Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Emergency Codes

Last week, I volunteered for my 23rd year as a cabin counselor at Camp Sunshine, a camp for children with cancer. The campers during my week range from 7-12 years of age, and there is a wide range of situations with the campers, from ones who have been off treatment for years and having no challenges to campers missing limbs or going through medical care while at camp. Every year before the campers arrive, the camp staff goes over a list of camp rules to make sure the week goes by without any problems. This training covers a wide range of things, from important safety information from the medical staff (hydration and sunscreen are key buzzwords),  to the codes for a variety of different possible emergencies. Here is the short list of the emergency codes from camp:

Code Red
- Fire emergency at camp.
Code Blue - Possible bomb/active shooter.
Code Yellow - Missing camper emergency.
Code Gray - Thunderstorm spotted.
Code Black - Tornado Warning.

When you're working with a large group of people scattered around a huge camp space, you need to prepare for any possible issue and quickly alert people to any issue. As you can guess, most of these codes never occur. The only code used this year was code gray, but thunderstorms are normal for summer afternoons in Georgia. I did have a code yellow once, but the camper was just hiding out in the snack shack eating candy bars prior to leaving camp. Emergency codes fit the idea of the quote from Benjamin Franklin "If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail."

A number of different organizations have "codes" in place for issues, from K-12 schools to manufacturing plants to hospitals, with each group aligning their codes to the possible emergencies at hand. My wife has been a nurse for almost 30 years, and I know that if we are talking on the phone and I hear "Code Blue" in the background, I need to get off the phone with her. Different codes have different levels of urgency and actions to take.

While there are no official Emergency Codes in Admissions, there are a few codes all of us in admissions would probably like to add. Please take these with a large grain of salt:

  • Code Red - Academic Implosion. When a student has an overall strong application, but there are areas on the transcript with seriously low grades (multiple C/D/F grades). This code becomes more serious the later the implosion occurs in the four years of HS, with little chance of survival if it occurs in senior year.
  • Code Blue - Over-involved Parent Emergency. When a parent becomes the main conduit for communication about the student's file. The level of seriousness grows exponentially if parent pretends to be the student over the phone or in an email.
  • Code Yellow - Missing application effort. When a student gives us almost no information about themselves in the application, especially in the activities areas. Extreme complications occur when a student writes "Sorry, I did not have time to do the essays." Code usually occurs in the hours leading up to the application deadline.
  • Code Gray - Over-inflation of activities/essays. When an applicant embellishes on their activities/essays in describing their high school years. High level of alert can be found when the student's primary assistance in the essays is a thesaurus.
  • Code Black - Extreme Overconfidence. When a student/parent does not understand that there are 30,000 freshman applying to UGA, thus causing a misunderstanding of the competitiveness of the applicant pool. Level of the code is raised with trophies/awards from elementary school years are mentioned.
I hope you have reviewed these "admission codes" with a sense of humor as intended, and Go Dawgs!

Thursday, May 30, 2019

2020 Freshman Essay Questions

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.
  • What is the hardest part of being a teenager now? What is the best part? What advice would you give to a younger sibling or friend (assuming they would listen to you)?
  • 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 "interesting or amusing story" prompt.

January appeared bittersweet. Exhilaration filled my body with new year jitters and reminders that half a school year remained. Sadness marinated as winter break ended, and 3AM bedtimes became nonexistent. I walked through my home in fuzzy socks, hoping school would delay itself one more week! My Christmas presents no longer had much of my time, and I struggled finding the coziest jacket for ice-cold temperatures. As Christmas time floated away, I began to cherish the moments.

The night of January 2nd, I was wide awake as if Santa would arrive. I shared stories on FaceTime with my friend and smothered myself in warm blankets. The night grew old, and I dozed off into a cozy slumber. Around 8:30 AM, I was awakened by my 21-year-old brother. Confused and half-awake, cranky was an understatement, because my 3 AM bedtime never fibbed. He informed me that someone was outside to meet me!

Immediately, I stumbled from my bed to get dressed. I raced down the stairs to meet someone special to my heart. I slung the door open and embraced the gorgeous sight. A neat blanket lay on the grass, as if for a picnic. Words were not spoken, but soft whispers tickled my ears. I heard the echo of a pale, booming voice. On January 3rd, he swaddled me, and cold air trickled down my spine. Chill bumps ran vigorously around my body, and shrieks escaped my lips as he tickled my face. We danced on the ground like there was no tomorrow. South Georgia had been invited to a party hosted by the snow!

