That’s Not How It Works (#TNHIW)

Eat all your broccoli. “I did. That entire piece.” Mmm… That’s not how it works. Every single piece on your plate.

You collected all the trash, right? “Yep. It’s all downstairs now.” But, son, it needs to actually go to the street. “Well, I…” That’s not how it works.

Did you wash your body and hair? “Well, the shampoo ran down my body, so…” Uh-uh. That’s not how it works.

Innocent misinterpretations, wishful thinking, or legitimate manipulation? It’s debatable. I’m sure you can think of illustrations in your own family, on your team, in your neighborhood, or at school reflecting similar disconnects and the distance between one person’s interpretation and another’s expectation or reality. I’m sure any professional can also describe common questions or myths in their niche.

To your accountant: “Well, no. I don’t have a receipt for that, but I bet we can call them and they’ll vouch for me.” Um… no. That’s not how it works.

To the city water clerk: “I’m not paying that bill. We had a leak in our pipe and the toilet runs incessantly, but it’s not like we really used the water.” Cocked head, one eye squinted. Lips pursed.

College admission has many of these situations. This time of year there are a few #TNHIW for you to be aware of:

The Waitlist

“I have decided not to come to Georgia Tech, and I have a friend on the waitlist. I’d like to give her my spot.” It’s a kind idea. Not only should you be proud of getting in, but also for thinking of your friend. But no, that’s not how it works. Throughout the month of April you’ll find there’s very little waitlist activity (with a few exceptions). Why? Because other schools are still making admission offers, financial aid packages are being released (and compared), and admitted students are coming to visit campus to compare options. Most admitted students wait until the last two weeks of April to commit to a college and pay a deposit (while colleges would love for you to commit earlier, take as much time as you need before May 1). So schools have to wait and see how their class forms.

In the end colleges use their waitlist to shape their class. For example, Georgia Tech is comprised of 60% Georgia residents and 40% from outside of Georgia. If we do not have enough students deposit from our state, we will make offers to round out that part of our class. The same could be said of any demographic, including major, gender, or another nuance a school is trying to grow. This is why colleges typically tell you that they don’t rank their waitlist. We’re not trying to be cagey—we’re being honest. If we hit our target for students from abroad on May 1, we might offer 500 spots from the waitlist but none to international students.  If you’re on a school’s waitlist, hopefully this gives some perspective. More here.

Nametag
If “Someone” told you that you could just show up to a tour without a reservation, definitely bring an email confirmation or number in case they aren’t working that day.

Visiting Campus (particularly in March/April)

“Yes, I saw online you were full today but I thought if I showed up…” “We booked tickets two months ago and now we are here. You have to work us in…” “Do you really think I would come here without a reservation?” “No. I don’t have a confirmation number. But this is the only day that works for us and I talked to someone who said…” At this time of year, thousands (truly, thousands) of students and families visit campus each week. Between spring breaks, admitted student programs, and improving weather, it makes sense.

Look, I’d love to show up at an Atlanta United match without a ticket and have them “work it out” for me too, but you’ve already got people sitting on each other’s laps so that does not seem like a good plan. A big smile and desire isn’t going to change that I don’t have a ticket.  Does not mean they’re not nice. Does not mean they’re not flattered by the interest. That’s just not how it works.

Now, don’t mishear me. If you check online and a school is full for visits, you can still go in the hopes they have some no-shows or a extra tour guide shows up. But be ready to improvise. Ask the front desk for a self-guided tour map, go eat on campus, and listen to students as they talk. Check out the buildings where your major is and ask students walking by some questions. Shy? Bring a Frisbee and a dog and see if that helps break the ice. Just promise me that you won’t show up and give some poor student or junior staffer at the front desk a hard time because what you already saw online days ago is now reality.

Appealing an admission decision

“My son is amazing! Didn’t you see his test scores? And we know someone who got in who is not as good. How do we appeal?” Well… first, it’s very nice to talk to you ma’am. Not being admitted to a school that you really want to attend stings. There is just no easy way to say it. And at most selective schools, denied and waitlisted students can easily make a case for

Don't Be A Jerk
Basic tip for visiting campus and life in general…

why they would be great students on campus. However, applications have been read multiple times in a holistic process and ultimately are made in line with achieving institutional priorities. I see how you could read that as the party line but it’s actually just confidence in our decisions.

