Monday, December 22, 2014

Applications and Inventory Supply

A number of my relatives work in the automotive industry, with the two closest to my age being engineers. My brother-in-law, Dave,  is an engineer with Toyota, and his job making sure the assembly process for SUV's and mini-vans goes as planned. One key for automotive plants is managing inventory, allowing you to build the vehicles from the different parts, but not having too few or too many parts at the plant. One serious problem that many businesses used to have was when plants had to store and manage a large volume of parts (and the space to keep the parts), causing the company to spend more time and energy focusing on managing the parts and less time and energy focused on building vehicles. This led to Just in Time Inventory (JIT), where a company manages the materials needed to make their product by having a critical amount of items to function, but not so many that they become a storage facility instead of their true focus of building cars, planes, etc.

Many admissions offices have an inventory problem, and no matter how hard we try to manage it, we are still stuck spending more time than we want managing documents and less time making decisions. The inventory we struggle with are documents, or more precisely transcripts, recommendation letters, forms, etc. Test scores are not an issue, as they are all electronic and match up automatically with a file, but all other items without applications need to be managed by hand.

Imagine if you will you are having an SUV built specifically for you (similar to "building" your admissions application), and you are working with the company to have it made. With Just in Time inventory, the company would want the frame of the SUV to come in first, then all of the parts needed for assembly to arrive right after the frame ( by the way, your frame and most parts are unique to you, so it's not like you could attach any SUV door, engine or wheels). That way, the SUV could go right on the line, parts could be matched right to your vehicle, and a little while later your SUV is ready. But what would happen if you had all the parts sent in ahead of time. Better yet, what if thousands of people had their parts sent in before the frame was sent? The car company would have to store all of the parts in a warehouse, listed specifically with the name of the buyer, and wait for the frame to come in. When the frame does finally come in, the company will have to filter through all the parts to find the right items, send it over to match the frame, etc. And what if 10,000 of those buyers decided to cancel their order and never send in the frame? The company would have to return/trash those parts.

This is what happens in admissions. If you have your supporting documents sent in prior to applying (the frame of the vehicle), we have to put these items in storage in one of our "holding files". Right now, we have about 20,000 documents sitting in our holding files waiting for applications to arrive. Every day we check the holding files to compare against the previous day's applications and see if any documents match (filtering through a part of the 20,000 documents), and we must then hand match the items and enter in data. Every day up to the deadline the holding files grow as we get more and more documents. The days after a deadline are the worst, as it takes about a week to go through the holding files. And about 4 months after the deadline, we will purge 15,000+ documents from the holding files for students who never applied.

This is why we suggest you do not wait until right around the deadline to apply, that you send in documents after you apply, and why we give a week after the deadline for school documents to be submitted. It is much easier to match an item right when we receive it rather than us slogging through the holding files. This is also why we have built our online counselor and teacher recommendation forms, as these documents will go right into your file. Remember, this is only for supporting documents, not test scores, as SAT/ACT scores are only accepted electronically, are imported into our student system, and the electronic data can be matched right when an application arrives. So send in your test scores well before you apply just to make sure we have them.

So please, help us become more efficient so we can focus more attention on your application and less on the inventory of documents. Thank you for your help, and Go Dawgs!

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Withdraw/Cancel your Application

A number of colleges have just released their EA/ED decisions, and now comes the time when some of our applicants decide that another university is a better match for their needs as a college student. This is just fine, as we know that this will happen and we plan for this possibility in our admission offers. FYI: This is not an option for applicants who just want to redo their application because they left off some items, as these student would just contact us and add information to their file.

We have tried to make it easy for students to withdraw/cancel their application, and we have built it into the myStatus page. On the bottom of the site, you will see an option for canceling your application, either before or after an offer of admission. The biggest thing we want you to be sure of before you take this step is that you really want to withdraw/cancel your application (don't just do this on a whim). We even built in an "are you sure" step just to make sure this is what you want.

If you have selected another college to attend, and are sure that UGA is not in your plans, then go ahead and withdraw/cancel your application. This will help you to no longer receive communications from us, it allows us to clear things up on our side and focus on potential UGA enrollees, and makes things easier for everyone.

Good luck, and Go Dawgs!

Monday, December 1, 2014

File Reading Part I - Activities, Writing and Creativity

From January through mid-March, the admissions staff will hide out in our offices and read files during our holistic file reading process. And when I say read files, I mean lots of files (I am guessing I will read over 1,200 files this year alone). As such, we want you to know what we are looking at when we review these files. There are six main areas that we look at in our file reading process, and I will cover two areas each in a three part post. The first two areas focus on a student's activities, involvement and leadership and a review of the student's writing, self expression and creativity.

Activities/Involvement/Leadership

The first thing you should know about activities is that we value quality over quantity. What we are looking for is somewhat about the range of what a person does, but more so the depth of their involvement. I see far too many applicants get involved with multiple clubs or organizations in their junior year after the light comes on (or the parent's voice starts to be heard) about being involved. Suddenly a student is involved in seven different groups, from the Green Campus club to the knitting for kids group. Anything and everything gets thrown into the resume.