Although sixteen, I felt six years old on January 3rd. I threw majestic snowballs, named my snowman, and created beautiful snow angels. Snow had not met Baxley, Georgia in eight years. I was more than elated to attend the meeting! I embraced the moment that I knew could possibly never happen again. Abnormal but beautiful, many memories were made. Jackets were warm enough, and winter break concluded beautifully. I am not so sure that the beginning of January will be bittersweet ever again.  - Jahnae N., Baxley, GA.

Good luck with your essays, and Go Dawgs!

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Test Scores and Air Bags

This past weekend, I was driving my father to the Atlanta airport, and as is usual, the topic of college admissions came up. There was a recent opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal which discussed the SAT. In one section of the op/ed piece, the writers stated "the SAT is still the best objective measure of student aptitude and has proven to be a good predictor of college performance." While discussing the editors knowledge (or lack of ) about grades/course rigor vs test scores, the sunlight hit the windshield just right and I flipped down the visor to block the light. On the back of the visor was the airbag warning sticker, and it got me to thinking about the interplay between different systems in trying to solve a problem. Putting aside the other variables of a college admission review (essays, activities, recommendations), how can a college best utilize grades/rigor and test scores?

If you actually read the airbag warning, you will see that one of the key points is "Always use seat belts and other child restraints". In other words, while airbags can help in an accident, seat belts are the actual key factor in auto safety, while airbags are secondary safety devices that, along with the seat belts, help to best avoid serious injuries. In looking studies on the effectiveness data on seat belts and airbags in possible fatalities for drivers, three-point seat belts alone had a 48% effectiveness rating, airbags alone had a 14% effectiveness rating, while the two together had a 54% effectiveness rating. Effectiveness data for passengers was slightly lower, but the same concept of seat belts being the primary safety factor and using the two devices together yielded the best results. In other words, seat belt usage is the best individual predictor of surviving a crash, but using both seat belts and airbags gives you the best possible survival rate. And as the sticker (and other statistical data) shows, the airbag providers understand their products role as a supplemental safety feature, not a stand alone one.

In the same vein, multiple studies have shown that the best individual predictor of how a student will do in college is their performance in the classroom (grades/coursework) during their high school years. Even the ACT and the College Board begrudgingly admit this fact, while also noting that looking at grades/rigor and test scores together can give even more insight, similar to the modest increase in safety that airbags add to seat belts when used together. At UGA, we recognize this in our review process, and use test scores as a supplemental part of our review, but not as a primary or dominant factor. Of course, there is still a great amount of debate on how much different factors actually predict college success, but I think the results are pretty clear that the Wall Street Journal's op/ed conclusion that test scores are the best objective measure is just plain wrong. And just like the growth in safety features, colleges now have so much more information available to use in their reviews, from multiple recommendations to writing samples, volunteer work to activities and leadership roles.

Different college admission offices have different thoughts on how to balance the variety of different factors in an admission review, and I am fine with each college making the choice that best fits their situation and insight. College A wants to be test optional? I'm good with that. College B wants to use student submitted videos to add to all the other admission information? I'm good with that too. Every college admissions office needs to do their research and find the best balance of the different variables they will use in their review, and balance that with their staffing and timeline challenges to find the best process for their own institution. As our office has stated multiple times, what a student does over four years in high school (grades and coursework) plays a much more vital role in our academic review that an SAT or ACT score. We still look at both of these factors, along with a wide range of co-curricular information, but how a student does in the classroom is the main academic factor in our review.

When I am driving my 2004 minivan with 230,000 miles on it (yes, I am a dad with two kids who works in education), the first thing I do is put on my seat belt. I am glad to have the airbags, but I know that the seat belt is the thing I am relying on to keep me safe. In the same way, when I am looking at an admissions file, my focus in the academic portion of the review is on how a student has performed in the classroom day in and day out, with the SAT/ACT scores to help provide context but not dominate this review area. We are happy to have a wealth of information about our applicants, and we also understand the importance of each of the different pieces of data.

I hope this post gives some insight into our viewpoint, and Go Dawgs!

Friday, May 3, 2019

2019 Wait List Update

Starting today (May 3), we will begin to finalize our decisions for students on the Wait List. I expect that all decisions will be completed sometime in the next few weeks, but I do not have an exact date. Due to the fact that our deposit numbers are very close to what we predicted for next year, we are very limited in the number of offers we are able to make. We will be making Wait List decisions in the same manner as our other admission decisions, where a decision will be displayed on the status page and an email will be sent shortly after a decision is made to alert the applicant that a status change has occurred. Admitted students have a  two-week Commitment Deposit deadline from the acceptance date. We will be releasing a group of Wait List admits late this afternoon totaling 150 students, with most of these being for Fall 2019. We are not finished with the Wait List yet, but will finalize things over the next few weeks. Only students who are admitted today will receive a decision and an email indicating a change in their status today.

