geographic and curricular make-up, academic quality, along with a few interesting anecdotes from students’ essays.

This year is different. This year there are many uncertainties about what the months ahead hold, and the only honest answer to “How are the numbers looking?” or “Are we on target for next year?” is simply “I do not know.” Granted, no admission dean is that succinct, so those four words are quickly followed by some combination of “ifs,” “assumings,” or “hopefullys” in the subsequent sentences.

Here are a few of the key predictive metrics enrollment managers and their data gurus typically watch in late spring:

  • comparisons with historical trends.
  • the number of pending offers of admission.
  • the number of students canceling their applications to go elsewhere.
  • the number of students who attended a campus visit or information session.
  • open rates on emails and interactions online or via phone with staff.
  • the number of students registered for orientation and applying for housing.
  • the number of students who completed all financial aid documents and viewed their aid package online.

These indicators, in combination with a variety of other factors, help determine the number of waitlist offers to make, as well as how many deposited students will melt (or choose to go elsewhere) over the summer.

The basic math of college admission:

Admitted students/ Total applications = Admit rate

Deposited students/ Admitted students = Yield rate

100- (Enrolled students/ Deposited students) = Melt rate

Right now there are simply too many unknowns to accurately predict the final class size. So, “how are the numbers looking?” and “Are we on target for next year?”

Great questions. Any chance you could help me answer these?

  • Is the economy going to rebound, and to what extent?
  • Will US embassies and consulates again be issuing student visas so international students can study in America in the fall?
  • Will in-person instruction be permitted and/or advisable from a public health standpoint?
  • How open will travel be around the United States?
  • How comfortable will families be sending their kids 10s, 100s, or 1,000s of miles away from home?
  • How many students will opt for a deferment term or gap year? 

Other things I’ve recently learned I don’t know:

  • How to braid hair.
  • “New math.”
  • How to separate plastic vegetable bags at the grocery store while wearing gloves and a mask.
  • The neighbors directly across the street.

I wish I had more answers for my own staff, administration, and family. I wish I could tell my friend whose daughter is supposed to leave for college in August whether that university will be on campus for in-person instruction. The truth, however, is I do not know.

What I DO know

When we discuss and attempt to predict the “further future” of how juniors will be evaluated in the admission process in the year ahead, I feel a lot more confident.

Q: How will you evaluate GPA and grades when students may only have pass/fail grades or partial term grading for the spring semester?

A: We will do what we always have done:  look at the high school they attend, what courses they had access to (course availability), which courses they took (course selection, e.g. academic rigor), and how they did in those classes (course performance, e.g. GPA). We will not look at all high schools uniformly, but rather take the time to understand context, including how the Covid-19 pandemic impacted that community, school, and student.

We’ll also review grade trends. In other words, how did they do in 9th, 10th, and the first part of 11th grade, and perhaps also ask for a mid-term report in the senior year, especially for applicants in EA/ED rounds. Lastly, we will use historical information from classes from previous years to see how similar students from that high school have fared on our campus. No students from that high school previously? Not a problem. In fact, we are always excited to receive apps from schools we’ve not in the past. Again, we will look comprehensively at all of the factors outlined above.

Q: How are you going to evaluate extra-curricular involvement since students had seasons, performances, or elections canceled in the junior spring?

A: Holistically, and with benefit of the doubt. I know everyone says how important the junior year is and I’m not taking away from that. But again, we know what you had planned. We know what you already participated in and what you have accomplished. We’ll do what we do every year—we’ll make assumptions and inferences, which always (and I use that word intentionally) lean toward benefiting you. Here is how that will sound in admission committee: “She was on the soccer team but they did not get to play most of the season. She also plays club soccer and summer tournaments and camps were canceled. Looks like she’s listing her intent to play again in her senior year.” Translation: They’re reviewing your file as if all of that actually happened. Always, to your benefit.

Q: What about testing if administrations continue to be canceled? How will colleges review tests administered at home or those of a different format/length?

A: The test score optional movement gains momentum every day. In recent weeks, you’ve seen many public and private colleges around the country introduce either pilot plans for the year ahead or permanent policies within admission review that do not require standardized testing. A full list of nearly 1,200 colleges and universities can be found here. I highly recommend this piece in the Chronicle of Higher Education from my colleague Jon Boeckenstadt from Oregon State University, a long-time champion of test-optional admission policies. College Admission Standardized Tests

For those colleges who continue to require standardized testing they will need to be very clear about their policies and considerations surrounding testing prior to or after Spring 2020.  As a prospective student, you will have to wait and watch this summer for indications from the colleges you are considering.

