You may not have been following Georgia Tech football in recent years. Suffice it to say, it’s been rough. Rough– as in three consecutive three-win seasons. If you are not an American football fan, it’s important to note- there are a lot more than three games in a season. Last month I walked by a man and his family looking at the field and overheard him say, “When I went here they played football down there. Now I hear they host some good concerts.” So, bottom line- not good.
As a result, a little over a week ago, our head coach was fired, and assistant head coach and Tech alumnus Brent Key was named interim coach. In his first statement to the press, Coach Key stressed the importance of playing to win versus playing not to lose. His point was our players were worried something would go wrong and were playing tight as a result. He wanted them to feel empowered to make things happen versus waiting for things to happen. Well…in his first game as head coach, the Yellow Jackets (a double-digit underdog) traveled to Pittsburgh and beat the #24 Panthers. Clearly, Coach Key had unlocked (yea, I went there) something in his players.
If you are a senior, my hope is you will also play to win versus playing not to lose in college admission and your final year of high school as well. Here’s what that looks like.
- Trust yourself. Playing to win means believing in your preparation, intuition, and ability. Lots of seniors right now are stressed about their essay with EA/ED deadlines looming. Listen- you can write. And you have valuable stories to tell and perspective to share. There is no perfect essay topic, so don’t let that give you anxiety. Admission readers want specifics from you. They want to read something uniquely yours. Playing not to lose would be convincing yourself you need more multi-syllabic words or angsting over possibly missing a comma splice. Playing to win means being prepared, I.e. writing multiple drafts, having one or two others give you feedback, and then hitting submit with the confidence that you have done your best work.
In the year ahead, I also hope you will trust yourself when it comes to the colleges you chose to apply to and those you decide not to pursue. To hear yourself you may have to tune out other voices. When you are deferred, waitlisted, or denied, trust other good things are coming your way. Success in college admission is not getting into your “top choice,” but being prepared, excited to play, and ready to take advantage of the opportunity wherever you end up. Playing to win will mean quiet confidencewhen the day comes to put your deposit down or close apps at other schools. Trusting yourself means knowing the choice is authentically yours.
I hope your senior year is characterized by building friendships, preparing academically, and enjoying a unique time you’ll never be able to repeat. Take time to thank and appreciate the people around you who believe in you.
2. Be Proactive. In the Pitt game and going forward, Coach Key wants his players to make plays, rather than waiting for the game to come to them. Good high school students, good college applicants, and good college students do the same thing. What is not done today that you need to take care of? Are you procrastinating on finishing your application? Figure out what it’s going to take and execute that plan. Are you nervous or unclear about what test optional really means at a college you are considering? Reach out to them. Do you need a teacher to write a rec letter for you, or your neighbor who is an English teacher to look over your essay? TODAY is the day! The college admission experience, if you will let it, can teach you lessons about how to succeed in college and beyond. Playing not to lose means hoping, worrying, and being tight or nervous. Playing to win means being proactive.
I hope this is how you approach the rest of your senior year too. A year from now your parents, teachers, coaches, boss, andthe other supporting adults in your life won’t be there in the exact way they are currently. Are you waiting on them to provide, guide, decide, or drive? I hope you won’t spend the year looking around waiting for others to create opportunities for you. To make a play you must move. What do you have to lose when you are playing to win?
3. Have fun. I Googled fun and did not see pictures of people answering short answer prompts, brainstorming essay topics, or taking standardized tests. But let’s flip the script here. You don’t have to apply to college. Unlike the vast majority of the world’s population, you get to apply to college. We often call it an admission process, and that can make it feel like a grind. I believe that term makes this all seem transactional versus being transformational. Don’t lose sight of the big picture here. If you are reading this, YOU ARE GOING TO COLLEGE. That’s amazing! That’s exciting. Where? I don’t know. You don’t know. So, yea, there’s some uncertainty and mystery. Again, flip the script. Instead of that being what has you nervous, get excited and commit to having fun with the adventure of discovering.
Ok. Let’s play this out and assume you won’t get into a couple of theschools you apply to. Playing to win does not mean everything goes your way or you control every down or play. Instead, it means you are on the field. You are in the arena. You get to see how and where your preparation, effort, ability, intuition, and excitement lead. That. Is. FUN.
