It’s time to look at application shenanigans as well as to analyze GT’s supplemental essay for this year. Below I offer a long opening discussion and some helpful links, and then take a look at how to write this year’s Georgia Tech application essay. Feel free to scroll down if you are feeling impatient, but the early part of this post is worth reading, and its links are worth looking at and listening to, as I open up via an interview with a GT dean and then discuss the use of Turnitin in college admissions.
Let’s begin our look at Georgia Tech for 2019-2020 with an interesting interview featuring GT’s excellent Dean of Admissions, Rick Clark–this is a few years old, but it offers an insider’s view of the process as a whole, from the point of view of the guy who runs GT’s entire admissions office, and the interview discusses applications essays specifically at some length, as well as some of those applications shenanigans I mentioned. . . Note that many of these app faux-pas coming from parents, btw, so for those of you students applying who have family members who are, ah, overly involved, . . . have your mom and dad listen.
This Ira Glass interview of Rick Clark at Georgia Tech is good for laughs and a little perspective on the process as a whole, while offering the personality and perspective of a guy who reads applications for a living: The Old College Try
Lesson One: if you are reusing essays, be sure to do a word/phrase search and replace that other college name you put in for that other application.
Another lesson I want to add that is not discussed with Mr. Clark in this interview: Any schools using Turnitin.com or their own software will pick up that you are reusing essays in whole and in part . . . so do so with judgment. App officers know the pressure of the process, and won’t hold it against you if you recycle ideas in your essays as a rule, but it’s all about context–if you write an essay pledging your undying love and unparalleled passion for, say, Duke, then submit the same essay to a different school, just changing the school names, this will pop up once the essay has been loaded into Turnitin and then has been used again. Reusing college application essays is not cheating, but it definitely undercuts your . . claim for undying love for school B if the same essay pops up for a different college in a plagiarism scan.
Yes, Turnitin and other plagiarism software are in increasing use for college essays. To show you what I mean, below is an excerpt on a recent report on Turnitin’s role in catching “contract essay” cheating. Contract essay cheating involves hiring somebody to write an application or other essay for you. To deal with this, as well as with more run of the mill plagiarism issues in college applications, Turnitin is used increasingly by colleges to screen application essays, and you can expect that to go up in the wake of the Varsity Blues college cheating investigation. Here is an excerpt on a report about this issue–
Staying one step ahead (excerpt):
In the war on contract cheating, some schools see new technology as their best weapon and their best shot to stay one step ahead of unscrupulous students. The company that makes the Turnitin plagiarism detection software has just upped its game with a new program called Authorship Investigate.
The software first inspects a document’s metadata, like when it was created, by whom it was created and how many times it was reopened and re-edited. Turnitin’s vice president for product management, Bill Loller, says sometimes it’s as simple as looking at the document’s name. Essay mills typically name their documents something like “Order Number 123,” and students have been known to actually submit it that way. “You would be amazed at how frequently that happens,” says Loller.
(Thanks to reporter Tovia Smith, and a shout-out to NPR for this excerpt).
Note that one key sign of contract cheating is a doc that has not been opened up much and edited . . . and that shows some odd stuff in its metadata.
So write your stuff, then seek editing help, then revise, revise, revise, and absolutely avoid the temptations of contract essays.
Okay, enough about that stuff. Now let’s look at Georgia Tech’s prompt for 2019-2020, for a single, 250-word supplemental essay:
Additionally, you will be asked to respond to the prompt below. For the 2020 Application, we have decided to ask only one additional prompt. We hope that will save you just a bit of time as you work through our application.
Why do you want to study your chosen major at Georgia Tech, and how do you think Georgia Tech will prepare you to pursue opportunities in that field after graduation? (max 250 words)
Here is what GT says they are looking for:
Essays are evaluated for both content and writing/grammatical skills. So, before submitting your application, you should take the time to edit and review your essay thoroughly. The traits of a strong essay include ones that:
- Demonstrate authenticity
- Brings you to life on paper
- Are excellent in topic, style, and grammar
- Demonstrate thoughtfulness
Note that this is the kind of prompt that demands you do some due-diligence research on what the college offers, tailored to your plans. Note also that this suggest that GT was having problems with their other essay from last year, which was based on a set of pretty generic personal questions that probably saw a lot of essay recycling.
GT has solved this problem by asking you to write about them. I have written about this before, so here is a link to a similar prompt that gives you a look at the process: Why Cornell. This kind of “Why Us/What are You going To Do Here question is pretty common, with other examples, like Brown, for a point of comparison: Brown Essays 2019-2020.
To close out this post, I have some final advice, shown via personal experience, on How To Deal With a College Admissions Office:
On 6/19/19, GT Admissions confirmed, during my annual phone call to them, that there will are no significant changes in the application essays planned for this year. Then they dropped one of the two prompts from last year when they officially put them up on their website this week (I write this in mid-July, 2019). I would call dropping an essay a pretty significant change. You?
This is a lesson in dealing with any topic directed to a college admissions office–these are complicated organizations with a several layers of people on campus, and the more popular universities also hire off-campus readers/evaluators of application material who do the evaluations as a seasonal gig, largely at home.
When dealing with an admissions office, before you can get to anybody making executive decisions, you have to pass through a first layer that is often an undergrad working the phones to cover tuition, who may or may not then refer you to a lower-level admissions counselor or officer, and that person may consult one of a set of supervisors or more experienced app officers; and behind them are people you will almost never get to talk to, such as an Assistant Dean for admissions and then, for GT, the boss, otherwise known as the Dean of Admissions, whom maybe 1 in 1,000 applicants will ever talk to directly in any way–for GT, that would be the excellent and funny Rick Clark.
In my case, I talked to a student, then left a message with a counselor I have chatted to over the years, and she returned my call to tell me there would be no changes other than to some wording. Then GT released their prompts–and dropped that second essay. Which tells you how much verbal promise is worth. So: on any call on an important topic, ask for an e-mail follow up and confirmation in writing. Or better yet, e-mail, then follow up with a call when they don’t respond within a day or so (almost always true once the app season starts–busy, busy, busy, so use that) then focus on getting a response to the e-mail rather than a verbal statement.
Again, this is for important information . . .Don’t pursue e-mails for trivial information or information that is clearly stated on their website–do your reading first. And try not to be irritating.
Come back soon, more Ivy League Prompts will confirm this week . ..