If you already have a test score that falls into a college’s middle 50% range (whether they are test score optional or not), I recommend sending those as an indicator of interest. In addition to registering for one of their information sessions or accessing their virtual tours, this helps them identify and communicate with you as a student who is serious about applying and potentially enrolling.

Other things I know:

  • I REALLY need a haircut.
  • Colleges need students now more than ever.
  • Hybrid models, including synchronous and asynchronous, are being developed. This will allow some schools to grow their enrollment and create more access/seats.
  • While highlights and re-runs of games are entertaining initially, they only make you long for live sports to return.
  • I appreciate you reading and hope you have a great week. Don’t miss this opportunity at home to tell the people in your house how much you love them and appreciate them.
  • Grace, forgiveness, patience, benefit of the doubt, and love need to rule the day during this time (and by this time, I mean ALWAYS).

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Being Seen—This One is For the Juniors

This week we welcome Senior Assistant Director of Admission Katie Mattli to the blog. Welcome back, Katie!

Listen to “Juniors: We See You. Episode 6- Katie Mattli” on Spreaker.

As I was falling asleep last night, my head was buzzing with the conundrum of painting a picture of our campus for students in this new climate.  How do I make connections? How do I share a story without the campus backdrop that tells so much without words? How do I help them see us?

Then in the dark, staring at the ceiling, I remembered: we ask students to do this every year. Every time they begin a college application, they are essentially trying to make colleges see them through their only medium: words.  At my fingertips I have social platforms, pictures, phones, websites, webinars… a whole slew of tools beyond the written word to paint the campus story for prospective and admitted students.  If I only had words, I would have to intentionally craft a careful and thoughtful message.

So, this blog is filled with application tips and thoughts, dedicated to all those soon-to-be seniors who will only be using words to be seen in the admission process.

For those anxious about how to start a college application, I see you. 

This summer or fall you will sit down at your computer and write your college application. I hope not all in one sitting (you can save it and review it later!). During information sessions, I ask students to imagine a scenario with me: Pretend you could have a cup of coffee with me. If we spent 30 minutes together, what would you tell me? Lots of things, right?  You would tell me about what you love in high school, how things are crazy right now, how and why you chose classes and clubs and sports teams and service projects. About who changed your life and why.  What’s good, what’s bad, what matters to you.

Through a college application you are speaking to me too–just on paper and not in person. So, here’s the tip! Pretend we did have a “coffee conversation.” Grab a piece of paper and write all the things you would want me to know, and what you would talk about if we were in a coffee shop chatting. Just make a bulleted list. Now take that piece of paper with you to the computer when you pull up your college application and start marking things off your list. This is a great exercise to whisk some of the stress away and just get started.

When what you need to say just doesn’t fit in a category, I see you.

You had to make a choice in your senior year schedule because 2 AP’s were offered at the same time. You changed schools after 10th grade because one of your parents had a job change.  You had a blip in your grades, and you want to tell me about it. In March of your junior year… things got a little surreal.

I see you. And I carefully read the “Additional Information” section of your application. This small, unassuming section is a blank text box on your application. You can share any little detail that you feel is relevant or helps put your high school career in context. You can write a paragraph or leave bullet points. The format is optional so list what makes sense to you.

There is also a separate response space to tell us about a high school change. It is not required but it is really helpful for admission counselors to hear more about what caused the decision to change schools. It may be personal, and that’s okay if you don’t want to share. But if you feel comfortable, add a few sentences to let someone reviewing your application understand the change.

For those who don’t think they can “stand out,” I see you.

A few years ago, I read an application from a student who loved Chemistry and was captain of her swim team. Neither of these attributes are unique in a sizeable applicant pool.  But her application was so memorable. She broke water down to its elements in her essay and spoke about how it flowed through her life, in her love of chemistry, of her leadership on the swim team, and through a water-centered philanthropy that really mattered to her. It was great! She stood out!

Without knowing it, she followed two rules that I encourage all students to consider before turning in their application:

  1. Does it answer why?
  2. Does it pass the Anonymous Application test?

(Neither of these are actual rules, but I still tell anyone who will listen that they should be.)

First, does it answer why? So many students want to know what they should list on their application to be competitive. I tell them they should instead ask why are they involved in a certain activity, why does it matter to them?  If you can articulate this, you can probably put together a strong application—one that is authentic and genuinely has a good foundation.

