Friday, August 10, 2018

What should I take? - Course rigor and a balanced life

In College Admissions, there is an ongoing struggle with trying to relay information concerning a high school applicant's course selection. How do you relay the idea to students that colleges want you to challenge yourself in preparation for college classes, but not overdo their coursework load to the detriment of their work/play balance and overall mental health. One of the main reasons that this is such a tough discussion is due to the differences in individual students and how they are able to handle challenging coursework. For every student who is able to handle a full AP/IB course load there is another student who gets in over their head with their junior/senior schedule. There is no one right answer for how challenging a student's course work should be, just like there is no one right answer for any number of life's choices. If a parent calls and asks us to sketch out the schedule their student should take in high school, a college admissions officer is no real knowledge of the student and family dynamic has no real insight into what courses that individual student should take. We can talk about the state or institutional base minimums, and what previous students have taken, but that only paints a very broad stroke on the canvas. As such, here is what we can give as far as suggestions and guidelines. To be honest, no admissions person can say what your individual student should take as far as HS courses, as this decision needs a great deal more information than we would have from one email/phone call.

Academically speaking, we suggest that students challenge themselves to the best of their ability while still having strong grades in high school. We do not want a student to take 5 AP courses in one year, and come out having 3 C's and 2 D's. A student needs to be successful in their classes. But a 4.00 GPA while taking some of the most basic courses offered at the high school is not a good option either, as the strong grades would indicate that the student could challenge themselves with more advanced classes and better prepare them for the next academic level. We want a student who is willing to challenge themselves and still do well in their courses. When we give this advice though, we also try and couch it within the scope of the academic interests and individual strengths of the student. Generally, if the student is looking at engineering/STEM majors, then advanced math and science classes are key to prepare yourself for the beginning courses in these areas, with an understanding that there still needs to be a strong base of English courses and possibly the other core areas. If you are looking within the social sciences areas, you will want to make sure you have taken advanced work in English, economics, history/psychology and many times statistics or foreign languages). But again, this is a very broad brush stroke, as each student is different. When we give out data points on the average number of AP or DE courses, this is not an expectation for our entering class. We look at what is available, what is taken, and how four years of coursework play out over the five core academic areas. If you are shooting for taking X number of AP courses because of an average number, you are aiming at the wrong target.

As far as a good balance between a student's academic and personal lives, it is again up to the student and family to determine the tipping point. Students should challenge themselves with a rigorous course schedule that is manageable while also having time for family, friends, activities and a social life. It does not do anyone any good (student, family, high school or college) for a student to become so overwhelmed with their coursework that their academic and personal lives begin to collapse. At the same time, students and parents need to be aware that the opposite problem can occur when their personal/social lives so dominate their days that it negatively impacts their academics, which then spirals into a different (but just as bad) collapse of their world. If your sixth or seventh activity/sport is negatively impacting a student's coursework, the reality is that the student and family need to reassess the co-curricular imbalance. Admissions offices understand that not all learning comes from the classroom, and we want to see that potential students are able to interact with other people, help other people and learn from other people. We are looking for applicants who will be able to make an impact on our college campus both in and out of class. We also want to make sure students can handle that same balancing act of academics and personal life when they are on our college campuses.

I hope this helps a little of this very difficult question.

Go Dawgs!

Friday, August 3, 2018

Senior Year Do's and Don'ts

It is that time of year again, when K-12 schools are starting back, students (and teachers) groan and parents quietly celebrate. Colleges are beginning to open their applications for the Class of 2023 (UGA's app will open on September 1), and the college admissions process suddenly gets real. With the flip of the proverbial switch, applying to colleges suddenly changes from a vague future action to a reality and the tension level goes up to a seven or eight. I honor of this time of year, here is a list of do's and don'ts for parents and students.

Rising HS Seniors:

DO: Have a wonderful senior year, as your senior year should be special. Focus on doing well in your classes, but also take time to strengthen your ties to your friends, meet new people, and enjoy your last year of HS.

DON'T: Let senioritis overtake your brain. After you are admitted to a college, they will still be reviewing your final HS transcript, and you need to make sure your grades have not dropped to a level that causes problems in enrolling at your intended college. We rescinded eight offers of admission this year - please don't be one of these next year.

DO: Stay active in clubs, sports, volunteer work or other activities that you have been involved with during HS. Senior year should be a good finish to your HS years, not a count-down until you are out of there.

