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.