And again, same for your senior year. Enjoy. Have fun. Laugh, smile, do things you want to do. For the love of all things holy don’t let college admissions dominate this final year of high school. Playing to win means being relaxed, confident, trusting yourself, being proactive, and absolutely having fun. And, as always, hug your mama.
Will Tech beat Dook (you run your spellcheck and I’ll run mine) on Saturday? I am not putting $ Down. But I know they’ll be playing to win- and I’m hoping the same for you in the days, months, and year ahead.
This week the US News and World Report rankings of colleges came out. Over the years, I have written extensively about this topic, in order to put them in perspective and point away from the list and more toward the methodology, i.e. how they are formulated.
Here is what I know.
- Your time is limited. Between friends, school, work, practice, studying, and the basics of eating and sleeping, you are busy.
- College- and college admission can feel overwhelming. Lots of colleges, lots of opinions, lots of money. Lots.
- Rankings simplify things. On some level, we all desire this, right? Amidst the swirl of sources, the deluge of data, and the whirlwind of words around college, a list is refreshing. A clean, easy, simple cascading enumeration is like a healing balm.
I get it. I hear you. You’re not crazy. But it is ironic at best and hypocritical at worst to put any stock in the rankings, because it’s the opposite of how you want colleges to consider your applications—or for the overall admission process to be conducted.
In no particular order, here’s how I see it.
- More than a number (cue The Drifters). As a college applicant, you expect the colleges will not see you purely as a number. You don’t want them to boil your high school experience down to a cell on a spreadsheet, draw a hard cut off line on SATs, or assume your GPA absolutely defines you. Instead, you expect schools will use context and nuance as they review your application. As a senior, that’s why you are drafting, second guessing, and asking for opinions about your essay right now, isn’t it? (Yes. I see you.) You want them to see you in full. Return the favor.
When you draw hard lines and only visit or apply to schools in the Top X or Y from a list, or select a college simply because it’s ranked higher than another one to which you have been admitted, it gives way too much credit to the methodology on which these numbers are derived, and artificially distills countless qualitative factors and dynamics. As I have said before, good college applicants think like good college students and dig into any number, percentage, or statistic they find to understand the source, and determine it’s validity.
- Gameable. It’s been a few years since Varsity Blues (aka The Admission Scandal), and we’ve endured a global pandemic since then, so it may be fuzzy in your mind. Ultimately, what made the public so upset about this situation was that wealthy, connected parents were gaming the system in order to get their kids into particular schools. It was not fair. It was not ethical. As an applicant, you expect other students will not hack into the admission database, bribe admission officers, or influence college administrators in order to change their result in the process.
And you don’t want this to occur on a systemic level either. I know this because whether I’m in Georgia, California, abroad or anywhere in between, students and families are consistently worried “the school down the street” is inflating grades or getting an advantage because of some misperception of quality.
To put it gently, the rankings are very gameable at the micro and macro level. Check out Malcolm Gladwell’s podcast, Revisionist History, The Lord of the Rankings, in which he details the work of Dr. Kelly McConville and her team of statisticians who enumerate specific tactics colleges employ to increase their position through strategic decisions. The truth is they don’t scratch the surface of the myriad ways ways to implement slight adjustments in class sizes, course naming conventions, faculty pay, or even the way you report and categorize numbers around the fringes, i.e. clinical changes, which have no bearing on the actual student experience.
In my career, I have personally known numerous admission deans who have been hired and fired based on their willingness, or lack thereof, to organize their operations (and their actual admission decisions) to boost a university’s spot. It’s one thing to have game, my friend. Gamey and Gaming- alsodifferent. The rankings are gameable. They are actively being gamed.
- Opinions vs. stats. Imagine you walked into class on the first day of school and Mrs. Bertha Ormse begins passing out the course syllabus. Slowly and repeatedly pulling and pinching her chin, she announces in her gravely voice, “On page 1-2, you can see what we will be learning this fall in US History 1800-1910.”
