Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Why Self-Reported Grades?

In our admissions recruitment system, we have 39,427 organizations listed as high schools. We have schools with 1,500+ seniors and schools with one senior. We have Syrupmakers and Sea Kings, Jaguars and Leopards, Dragons and Wolverines, and even Jem Bears and Unicorns (You go Unicorns!). And you know what? It seems like all 39,427 schools have their own way of doing things, especially when it comes to grades. Different grading scales, different grades, different weighting systems, and just plain being different in how they do things. Even the transcripts look different, with some being hand-written, some being 12 pages long, and some with grades from kindergarten up to 12th grade. The one big thing in common is that many of them will have students applying to UGA, and we have to somehow convert these varying grades and grading scales into a somewhat common GPA system so we can look at the academics on a level playing field.

As you can guess, the recalculation of GPA's for 27,000+ applications takes a while. And the more time we spend on trying to figure out a GPA, the less time we have to do holistic file reads. As well, the longer we take in trying to decipher each grading system, the longer it takes to get out admission decisions. This is why we decided roughly eight years ago to ask our applicants to self-report their high school grades on their application. UGA uses these self-reported grades as a framework for the GPA calculation, and our evaluation team then reviews the transcript in every file to make sure we have the correct grades and GPA. Occasionally students make minor errors in self-reporting grades, and that is okay, as we double check them compared to the official transcript. In the past eight years, we have been able to roughly double the number of files we review in the holistic file reading process, and we have also made decisions roughly 3-4 weeks earlier than our time frame prior to self-reported grades, all while having roughly the same level of staffing.

While we have tried to make our self-reported grades system as simple as possible, here are a few common issues we face every year:

  • First things first, get a copy of your transcript. We will be looking at your grades on a transcript, so it only makes sense to have the same thing in your hands when you self-report your grades. Enter in the grades from the transcript, even if your school has added "points" to a teacher's grades on the transcript. See grades, enter grades.
  • A secondary reason for self-reported grades is so you can see your core courses and grades over the past three years, as you might have forgotten exactly how you did in your classes from 1-2 years ago.
  • Most of our applicants have taken HS courses in middle school, so this is not an uncommon thing for us to see. But in our GPA calculation, we only want to use the grades made in 9th grade and beyond. Only enter in grades made in your HS years. HS courses taken in middle school years can be used for state requirements, but we do not use them in the GPA.
  • If your transcript has only year long grades in your core courses worth a full credit, use the year long grades in the self-reported section (so generally 5-6 grades per year on average). If your transcript shows semester grades worth half a credit, put in the semester grades in the self-reported section. Many semester system grades might have a yearly average grade as well, but we only want the semester grades. The one oddity is if your school has a mix of grade types (usually semester for most with occasional courses having only year grades). If this is the case, report everything as semester grades, and count the year grades twice (as 1 year grade = 2 semester grades). Use what is on the transcript. 
  • If you have taken DE courses, or courses at another high school, you should only report these grades if they are on your official HS transcript, and only if they are core courses. As well, if you took summer courses, we are fine with you listing these under either year that surrounds that summer (for example either junior or senior year if taken in the summer prior to senior year).
  • We ask for the total number of AP/IB grades because that is what we use for adding weight for the GPA. We don't use Honors in our weighting system because, unlike AP and IB courses, Honors courses are not standardized nationally. We still use Honors and Advanced courses in our curriculum review, just not in our GPA calculation.
  • We have been doing this for eight years, so trust that we know all the oddities, and go by what the instructions say on the self-reported grades. This is not our first self-reported grades rodeo.
Please let me know if you have questions, and Go Dawgs!

