Thursday, January 31, 2008

Closing Down

I apologize that I have not been able to post over the last few months. Graduate school is much busier than I imagined. Between reading 100 to 150 pages/week for each of my three classes, research, and writing papers, I do not have enough time to devote to this blog. This is unfortunate, but a reality. If you are interested in any of these topics, I refer you to a collective blog that I, along with other Ph.D. students in my program contribute to. It is of a high quality and I hope it will continue into the future.

With all best wishes,

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Exciting Developments

Hello to any readers left! I apologize for letting more dust accumulate in the blog. I have been busy with many things over the past few weeks. Among the most exciting are a move to Irvine, in the graduate and student family housing at UCI. Why, you might wonder? I am proud to announce that I will be starting a Ph.D. program at UCI in just a month! I will be in the Education area, studying Educational Policy and Social Context. I will be joining the inaugural class of Ph.D. students and am very excited to do this. It has been a goal for a long time and events finally coalesced such that it was possible. I want to thank my wife, Nicole, for being so supportive in this endeavor.

Secondly, as a result of starting the doctoral program, I will be leaving my position at Cal Poly Pomona. I had a good experience in the College of Business Administration (CBA), but I wanted to dedicate myself fully to the Ph.D. I am grateful for the opportunity that the CBA offered me.

I am hopeful that this new endeavor will provide much grist for the mill when it comes to the blog. During the course of my studies, I will be reading and writing extensively on many topics relating to education and hope to share some of them with any readers interested enough to join me on this journey.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Sorry About the Dust...

Good afternoon. I apologize for not posting in a month and a half. Things have been very busy for me at work and are only now starting to slow down somewhat. It is indeed dusty in my little corner of the internets. Today I want to present a thought-provoking link.

The following article from Inside Higher Ed is the choice du jour. It seems that UC Berkeley researchers have been looking at how high school grades and SAT/ACT scores correlate with student success in college. What they found was that high school grades correlated most closely to college success and retention - not standardized test scores. This is interesting because much of the logic behind standardized testing is that no matter who you are or what school you attend you can be measured equally using the same standards. The argument was that high schools grade differently and what is hard at one school is not so hard at another. Standardized testing leveled the field and told admissions officials who the best students were and supposedly, who was therefore likely to succeed in college.

Importantly, the researchers found that all of the criteria that are currently used by admissions offices only explained 30% of the variance in grades achieved in college, and hence, success. This means that 70% of how well one will do in college cannot be explained by any of the measures currently used to admit students (extra-curricular activities, standardized testing, grades, letters of recommendation, etc...). Isn't that interesting?

Have a wonderful weekend!

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Life After College

As I work on putting together the graduation ceremony for the College where I am presently employed, I have been thinking about life after college. For many seniors, the time to look for a job actually starts during their final year. Others choose to wait until after graduating. Whatever the case, it seems that many of the demons that haunted students in getting into college are reappearing in their job searches. According to a New York Times article, employers of recent or soon-to-be graduates are increasingly looking at an applicant's GPA. Some even go so far as to look at SAT scores. Deja vu.

While this practice of examining GPAs and SATs is not universal, it seems to be a growing trend. I am not sure that either of these measures provide any sort of reliable indicators of how good an applicant will be as an employee. Of course, much of modern college admissions are based on these same figures. Employers may figure that if it is good enough for Harvard or UCLA, then it must be good enough for them. The NYT article rightly points out the fact that some students, who would otherwise be excellent employees, do not have stellar GPAs. For students in these instances, it is suggested that you emphasize your GPA in only your major courses, or your GPA in your last two years of college. Likewise, if one's forte is extracurricular activities, then you would do well to emphasize your activity in those over GPA.

The bad news, or good depending on your perspective, is that high school doesn't signal the end of the importance of grades. While GPA is not the singular best indicator of future performance, many people (and institutions) believe it is better than most. Many of those people are in positions to admit you to their college or hire you into their organization. Just as in college admissions, GPA is not the final arbiter of whether you will be offered a job. It is one of many factors that can be considered. Unlike in most college admissions decisions, employers actually have the ability to talk to you, through face to face interviews, before they decide if you and your 2.85 GPA are worthy of their company.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Links to Interesting Education Articles

There is so much information posted to the Web that it is often difficult to get a handle on even a fraction of it. As this information relates to education, there is more to be found than a humble worker bee (read: me) has the time to explore. With that in mind, let me provide some links to interesting articles I have read in the recent past.