Scanning quickly you pick up the high points: Western expansion, War of 1812, Missouri Compromise, Monroe Doctrine, rise of railroads, Trail of Tears, Civil War, Reconstruction, Industrial Revolutoin. Nodding in agreement you think, “Makes sense. I’ve heard of most of this.”
Interrupting your ruminations, she continues matter-of-factly, “Page 3 outlines how you will be graded.”
Quizzes, homework, tests, projects = 80% of final grade.
“Ok. Ormse. I see you. I mean, I may have weighted quizzes a little less, but…” And then… “No. Certainly not. Wait… the final 20% of my grade is based on… opinion of other students.” 20%?!
That’s right. Your fellow students, who have a vested interest in their own scores and ultimate position in the class, will make up 1/5 of your final grade.
You start looking around anxiously and suddenly your mind shifts into overdrive.
Who is that kid in the second row? I’ve never seen him in my life.
Oh, no. Zach. He has always hated me ever since that thing with the guy at the place back in third grade.
Crap. Sarah. Everyone loves her. She’s…she’s…she’s…all the things I’m not. But does that make her better at history? Does that make her better than me in general?
Well…when the opinion of others accounts for 20% of the grade—probably.
And that’s how it goes for colleges with the rankings. 20% is based on the opinions of others. Others in the same game. Others in the same class. Others with vested interests in their own results and position.
Raise your hand if you’d like 20% of your admission decision to be based on the other applicants opinions of you. Ok. You can put your hand back down now. Oh, and to be clear, in most cases they’ve never met you, seen you, or have anything concrete to go on except where you are from and a vague recollection that a few years ago someone they met said you were “Ok.”
Bottom line: I earnestly think you are smarter than the gamemakers at US News. And I know you know youbetter than they ever could.So is itcrazy to suggest you creating your own ranking system? More on that here.
Rank the Rankings
Colleges want you to apply because you have done your homework and believe you match up well academically and beyond the classroom. They send you brochures, email you invitations to come to campus, and even travel to your town or high school in hopes they can tell you a full story about their history, mission, offerings, and ethos. You apply to colleges expecting them to look beyond your name or test score. Holistic review is time intensive and deeply human. It’s not perfect, but it strives to be comprehensive. I’m just asking the same from you in your consideration of the rankings.
Get out your pen or phone because I’m only going to go through this once.
To get into any college in the country, you need to follow these steps exactly.
Note: It is important you complete each task in listed order. Failure to include one of these on your application negates the guarantee.
- Take AP Physics
- Volunteer as a translator at your local hospital
- Use either bucolic or grandiose in the opening line of your essay (ideally both)
- Score at least 70 points higher than your current score on the SAT
Excellent. Now, be sure you say this to yourself every day, and post it on social media more than twice but no more than four times each month, “I will only be happy if I attend (insert your top choice here).”
As you know, visualization is a powerful tool. Athletes, actors, prominent speakers, and other top performers use this strategy in preparation for achieving excellence, and you need to do the same thing in your college admission/application process. So, close your eyes and imagine yourself at your dream school. Think about walking around campus, eating in the dining hall, laughing boisterously with friends, and hashtagging #BestLifeEver on a daily basis.
You are killing this exercise. Well done. This time close your eyes and imagine yourself at any other college. Think about the disaster this would be. Tears, ruin, and utter carnage should be filling your mind and thoughts. Forget posting on social media in this place. Your fingers will be trembling, internet will be intermittent if functional at all, and all of your friends will have unfollowed you anyway.
Parents/ Supporting adults– I don’t want to leave you out of the fun. Think back on your student’s life to this point. You’ve always known success and happiness to be monolithic. That’s how your life has played out, and it’s what you’ve seen repeatedly in your friends too. One path to success- and a specific college determines EVERYTHING.
Consider when they were little. All of the parenting books said you should only let them pretend to be one thing, and you followed that advice verbatim. One outfit, one sport, one interest to pursue. You’ve spent so long limiting them and pigeonholing them, but now everything is on the line. This is a test of your mettle. Welcome to the show. Their future- and yours hinges on this- college. Don’t falter and DO NOT relent! Keep pushing them towards one absolute outcome.