Monday, September 24, 2018

Random Admission Thoughts- September 2018

Sometimes when writing the admissions blog, I have a specific topic to present based on the time of year, what is happening in our office at that time or something in the news that is timely. Other times, I just have random thoughts and ideas in my head of what is important or being talked about on social media or questions being asked about during our travels. Luckily for you, this is the second type, so no philosophical ramblings. As such, here are some random UGA admissions thoughts:

  • There is no award for applying early in the process, but there are some consequences in waiting until the deadline to apply. We will treat your application the same if you apply on the first day or the last, but a majority of the files that are incomplete at decision time happen due to applying on the deadline. If you wait until the end, you cause others in the process (counselors, teachers, test agencies, etc.) to do things at a later time, causing some things to be late. Don't wait until the end to apply.
  • UGA uses "best scores" in the admission review, so we only look at the strongest sub scores for your SAT or ACT tests. If you take the SAT or ACT multiple times, we will only look at the strongest scores. What does this mean? Don't wait until the last minute to send in scores after you see how you did.
  • UGA requires a school report as a part of the freshman application process. This can be our online counselor form, a Secondary School Report (SSR) or a counselor recommendation letter. This is NOT a school profile. This is a document telling us more about the individual student from the school counselor's point of view.
  • UGA does not use demonstrated interest in our review. Let me say it again - demonstrated interest does not impact a decision. We care about what you are like, not how much you "like" us.
  • We will accept test scores which are both taken and requested by the application deadline. As such, we will be able to use the October SAT if you have put UGA as a score recipient prior to taking the test. In addition, we cannot use the October ACT, as it is given after the 10/15 EA application deadline.
  • We are fine if you apply through our "UGA" application or through the Coalition application. If you use the Coalition, know that our essays are on the UGA specific page, and one of the essay prompts we use is also one of the general Coalition essay prompts.
  • As well, if you apply using the Coalition application, you will receive an email about a day after you submit the app giving you access to the UGA admissions status page. You can check on documents, test scores, and complete the self-reported grades form for UGA.
  • We can't guess about a decision, no matter what. No matter how you phrase your question, we will still say "I have no idea". Why? Because we have no idea. It all depends on your overall application, the applications submitted by everyone else, and how many people we decide we can admit. As Yoda says, "Difficult to see. Always in motion is the future."
  • Pay attention to the emails and/or texts that an admissions office sends you about your application. It might just save you some frustration.
  • Deferral is not a bad thing, just a "please wait" thing. If you can't handle being deferred, don't apply EA.
  • Whether you are applying EA or RD, take your time and fully complete the application. Don't just phone in the activities or essays for EA because someone told you UGA does not look at them. 
  • If you have questions about applying, ask them now. Don't wait until the night of the deadline (or later) to ask me. Admissions people might seem all powerful, but we can't go back in time.
  • I can't guess if a student should apply Early Action (EA) or Regular Decision (RD), as that is up to the applicant. There is a Diet Coke ad right now where the actor says "If you want to live in a yurt, yurt it up!" Same here. If you want to apply EA, EA it up. If you feel comfortable with us looking at your file in October, apply EA. If you need more time, later scores, fall grades, etc., apply RD. 
  • I will finish off with another Yoda quote - "Do. Or do not. There is no try." I am okay whether you choose to apply to UGA or not. But if you want to be considered for admission to UGA, you've got to apply. I don't want students to look back in May and say "I wish I had applied.". 
If you have any other questions, please feel free to ask them, and Go Dawgs!

Monday, September 17, 2018


Changes. They happen all the time in all areas of life. David Bowie even has a song about it. It is a fact of life, an Admissions Offices are no different. Every year we look at what has happened over the past year, what has worked and what needs fine tuning and what we need to change for the future.

For this coming year, we have been looking at our review process for our freshman admission decisions and as well our transfer admission process. The transfer review process is still being discussed by both our office and the faculty, while the freshman review process changes will impact our incoming EA and RD applications for the 2019 year.

Over the past several years, our applicant pool has grown much stronger, both in the academic and co-curricular areas. In addition, our applicant pool has grown in size, with the expectation that we might have close to 30,000 freshman applicants this year. As the applicant pool's academic data-points have grown, we have started to see a much larger group of students who are very similar in their academic profiles. In order to make more informed decisions during our admission reviews and have a positive impact on our incoming freshman class, we have decided to increase the number of files we look at in our holistic review process (looking at everything in the file).

While we will still have a number of applications where we focus primarily on the academic areas of core grades, rigor of curriculum and test scores, our goal is to expand our review of a larger group of applicants to take into account all that the student does inside and outside of of the classroom. This will not change the timing of our decisions (unless we are suddenly overwhelmed with a huge growth in our applicant pool), so you can look back at our previous timelines over the past years and know we will be following those three decision timelines fairly closely.