A couple of things to know here: first, we want to talk to the applicant in these cases. Not someone who does a good voice imitation of the student, and not someone who really loves the student. Honestly, our first thought when we speak to a parent or connected alum about an appeals is, “does the student really want to come?” If so, it seems like they’d be the one to pick up the phone, send the email, or complete the appeal form.

Second, we explain on our website what makes a valid appeal. It varies from school to school, so check their information. Our reasons for a valid appeal normally include medical information, significant life circumstances, or academic details that were not correct on the transcript initially. We also list some of the invalid reasons for appeal. You’ll notice among others that pictures as an infant on campus, a really strong desire to come, or “it’s the only school I applied to” don’t fall into the valid category. #TNHIW

I could go on about how score ranges don’t guarantee admission or how we don’t have quotas of admits by school, or how the recruited athlete didn’t really take your spot, or the fact that deadline really means deadline, or how remnant shampoo doesn’t really wash your body, but I think we’re on the same page now, right? Got some other admission or life examples? We’d love to see them on Twitter @gtadmission using #TNHIW.

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Love… and Admission

I’m not usually too big on celebrating February 14, to be honest with you. I have nothing against chocolate or flowers or cards, but there’s something about this fabricated, highly marketed, contrived “holiday” that feels forced, disingenuous, and insincere. Ironically, Valentine’s Day is everything love is not supposed to be.Valentines Day Buzz

But you didn’t come here to listen to my love advice, right? Unfortunately, that’s exactly what you are going to get this week, because guess what–love and college admission have a lot in common. In hopes of setting the mood, our staff, some of their kids and spouses, as well as a few Georgia Tech students put this Valentine’s Playlist together for your listening pleasure. I’m guessing that, like me, you have not heard of some of these. I even question if a couple are actually love songs at all. But these are folks I love and trust–eclectic but thoughtful. If you think about it, your college considerations and visits should be this way too. Just because you have not heard of a song (university), don’t discount it. Just because it’s not your normal genre, region, type does not mean you won’t find a new favorite– with both songs and schools.

1- You Have Lots of Options.  If you are a junior or sophomore you are starting to get some appreciation for this right now thanks to all of those glossy, shiny brochures and letters showing up in the mail. Think about it. They are putting their best foot forward: sunny days; beautiful, sweeping shots of their grand, manicured grounds; picturesque moments under captivating trees as the sun fades warmly in the distance. What are they actually saying? “We think you are great. Come check us out. We’d love you to move in for four or five years.”  Love letters, my friends.

2- Love Yourself First. I never said it wouldn’t get cheesy, but there is enough room on the heart-shaped cracker for some truth too. If you are going to find the right romantic match–and the right college match–you have to look within first. Who are you? How do you best learn? How far away from home will you feel comfortable? What type of people bring out your best? How much can you, and should you, pay for this opportunity? (Parallel may break down a little on that last one). Anyone who has been married more than a few years–and certainly anyone who has been married more than once–will say you have to love yourself, know yourself, and understand yourself before you can possibly love another person. College is no different. You can’t answer “Where you are going to college?” until you first answer “Why are you going?” Same is true for dating. Maybe you should take yourself out for V-Day tonight or later this week. Don’t go to a movie. Don’t go somewhere you know a lot of people. How about a slow, quiet stroll? We all probably spend too little time alone anyway. Don’t get in so much of a hurry with dating or college that you forget to listen to your own dreams, needs, hopes, and goals.

3- Be Realistic. I’m sure you are thinking, “First the cheese and now the dream dies.” Bear with me. Here’s the thing: some people like to flirt—and colleges will too. Your heart may flutter when you get some very flattering letters from schools. You could see pictures of the suitor standing by her Gothic castle, or in some far away land wearing a shirt with an inspiring seal on it compelling you to write a love letter back (aka an application). I’m not trying to kill the romance, but I am urging you to keep one foot on the ground. You want to take a shot at the supermodel? For the low price of $75 and another essay, you can. Time, love, and money are always connected. ALWAYS. I’m just saying if your SAT and GPA are in the school’s bottom quartile (or if both are in their top quartile but the admit rate is less than 20% a year) you better send a few love letters to equally interesting places which do not show up on the cover of every publication in the nation.

