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!

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!