In reviewing the students who we admitted off the Wait List, there were a variety of individual reasons for the offers that were made. As such, I cannot give an overarching reason for the decisions. We did take into account our earlier reviews of the files, along with a wide range of information that we had on hand.

For those many strong students we will not be able to admit from the Wait List, we thank you for choosing us as one of the options for your higher education.  We wish you the very best of college success.  We very much appreciate your patience “waiting on the Wait List.”  Please remember that there are a number of complex reasons why the University made the decisions it has, and we respectfully remind all that this blog cannot be used for comments about why you or other individuals did or did not get admitted in the Wait list process so far.

We hope that our quick turn around of the Wait List situation will allow students and families to make plans on a much earlier time frame than initially projected.

Monday, April 29, 2019

April/May 2019 Random Admission Thoughts

Late April/Early May is always a challenging time in Admissions, and it always brings about interesting questions. We are at the end of one cycle of admissions for the freshmen and transfers starting in Fall 2019, and we are starting to begin working with rising HS seniors for the following year. Throw in the anxious time surrounding the May 1 deposit deadline, working with Wait-List students and getting everything ready for orientation in the summer and you have a wide range of activities and emotions. As such, here are some thoughts on the upcoming days/months ahead.

Admitted Students

  • May 1 is the freshman deposit deadline. We have sent out a huge number of communications about this date to accepted freshmen, and it is important that you not miss this date if you want to attend UGA. We don't accept late deposits, so make sure to submit it on time to assure a place in the freshman class.
  • If you are not going to be attending UGA, we wish you the best at your future college destination. If you are able, go to your status page and reply to your offer of admission that you will not be attending. 
  • Wait-List students, please be patient with us as we review the deposits that have come in, what our class looks like, etc. Every year seems like a marathon race to get to May 2 (the day after deposits are due), so please let us catch our breath before asking about the WL. We need some time to review everything before making any decisions on the WL. When we are ready to release WL decisions, we will reach out to the students who have decided to remain on the WL, and we try to move quickly on this process.
  • Accepted transfers, your deposit deadline is June 1, so make sure to let us know by then what your plan is for the future. As well, make sure you send us an updated transcript with Spring work so we can post the credit prior to your orientation date.
  • Orientation registration will occur in early May, and you will receive an email soon with dates and instructions for signing up for the event. Among other things, orientation is when you will meet with an advisor and sign up for Fall classes.
  • Remember to check your status page to see if you have taken care of a few required steps for enrollment: Verification of Lawful Presence (VLP), Proof of Immunization (through Health Center) and a final HS transcript for freshman. The final transcript should be sent in shortly after it is available from your HS, as we know different schools/states have graduation at different times.

Rising HS Seniors

  • Spring is the perfect time to start working with college admission offices. The first step is to get on the college's radar. This is as simple as completing their online Information Request form, sending them official SAT/ACT scores, or setting up a visit to campus. Most colleges have different on-campus and off-campus events in the summer and fall, and they can't invite you if they don't know you exist. 
  • On the other side of the coin, you will be receiving a huge volume of emails and mail over the next 10 months or so from colleges across the country. The best way to manage this is, especially if you are not interested in a college, is to open an email and Unsubscribe from their mailing list. This helps both the college and you narrow down the list of possible matches.
  • As you probably know, late Spring and Summer are great times to visit a campus and take a tour. Remember to check the weather prior to the visit, dress comfortably (you do not want to tour UGA in the summer in khakis and a blazer), and let the college know if you cannot make the tour (there should be an option to cancel in the confirmation email). 
  • During the summer, get a copy of your HS transcript with junior grades included. This will help you in remembering your previous three years of grades, it will let you know what admission offices see in their file review, and it will help you understand your school's grading system.
  • For HS students in Georgia, make sure you know how your school adds weight to your grades on your HS transcript, as this impacts how colleges review your grades. If your school adds points to your actual teacher grades on a transcript (so an 88 is changed to a 98 on a transcript for an AP grade for instance), know what this means for a review. For instance, you can find out how UGA calculates a GPA at https://ugaadmissions.blogspot.com/2013/11/calculating-uga-gpa.html. We have heard from a number of HS's who are considering changing how their grades are shown on a transcript, so make sure to work with your HS counselor.
  • When looking for advice on what courses to take senior year, some families call our office. Don't. We have no idea about what courses are offered, how prepared you are for certain classes, or what you are ready for overall academically. Talk to your HS counselor.
  • Enjoy your summer! Connect with friends, find the perfect senior quote (I suggest Calvin and Hobbes), read a book or two, and get ready for an exciting senior year.
Go Dawgs!