And for the love of all things holy don’t let others distract you with stories of unexpected joy or alternatives to your master plan for your child’s life. You know as well as I do that college is a zero-sum game. Winners and losers. If your kid does not go to X College, not only will their life be over, yours (which thankfully will be much shorter anyway) will be too.
- Rankings are the gospel truth. Follow them blindly as you do all other things you read online. Don’t question their methodology or buy the false narrative purporting that they are really only about clicks and marketing dollars. Think about it- if a school went up five spots or dropped three this year, it is because they are fundamentally different places than they were last year. Draw hard lines. This is war.
- Trust YouTube, TikTok, Reddit implicitly. If a kid says she got into Yale because of the essay she wrote, that’s exactly what happened. Listen closely to her advice and subscribe to that channel for sure. Also, share it with your friends and encourage them to like it- they really will.
- There is a direct correlation between your chances of getting into a school that admits 10% or fewer of its applicants and the number of those colleges you apply to. I mean that’s just math, folks.
- Holistic Admission is BS. You need to make a higher score on the SAT, even if they say they’re test blind/free/optional. Go pay a lot of money, spend an exorbitant number of hours practicing, wake up each Saturday at 6 a.m. just to acclimate, and tattoo your necessary score on your wrist. We all know standardized tests are going to help you immensely as a college student. The highest scorers in the NFL combines always pan out to be the best players in the league. Same same.
- Schools in the same athletic conference are identical. Apply to all of them.
Do all of this and you will Win in College Admission. Do it not and…
This week we welcome Regional Director of Admission for the Mid Atlantic, Kathleen Voss, to the blog. Welcome, Kathleen!
Do you remember the episode of Modern Family when Phil and Claire drop Haley off at college? They are OVER the top all day, even wearing “Haley Dunphy Moving Company” t-shirts. Haley is mortified and begs her dad to take off the t-shirt lest they be judged by all the other kids and their families moving into the residence hall. Other embarrassing antics happen throughout the episode, and as Phil and Claire sit in silence on their drive home, Haley calls and tells them she loves them and thanks them. The audience sees she is wearing her “Haley Dunphy Moving Company” t-shirt. Not a dry eye in the house.
As you may recall, my daughter starts college this fall. This past weekend her dad, sister, and I traveled 3.5 hours south to her new home. I should have known when my husband and youngest daughter started getting carsick as we bobbed and weaved over the country and mountain roads that a Century City-produced college drop-off was NOT in the cards for us.
One Last Hoorah
As an attempt to bring us all together for one last hurrah before the big day (think Oliver Stone assembling the cast to experience basic training before he started shooting Platoon). I organized a family trip to a lovely, local hotel near the university. It had been the site of a famous movie, starring an 80’s heartthrob, the perfect preamble to our College Drop-Off Spectacular!
Unfortunately, while a beautiful spot, the first raindrop fell as we unpacked the car, and the torrents began soon after. The scenes of family hikes to waterfalls and loving, heartfelt conversations sitting poolside would have to be reshot. EASY! We would just move the location into the hotel room.
While well appointed, the room was small and since my husband had forgotten his CPAP machine at home (queue sound effects), none of us had gotten much sleep the night before (nor did we the entire time). Tensions on the set were running high and the constant questions I peppered my college-bound daughter with (“Did you get your room pin?” “Do you know where we need to park?” “How long do we have to actually move in?” “Do they have carts or dollies?”) were soon met with an 18-year old’s wrath, which includes rolling eyes and deep exasperated breaths that started in her toes and rumbled through her rib cage … Stanislavski would be proud!
The supporting cast was just as motivated! Not to be outperformed, the 13-year-old commentary, (“GAAAAWDDD Mom! Can’t you talk about something else?” “I’m BORED” “The Wi-Fi sucks here” and “Can we get ice cream?” for the 200thtime) was just as impactful. My script writer really deserves a raise.
At last, the time came for move-in. The costumes were chosen with care (seriously, my husband chose a “move in” costume. “It must be lightweight, breathable, easy to get around in. Maybe coveralls? I should also wear closed-toe shoes… did I bring my Carhartts?”). We made our way into the crowd of fellow thespians to the 10th floor of a tower that was built the year I was born. And believe me, no hair and make-up team were going to make IT or I, look any younger.
