Rick Clark, Director of Admission, Georgia Institute of Technology

Rick Clark, Director of Undergraduate Admission at Georgia Institute of Technology joins us this month to answer five questions about one of the country's leading public research universities. GT or Georgia Tech, as it's known, opened its doors in 1888 with two buildings -- one for classrooms, the other housing a foundry, forge, boiler room and engine room. It was the culmination of a plan spearheaded by two former Confederate officers to found a school that would move the south from an agrarian past into the industrial age.

Today, the GT campus, located in midtown Atlanta, occupies 400 acres and is home to more than 20,000 students.  Organized into six colleges -- Architecture, Computing, Engineering, Sciences, Ivan College of Liberal Arts, and Scheller College of Business -- the school offers degrees in 34 undergraduate majors with a focus on science, technology, research and innovation. With nine interdisciplinary institutes, including the Georgia Tech Research Institute and the Parker H. Petit Institute for Bioengineering & Bioscience, GT provides numerous research and internship opportunities for undergraduates.

When not in the classroom, students might see Big Bad Voodoo Daddy or the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra at the Ferst Center for the Arts, enlist in a student organizations, such as The Society of Women Engineers or Alternative Spring Break, join the Amateur Radio Club, become involved in the Student Government Association, organize the weeklong celebration known as Spring Culture Fest or play club soccer. Georgia Tech is also home to 55 fraternities and sororities. Oh, and did we mention the 184-foot spiral water slide? Yes. Clearly a school where students work hard and play hard.

GT's Yellow Jackets participate in 15 NCAA Division I sports, primarily in the Atlantic Coast Conference -- including men's baseball, basketball, cross country, football, golf, swimming & diving, tennis and track & field; and women's basketball, cross country, softball, swimming and diving, tennis, indoor and outdoor track, and volleyball.  GT has not one but two mascots -- Buzz, a yellow jacket that crowd surfs the stands at athletic events, and the Ramblin' Wreck from Georgia Tech, a 1930 Ford Model A Sport coupe that University of Georgia has twice stolen.  The school's long rivalry with University of Georgia -- a tradition of the school and considered one of the fiercest in college football -- is referred to as "Clean, Old-Fashioned Hate."  The school also sponsors 583 intramural teams.

Prominent alumni include Charles Betty, CEO of Earthlink; Walmart CEO Mike Duke; J. Paul Raines, CEO of GameStop; former Secretary of the Navy William Ball; comedian Jeff Foxworthy; nuclear physicist Robert Gentry; developer of the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale Herbert Saffir; Krishna Bharat, creator of Google News; architect John Portman; and enough astronauts to field a football team, including the first commander of the space shuttle John Young.

Join Rick Clark here to learn more about Georgia Tech, including what kind of student thrives there and how they evaluate applications in the office of admission:

What kind of student does well at Georgia Tech? How would you describe the student body? What would you most want an applicant to the school to know?

Students who thrive at Georgia Tech are those who like to be challenged. They are the type of people who believe there's always a better way that's yet to be discovered —they often think: "I could make that go faster, be more efficient, more effective, smaller, cheaper, more transportable, etc."

With six colleges offering 34 majors, most with a heavy STEM focus, we draw students with more purpose and vision than the typical college-going student; they like to learn, they like to push themselves, and they want to be around faculty and other students who want to improve on a continual basis. I see our students as highly innovative, highly entrepreneurial — but also very intent on helping others. This is why our initiatives like Grand Challenges, Engineers Without Borders, Hungry Hackers, Sting Break, and others thrive. I love that our motto is “Progress and Service” — and that fundamentally we’re committed to “improving the human condition.” There is an undeniable ethos of humanitarianism coupled with world vision that is infectious.

 

How do you read applications? Does every application get read by the admission office at Georgia Tech?

Each and every complete application is read in its entirety, and most are read two or three times by a variety of staff members. Ironically, the more applications we receive — we’ve had nearly a 70 percent increase in the last five years — the more nuanced, holistic and comprehensive our review and selection of applicants has become. The incredibly slight difference between "good" and "excellent" or "great" is too often missed in the numbers, so we are committed to reading each application multiple times and have implemented steps and layers in our process to ensure we enroll a diverse, academically talented, and institutionally well-matched class.

We start by reading applications by geography —typically by high school. This helps us understand context. We want to see students choosing rigor, because Tech's curriculum is tough — and we know that students’ course choices in high school are an indicator of their desire to work hard and stretch themselves, i.e., that they are self-motivated and accustomed to juggling a full load of challenging academics. After a geographically assigned counselor reads the file, it's passed to committee where we again look at it not only in the context of a school, state or region, but with the overall pool. Again, the goal is to be sure we have perspective and knowledge that will allow us to dynamically build each class.

