You hear it all the time – “Back when I was applying to college …”. Yes, things have changed over the last 20+ years in admissions, but trust me, that is actually not a bad thing in many cases. I am currently reading a book titled “Factfulness” by Hans Rosling, and he writes about how, in contrast to what some would have us believe, life is a great deal better today as compared to the past. While there are still areas where the world can improve greatly, Rosling shows that in areas ranging from poverty, health, war, food, etc, the world is actually moving in a positive direction. From the admissions side of the table, there have been some amazing improvements over the years. Here are a few things I remember from when I first started working in the UGA Admissions office.
- There was a point in time when we only accepted paper applications. We would print them out and do a huge mailing in late summer to get the applications out to both students and high schools. This also meant that we needed a large staff of people who did one job, entering in a student’s biographical data (name, address, school, etc.) into our record system. Every year, we would need to have the printing of the applications bid out (and of course, lowest bidder won the job), and that year, a printing company based out of a state prison won the bid. I can still remember driving to a high school in Louisiana when I got a call from my boss to see if I had heard about the printing issues. A riot had broken out in the prison, and our application print job was on hold due to the issue. Imagine explaining that to students calling in wanting an application sent to them.
- When you have thousands of paper applications, you need to have a place to put them. Our office had roughly 20-30 six foot high file cabinets for all the application files, and we used “bankers boxes” (or open lid boxes) to route files by application submission date from one part of the process to the other. Every day when documents came in, we would have to either match them to existing files (by running around and finding the right box) or putting them in the orphan documents bins, which we would then check every day against the new applications for the day.
- Old methods were not just relegated to the application process. For a long period of time, one state used to require admissions people to bring their own table to every college fair. Luckily, this state was within easy driving distance, and we would just have a card table ready for anyone traveling to that state.
- The world of google maps on your cell phone roughly ten years ago was a break-through for admission travel, as we survived on three things; Old paper maps that were horrible to fold and did not function well while driving, Mapquest/Garmin, which seemed to get you lost as many times as it helped to get somewhere, and driving around looking for school signs or the lights for the HS football fields. It was even worse in some cities, as I clearly remember visiting schools in New Orleans and having the street dead end at one of the many canals in the city and seeing the high school just across the water.
- Everything was paper. I mean we were overrun with paper. One record setting year, we came back from the December holiday time to 45 bins of mail. It was ugly. The applications were filled out by hand and sent in by mail, the recommendation letters were all done by hand, the transcripts were mailed in, and even a number of test score results were sent by paper. And then it became a game of find the file so you could add all the paper to the application. Then you add in all the paper we sent out, from postcards letting students know what was missing (and it was out of date immediately due to materials flowing in daily), brochures being mailed out, letters being sent, etc. The worst were decision letters done in house in envelopes that had to be licked. Paper cuts on your tongue are the worst. I almost cried when we got our first real recruitment system that sent out automated emails. I did cry when we got our first batch of peel and close envelopes for acceptance packets.
- Admissions give-aways are so much better these days. Twenty years ago, the best you would get would be a bumper sticker for your car (not even a static sticker, but an actual bumper sticker) or a pen/pencil with UGA on the side. Now you’re getting socks, shirts, backpacks, sunglasses, phone popsockets, stickers, etc. Enjoy it while you can.
While college admissions has its challenges, there was a whole other layer of challenges 20 or so years ago. Be glad that you can submit your application online, that test scores and documents can be matched in seconds to your file, and that you can see your admissions status page online. Like Billy Joel sings in Keeping the Faith, “cause the good ole days weren’t always good, and tomorrow ain’t as bad as it seems”.