College Admissions Expert Rick Clark Provides Insights on Higher Ed

To help the EA community further navigate the ever-changing higher education landscape, the College Counseling Department was thrilled to welcome Rick Clark, executive director of strategic student access (formerly assistant vice provost of enrollment management and executive director of undergraduate admission) at Georgia Tech, on Jan. 30 and 31.

During his two days on campus, Clark—a thought leader in college admissions and co-author of The Truth about College Admission: A Family Guide to Getting In and Staying Together—led an array of presentations where he provided insights and tips to navigate this often stressful, yet filled-with-opportunity time for Upper School students and their families. He also led special sessions on leadership for members of the faculty, staff, and administration. 

On Tuesday afternoon, Clark began his time at EA by detailing a colorful story about a kayaking trip gone wrong with Upper School students and faculty. Through the story, he talked about 'flipping the narrative' and learning to think differently. "Learning about yourself is often found in changing from the 'it's all about me' mindset to service, celebrating, and encouraging others," he said. "Four years from now, eight years from now, 20 years from now, when none of you are here [at EA] and all of you are through college and deep into your lives, you're not going to be thinking about what has you stressed or concerned today. Instead, the biggest memories of this place are going to be your relationships and the depth of those." 

He also discussed a mindset flip of 'I have to do this' to the 'I get to do this' as well as the benefits of pushing oneself out of one's comfort zone. "Some of the pursuits that we have are going to come with some pain or pushing ourselves outside of what is necessarily comfortable," he said. "Instead of thinking there's a formula or a process that will help you end up where you want to be, I would tell you instead to think of this more as an experience; something that you get to do; something that you're not going to fully be able to control and may end up in a lot of different directions. But if you are invested in this place and making people around you better and if you're challenging and pushing and stretching yourself, you will be ready to be a good college student when the time comes."

On Wednesday morning, he led a thought-provoking session on the college admission landscape for Upper School parents, with a focus on partnering and coaching their students with a zoomed-out perspective. "Don't forget that you have a very unique voice in helping [your children] see a bigger picture," Mr. Clark explained to the parents in the audience. "I firmly believe that, done right, college admission can be more like college itself. It actually can be a time for these kids to take the opportunity to explore options and ask questions like Why do I want to go to college?, What am I really looking forward to?, and What is it that I'm excited about?

In addition to focusing on the excitement, invigoration, and possibilities that can come from of the college admission journey, he also gave parents other key takeaways, including: trust the data instead of the anecdote; be open to various choices instead of restricting the journey to a preconceived path; trust your children, and make sure they know that you are proud of them regardless; and ensure they are focusing on what they can control: being a good student and making a lasting impact at EA.

"Ultimately, we [college admissions teams] are looking for good high school students," Mr. Clark said. "If you are a good Episcopal Academy community member; if you're a good teammate; if you are coachable; if you are engaged in class... you're going to have choices and options because ultimately, there is a through line: good high school students become compelling college applicants who then go on to become good college students."

"We are grateful for the opportunity to have Rick speak to our community," said Assistant Head of School and Interim Director of College Counseling Chris Torino. "His messages for students on Tuesday and parents on Wednesday were well-received and should serve as touchstones throughout our students' college journeys."

Clark, a native of Atlanta, earned a B.A. from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and an M.Ed. from Georgia State University. He has served on advisory and governing boards at the state, regional, and national levels and travels the world to discuss the U.S. college admission process. He is also the creator of the Georgia Tech Admission Blog and the College Admission Brief Podcast.