As for the way we consider test scores, our approach is somewhat unique in that we “super-duper” score. This does not involve masks, capes or invisible jets. The idea is, we take the highest score from either the ACT or SAT and any test date. So we encourage students to send us all takes of all tests so we can provide them their highest possible total. The admission process is not football. It's not about one Saturday but a body of work, of which testing is one component. We place much more emphasis on four years of academic and extracurricular achievement than we do four hours on a test.

We look significantly at extracurricular involvement and a student's writing. From a writing standpoint we hope to really get a sense of a student's voice. My biggest advice to students about writing is, enjoy the process. If they don't believe what they're saying, it will not convey their passion or their character — and that's why we take the time to read these. From an extracurricular standpoint, we expect to see that they are not just academically successful but committed to a community as well. That could be via working, school involvement, or playing sports. There is no magic formula. In simple terms, we want kids who will really be missed by their school or community when they're gone. Those are the students who bring depth to classroom discussion, build and augment our campus environment, and make the experience of those around them more rich and meaningful.

What are the college admission-related issues that you have been thinking about lately? What keeps you up at night?

Right now there are so many college admission-related issues swirling around. Arguably the biggest is the conversation surrounding the value of a college degree, especially in light of rising tuition costs, economic/marketplace uncertainty and pressures, as well as escalating student debt load — and reports on unemployment among recent graduates, etc. While Georgia Tech is exceedingly well positioned in this economy, the overall concern and difficulty of predicting short future trajectory is certainly reason for concern.

As the Supreme Court has weighed the Fisher case, and due to the aforementioned market conditions, the concept of socio-economic access and meaningful diversity is an issue I think about a great deal. I believe that as a public university we have the responsibility to look for ways to provide opportunities for students from low-income and middle-class families to attain the best educational opportunity for which they qualify. There have been numerous studies, and a great deal of research and data surrounding "under-matching" of lower socio-economic students to a particular educational selectivity echelon. Instead of controversy surrounding those macro conversations, my hope is enrollment data can lead development directors, presidents and boards of trustees, etc., to look individually at their student body and determine how a path toward socio-economic diversity is attainable.

I also think a great deal about the value and scalability of measuring non-cognitive skills — like persistence, maturity, and curiosity— in the admission process. As application pools increase, are interviews sustainable and/or imperative? Can counselors and teachers keep up with writing and submitting insightful recommendation letters? Our academic profile from a numerical standpoint is reaching a ceiling. For other top-tier schools with a similar challenge, how can we incorporate either tests or other potentially standardized measures of non-cognitive skills? I know that sounds contradictory or paradoxical, which, again, is why it keeps me up.

Needless to say —I don't sleep much.

What is your favorite thing about Georgia Tech?

Georgia Tech knows who it is. I believe many schools are still searching for a niche or trying to establish an identity. But we are today who we were at our founding in 1885 — a place deeply committed to Progress and Service. Progress is the movement toward a goal — the development or growth of something. Our faculty, staff and students are united in a vision of moving toward solutions. Not a day goes by that someone from Tech — a researcher, faculty member, student —is not mentioned in the national or international press for devising a product or creating a policy or spawning an idea that's going to make lives better. And service. Being aware of others and their needs — observing and then taking action. This is Georgia Tech. It's a magically busy place. That's who we are. It's active, engaging, constantly changing, adapting and looking ahead. Cedric Stallworth, an alumnus and associate dean in our College of Computing says, "Georgia Tech produces white collar talent with blue collar work ethic." That rings so poignantly accurate to me — it's a place you cannot help but be exceedingly proud of.

How does Georgia Tech draw students from across the country and around the world?

Georgia Tech has a long tradition of not only attracting students on a national and international level, but also for producing graduates who have a large world vision — and therefore are going into industry, graduate school, etc., throughout our nation and world. To achieve our goal of "defining the technological university of the 21st century" and working to "improve the human condition," it's inherently necessary to recruit and select students who bring a broad and often international perspective. Rankings certainly facilitate name recognition but that reputation has been built far more on the backs of our alumni, faculty and student success than any formulaic rubric that might rank a school academically. Our country and the modern marketplace climate demand a diverse, talented and highly skilled STEM workforce — Georgia Tech is right in the middle of the conversation and solution. We place a concerted emphasis on recruiting and enrolling a focused, innovative, entrepreneurial and globally minded student body, in order to provide solutions to complex and strategic problems.

I also believe the city of Atlanta continues to be a strong draw. Recent press surrounding Atlanta's emphasis on innovation and startups -- as well as its great climate, reasonable cost of living, and myriad opportunities for students, particularly with internships, co-ops, and cultural experiences -- make Atlanta and Georgia Tech an excellent combination. Finally, Georgia Tech has been cited by numerous analysts as delivering the best return on investment in higher education in the nation. Beyond those numbers, however, is our underlying ethos of concern for others and our world. This notably rare combination of market relevance and global/humanitarian impact makes Tech a natural destination for a generation of very bright students who want their life and work to optimally integrate.

 

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