David Graves      August 6th, 2021 in Blog

There is a myth about a sea captain and a jeweler living on the island of Zanzibar, and it goes something like this:

A long time ago, a retired sea captain lived on a remote area on the island of Zanzibar. Each day he had a ceremonial flag raising and lowering at sunrise and sunset, and he fired a cannon at exactly noon each day. A friend who was visiting the captain asked how he knew the exact time that noon occurred on the island, and the captain responded by saying that he updated his pocket watch daily based on the time shown on a large clock displayed in the window of the town’s jewelry store. Later that day, the friend was visiting the town center, and he came across the jewelry store the captain had mentioned, as it had a large antique clock front and center in it’s display window. He entered the store and found the jeweler hard at work behind the counter. His curiosity got the better of him, and he asked the jeweler how he set the time on the antique clock in the window. The jeweler replied, “oh, that’s easy, there is a retired sea captain on the other side of the island who always fires his cannon at exactly 12 noon each day, and I use the sound to set the time on my clock”.

The moral of this story is that when you are trying to set a gauge for determining information (in this case the time of day), you need to make sure your facts are accurate and not just a spiraling feedback loop that starts off wrong and just keeps getting more off course. When you look at a situation, whether it is college admissions or SEC football or whatever, it is best to understand the limits of your knowledge, and what that knowledge is based on.

Now, how does this apply to UGA Admissions? Just like a number of my stories, there is a connection, it just takes a while to get there. In admissions, we actually see a fair amount of bad feedback loops dealing with what a college looks at in an admissions review or what might be an expected admissions decision. It all starts with one well-meaning but inadvertently wrong piece of advice. An admitted student might share that one piece of information that they “believe” caused them to be admitted by X college, such as their 82 acts of showing interest in X college or their choice to write their essay about their pet miniature pig, thus triggering other students to share their reasons for admission, from the recommendation sent in by their great-grandmother or the school colored M&M’s they sent in to the admissions office. While we are fine if you write about your pet pig or cat or turtle, have recommendations sent in from a family member, contact our counselors (though demonstrated interest has no bearing on a decision), or send in M&M’s (again, does not impact a decision), none of these well-intentioned acts changed a decision. But these discussions start a spiraling loop of bad information, with each loop getting things farther from reality.

In the same way, “chance me” sites cause their own brand of feedback loops. One individual will post what they believe is their admissions information, such as an X.XX GPA, an estimate of the quality of their essays (great, okay, etc.), and a list of their activities. Most of the time, this data is only somewhat accurate, as GPA’s vary from college to college, the strength of the essays would be determined by the reader, not the author, etc. Random individuals will then estimate the student’s chance of admission at X college, with the caveat that none of these people work in admissions, much less in the admissions office of college X. Students, don’t try to judge yourself against other students when you only have/share limited data, and don’t expect great results when other people guess about your chances without accurate and complete data. You just end up setting your watch against the mythical cannon. This guesswork inspires student data and more guesswork about other people posting their information, and the spiraling loop continues to wobble and get farther from reality.

The simple solution to the captain and the jeweler is to find someone with a trusty watch and set the time on the clock/the firing of the cannon based on accurate information. As far as admissions goes, work with the individual college admission offices, learn what they do/don’t look at in the review process and how everything is looked at, and ask questions to clarify any confusion.

Go Dawgs, and thanks to UGA Admissions Counselor Jay Menees for suggesting this topic.



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