Now, the anonymous application test. If you were to print your application (you don’t do this, but follow me here) and you were to drop it in your high school hallway—without your name on it—could anyone read it and return it to just you? That is a strong application. That is an application that has your unique voice that a friend, teacher, or peer would recognize. Just like your thumbprint, you are unique. No application is exactly like another. You can stand out by simply being authentic.

Things I don’t see

Since we are in this theme, I think it is important to mention the things that I don’t see.

  • I don’t see the number of hours you put into a sport or activity unless you tell me. Be sure to take a calculated guess as to the time you spend on your activities.
  • That small typo. I’m not here to red-pen you.  (My colleague says it best, so check out her blog next.
  • The 50-point difference in test scores. I don’t care that your best friend or the guy in your math class got a perfect score. I don’t admit test scores, I admit people. In a holistic process we see test scores, but we see so much more. Don’t distill yourself to one number. I don’t and neither should you.

Lastly, for those who feel their world is upside down right now, I see you.

If your spring sport just got cancelled, if your spring break vacation was spent watching Netflix at home, if your ACT or SAT just got cancelled and you don’t know when you will take it again, if you are now taking virtual classes—with your parents sitting beside you at the kitchen table also working: I see you.

Moments like this make us feel insecure, anxious. They make us feel alone, unseen. But I will tell you a secret: high schoolers are the most resilient creatures on Earth! I mean it. I have seen students rise from situational ashes that would bring most adults crashing down. I have proof. I read your words year after year. You bounce back. You make plans. You attack problems with passion. Your words bring me joy because there are moments in the committee room when I say out loud, “Y’all. This student is going to change the world.”

You don’t have to change the world to be resilient. Being resilient changes the world.  So, take heart in these unprecedented times. Colleges and institutions everywhere send you love and support and we can’t wait to “see” you in your application next year!

Additional Resources:

 

Katie Mattli has worked in college admission for over 10 years. She joined Georgia Tech in 2014 where she works with underrepresented minority recruitment focusing on female, first generation, African American and Hispanic recruitment efforts. Her previous years at a private liberal arts college for women fueled her love of student leadership and advocacy.

Change is the Only Constant

Listen to “Change is the Only Constant. Episode 5- Rick Clark” on Spreaker.

In the last few weeks, as the Coronavirus has become more of a reality in America, we have seen unprecedented change. Schools, professional sports, places of worship, and annual events have been postponed, closed, or canceled. Each day the headlines, number of known cases, press releases, and economic implications seem to multiply at head-spinning rates. To be honest I’m not sure what has been more disconcerting and harder for me to grasp, the fact that The Master’s won’t be in early April or that I’m now essentially co-teaching my kids’ (nine and eleven).

If you are a high school junior, I know you have a lot of questions about how this interruption to your normal life and academic career might impact your college admission experience. In a time when so much is shifting on a daily and weekly basis, I am not going to purport to know exactly how this is all going to play out. If someone has told you they have all the answers, you should run. They are either delusional or lying. Dangerous either way.

However, in times of uncertainty, I think it’s important to ground ourselves in what we do know. As it relates to your college admission experience, I’d argue that nothing has changed.

Nothing has changed

Colleges Need Students. (I figured I start with a mind-blowing revelation). Check your email inbox. I know you are getting a ton of messages right now. How did they find you? Traditionally, colleges buy names from the College Board (PSAT/SAT) and ACT. If you took one of tests, they’ve pulled you into their communication flow and are now attempting to recruit you.

If you were scheduled to take a now canceled exam, you should still expect to receive plenty of mail and email. How? Many vendors already existed who gather lists of students in high school via surveys or other methods. And while the actual sport of fencing may not be in line with current social distancing standards, you can be assured that other vendors are coming out of the virtual woodwork right now soliciting their latest, greatest algorithm for geo-fencing, digital marketing, and a variety of other multi-syllabic, often- hyphenated opportunities.Visual depiction of continuity amidst change

Sure. Currently the subject lines are not “Come visit us” or “See you soon on campus,” but the message is still the same:  We want you. We need you. We want to tell you all of the reasons why we are great, you are great, and we can be great together!

Colleges Expect Variance. I don’t know how your high school is currently teaching your courses. I DO know it varies widely across our nation and the world. We’ve heard some schools may only issue pass/fail grades for this spring. Others are saying they plan to simplify their grading scales for this term or may compress certain subjects into summer courses (assuming they are back in school by June).