What we are really looking at is what things you have committed to during your high school years, both in time and in consistency. I am much more impressed with a student who does three things, let's say scouting, cross-country and Habitat for Humanity, growing in ability, leadership and responsibility each year than a student who bounces from group to group, having ten areas of involvement, but not staying with any one of them. We also want to see that you had an impact in the club/sport/activity, whether it is as a leader or an active member. In addition, another area we look at a student's dedication to family and work. At times, a student may have limited involvement in clubs, but that might be due to a dedication to their family and/or job. We have seen students that need to work to help support their family, or at times are expected to help with taking care of younger/older family members. It comes down to looking at a student in context within his/her situation, and what is available or expected within their situation.

We suggest that you look at your time spent outside of the classroom and let us know what you are passionate about and active in. Don't think that just because it is not a "school" club, that you should not list it. If you play the violin, are active in missions with a community group, have the lead in a community theater production, etc, tell us about it. The worst thing you can do is leave a section blank just because you don't think we would want to know about "X". We will then look at what activities you have chosen to participate in over the last 4+ years, what leadership roles you have taken on, and  what type of time commitment you have put into these areas.

Writing/Self Expression/Creativity

In the review of an applicant's writing, our focus is more the writer's voice, how well they communicate their ideas, and how well they "show" us their information, and less focus is put on grammar and structure. Yes, we still want a student to write clearly and spell check their work, but that is not the key (and neither are "big" words or writing about UGA in your essays!). When I talk about a writer's voice, and about "showing" instead of "telling", I will direct you to my Suggestions for Writing Admissions Essays, as this tells you more than I could cover in one post.

I remember reading an applicant's essay where the student really understood the idea of showing, as her essays made me understand what she was going through in the events mentioned in the essays, and I felt like I could almost see the situations as they occurred. One essay focused on her interaction in a politics class where she was the outsider in her political views, and the challenges she faced from both her teacher and the other students (and how she stood her ground while still being respectful).

The other area within this part looks at a student's creative side. While we see some of these items within the activities section, we want to see how a student shows their artistic side. We look at their involvement in the dramatic, visual and performing arts, and try to get an understanding of their aesthetic side of life. We will focus more on the writing part during this review, but a student's passion for the arts does come into play.

File Reading Part II - Academics and Strength of Curriculum

From January through mid-March, the admissions staff will hide out in our offices and read files during our holistic file reading process. There are six main areas that we look at in our file reading process, and this post covers the second two areas, focusing on a student's academics and the strength of curriculum. While we look at these sections in our initial review of applications, we now look at them in much more detail.

Academic Review

When we look at a student's transcript during the holistic review process, we are trying to understand how a student has progressed over their 3+ years in high school. Have they been consistently strong throughout the years, did they start slow and then jump up to all A's, did they have a tough time in a specific subject, are all their B's low or high B's, etc. We then use this in combination with the other factors impacting their life, from family issues that occurred where we saw a dip in grades to how a student did once they got into a specific AP course. If a student made a D in Geometry in 10th grade, did they bounce back from it or keep on a downward trend. If there is a downward trend or low grade, we also want to know if there were any mitigating circumstances that led to this issue. All of these factors help us understand the overall picture that the transcript gives us.

Three quick warnings/notes on grades: First, we are only looking at core academic work, not PE, Health, Driver's Ed, etc. While your high school may put these classes into your overall GPA, we are not focusing on these course grades. Second, we focus on grades, not on the GPA or rank that is on your transcript. We are looking at how you have done each term in your academic classes, and so when I talk about this area, I try to talk about actual grades. Third, growth in one term, especially the first semester of your senior year, does not count as a trend. If you have B's and C's for three years, then suddenly wake up and start making A's, we look at this, but it is not a grade trend, this is a grade spike. A trend is a relatively constant movement, while a spike is a sudden shift. If you have a grade spike (hopefully upwards), I am wondering why you did not make this jump earlier.

In addition, we will be looking at an applicant's SAT and ACT scores, with a focus on the best subscores from all tests, and using either the SAT or the ACT (with Writing), whichever is stronger. If a student has not done as well on one score type, we will not look at this, but instead we will focus on the "better" score. In addition, we focus on the individual subscores, and with the ACT, we look at the subscores that have shown to predict success in college (the ACT English, Math and English/Writing). We also look at test scores in connection to a student's grades, trying to see if a student has performed in the classroom above or below where the test scores indicate.

Strength of Curriculum

First, don't ask how many AP/IB/Honors/Advanced/Dual Enrollment/Post-AP/TBE (The Best Ever!) classes are needed for admission, because there is no right answer. Instead, look at the academic opportunities both at your school and in your community for the answer. What I mean is, most competitive colleges are going to look at what academic options are available to you as a student, and what you have then chosen to take. What have you done within the context of what is available?

