GPS juniors spent their lab and lunch period meeting with four university admission professionals who traveled to GPS. And then later in the evening, the students were joined by their parents and other guests in Frierson Theatre for a panel Q&A, moderated by Susan McCarter, GPS director of College Counseling.
To prepare for their sessions, the juniors were provided with and studied a description of a fictitious university and three faux profiles of students who were applying to the school. The girls had to determine, of the profiles, which student would be accepted, who would be waitlisted, and who would be declined. The juniors were divided into four groups, with each group assigned a college admission professional as proctor.
Hosting the breakout sessions were Rick Clark, director of Undergraduate Admission at Georgia Tech; Margi Strickland, senior assistant director at Duke University Undergraduate Admissions; Andre E. Phillips, director of Admissions and Recruitment at the University of Wisconsin-Madison; and Adrienne Oddi, dean of Admission at Trinity College.
Included in the mock profiles were personal information, transcripts, admission test scores, interests and activities, essays, and letters of recommendation. The girls then worked with the admission guests to determine what parts of the applications should be considered with more weight than others, what each applicant would bring to the incoming class, etc. The goal? To gain an appreciation for the process and understand what admission directors and their teams consider when it comes to assembling a freshman class.
The takeaway from this exercise for our students? “I learned about the multiple factors that colleges look at as well as how all they are really trying to do is figure out who we are and how we would add something to their community,” said Morgan Brown ’21. “I was reminded of the fact that while grades are important, it’s really our essays and recommendations, our experiences and our relationships that create interesting applications that will really make us stand out when we actually apply. Overall, this experience has calmed a lot of nerves and fears I had about college and made me excited to start the admissions process over the course of this semester.”
So not only did the juniors get to see what their applications look like once they’re received by colleges, reading and discussing the fictitious applications gave the girls a chance to see how colleges value different parts of the application.
“They discussed how a teacher recommendation might fill in some of the missing pieces of a student’s transcript, and they considered how the personal essay can add to a student’s story,” Ms. McCarter said. “Yes, they evaluated transcripts and test scores, but they also learned how the college application can tell a story—their story.”
That evening in Frierson Theatre, the admission panel took the stage to answer questions prepared by Ms. McCarter and then fielded questions from the audience. The 90-minute session helped to give guests a better perspective on the role of the college gatekeepers—or soup-makers, as Mr. Clark likes to call himself.
“Sometimes when I’m on a plane and someone asks me what I do, I tell them I make soup,” Mr. Clark said, explaining that the goal of each admission department is to create the best mixture of soup (interesting incoming freshmen) to add to the school enrollment.
The responses from all panelists helped both students and parents better understand not only the admission process but also to see admission professionals as real people, doing their best to create a class that will benefit the student experience as well as the university, said officials. Below are comments compiled from all four panelists.
The Top 26 Takeaways from the Evening for Students and Parents
ADVICE TO STUDENTS
Colleges love getting to know about your high school and understanding how you played the hand you were dealt. Your success at your high school translates to success in college, which makes you an attractive candidate.
Be sure you show demonstrated interest in a school. If a school offers interviews, they are not really optional.
Letters of recommendation don’t have to come from teachers whose class you got an A in. Sometimes it’s better for that teacher to talk about how you didn’t give up and worked really hard in a subject that didn’t come easy to you.
Before you create your college list, you have to ask yourself the big questions: Do you really want to go to college, and if so, why? What experiences do you hope to have in college? What types of people do you want to meet? If you do that first, you are more likely to discover the colleges that meet your criteria, and when things get tough—and they almost always do—you can remember why you chose that college in the first place.
Consider the admission person reading your application as though he or she is a lawyer appealing your case to the court as to why you belong at that college/university.
What matters in one application cycle may not matter in the next. Admissions often looks at colleges within the university to see where the interest lies. E.g., the college of English may need more students than the college of science.
There are thousands of colleges that want to say yes to you.
Visit college websites and read their mission statements and how they describe their students. Do you fit there?
Visit colleges to take a tour but also step off the tour. Go through the dining hall and talk to random students. Do you feel a connection with the vibe?
Visit lots of campuses of varying sizes within driving distance from you, even if you don’t plan to apply there. What size feels right to you?
Start with a list of things you enjoy and excel at. Are you self-aware enough to know what will eventually help you become your best self?
There are approximately 4,000 schools in the U.S. Narrow your list down to schools you are excited about and try not to name one top choice. Celebrate your wins when you get acceptances.
There’s no such thing as your soul-mate college. You will end up where you need to be. Do not go into debt to make it happen. The benefits of a college education outweigh the benefits of any one specific (expensive) school.
If the end price is not viable, you need to let that dream go. Determine what your number is and stick with it.
FairTest.org lists about 1,000 schools that are ‘test optional’ in the application process.
If you decide to take a gap year, do something of value to yourself and your community. Some schools see the value in taking a gap year and might even fund the experience for you if you’ve been accepted to their program.
Because 71 percent of students will change their majors after getting into college, most colleges won’t admit you based solely on your major as it’s most likely to change.
Take the spirit of what it means to be a GPS girl with you, and it will make your campus better.
This is just one piece of your life. Do not lose friends over your college decision.
Focus on having a great high school experience. Think about what you can do that brings you joy. Be kind to your teachers and peers.
Because you go to a college preparatory school, there’s a foregone conclusion that you’re going to college. But it’s like walking before you crawl. Stop asking yourself where and ask why. Ask bigger questions of yourself and write them down.
ADVICE TO PARENTS
If you use the pronoun “we” when talking about the college application process, you need to take it down a notch. Trust your daughter through the process. Climb the crow’s nest and watch out for icebergs.
Set conditions and limitations NOW about your financial expectations. Pick the destination together but realize your student is the driver.
Choose a time when you talk about college and stick to it. Sunday evening from 6-8? Every other time is off limits unless she chooses to bring it up. Don’t make your child dread car rides or coming to the dinner table.
Tell your child, “I support your decision (the school, the major).” Give your daughter a weighted vote and know she will be successful wherever she goes.
Talk to parents of college students and those with recent grads, not other high school parents going through the same process. Escape the echo chamber.