The biggest admissions points where this change might be seen will be in our November Early Action decisions and in our small group of February admits, where in past years our review has been primarily based on academics. While we have always had a small group of EA applications where we looked at everything in the file, mainly to determine if a student's application should be deferred or denied, we will now be increasing this holistic review process into a much greater number of applicants for these decisions. We will still have a number of decisions during these times where our review is focused on the the core academic areas, especially in our EA round where a large number of applicants have extremely strong academic records. Since we try to make our process as clear as possible, we have been communicating this message in our fall travel and now in this blog post so that our applicants and families will feel more informed about our process.

Hopefully, this message clears up any questions you might have about our review process, and it will help slow down the comments on the blog asking if X or Y really needs to be submitted since "we are just looking at academics".

Go Dawgs, and good luck out there!

Thursday, September 6, 2018

The Language of Admissions

My daughter, who is a sophomore International Affairs major at UGA, probably thinks she can hold her own in a hospital operating room. Why? Because being a Grey's Anatomy fangirl has taught her all the medical lingo she would ever need in this life. Fourteen seasons and 317 episodes of the life of Meredith Grey, Cristina Yang, Miranda Bailey, McDreamy, McSteamy, and all the other doctors of Seattle Grace/Grey-Sloan Memorial Hospital have taught her well. Words like V-Fib, central line, metastasis, Pre and Post-Op, and phrases such as "I need a ten-blade and 100 cc's of epi stat" can just roll off her tongue. Me, I am terrified of blood, and almost all medical terms just go right over my head, even with a wife who is a nurse.

In the same way, a number of occupations and offices have their own language. If you have ever been to the Varsity (a wonderfully greasy hamburger place in Atlanta and Athens), you know they have their own lingo for food, from a Naked Dog to Chili Steak all the way (see the Varsity Lingo page for the full details). Whether you are an accountant, in construction, work in finance or are a lawyer, every field seems to have their own language. College admissions is no different, and it can sometimes get confusing. Here is a helpful guide to some of the key words and phrases in the world of admissions.