DON'T: Be so active in all things outside of school that you let your grades drop (see the first DON'T). Know (or learn) how to juggle different demands, and know that your academics come first.

DO: Look at the college search process as a time to learn more about yourself, what you want to do for the next four years, and find several good matches in your college search. This should be an exciting time where you are able to look into the future and see how you fit with each college, and the possibilities that are down the road.

DON'T: Listen to myths, rumors or people who say "I heard that in order to get into UGA...". Senior year and the college search should not be a time of panic or despair, and most of the stress is not necessary. College admission offices want to work with you and help you through the process, so listen to their suggestions. Generally, college admission rumors start when someone does not understand the admissions process, and they then attempt to guess about a reason X/Y/Z happened. Don't get caught up in this cycle of misinformation.

DO: Pay attention to deadlines, take responsibility for your own college applications, and make sure things are in well before they need to be.

DON'T: Do things at the last minute. How you act in HS and in the application process shows us how you might be on our campus. If you do things at the last second (or later), procrastinate, and do not take care of your side of things, what do you think the colleges will be thinking about how you will handle things once you get to college.

DO: Enjoy your senior year, take time to enjoy the college selection process, and thank your parents, counselors and teachers for all that they have done for you.

Parents of Rising HS Seniors

DO: Support your student during this challenging year of transition. Find a good balance between helping them and getting out of the way and letting them handle things, as they will be out of the house next year and having to do things on their own soon enough. 

DON'T: Make this process about you. We all want our kids to succeed, whether it is in four year old soccer or applying to college, and as parents, you feel each joy and pain your child feels. But make sure that the focus is on the student, where they want to apply, and what is best for them. If you find yourself saying "We applied...", stop and reassess the situation. There are many comparisons we use for parents (training wheels on a bike, safety net, coach, cheerleader), but in the end the student is going to be on a campus next fall, and they need to learn how to handle this college thing on their own.

DO:  Learn about the colleges your student is interested in, and ask questions of admissions about the process. Our offices are happy to answer all questions, and I try and reply to any and all comments on this blog. We still want the student to ask questions, and you should encourage your student to take the lead, but we are fine working with parents during this process.

DON'T: Ask for advice on UGA admissions decision process from your friends/neighbors just because they have had a child apply to UGA in the past. First, things change, from deadlines to requirements to how our process works. Second, having a child apply to college makes you knowledgeable about applying to college, not on how admission decisions are made. Myths and rumors abound in the college admissions world, but I heavily suggest you try and avoid anyone sharing them. If a person starts a sentence with "I heard that UGA Admissions ...", think twice (or more) about the advice.

DO: Have a discussion with your student on the realities of attending X/Y/Z college, especially if college costs are a major factor. Make sure they know what the reality is concerning what is possible and what is not based on admissions/financial aid.

DON'T: Eliminate a college from your student's list just because it is a rival of your alma mater. If you are an Alabama fan, life will be okay if your child goes to Auburn. Same with UGA/GT, Cal Berkeley/Stanford, UNC/NC State, and Harvard/Yale. Let your student find the colleges that match their interests and go from there.

DO: Help your student find a number of colleges that fit their needs. In the college search, there will be a number of institutions that "check off all the boxes" of what your student is looking for in a university. Help them understand that there are a number of great options and to find good matches with their needs.

DON'T: Tell your student that there is only one perfect college for them. Having only one "perfect" option puts a great deal of unnecessary pressure on getting into that one institution. I know a number of previously denied students who found a great match at another college, even if at first they thought not getting into UGA was the end of the world.

DO: Tell your child you love them no matter what admission decisions occur over the next year or so. 

Good luck in managing the college admissions process, and Go Dawgs!

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Etiquette for Visiting Colleges

Like many parents in our community, my wife and I had our two children go to an after-school etiquette program during the fifth grade. We got past the actually moaning and groaning and had them ready to learn more about how to interact with others. I can still remember sending my now college senior son to his first day with a pre-tied necktie in his bookbag, only to have him come home with the tie pulled up tight against his neck above his actual shirt collar. Seriously, it was the strangest sight ever. I should have known then that he was destined for a more casual, less proper life - just like me. While my kids only went through one year of this program, both of them did learn a few manners, my son understood how to actually tie a necktie, and hopefully some of the etiquette did sink in.