We got to the door and waited and waited some more. Someone, who prefers to remain nameless, never got their pin (I know, I can’t believe it either). So, a trip down the elevator, a visit to the RA desk and back up we went. As we entered the prop closet… I mean dorm room; the REAL fun began. It immediately became a race to the Academy Awards, each actor outdoing the next in testing exactly how HIGH emotions could get. Crying? Check. Swearing? Check. Check. Shouting? Check. Luckily, the four fans that my husband had set up across the room “to maximize airflow” DID help drain out the volume of our dialogue. At least we hope it did.
Time to Say “So Long”
After three hours of lofting and un-lofting beds, moving bookcases and desks, dusting, unpacking far too many clothes, storing luggage, and cutting open vacuum-packed rugs and mattress pads (a must by the way) we had successfully dressed the set. And it was time to say goodbye.
The Director had envisioned this final scene in her mind in the weeks leading up to our departure. I would hold it together, share a sage word or two of final wisdom, pull out a starched, lace handkerchief (or Kleenex, probably easier) to dab at that tear on my cheek, hug the main character close, wish her well, offer a loving goodbye and then drive off down the tree-lined, college lane.
The Kleenex part will probably make it into the final episode, but the ugly crying, weeping, sobbing, and seemingly never-ending nose blowing that followed, will be left on the cutting room floor. I pulled it together about an hour from our house.
I was thinking about that Modern Family episode. Phil had left Haley a book with advice and “dad-isms.” My favorite was, “never be afraid to reach for the stars, because even if you fall, you’ll always be wearing your parent chute.” There was nothing left for me to do. My sweet, energetic, athletic, bright Star was ready to shine. On her own. I had seen the excitement in her eyes as we walked the campus and again as we said goodbye. I had felt the independence, like the pull of the sun, as she directed her dad where to put the unlofted/lofted/unlofted bed and suggested a spot for us to eat lunch.
And while I may not be ready, she is. And the stage is hers.
Kathleen Voss has worked in college admission for over 25 years. She joined the Georgia Tech Office of Undergraduate Admission in 2013 as the Institute’s first Regional Director of Admission. Prior to Tech, Kathleen worked regionally for Manhattan College and as the Associate Director of Admission for Regis College in Massachusetts. She is a member ofPCACACand serves on the Admission Practices Committee. She enjoys spending time with her husband and two daughters and volunteering in her community.
Our last blog was geared toward helping students applying to college keep an open mind about their choices and options, and ensure they have a solid support system around them. I am hopeful students actually read the piece and will take my advice to heart, because the only emails I received afterward were from parents.
Their messages centered around the response I used to give students when I first started at Tech in the early 2000s when asked, “What are your admission requirements?” READ: Please just tell me clearly and plainly what I need to do/have to get in?
My response was simple, honest, and easy, “Sure. Get a 3.7 GPA, 1300 SAT, write a few lines on your essay, do some stuff outside the classroom, and we’ll see you in the fall.”
The blog went on to explain why a 3.7 (or 3.5 or 4.0) of twenty years ago is not uniform anymore, and as a result admission reps from competitive universities are rarely able to provide a single sentence (let alone a single number) when discussing GPAs. Parents who emailed wanted to know if SAT/ACT scores are equivalent to the early 2000s (or before I assume), and how much stock to put in the averages or ranges they hear in presentationsor see published online.
Whether these questions stemmed from innocent curiosity or an attempt to settle a household debate/competition, I am unsure. And while I did not intend to write a Part II it does provide a timely opportunity to identify admission requirements for parents as they coach and partner with their students.
First, here is an attempt to answer the question.
Is a 1300 (sticking with the cited example) the same as it was 20 (or 30) years ago?
As with most answers in admissions land, “It depends.”
The Same Scale. The SAT is still comprised of two sections for a total of 1600 points (though there was a brief time period when it was comprised of three 800-point sections- totaling 2400).
The Same Percentile. An SAT score of 1300 puts a student in the top 14% of test takers, which is roughly equivalent to where it was 20 years ago. However, there are far more students taking the SAT/ACT now, so the raw number of takers above and below any score is higher.