Undoubtedly, a lot of nuance and diversity. This should not concern you, or make you fearful that you’ll be at a disadvantage. First, everyone is dealing with this unprecedented new reality and continually adjusting to unfamiliar territory. Second, admission folks are used to seeing varying curriculum, grading scales, and delivery methods. They are trained to ask questions and dig deeply into your transcript. Holistic review means they are not putting your GPA into a spreadsheet and multiplying by some quotient. They don’t expect uniformity. And given the global impact of Coronavirus, you should expect a lot of grace from colleges in the weeks, months, and year to come.

Colleges train readers and committees to consider your course choice and progression. Their assessment of your academic career in high school is never purely numerical or black and white.  Their biggest question is always what could you have taken and what you chose to take during high school. In that sense, nothing has changed.

You have a lot of options. There are over 4,000 colleges and universities in our country alone. Let’s be honest- the brochures they send are pretty standard, similar, and predictable.

Page 1: a picture of the football team winning. Sunny day, fans in the stands, cheering and hugging. Life is good.

Page 2: Three students of different ethnicities wearing that college’s shirt, hoodie, or hat sitting under a tree with a professor. The professor effortlessly strikes that delicate balance between youthful energy with sage wisdom and sits casually yet controlled at that perfect distance that says, “I care about you… but not in a creepy way.”

Page 3: A student standing on something high- perhaps near a statue, or on a mountain, or on a bluff overlooking the ocean, pondering life’s limitless possibilities. You get the picture. Literally.

The truth is that although these brochures may look the same, American colleges and universities vary widely. One upside of the many articles covering how Coronavirus is impacting higher education is that they shine a spotlight on this impressive, beautiful, vast landscape. In fact, I’d contest the diversity of our higher education system is one of our greatest strengths as a nation.

Good news for you is that right now schools are working extremely hard to create and publish all kinds of ways for you to interact with them online via social media, webinars, individualized appointments, and more. In the days, weeks, and months ahead, you are going to see great, new content from students, faculty, alumni, and campus organizations in a way that students before you simply did not.

Bottom line: You have a lot of options, just like always. But this disruption is going to be a catalyst for colleges to demonstrate their variety and incredible communities in even more accessible, unique, and compelling ways than ever before.

Everything Has Changed

I get it. In many ways, it feels like everything has changed: You’re not in school and it’s Wednesday at 1:32 p.m.; people around you are genuinely excited when they score a 18- count package of toilet paper; Waze timeVisual depiction of changing times estimates have been moving to an “earlier arrival time;” “Quarantine” bingo cards are popping up on your social media feed. What the…?!! Crazy, crazy days, my friends.

My hope is you’ll see this disruption to normal life as an opportunity. Things have slowed down dramatically. Eventually and progressively they’ll boot back up. As they do, you will have the choice to re-enter relationships, organizations, and daily life in a different way.

Take some time (since you should have more of it now) to ask yourself what you want to see change in yourself, your relationships, the way you interact on social media, and how you treat and communicate with family, friends, and “your neighbors.” I hope you’ll be an encouragement to others during this time of uncertainty. I hope your relationships with your family will be strengthened.

Spend some time reflecting on how you currently invest your time and what that indicates about your priorities and character. Now that you are not in your normal patterns or rhythms think about where your identity comes from and if that is authentic and accurate.

My hope is you’ll not see the weeks ahead as isolating or something to fear, but rather as opportunity to embrace and lead change. Ultimately, you may find avenues or passions for bringing that about on a larger, broader, more societal or global level, but the courage to do that starts by honestly examining your own mind, heart, and life.

What does all of that have to do with college admission? Absolutely nothing… and everything.

Our Bad. Your Problem.

We had an office retreat last week. One session included a quiz on Gen Z vernacular.  While our results were kept anonymous, I’m going to out myself and admit I did not score what most would define as high. “‘Ship them’, ‘Sips Tea,’ ‘Goat.'” As I watched one unfamiliar phrase after another pop up on the screen, I oscillated between trying to decipher their origins and thinking back on some of the popular phrases from my high school experience.  One of the most common, especially playing soccer, was “My bad.” Gen Z

I’ve come to realize “my bad” is essentially synonymous with “Bless her heart.”  A little girl trips during a ballet recital and Aunt May leans over and whispers, “She isn’t the most coordinated, is she? Bless her heart.” There are some real parallels between that comment and making a lazy pass to a teammate that ends up setting him up to get completely cracked by a charging defender. “My bad.” “Yep. Darn right it’s your bad. Nearly got me killed.” And to be honest, much of the consternation surrounding the admission process is “Our bad.”