4- Say What? Love, and by extension admission, can be confusing. Sometimes you need a friend to translate what a potential boyfriend/girlfriend/ suitor is saying. I’m here for you. “Maybe” (also known as defer or waitlist) does not mean “No.” Keep your head up, man. She just said “hold on.” Of course your feelings are hurt—you wanted an outright “Yes.” Does it sting? Sure. But shake it off and keep the big picture in mind. You professed your love on your application. You said four years together (followed by a lifetime of donation solicitations) sounded magical. Now they want your fall grades and a quick statement about why you are still interested, and you have your arms folded, nose scrunched and back turned. Love hurts. (Apparently, “Admission Hurts” ended up on the cutting room floor.)Dr. Suess

If someone else said “Yes” and you are fired up about that relationship, great. You found your match! Awesome. But don’t let your ego get in the way of seeing this through because of a maybe. You won’t learn anything about yourself, or love for that matter, by quitting.

5- No Happens. Denied, rejected, and turned down. Harsh words, for sure. But you can’t view them as anything more than re-directions. The same is true of failed dates, break-ups, or declined promposals. Re-directions. New opportunities are coming. Better days are ahead. Need to cry? Fine. Need to scream out the window at high speeds? Buckle up and watch for mailboxes, but okay. Burn the hoodie, rip off the bumper sticker, shred the poster. You do you. But then get your head up so you can get excited about the other options you have. And don’t look back. A: You shouldn’t give them the satisfaction, B: You owe it to yourself and the one you end up with to be all in.

6- Right for them does not equal right for you. So there was this girl in college… Short story is she was pretty, smart, funny, athletic, and generally a good person. Lots of guys wanted to date her. She had guys buying her meals, walking her home, and constantly asking her out.  She had guys sitting in on classes they weren’t even enrolled in to try to talk to her. Uhhh…well, that’s what I heard anyway. In the end, who did she like? My roommate. And his response? “Not interested. I don’t see it.” I never said he was smart. Just said I knew him. But here’s the point– it’s easy to believe a college is right for you or is a place you should apply or attend because a bunch of your friends, family, and classmates are into it. Have the confidence to make your own decisions.

I realize six points is random but I’m going to stop there because getting into parallels about double depositing or transferring seem dicey. At the end of the day, my best love and college advice is follow your heart and choose wisely. Have a great Valentine’s Day. I hope at least one of our songs brings you a smile or a new artist to follow.

Want to read more on love… and admission? My good friend and colleague, Brennan Barnard, also wrote on this topic earlier this week. Check out his take. 

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Two Sides of the Same Story

This Saturday we will release admission decisions. On Friday, we will gather our entire staff in a room we affectionately call the “collaboratory” or the “collaborodome”—a  big space including about 12 work stations, a few white boards, a flat screen, and more forms of chocolate than you find in most grocery stores.

First, we will walk through the number and percentage of students in each admission decision category, as well as their basic academic and geographic profile, the timeline for pushing the decision into our portal, and the email communications to follow. These are the numbers and the mechanics. But where we will spend most of our time is encouraging and preparing our staff for what’s to come.

Great work, tough decisions, many responsibilities.

We will thank staff for their great work to get us to this point. 18,000 applications reviewed (many having been read two or three times) in less than 12 weeks (that’s 18,000 essays and 18,000 short answer responses, people), not including review with faculty from all six colleges. By all counts it’s a huge challenge and a phenomenal accomplishment. In the midst of reviewing applications, we’ll acknowledge how our staff also spent time hosting families on a daily basis and traveled to high schools to talk to students and families about Tech specifically and the admission experience broadly. We will applaud the sacrifice of time away from family; the toughness to push through fatigue and illness; and the commitment they’ve demonstrated to get us here. Working in college admission is not an easy job—and we try to drive this point home. Sincere, authentic appreciation and respect. And chocolate for everyone!