In the same way that there are certain etiquette rules for social events, interacting with others and dining at restaurants, there are also certain steps you can take when visiting colleges. While many students might have already starting visiting colleges by now, a large number of you will be attending admission events during your senior year. This could involve campus tours, visitation days, open houses and the like. Here are a few suggestions on how to make sure the visits go well for everyone involved. Don't worry, this has nothing to do with table manners, how to bow, or how to drink tea properly.

  1. Make a reservation - While you don't need to always schedule an official visit to a campus, things generally work out much better when you plan ahead. Sign up for the campus tours well ahead of time, especially if it is for a visit in March/April (key Spring Break times) or during the summer. Showing up unannounced can add stress, not only to your own party but to the admission offices. You don't want to visit a college only to be told the tour is full or the office is closed that day. If you are going out to a nice restaurant, you probably want to make a reservation ahead of time, right?
  2. Alert the college if there is a need to cancel - If something comes up that causes you to not be able to attend a scheduled tour/event, let the admissions office know about it. Many times, space at these events are in high demand, so letting the college know of a change in plans can free up space for another student/family to visit. Many times, the emails sent confirming the visit also have instructions on how to chance/cancel a visit. If you make a reservation at a restaurant and then just don't show up, the front desk is going to waste a great deal of time calling out your name and holding a space for you unnecessarily.
  3. Hold questions which are not "large audience-appropriate" for later - At any admissions event, we love questions. We truly enjoy talking to both students and parents, and you asking questions helps us direct the conversation towards meaningful discussions. But at times, there are questions that should be held onto until a time that is more one-on-one. One of the most awkward times my wife and I had at a restaurant was when the couple next to us starting loudly berating the waiter about the wine options (they even suggested one wine that should be on the list which we had seen in a gas station earlier that day). I think the entire restaurant heard this discussion, and it would have been much better if instead they had requested a quiet talk with the manager. In the same way, if you have an issue with how decisions are made or  if you have somewhat personal questions, I suggest you talk with an admissions person on the side at a later time. It makes it much less awkward for everyone.
  4. Give feedback - At the end of the day/event, admission offices generally send out surveys for visitors to complete. We are glad to hear back from you about the day, and your thoughts and ideas can help us in shaping future events, either by making changes or by keeping some things the same. UGA is not a college which bases our decisions on "demonstrated interest", so feel free to give us your honest opinion on how things went on your visit. Responding to our surveys means that you cared enough to let us know how you feel.
I hope these notes help, and Go Dawgs!

Friday, July 6, 2018

DIY Admissions-Parent Edition

About a month ago, I wrote a blog post about how students should be able to handle the application process on their own, with a limited amount of guidance from parents/counselors friends. This month, the focus is on how parents can help get students to that stage of the process:

Last week, I was volunteering at a camp for six days, and I had eight campers in my cabin from a range of placed in Georgia. It was a wonderful week, but as you can guess, there were also a few challenging times, usually associated with either getting all eight out of the cabin on time or that wonderful event of mealtime, also known as "please just eat your food and don't make too much of a mess". One of our campers had a challenge with certain mealtime things, from cutting up meat, eating yogurt without getting it on his face, and the horribly sticky mess that is syrup (they really should just ban this substance from all children under the age of 13).

One of the newer counselors at the table stepped up to help this camper by cutting his food, going to get paper towels, and pretty much sticking close to the camper for every meal in case of emergency. About a day later, one of the wiser, older counselors (not me, I swear) stepped in and essentially said "Stop helping him. He needs to learn how to do these things himself." The focus became less on doing things for the camper, and more on helping him learn how to take care of himself. The first day or so was a challenge, watching the camper struggle with the steps. If you have ever watched a kid struggle trying to learn a new skill, your first instinct is to help in any way you can. But by the end of the week, everyone was less stressed, the camper was much more independent, and mealtime was much better-if you don't count syrup as being the devil's condiment.

This same situation plays out again and again in a number of areas. Think back to elementary school projects, with some seeming to have been created by a professional artist, while others are barely able to remain standing, but at least completed by the actual student. Or how about some thank you cards being written in too-perfect script, while others have letters of all sizes and dirt smudges on the edges. There is a time for helping our kids with certain activities, and a time to let them handle the process on their own. This is one of those times. As one of my fellow counselors just said, let your student ride the bike and you just act as the training wheels, because the training wheels are coming off next fall whether you like it or not.

