Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The Myth of Being the Earliest Applicant

Let me first state that this post has absolutely nothing to do with Early Action, which we will cover in a future post. I repeat, this has nothing to do with Early Action. Today I want to talk about the timing of applications.

First, let me state that I love it when students apply before our deadlines. This makes life easier for UGA, the high school counselor, the parents, and the student. When you give yourself a generous amount of time to complete an application, no one gets too frantic. And let me tell you, I am amazed by the number of students who apply between 10 pm and midnight the day of the deadline. What happens if your internet connection goes down, or kid brother needs the computer for a homework assignment, or you just fall asleep?

But there are people on the other end of the spectrum. Every year, we watch to see how long it takes from the time we open the online application until someone hits submit. One year it was roughly12 minutes from the opening bell until first submission. A small group of people think that if they are one of the first people to submit their application, their chances of actual admission are better. WRONG!! There is no golden ticket for being the first one to apply! While I stand by the statement that we love applicants who don't wait until deadline day, we do not favor the first ones in line. We treat all applicants the same, whether they apply in August or mid-January (though when I read an essay that seems rushed, I do look to see when it was submitted).

The main thing is to give yourself plenty of time to apply before the deadline, make sure all your information is correct, and check to make sure all required materials are submitted (see our Status Check). If nothing else, this will stop your parents from asking "Have you sent in your UGA application yet?"

Monday, July 27, 2009

UGA on the Road

I had a chance to speak with a group of Athens students and parents last night, talking mostly about the college admissions process, but also a little about UGA. In some ways, these students are a little luckier than others, as UGA is right around the corner, and they are able to visit our campus at almost any time they are free. For most students, it takes a little more planning (or sometimes a great deal more) to visit the college of their choice.

That is why, from September to November, admissions counselors from all around the nation begin their travel season, visiting high schools and attending college fairs. Sometimes, I think it should almost be a show on National Geographic, with the camera crew following the migratory trek of the admissions officer, venturing out from it's home on an eight week journey, only to return again to it's natural habitat, exhausted, a little brain-dead, and happy it's journey is complete.

For those wanting to follow the travels of our counselors this fall, we have the "Meet UGA Near You" web site ( updated weekly) with a database listing of our office's travels. Even if UGA is going to be visiting your high school or attending a college fair in your area, we still heavily suggest that you visit our campus. I hope everyone's summer is finishing up well, and good luck with the start of school in the next few weeks!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Spring 2010 Transfer Decisions

Just a quick heads-up to any and all transfer students who applied for Spring 2010. We have started reviewing these files, and as of 7/22, we have begun to send out decisions. Unlike freshman decisions, where there are three specific dates where we send out decisions, transfer decisions go out on a rolling basis and each file takes a great deal of time to review. I expect that we will continue to send out decisions through the end of September, as the deadline is 9/15. And please remember that it is up to you, the student, to make sure your file is complete. Make sure you have sent in updated transcripts with all your work (if you sent a transcript to UGA in January, you need to send another one if you have spring work), and make sure you send in transcripts from all colleges (even if it was dual enrollment in high school or a summer transient class).

Monday, July 20, 2009

Watch out for random advice

I am back from my vacation and am well tanned and overfed. There is something wonderful about a long vacation that allows for time to relax, read, and think about things (usually it focused on food or napping, but occasionally it was about more serious issues). I was also able to do some reading, and I was finally able to finish "Fooled by Randomness" by Nassim Taleb. It was not an easy book to read, but it opened up my mind to a number of different ideas.

One great quote from the book was about an idea from the philosopher Wittgenstein called "Wittgenstein's ruler".
  • "Unless you have confidence in the ruler's reliability, if you use use a ruler to measure a table you may also be using the table to measure the ruler."
Admissions counselors all over are always asked about a student's chances of admission based upon limited data, such as a test score or a GPA, and at UGA, the usual answer is a non-answer. Without looking at both the individual student and the applicant pool as a whole, we have no idea what the chances would be for admission.

But in PTO meetings, college discussion web sites, high schools and private counselor sessions across the nation, random individuals are more than happy to voice their thoughts on a student's chances of admission. Look back at Wittgenstein's ruler and tell me, are student's learning more about themselves, or about the reliability (or lack of) of the person giving the advice. My suggestion, ignore the advice and work directly with the colleges to which you are considering applying. Colleges are generally very open as to what they look at for admissions, and the level of importance of different variables.

For a good look at an example of some of the highs and lows of people getting and giving advice, take a look at a recent NY Times article about independent college counselors. It is a very revealing story!

Please remember that when you hear advice, measure both the advice and (more importantly!) the advice-giver!

Friday, July 10, 2009

Senioritis, or the 12th grade blues

I will be out of the office next week, so there will be no new posts or replies until my return. But I leave you with a quick post about the wonderful topic of senior year grades. Yes, I know how you probably feel about this, but go ahead and read it anyways.

Over the past month, the evaluation team in the admissions office has reviewed about 4,500 final high school transcripts. It is exhausting work, but we are checking to make sure that all enrolling students graduated from high school, completed their required curriculum, and finished well academically. I then get the wonderful job of contacting a handful of these students to get more information about very poor senior grades. I am not talking about one bad grade, but instead a downward trend at the end of high school.