  • Binding: While there are many "Early" terms (early decision, early action, early notification, early admission, and EA II), the key term is for all of these is whether the offer is binding, meaning that X college is considered an applicants top choice, and if admitted, they will attend (thus a binding offer). A number of colleges such as UGA have a non-binding Early Action option (see Early Action below).
  • Blind/Neutral : For many colleges, there will be information that the university as a whole will need to ask for some specific reason (gender for housing, family finances for financial aid) which are not used in the admission process. If a school is need blind, for instance, this means that the admissions office does not use (or even see, thus the word blind) the financial data of an applicant when making an admission decision (such as UGA). Other times, there are questions on the admission application that need to be asked for purposes other than admission (alumni information for the alumni office, gender and ethnicity for federal reporting), but are treated as a neutral non factor in the admission process. At UGA, these three factors-alumni, gender and ethnicity, have to be asked (along with a few others), but we do not use them in our admission review process.
  • Common/Coalition Application: There are two applications which are used by a number of colleges and allow for a student to enter in a majority of their personal information (biographic data, co-curricular info, etc.) for all colleges to use and then complete a smaller amount of institution specific questions needed by each college. UGA uses both the Coalition application and our own application.
  • Dawg: Also known as a bulldog, it is the most fierce and wonderful mascot in the known world. This is not an admission term, but one that you should know nonetheless.
  • Defer/Deferral: A deferral decision is generally associated with an Early decision of some kind, and the college is not able to make a decision due to wanting more information about the applicant and the overall pool of applicants and more time to review the files. This is neither a denial or an offer of admission (or a wait list offer), but simply a need by the college for more time and information before making a decision on the student. The student will then be placed within the other applicants waiting for a decision, and they will be treated the same as these other applicants.
  • Double Deposit: This is when a student sends in a deposit to two colleges (without a wait list offer being involved) to hold a place in the freshman class instead of just one. This is really looked down upon by colleges, and I compare it to a person being engaged to two people at one time. At times, this could cause a student to have an offer of admission be rescinded, as a student should only deposit at one institution.
  • Early Action (EA): This decision plan is a non-binding review of a student's application during the early part of the admission process, and it takes place in the fall of the student's senior year. At UGA, the focus is on the overall academic standing of both the applicant and the Early Action applicant pool, and the deadline is earlier than for Regular Decision applicants (at UGA the EA deadline is 10/15). The decisions can be either Admit, Deny, or Defer, and a denial decision is final. 
  • FAFSA: The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is a federal government form that students and parents complete in January/February of their senior year to apply for need based federal assistance. This form helps to determine the student's eligibility for federal aid, including grants, loans and student work-study aid.
  • Holistic Review: This is when an admissions office will do a detailed review of everything within an applicant's file, and look at things such as academics, academic trends, essays, activities, leadership, recommendations (if required), supplemental materials, the rigor of a student's coursework, etc. The readers of the file will try to get a sense of the overall applicant, and how the different areas of the file interconnect. This process has nothing to do with crystals, wheat germ, or any other uses of the word "holistic".
  • Interest/Demonstrated Interest: Some colleges (UGA is not included) take into account the amount of interest a prospective student has shown towards the college when making an admissions decision. If a student attends X college's program at their high school, visits the college either on special prospective student days or for a tour and information session, or keeps in contact with the admissions counselor for their area, it can show that a student is seriously interested in X college. On the flip side, there are some students who are unable to visit X college, have limited resources, or finds out about X college late in the senior year, and cannot show as much "interest". Again, some colleges use this in their process, while others (like UGA) do not.
  • Melt: After admitted freshman send in a deposit to a college, they at times will change their mind about attending said college. Most admissions offices know that if they receive X deposits, about 3-5% of these students will ultimately not enroll, as they could have issues with finances, be admitted of a wait list at another college, have academic issues, decide to delay college, double deposit (see above), etc. At times, this is also called "summer melt", as this occurs generally between May 1 and mid-August. Most colleges, such as UGA, will build this into their projections for their freshman classes.
  • Prospect/Prospective Applicant: When a student contacts a college to request more information, sends an SAT/ACT score to admissions, or indicates gives a college their contact information at a college fair, they go into the college's recruitment system as a prospective applicant so that the college can begin communicating with them. In addition, if you take the PSAT/PLAN or the SAT/ACT, you can ask to be a part of the student search process, and this will allow colleges to access your information from the testing agency to start communicating with you about the college search process.
  • Rigor/Rigor of Curriculum: Colleges look at what options a student has with their course options in high school, and what courses they actually then take over their four years. In an admission review, the context of a student's academic course load, and it will be come a part of both the academic and overall review of an application. Colleges look at what Honors, Advanced, Accelerated, Advanced Placement (AP), International Baccalaureate (IB), Dual Enrollment, and other types of courses in a review of a student's rigor.
  • School Report/Counselor Recommendation: A majority of colleges that have competitive admission processes will ask for a letter of recommendation and/or a form from a student's high school counselor. This gives the college some detailed information about the school, the individual student, and the counselor's insights into what the student has done academically and personally.
  • Superscoring SAT/ACT's: A number of colleges (including UGA) will use the strongest subscores of standardized test (either the SAT or ACT) to make the strongest overall score within that specific test type. So if your first SAT exam had results of SAT EBRW 600 and SAT M 700 and your second SAT exam had results of SAT EBRW 700 and SAT M 650, your overall superscore would be EBRW 700 + M 700 = 1400. The same goes for the subscores of the ACT making a superscored ACT Composite. UGA does not combine SAT and ACT scores though (we do not add an SAT EBRW of 700 to an ACT M of 34, etc.)
  • Wait List: Many colleges (such as UGA) have a limited number of freshman that they can enroll each year, and thus must try to come as close to possible in predicting how many admitted students will actually choose to enroll at their college. If the admissions office's prediction is low, they will go to a group of students they have not admitted or denied, called the wait list, where if there is enough room in the freshman class, they will then consider for admission. Wait List students are told to move forward with a plan B college, as colleges will not know if they can go to a wait list until mid-May at the earliest, and wait list students are given the option if they would like to stay on the list or not. 
  • Yield: Colleges know that not all students they admit will choose to enroll, and the percentage of students who do decide to enroll is called the Yield percentage. There is a wide range of yield percentages at colleges, with UGA averaging slightly over 50% over the past several years.