Our bad!

Colleges should do a better job differentiating ourselves in the materials we send, the presentations we give, and the websites we build. In an effort to be broad and aesthetically concise, we end up blurring all schools together.

We want you to think, “Wow. I can see myself there” or “I’ll have friends and professors who will care about me,” so we stage diverse groups of students under trees with professors in front of our prettiest building on a perfectly sunny day. Now, you can attribute some of this to an overuse of the same marketing firm(s) within higher education.  “Check out the 2018 template. In this one we moved the football team winning a pivotal game to page two, and decided to get a drone shot of the steeple clock tower at sunset from the east. Don’t like that? Okay, how about the one with the study abroad picture on the cover and the ultimate Frisbee shot as a centerfold?” Maybe we need StitchFix to start creating college brochures. Give me a little more Atlanta and dial back the political activism–that’s really more us.

Our attempts to be inspirational or aspirational wind up being synthesized into three or four word taglines, such as “Change Your  World,” “Dream Big-Live Bigger,” or “Create the Future.” (Rumor is “Drain the Swamp” started with a consulting firm working for a college, but currently that’s been dismissed as fake news.) These attempts are ultimately why, based solely on brochures or websites, you might struggle to see a consequential difference between a small, private college in the middle of Ohio and a flagship public university in the Pacific Northwest. Our bad!

Truth be told, we do the same on tours too. We find the most involved students and best ambassadors to talk about all of the amazing research they’ve done, trips they’ve taken, and jobs they have lined up. While telling their story, they work in equally impressive anecdotes about friends or roommates studying abroad or creating companies– all the while somehow impervious to the 90 degree heat.

I’ve taken several tours this summer on my travels (registering under either George P. Burdell or Navin R. Johnson), so I’m not speaking only for Tech, or conjecturing about what may be happening. This is real, people.  These students are amazing- and they’re actual humans- not prototypes or conglomerates of a variety of top students. Not sure about you but I’ve walked away from some of those tours with an even mixture of being impressed and depressed.

Your Problem!

So, unquestionably, it is our bad. We set you up. We skim over lots of details. We give you very generic information online and in brochures, and then expose you to our best- whether its buildings, students, professors, or alumni. It’s the equivalent of us lazily passing the ball toward you. What are you going to do with it? Well, like any receiver (regardless of the sport) knows, you can’t sit and wait for it, because it will either get intercepted or you’re going to get hit upon arrival.

Run Toward It

1- Read and Research: Pick up an alumni magazine while you are on campus (tip: they’re always available at the college’s alumni building and most are readily available online too). What are they touting? Where are alums living and working? Inevitably, there are stories of professors, researchers, students, and even messages from the president or other influencers you won’t find in admission publications. Grab a school newspaper, look online for social media that’s not generated by admission, i.e. the academic department or clubs you are interested in joining. These posts are always more organic and less polished, which is a good thing.

2- Walk and Talk: If you visit a college with a friend or parent, try to split up and take different tours. Even though, theoretically, it’s the same route and basic script, the voices and perspectivesComic will always vary.   It’s incredible how many times a tour guide’s personality, choice of footwear, the day’s weather, or some off-handed comment will influence your impression of the university. I challenge you to not let any one voice be too powerful in this process. You don’t read only one review on Yelp or Amazon, right? After the tour, go stand in the longest coffee line you can find on campus. Those are the conversations you need and want to hear. Sit down, compare notes, pretend to read, and enjoy the variety of discussions. Eavesdropping gets a bad rap. It’s a life skill.

In the near future, colleges will all have virtual or augmented reality tour options. You’ll be able to choose your tour guide avatar, customized tour route, and set your voice narration style. Imagine having Thomas Jefferson take you around UVA or Mark Zuckerberg take you around Harvard. Not “throwing shade” here—as I  told you, eavesdropping was a life skill.  It’s on you to limit your bias by soliciting as many opinions as possible.

3- Ask and Task: We’ve covered this before, but it bears repeating: It’s on you to ask good, probing questions. Don’t let the admission counselor pull the string in the back of their belt and start droning on about getting seven friends, a snitch and sponsor to start the Quidditch club.  Dig deeper. They’re not being nefarious—but they are  being lazy. Get beyond the first layer spiel. Stop the tour guide, pause the presenter. Ask them to delve into some detail about their student: faculty ratio or the availability of campus housing after sophomore year, or the percentage of undergrads actually doing research.

brb. Well, next week anyway.

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