Not everyone agrees.

Once we have laid all of the accolades on pretty darn thick, we will discuss how tough the decisions really are. There are many difficult choices in order to select the best match students from thousands of incredibly talented applicants. Even in our own committee discussions we have disagreements. So, especially for the staff members who have not been in our office for many years, we prepare them to hear from many students, friends, parents, counselors, principals, neighbors, loving aunts, alumni, and even seemingly unconnected observers who will not agree with our decisions. If, conservatively, you assume every applicant has four people “in their corner,” you’re talking nearly 100,000 people this Saturday who are impacted by these decisions. Expect to receive emails and calls questioning and commenting on almost every element of our process. “Didn’t you see how high her test scores are?” “You clearly have no idea how hard our high school is.” “I thought you had a holistic review. There is nothing else he could have done outside the classroom.” And within minutes you will receive contradictory accusations. “I know you only took her because she’s a legacy.” Followed by “Apparently, you could care less we are a third-generation Tech family.” “And why didn’t you fold the laundry?” (Wait…. That was a text from my wife.) Bottom line: there will be a lot of people poking holes, second guessing, and generally frustrated about things not going the way they think they should have gone.

Miles to Go

Miles to go before we sleep.

In many ways putting these decisions on the proverbial streets is only the beginning of our work. As soon as we admit students, the hard work of convincing them to come begins. Known as “yield season” in our world, it’s a time filled with calling campaigns, open house programs, and even more travel. Not to mention another 18,000 regular decision applications to review by early March. Tight timeframes… lots of work to be done. Keep the coffee pot full, re-stock the Emergen-C, and keep your head up. We got this.

A Commonality

As I was making my notes on what to say to staff on Friday, I could not help but notice that as an applicant, all of these things can be said for you too. Most of you will receive some combination of admission decisions from different schools this year. When they roll in, regardless of the outcome (admitted, deferred, denied, waitlisted) keep these three things in mind:

Great work, tough decisions, many responsibilities.

You have juggled a lot to get here: classwork, practice, job, family. It has taken sacrifice, commitment, desire, and a willingness to trade some comfort and ease for a more difficult path. If you are admitted, great. Kudos. Well done. You took the classes, made the grades, put in the work and deserve to enjoy the satisfaction of seeing your efforts get rewarded. Keep your celebration classy, my friends. Act like you’ve been there before. If you are not admitted, nothing has changed. An admission decision does not invalidate the character you’ve displayed or knowledge you’ve gained. Hey. Hey! Do you hear me? Sincere, authentic appreciation and respect. Some other school is going to send you chocolate soon (metaphorically speaking, of course) and it will taste doubly sweet when they do. Trust me.

Not everyone agrees.

I’m sorry to tell you this, but you may actually have to be the adult in this situation, even in your disappointment. I’ve seen many grown people absolutely lose their minds over admissions decisions: rants, cursing, threats, accusations, pulled donations, thrown objects, broken friendships. I’ve NEVER seen this kind of behavior from a student (well, maybe a few curses, but basically warranted). You may get in somewhere only to have a friend’s parent assert it is “just because ___________.” Just because of… gender, major, your parents’ jobs, one of your feet is slightly longer than the other, or you’re left-handed. You may not get in and have your own parent cite one or all of these same reasons. Bottom line: there will be a lot of poking holes, Ifsecond guessing, and general frustration around things not going the way others think they should have gone, and when it does, remember most of it stems from a place of love. It may not feel like it at the time, but love is the root of the behavior. Two pieces of advice: 1 – read the poem “if” by Rudyard Kipling soon. 2 – Hug them. If you keep your composure, maintain your confidence, focus on the big picture, and express love in the moment, there’s nothing you can’t handle (actually a rough paraphrase of “if”).

Miles to go before we sleep.

I understand how in January it feels like getting in is what it’s all about. But the truth is some of the toughest work is still ahead of you. The likelihood is you’re going to get in several places. You still need to compare those options, visit campus, receive and evaluate financial aid packages. Oh—and not to mention next week’s Calculus exam and the paper you still need to write.