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Admissions Checklist

I will tell you right now, I love the podcast for NPR's "Hidden Brain" by Shankar Vedantam. I hope that one day I might be a part of a story about college admissions on this podcast (I know, keep dreaming). And one of my favorite episodes on this program is "Check Yourself", a podcast about how checklists, similar to the ones airline pilots now use, can be vital in other areas. The start of the program deals with the growth of the airline business, and a 1935 Boeing crash that led to the development of the first airline pilot checklist. It then leads into the other business sectors which can be improved by using checklists. In our research concerning last year's applicant pool, there was a dramatic dip in both admission rates and strength of essays for students did not plan ahead in their college application process and who waited until the last minute to apply. Preparation is key for a number of things, including the college admissions process. With the opening of the UGA Freshman application on September 1 fast approaching, here is a quick checklist for potential applicants. While the first two checklists are key right now, I thought I would throw in the last one so you can see what is down the road.

Pre-Flight Checklist

  1. College Spreadsheet: Create a basic chart with the name of each college you are considering, the application and material deadlines for the different schools and decision plans (EA vs RD for instance), the materials needed for each, and the rough decision dates.
  2. HS Transcript: Obtain a copy of your HS transcript for self-reporting your grades, and also to look back and see what courses you have taken and how you did.
  3. Resume: Create/Update your resume, and have it available for the co-curricular sections of the application. It is much easier to complete the activities sections of an application when you already have a rough framework.
  4. Personal Data: Make sure you have the correct Social Security Number, full name and birth date, then verify them all again. Roughly 100 enrolling students a year get one of these wrong, then have issues with their FAFSA or HOPE aid, and the issue generally arises around the time to pay for the first semester.
  5. School Contacts: Have your HS counselor and teacher information available (name, title, email address). 
  6. Payment Info: Have your payment information available, be it a credit card number or a fee waiver document.
In-Flight Checklist
  1. Review the Data: During the application process, look at the Freshman Profiles for each college you are considering. Remember that these are only the mid-ranges, so there are students above and below the middle. As well, try and understand what different colleges focus on in their review (grades, test scores, essays, hair color, etc.).
  2. Start working on your essays. Most students start roughing out their UGA admission essays after the application opens (but you can start sooner!), but remember that you don't need to either rush through them or obsess over each word. We suggest you write them first in a program like Microsoft Word or Google Docs, and make sure to proofread the essays, have someone review them for you, and don't wait until the last minute to start on these.
  3. Double Check Required Items: While you know you requested your test scores, transcripts and recommendations to be sent, you always want to make sure that X/Y/Z college actually received them. UGA has an online admissions status page so you can see what we have received, what is still missing, and the details of the items we have in your file.
  4. Don't listen to rumors/myths about college admissions. I have been over this many times in many blog posts, so I won't beat a dead horse. All I can say is that I have had three surgeries in my life, but going through the experience does not make me a doctor, just a good patient.
  5. Let your parents be involved in the admissions process, but only so much. It is okay to allow your parents to be a part of the college admissions process, but make sure that you are the one who completes the application, writes the essays, etc. Your parents can be great at helping you keep track of deadlines, make plans for visiting colleges, and giving you suggestions about your application. In the end, though, make sure you are the one driving/managing this process, as you are the one who will be at college next year.
  6. Senioritis: Don't catch it. Seriously.

Post-Flight Checklist

  1. Reply to Colleges: Once all of the decisions are done and you have make a choice about your future college, make sure to submit any required deposits well ahead of time. As well, let the colleges you will not be attending know your decision (you can do this with UGA straight from your admissions status page). 
  2. Orientation: In order to get ready for your freshman year, you generally are required to attend an orientation session, learn about the procedures and policies of each college, talk to an advisor and register for classes. Don't delay in signing up for Orientation.
  3. Financial Aid: This actually should be in all three checklists, but make sure you start working with college financial aid offices well before it is time to enroll. Life gets hectic in the summer for financial aid, so take care of this well ahead of time. You do not want any surprises in this part of your college life.
  4. Final Documents: Make sure to get in your final HS transcript, your immunization forms, Housing and meal plan contracts, and any other items needed for your college to allow you to actually enroll.
Good luck in the admissions process, follow a checklist so you don't crash, and Go Dawgs!