The Admissions application process is a key point in letting the student take care of their own "project". Yes, parents are there to give guidance, to gently nudge their kids in the right direction, but to also know not to cross over the line and just do it themselves. It might be easier to go ahead and be a big part of the application process, but the skills that are learned by having the student do it themselves will translate into more comfort in managing their first year in college, apply for internships, etc. When students start signing up for their first semester of classes, generally during orientation, the first step many times is telling the parents that they should go get some coffee as the student needs to handle this step.

I have been through this process twice as a parent, and I know it can and will be challenging, but you will make it (and so will your child).

Good luck, and Go Dawgs!

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Spring 2019 Transfer Admission Update

This week, our office started reviewing Spring 2019 transfer applications. This is earlier than I expected, but we are progressing well with Summer/Fall transfer updates and final HS transcript reviews for freshmen. The 8/15 application deadline for spring has not passed and we are still receiving applications and documents, so we cannot say how long it will take us to finish or guess when you will hear a decision.  If you applied for the spring term, please be sure to check your Status page to see if we have your most up-to-date transcript(s). If you were enrolled in coursework this summer and have not sent a transcript with your summer grades, you should have one sent as soon as possible.  To be complete and ready to review, we must have a transcript from each college/university you have previously attended.  If you are attending a new college starting in the Fall 2018 semester, we do not need a transcript, as there will not be any grades on the transcript. If you are admitted, we will need a transcript when fall term is done, though, as we will need to post these grades.

Just like Summer and Fall transfer decisions, we will release our decisions every Friday in the late afternoon, and emails will go out to students roughly 20 minutes after a decision is released indicating a change to a student's status (no decision information is in the email, as it directs applicants to the status page for a decision). As such, there is no need to constantly check your status page or contact us by email or phone, as we only release decisions by the status page and by mail.

Generally, our office reviews transfer files chronologically based on when the file is complete (all materials are in), but this is not set in stone, as some file reviews might be delayed due to the complexity of the transcripts or due to our office not having past data on transferable work from certain colleges.

We will be reviewing Spring Freshmen applicants sometime in mid September after the deadline has passed and all files are ready for review.

Go Dawgs!

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

DIY Admissions

For the last few weeks, my shower has suddenly started to drip water, even with the handle set at full off. I could live with a tiny leak, but this was becoming a steady leak, leading to other issues. So this weekend, I took on the task of repairing my shower in my house. I waited until my family was gone for the week, did some research on the internet on how to fix a leaky shower, and then built up my nerve to tackle the project. I am fine with fixing simple things around the house, even to the point of scaling the roof to fix a few torn shingles, but plumbing work terrifies me. I have nightmares about the entire shower suddenly falling into the kitchen due to my plumbing mistakes. But after looking at what was needed for a basic dripping shower, I figured I could take on the project. I watched the YouTube videos, read the package instructions, and I was ready.

It started out simple enough - Step 1, remove the handle. 20 minutes and a lot of WD-40 later, the handle was removed. Step 2, remove the metal shower sleeve - done in 20 seconds. Step 3, remove the bonnet nut - you guessed it, 30 minutes, one new wrench and a lot of WD-40 later, bonnet nut removed. Step 4, remove the cartridge and look at the rubber gasket washers. Step 5, notice there are no rubber gasket washers. Step 6, watch a lot of plumbers on YouTube fixing. Step 7, 45 minutes, one trip back to the hardware store to buy a new cartridge with the washers already built in, several times of asking myself why I am doing this, then pop the new cartridge in. I put the nut, sleeve and handle back on, said a small prayer, turned on the water and the shower worked. Now, I can still see a few minor imperfections, as the handle is not aligned perfectly and the there is a tiny gap that might or might not have been there before. But it works, it looks pretty good, and I learned a new skill (and I didn't have to pay a plumber $200+ for his work).

Now why in the world did I just tell you a story about me fixing a shower, and how does it even remotely relate to admissions? Well just like my minor plumbing job, applying to colleges can be a little scary, and you might hit a few speed bumps or need a little metaphorical WD-40, but you can handle this process. Unless you have a seriously unusual or challenging situation, you don't need a personal counselor, a test prep coach or an essay expert to get you through college admissions. This is a DIY project, and you can do it. Yes, you might need some advice from your parents, your counselor or Khan Academy (I don't think there is a perfect YouTube video on this subject yet), but you will make it through this process. I am not against students working with independent counselors or test prep programs, but I want to make sure people know that it is not a required part of the process or that "everyone else" is getting assistance.