- First up is a New York Times article (registration may be required) on an institutional focus at Harvard University on teaching in the classroom. It is not well known among many propsective college students that not all teaching at colleges and universities is created equal. In fact, teaching at many of the largest research universities (e.g. University of California, Harvard, University of Texas) can be spotty. Professors at these institutions are rewarded for doing research and publishing their findings, not necessarily for teaching. There are many wonderful and dedicated teachers at these institutions. However, it is important to note the orientation of the insitution, which can be different than what one might find at what are seen as traditionally teaching insitutions (e.g. California State University. Amherst, and other small liberal arts institutions).

- A recent article at Inside Higher Ed examines the way in which ranking systems, specifically, US News and World Report, may be miscategorizing colleges and universities. These miscategorized instutitions then get compared to their peer institutions. For example, certain universities get categorized as National Doctoral institutions, but in fact, draw most of thier students from a regional or local area. Is it fair or even informative to students and parents to compare such a regional doctoral institution to one that draws its students from throughout the US, or one that is twice as large?

If readers run across an interesting story related to education, college admissions, or any of the other topics covered in this blog, please post it to the comments section.

Have a great weekend!

Friday, May 04, 2007

How to Account for the Randomness of It All

I apologize that I have not posted as much lately. I would like to wrap up Barry Schwartz' opinion article that I have been going through for a month or so. Let us jump in!

5. Because there is so little measurable difference between students at the top of the statistical heap (a group that grows larger seemingly every year), colleges could lump all of the "acceptable" students together and then randomly pick the names of those who will be admitted.

Randomized selection of admits could potentially make the admissions process more fair. Today, a student whose parent(s) graduated from the college the student has applied to is given a slight preference over those whose parents did not attend the college. So-called legacy students get bonus points because they happened to be lucky enough to be born to a former graduate. I don't think this is particularly fair. If two students have the exact same GPAs, SATs, and extra-curricular activities, why would the legacy student be a better fit for the college? Wouldn't a flip of the coin be a more fair alternative?

6. Instead of students working to be the "best" applicant to Name Brand University, they could work to be good enough. Once you have reached the point of "good enough," you have as good of a chance of being admitted as all the other "good enoughs." According to Schwartz, this would allow students to pursue activities because they want to, not because they want to pad their application.

I like the train of thought here. We should be encouraging students to pursue their interests and passions rather than the things they think will look good on a college application. Colleges have a fairly good idea of the pool of applicants that they would be perfectly happy admitting. When you look at that pool, there may be some variation in background, but overall, an entering freshman class composed of a randomized group of these individuals would be acceptable. Admissions officers like to talk about shaping their incoming class, but mostly this is a crapshoot anyway. Colleges offer spots of admissions to many more students than they will enroll. The shaping is minimal at best.

In his origninal opinion piece, Schwartz makes note of dealing with special populations of students, like the above mentioned legacies, athletes, and students who come from backgrounds that are traditionally underrepresented at colleges and universities. I have already talked about my view of the fairness in specially valuing legacies. Athletes are a different class. Many, though not all, colleges treat athletes differently. Hint: Athletes aren't always held to the same academic expectations as their non-athletic classmates. The last group, however, is of special concern. If we hold the belief that college is about equalling or levelling the playing field, then we need to take care in not diminishing the opportunities for students who, because of their background, have historically been underrepresented and under-supported.

7. Such a system would have the effect of teaching students about the randomness of life. We all like to think of the American system as a meritocracy (those who work hard and are smart are rewarded), but in actuality, success and failure have a lot to do with luck and chance. Schwartz argues that this would imbue students with a newfound level of sympathy and empathy for the less fortunate around them.

Randomness does play an important role in life. Think about your parents. Then think about the parents of your other friends. How would your or your friends' lives been affected if you had the others' parents? You have no control over who you are born to, what happens to you when you are a baby, where you grow up, and a myriad of other factors. Now think about the homeless family that is struggling just to live. How easily that could have been any one of us. Most of us are closer to homelessness than we care to imagine. How would a lost job, mental illness, little or no familial support, or the a death of a parent affect your family. If you have not had to deal with these things, then consider yourself lucky. But, what if? We could all stand to gain a sense of compassion for the other. College is as good of a place to start as any.

Happy weekend!

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Wisely Choosing a Financial Aid Lender

Editor's Note: Samantha Kahn, a financial aid expert who has worked in a variety of institutional settings, has written today's post.