Miles to go, my friends. But that’s the adventure, isn’t it? Enjoy every step!

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Ad(mission): It’s not fair.

Listen to the audio version here.

I suppose I could have gone with “An Admission: It’s not fair!” What can I say, catchy titles are not my thing. Working on it. But at this time of year, “fairness” is a resounding theme.

“How can you waitlist my son? He has 30 points higher and two more APs than your average. And we know someone down the street who got in that….”

“Something is wrong with your process if my daughter who has been through as many medical issues as she has and still has a 3.8 is not getting in. Talk about not being fair….”

“And don’t get me started on financial aid… or lack thereof.”

These are actual quotes from real people. Granted, they’re being used without acknowledgment (I didn’t think asking for permission to use them would be part of the healing process). Undeniably, there is something hardwired in us that longs for right, equal, just, fair, and perfect results. And these are noble aspirations.It's Not Fair

Kids are among the most vocal about longing for fairness. Spend the same amount of money on presents? “Well, he got more gifts.” Buy the exact same number of gifts? “That one of her’s is bigger!” “Okay, tell you what, I’m going to take all of these out to the fire pit then and you can play with this cardboard box.” Now they’re both screaming in unison, writhing on the ground and flailing, with great gnashing of teeth. It’s like a scene from Revelation followed by a simultaneous and guttural reaction: “That’s not fair!”

Well, my friends, neither is college admission. If you applied to a college that has a selective (meaning below 33% admit rate) process, or if you are a counselor, principal, parent, friend of someone who has gone through this lately, you know this to be true. Inevitably, you know someone who was denied or waitlisted that was “better” or “more qualified” or “should have gotten in.”

I try not to specifically speak for my colleagues, but I feel confident saying this for anyone that works at a highly selective college that has just denied a ton of the students you are thinking about/calling about/inquiring about: We know. It’s NOT fair. You’re not crazy. In fact, we’d be the first to concur that there are many denied students with higher SAT/ACT scores or more community service or more APs or who wrote a better essay or participated in more clubs and sports than some who were admitted.  But here is what is critical for you to understand– ultimately, the admission process for schools denying twice or three times or sometimes ten times more students than they admit– is not about fairness. It’s about mission.

Mission Drives Admission.

Selective colleges publish mid-50% ranges or averages on our freshman profiles to serve as guides, not guarantees. These are the quantifiable factors that provide an overall sense of the admitted or enrolling class. Yes, we look at test scores, rigor of curriculum, course performance, impact on a community, essays, interviews, and so on. But what drives a holistic review process and serves as a guide for admitting students is a school’s mission. Counselors in high schools talk a great deal about “fit.” Where are you going to thrive? Where are you going to create a network or be challenged? MissionWhere do you see students that will push and challenge and stretch you to grow as a person and as a learner? These questions come from the fact that they’re savvy and educated not just about our admission processes and stats, but more importantly about our distinct missions. Ultimately, choosing the right school should not just be about “can I get in?” from a statistical or quantifiable standpoint, but “do I align with their mission?” It takes more work to figure that out, but that’s your job as an applicant or prospective student.

If you look at the academic profiles of Caltech and Amherst, they are very similar. But take a look at their missions.

Amherst (abbreviated) “Amherst College educates men and women of exceptional potential from all backgrounds so that they may seek, value, and advance knowledge, engage the world around them, and lead principled lives of consequence… and is committed to learning through close colloquy and to expanding the realm of knowledge through scholarly research and artistic creation at the highest level. Its graduates link learning with leadership—in service to the College, to their communities, and to the world beyond.”

Caltech “…to expand human knowledge and benefit society through research integrated with education. We investigate the most challenging, fundamental problems in science and technology in a singularly collegial, interdisciplinary atmosphere, while educating outstanding students to become creative members of society.”

The difference in missions is why an individual student sometimes gets in to a higher ranked or more selective school and is denied at another. The student applying to Amherst has the same profile, involvement, writing ability, scores, and grades. but is a totally different fit in their process than for Caltech. This is, at least in part, what counselors are talking about when they say “fit.” It’s fit with mission. You’ll hear schools talk about “institutional priorities.” These are simply components of the macro vision and mission of a university.