Over the last 12 years at UGA, most of these situations are to give these students a warning that unless they make a change, they probably will not last at UGA for more than a year (our reviews show that low senior grades lead to low freshman grades in college). Occasionally, I will have to flag their record and see how the student has done fall semester before allowing the student to register for spring. And on the worst situations (I have had less than ten in my 12 years), I have had to tell the student that they can not attend UGA at all. It is not a fun discussion, but one that is generally better than having the student bomb out in their first year.

As you can see, almost all new students at UGA did well their senior year, so don't take this as a huge warning. I write this, though, to let rising seniors know that colleges do look at senior grades. This is not to punish the students who had issues, but to make sure they are ready for their freshman year. So keep up the good work during your senior year, if not for me (or your parents!), then at least so you will have a good transition into college. Good luck!!

Monday, July 6, 2009

Skip the paper, send things electronically

As I have said before, the UGA Admissions office will be going paperless for the 2010 admissions cycle (and all the people cheered!). What this means is that any data sent to our office will be placed into an electronic file for each applicant. If any paper document is sent to our office, it will be scanned into the imaging system, then matched with the applicant's file. But in our forward thinking office, we have a suggestion for all applicants; When possible, go paperless!

If you apply, do it online through our website. We will still accept paper applications, but here is where reality hits. An online application's data goes into our system overnight, the data enterred is controlled by you, the applicant, and you can view the status check within the next few days to verify the application. For a paper application, it has to go through the mail, be opened and scanned by our system, shifted to another individual, and then keyed into our system by that person (who may or may not be able to read your handwriting). This is not an overnight process, and may take up to three weeks. Life is much easier with an online application, trust me!

The next steps are to get us your supplemental materials, from test scores (must be sent electronically by the testing agency), a school evaluation, a teacher recommendation (if not admitted Early Action), and a transcript. Of the last three items, the first two can be submitted electronically through the UGA website! Direct your counselor and teacher to our High School Counselor page for access to these online options. If your school officials complete these items online, they are generally posted to your application in 2-3 business days. If sent by mail, especially near a deadline, it could take 2-3 weeks. As you can see, it is mutually beneficial to use the online options, and can save both you and admissions headaches and worries.

And for students in GA, we suggest you send your transcript through GA College 411, as it will be sent electronically, and we can link it to your file much easier.

Overall, online submission is the way to go for UGA, and it will make everyone's life a great deal easier. Of course, we can always turn this into an environmentally concious slogan; "Send it online, save a tree (or at least a small branch)".

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

GPA's, Grades and Reality

Every year about this time, the GPA question arises, starting with a low rumble and ending in April with a chorus of voices all wondering, "How does UGA calculate GPA's". Because there are so many school systems using such a wide variety of grading scales, my best answer is always that we start everyone out on a level playing field. To give you an idea of the range of grading scales, here is a small sample; 10 point grading scales, 7 point grading scales, E/S/U grades, narrative grade reports, 6 point GPA scales (to include AP weighting), 4 point GPA scales, plus/minus grades, numerical only grades, etc. As you can see, the GPA on one HS transcript could vary greatly from another GPA.

As such, UGA re-calculates all high school GPA's, and it is based upon the individual grades (be it semester, trimester, full year, etc.) in all the academic classes based upon the grading scale at that school. In addition, we add .5 weight to every individual AP or IB grade (unless a weight has already been added to the individual grade), and calculate a GPA based upon a 4.00 scale. Every A is worth 4 points, every B is 3 points, etc. As I said before, our goal is to review everyone on a level playing field.

As you can guess, this issue causes some serious discussions for everyone involved. Admissions offices across the country deal with questions about fairness and GPA calculation throughout the year, and many school systems have changed their grading scales in response to perceived problems. But the reality is that where we have seen grading scale changes, we have not seen a measurable change in grades from one scale to the other. In addition, no one can truly determine what grade they might have made in another school (in response to the argument "If I was at X school, I would have a 4.00 now"), as the only sure way would be to have them actually take classes at that school.

My best suggestion for everyone is to get a copy of your transcript and calculate your own academic GPA. Every college calculates GPA's in a slightly different method, but at least you will start out with a common academic GPA. One of the worst things you can do is go into the college admissions process with inaccurate information about your GPA.

Overall, the debate over GPA's and differing grading scales reminds me of a scene from the movie "This is Spinal Tap", where the main characters are discussing their band's amplifiers;

" Nigel Tufnel: The numbers all go to eleven. Look, right across the board, eleven, eleven, eleven and...
Marty DiBergi: Oh, I see. And most amps go up to ten?
Nigel Tufnel: Exactly.
Marty DiBergi: Does that mean it's louder? Is it any louder?
Nigel Tufnel: Well, it's one louder, isn't it? It's not ten. You see, most blokes, you know, will be playing at ten. You're on ten here, all the way up, all the way up, all the way up, you're on ten on your guitar. Where can you go from there? Where?
Marty DiBergi: I don't know.
Nigel Tufnel: Nowhere. Exactly. What we do is, if we need that extra push over the cliff, you know what we do?
Marty DiBergi: Put it up to eleven.
Nigel Tufnel: Eleven. Exactly. One louder.
Marty DiBergi: Why don't you just make ten louder and make ten be the top number and make that a little louder?
Nigel Tufnel: [pause] These go to eleven."

Thank goodness I do not have to deal with any GPA scales that go to eleven, or with any member of Spinal Tap!