As well, many times admissions offices can grasp whether a student has or has not been given assistance in the application process. It's a little like third grade science projects, where the range of parental assistance can clearly be seen in the finished work. Did eight year old Johnny really build a working scale model of the Mars rover climbing out of a crater on the red planet? We are looking for your voice in the essays, your interests in the co-curricular activities, and an overall view of what you are like in the application. For some applicants, the over-polishing of essays by third parties or activities added in senior year because someone suggested it would look good on a resume makes the application lose it's vitality. Again, I have no issue with students receiving advice on their admission application, but make sure you are the driver of this process, not the passenger. You know who you are, so you be you, and show us that in your application.

Good luck, and Go Dawgs!

Friday, May 11, 2018

2019 Freshman Essay Topics

Every year, our office reviews the freshman application for changes that we would like to see for the next year. During this review, we also look at the short essay questions that are required for First Year applicants. Based on our review of the essays from last year, we are keeping the essay prompts the same as last year. We require one short essay that all applicants must complete, and four additional short essay topics with the applicant selecting to respond to one of these. These two essays should be between 200-300 words and remember to focus on substance and not word count.  Before submitting your application and essays, always remember to proofread and edit!  The First Year application will be available on September 1, but we thought that some people would want to know the essay prompts earlier than that date. Based on the essays we read last year, we do have one suggestion - Please remember your audience. For some reason, we had a large number of essays about bodily functions this year, and while these might be good stories for late night gatherings with friends, they might not be the best admission essays.

Here are the five essay questions, with Essay 1 being required and Essays 2-5 being four options from which the applicant selects one.  
  • (Required) The college admissions process can create anxiety. In an attempt to make it less stressful, please tell us an interesting or amusing story about yourself from your high school years that you have not already shared in your application.

Essays 2-5, Choose one of the following four:
  • UGA’s 2017 Commencement speaker Ernie Johnson (Class of ’79) told a story from his youth about what he refers to as blackberry moments. He has described these as “the sweet moments that are right there to be had but we’re just too focused on what we’re doing …, and we see things that are right there within our reach and we neglect them. Blackberry moments can be anything that makes somebody else’s day, that makes your day, that are just sweet moments that you always remember.” Tell us about one of your “blackberry moments” from the past five years.
  • Creativity is found in many forms including artistic avenues, intellectual pursuits, social interactions, innovative solutions, et cetera. Tell us how you express your creativity.
  • Tell a story from your life, describing an experience that either demonstrates your character or helped to shape it.
  • Describe a problem, possibly related to your area of study, which you would like to solve. Explain its importance to you and what actions you would take to solve this issue.

I have also included a sample essay from this past application cycle to give you an example of what we consider a strong essay, and it is from the "character" essay prompt. 

It’s unassuming, the tiled top square table with mismatched chairs, its lacquer wearing thin from dishes being passed back and forth, room for four but always crowded by eleven. It may be unassuming but its power is undeniable.

As I grew older, the after-dinner conversations grew more intriguing to me. I began to stay and listen, to the politics I didn’t understand and the adult gossip I shouldn’t have been privy to. The dynamic of the debate shifted almost every time the topic changed, but the one thing that was consistent was that after all the plates were cleared and the chairs were pushed back in, everyone came together for dessert; pizzelles and biscotti. No afterthoughts, no bitterness.

I admire my family's ability to embrace each other for their differences, instead of letting it break us apart. There was no greater example of the lesson in acceptance than when my family learned of the change in sexuality of one of our relatives. After the dissolution of a marriage and a traditional family, the initial resentment towards her for the challenge to our family values was difficult to digest, yet unavoidable. It was the first dispute that ever brought tears to that weathered table with the peeling laquer. Instead of allowing differing lifestyles to drive a wedge between us, our family challenged each other's misconceptions, we discussed, we cried and we accepted.

Being raised in such a racially, economically and religiously diverse community, I am lucky to have developed the skill set to empathize with the people around me and understand that not everyone thinks the same way. In fact life would be pretty boring if everyone acted in uniformity; in a more harmonious world, everyone should be able to voice their opinions and speak their minds, and still come together for dessert.   - Micaela B., Gaithersburg, MD