A quick look at Georgia Tech

Founded: 1885. Classes begin 1888. One major- Mechanical Engineering. All male. It was a trade school responding to the needs of 19th century and early 20th century Georgia and US South.  The focus was on training and preparation for product creation and being prepared to lead and create the next in an industrializing state, region, and nation. Were there more “qualified” or “smarter” students at the time who had aspirations of becoming ministers or lawyers or physicians? Unquestionably. And had they applied with those intentions, they likely would not have been admitted. It was not our mission to educate students for those roles.

1912: Tech establishes a “School of Commerce” which is essentially a business program. 1952: Tech begins enrolling women. 1961: Georgia Tech becomes the first school in the South to integrate classes without a court order. It’s not hard for me to envision a younger brother in 1954 who is by all counts smarter than his older brother not being admitted to Tech due to this change in mission. Supply and demand drive admit rates. If your supply shrinks due to a shift in your mission, then admission decisions also change based upon factors besides grades, scores, or performance.

The University of North Carolina system is mandated by their legislature to enroll no more than 18% of students from outside of the state. This is why the admit rate for Chapel Hill is more than three times higher for in-state students vs. non-residents.  There are valedictorians from around the country not admitted to UNC (mission here) who get into Ivy League schools. Does this sound controversial or unfair? Not if you understand that mission drives admission.  Schools end academic programs. They add majors. They create new co-curricular programs or add or terminate sports teams. Mission changes and with it admission decisions are impacted to support those goals.

At Tech, our mission is “to define the technological university of the 21st century.” Our motto is “Progress and Service.” Our commitment is to “improve the human condition.” So while we are going to provide stats and averages and profiles like all other schools, these are the conversations in admission committee that contribute to decisions. Fair? No. Perfect? No. Reality? Yes.

What does this mean for you?

If you are a senior (or a parent of a senior) who has been denied or waitlisted: You are most likely just as smart, capable, and talented as other students admitted to that school. Move past the numbers and the comparison. You’re absolutely right: it’s not fair in a comparative sense. But that school has made its decisions in light of advancing their mission. Inevitably, you’ve also been admitted to a school where, if you looked hard enough, you could find someone denied with higher scores or more APs or better grades than you. But you fit their mission. Embrace that!

If you are an underclassmen (or parent of one): Selective schools will say, “We are looking to shape a class.” Counselors will talk to you about “fit.” As you try to digest and comprehend what that really means- or where that comes from- look to the school’s mission. Use the academic ranges they provide as a guide. Check out the profiles and other historical data to see how “students like you” have done in the past. But keep in mind those graphs don’t show the qualitative elements. When you are writing or interviewing at schools, do your homework in advance by researching. The essay you write for Caltech should not be the same one you write for Amherst. Your mission, should you choose to accept it (see what I did there?), is to find a school that aligns your academic ability with your vision of the future. Data is helpful. Stats are important. But fit, ethos, campus community, and your ability to be honest with who you are and want to be– that’s the best way to approach the process.Life is not fair

The other day my son was inconsolable. “She got presents on my birthday, and I never get anything on hers. It’s just not fair!” Finally, I just grabbed him, held him, and kept saying, “I know, son. I know.” So listen, you may not feel any better after reading this blog. Still angry. Still frustrated. I get it. I just wanted to save you that part of any email you send schools or the first part of a phone call. You can go right into other grievances and skip the “it’s not fair” part. We know, we know.

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The Waitlist… well….

Freshman admission decisions are out at Tech, and will soon be out at many other schools across the nation (if not already). As we mentioned in last week’s blog, emotions run high during this time of year, and it can be a stressful time for students, families, counselors, and admission staff.

When it comes to dealing with a decision of “waitlist,” there’s only so much to say… and last year Rick covered most of it in our 3-part series, “The Waitlist Sucks.” We hope you’ll check it out and learn more about the waitlist from the college perspective, the student perspective, and tips on what to do next.

The Waitlist Sucks

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