As an example, in two different files, one high school offers 31 Honors courses and 28 AP courses (including at least four language options), while the second has 18 honors courses and 1 AP (with only two languages offered). These are just two examples, and there is an even wider range of options within the 3,000+ high schools from which we have applicants every year. In addition, we are not just counting AP classes, but looking at the depth and breadth of a student's rigor in their core academic areas. I would rather see a student challenge themselves across the board with rigorous classes than to take 4 AP courses in one field, but basic courses in the rest. And don't fall for the idea that you should take the lightest load so you can make all A's, because this is not a good move if applying to UGA, and it is not a good way to prepare for college. Challenge yourself to the level that you can handle, and understand that this is a serious factor in admissions at UGA.

In our file reading, we are not just looking at high school courses, though, but at a student's overall academic challenge. We have applicants who attend college classes in the summer,  take independent study classes in addition to their high school offerings, attend Governor's Honors programs (or similar options) for 4-6 weeks in specialized academic fields, and do independent research in areas in which they are passionate. I still remember the applicant who drove one hour across Los Angeles to take entomology classes (his intended major at UGA), traveled to South America to study insects in the rain forest, and worked with college faculty on research projects. Now, don't run out and start collecting bugs right this minute, but instead understand the broad spectrum of what makes up academic opportunities. In addition, don't suddenly post  replies asking if X,Y or Z activity counts. Just understand that we look at the whole of a student's academic options, and how they have taken advantage of these opportunities.


File Reading Part III -Work Ethic, Integrity and Maturity

From January through mid-March, the admissions staff will hide out in our offices and read files during our holistic file reading process. There are six main areas that we look at in our file reading process, and this post covers the last two areas, focusing on a student's work ethic and integrity/maturity.

Work Ethic

Scene from the movie Rudy
Ara Parseghian: What's your problem, O'Hare, what's your problem?
Jamie O'Hara: Last practice of the season and this *****  thinks it's the Super Bowl!
Ara Parseghian: You just summed up your entire sorry career here in one sentence! If you had a tenth of the heart of Ruettiger, you'd have made All-American by now! As it is, you just went from third team to the prep team! Get out of here!     Rudy

One area of admissions that is not always talked about, but which has a great impact over the entire file, is the idea of work ethic and integrity. When you watch the movie "Rudy", you see a young man that, while not possessing the greatest football skills, is able to translate sheer will and determination to get onto the football field and play at least one play for Notre Dame (although his academic drive is at times less than desired). When I am reading a file, I am trying to get a sense of who this applicant is, what they do with their time, and the effort they put into the things they participate in, from class work to sports to activities. Do they put in the time and sweat equity to get the work done well, or just get done with the job? Do they put forth the effort to make an A, or are they happy to settle for a C?  I am looking for clues, be it in the recommendations, the essays, the commitment of time and/or the difference between potential and results, that will show me what a student's work ethic is like. I often see phrases such as "this student has a lot of untapped potential" or "this student is an overachiever". We prefer the overachiever, the one that has taken what they have been given and gone beyond everyone's expectations.

Maturity/Integrity/Respect for Others

Tied in with work ethic is the idea of personal maturity and integrity. When a student is faced with a dilemma, how do they handle themselves now, and how will they handle themselves at UGA? Do they take responsibility and handle issues in a mature fashion, or do they blame others? One telling item (though by no means the only one), is how a student deals with discipline/conduct issues. I have looked at the large majority of files where there is a conduct/criminal issue, and it is very telling as to how a student reacts. Some will take full responsibility, and focus on both making amends and getting back on track. On the other hand, I have seen student's make the same mistakes over and over, relying on someone else to get them out of their situation. Maturity also shows up in a person's interaction with others, be it teachers, friends or classmates. These students will be studying in UGA's classrooms, living in the residence halls, and being a part of our community, so interaction with others is important.

Several years ago, I read a great book by Robert Fulghum called "All I Really Need To Know I Learned In Kindergarten", and a portion of it applies to the last part of File Reading:
Share everything.
Play fair.
Don't hit people.
Put things back where you found them.
Clean up your own mess.
Don't take things that aren't yours.
Say you're sorry when you hurt somebody.
In looking at applicants, we are looking at future members of the UGA community.  They will be living in the residence halls together, studying together, dating, hanging out, and generally interacting with the people in the UGA community 24/7. In light of this, I want to know how they interact with other people in their own community right now. Do they play nice with the other kids in school, are they respectful to people from other cultures, backgrounds, socioeconomic groups, how do they treat teachers, etc. In other words, how well do they get along with others?

We look at recommendation letters, essays, personal notes, and other indicators to get an understanding of this. It does not always come through clearly, but we many times can see this through the comments in the overall application. I am not saying that this is the biggest part of the file review by any means, but it does come into play, especially when we see very positive or very negative situations.