Likely Different in that most colleges “super score” tests- meaning during admission review (and ultimately when they publish scores) they are on students’ highest combined total of the two sections from any test administration. Twenty years ago, colleges were generally not publishing super-scored averages or ranges, and students did not have the option of score choice- opting out of sending particular tests to colleges. The combination of these two practices has served to inflate the scores colleges include on publications, websites, etc.
Particularly Different for anyone who took the SAT prior to 1995- the year the College Board “re-centered” the test.
Arguably Different in that on average twenty years ago students took the test fewer times and had less access to free/low-cost/or absurdly high-cost test preparation.
Optionally Different in that data suggests students scoring lower than published institutional averages/ranges are less likely to submit their test scores to colleges with test optional policies, thus increasing averages/ranges on profiles, common data sets, etc.
Recently Different in that many testing centers have been closed and testing administrations canceled. Over the last few years during the pandemic, students have taken these tests in abnormal circumstances impacted and varying drastically based on their local environment.
The truth is the testing landscape is vaster and more confusing than ever, and that’s without addressing how factors like Early Decision, financial need, residency, major, or other demographics may impact how a particular student’s SAT/ACT score is viewed in any given college’s admission review process.
What are your admission requirements?
Cleary, I cannot speak for every college. And unlike my early days at Tech, I cannot give you two numbers or a formula to guarantee admission. But after two decades of watching this cycle repeat itself, I can still make you a promise. If you are a parent or supporting adult who just loves your kid and wants to see them be successful in their college admission (and college) experience, I can tell you what you need to do and have. Here are your admission requirements.
DO stay one chapter ahead. I want to urge you to talk less to parents of other high school seniors and more to parents of college students or recent college graduates. When kids are little, we looked to parents a chapter ahead for advice, solace, and perspective. Don’t forget the value they add, particularly during the college admission experience.
Perhaps your friends and neighbors are different, but often parents of other high school seniors exaggerate, proliferate, propagate, and other ates and gates that are typically unhealthy/unhelpful. Talk to those folks about the upcoming game, play, or school event, but when conversations about where students are applying, or where they either do or do not get in, etc. try subtly changing the subject. In my experience, avoiding the speculation or hearsay and generally keeping your family’s admission process private is not only good for your personal well-being and mental health, but for your relationship with your student too.
HAVE early, open, and honest conversations about money. My sincere hope is you will commit to having transparent conversations with your student now- before they submit applications. Being open about how much you either can, or are willing to pay, is a gift because it sets expectations at an appropriate time.
Does this mean you are saying they cannot apply to X college? Absolutely not. But it helps your student clearly understand the financial aid package or scholarship level they will need to receive in order to enroll. Delaying this discussion until after a student is admitted is a disservice to everyone involved, because an offer of admission will already be emotional on some level. Parents frequently underestimate their students’ ability to handle transparent conversations about finances, lifestyle, and how paying for colleges enters the equation. If you open the books and explain why you have certain conditions or limitations on paying for college, you’ll likely be surprised and proud at how they approach their applications and ultimate college selection.
What are YOUR admission requirements?
In Part 1 for students, I encouraged them to focus on what they need and want from a university experience, rather than on what a college seems to require of them in the admission process. I adamantly believe if they will take some time to write down and really consider this question, it will help as they think through their choices and options at every stage. It will likely also help rule out places that don’t align, and it will give them good questions to ask when they visit, talk to reps, or receive admission offers and are weighing their options.
I hope you will do the same. For this exercise, forget the names of colleges, their ranking, or any stereotypes, biases, or attachments you may have. Instead, just think of your student. You know them better than anyone else- you’ve watched them grow, change, and learn along the way. What do you think is most important to helping them thrive academically and to be healthy outside of the classroom? Coming up with even a short list of these qualities or characteristics will enrich and balance your conversations, recommendations, questions, and support along the way.
As parents its easy to feel pressure to have answers and solutions for our kids. But when it comes to college admission, seeking perspective, being honest and open, reflecting, listening, and walking through the experience together is perhaps the biggest gift we can give.