If you're thinking about attending college in the fall, you're probably also thinking about how to pay for it. In the midst of those decisions, it has recently been discovered that some colleges and financial aid officers have had improper links with certain lenders, which has resulted in a lack of choice for students. Unfortunately the coverage has been presented in such a way that all colleges and all financial aid officers are under suspicion.

There are two federal loan programs, the Stafford Loan Program and the Direct Loan Program. The simple difference is that the funds come from different sources. Loan limits and deferment benefits are the same with repayment options differing slightly. If a college is in the Stafford Loan program, you choose your lender. Many schools have used lender lists for informational purposes, and these lists are not intended to limit your choice.

All of the colleges I've worked for used the Stafford loan program and had lender lists, with seven to 22 lenders on it. The list at each of these schools was actually a chart, with the name and contact information of each lender, the loan servicing company (sometimes but not usually the same company that originates the loans) and their contact information, the interest rate and origination fee (set by the US Dept. of Education and the same across the board), and the borrower benefits and conditions. I have never worked in a school that insisted students use a lender on the list.

Borrowers should examine the borrower benefits and conditions, though I've always thought that it was good to know if the originating company would also service the loan. The borrower benefits generally have included an X% reduction on the interest rate you pay if you make Y number of on-time payments, or a refund of all or part of the origination fee. For example, one lender may offer a bigger reduction than another, but the on-time payment period is 48 months instead of 36.

I've worked with students and parents who have reviewed the terms offered by each lender; people who have chosen a lender because a friend chose that lender; people who borrowed from the bank at which they have a checking account or other loans (like mortgages or car loans - be aware that a branch employee will most likely refer you to an 800 number if you have questions about a student or PLUS loan); and even students who have chosen a lender by figuratively throwing a dart at the list.

Obviously, I think it is best to do the research and determine which lender offers the best terms for your needs (or what you think may be your needs when you finish school). In the unlikely event that the college you are attending has been involved in improper conduct with lenders, you'll be protecting yourself from that as well as from signing papers you haven't read, which you know you should never do. Understanding the terms is difficult, particularly if you've never borrowed a loan before, and any financial aid officer should be willing to explain what certain terms mean. Be an informed borrower - it's the best way to protect yourself from any surprises.

Friday, April 20, 2007

After, Not Before is the Right Time

Today, we return to Barry Schwartz' article on college admissions.

4. As a student, the most accurate time to determine whether or not a college is right for you is after you are actually enrolled at a college and have spent some time there, not before.

If true, the above is a threat to the cottage industry that has arisen around finding the perfect college fit. Could it be that college tours, college guides, consultants, and college counselors are all useless? I have certainly spent some time on this blog extolling the virtues of visiting colleges before actually applying and enrolling to figure out if you would be a good fit there. Most people I know feel similarly. Visiting is key, we say, as is doing research. Schwartz argues that it may all be in vain. He may be right, to a certain extent.

Schwartz' reasoning for arguing that after you attend an institution, not before, is the best time to determine fit relates to all the unknowns of college life. Among them are such things as relationships, roommates, unexpected family situations (illnesses, deaths, layoffs), and health issues. You simply cannot account for these things in your college choice. Yet, these are some of the circumstances upon which determinations about the fit of a college to an individual can hinge.

Imagine that while in college, your mother gets extremely ill. Because you have a special relationship to your mother, you want to be physically closer to her. Unfortunately, you enrolled in a college two time zones away from home. This might cause you to transfer to a college closer to home. There are all manner of potential circumstances that could make a pefect fit college a disastrous fit. Beyond the unexpected, there is the fact that we all change. What we thought two years ago may not be the same as what we think today. While one might have been in love with the idea of a small town when they chose a rural university, they might feel claustrophobic after a couple of years and want to move to a bigger city.

Clearly, there isn't much you can do in predicting the future. Base your decision on sound research, spend time getting to know yourself, and don't worry excessively about what the future holds. When unpredictable things happen, utilize the resources at your disposal to help you get through them. College counseling centers and support from family and friends are good ones. Ultimately, we all have to foster an oppenness to the inevitability of change as well as the unpredictability of life. Isn't that easier said (or typed) than done?

Happy weekend! Next time we'll look at a radical alternative to today's applicant selection process.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Coasting and the Impossibility of Determining Fit

Today, we will return to Barry Schwartz' article about college admissions. In the same vein as the previous post on the subject, I will present Schwartz' point and then dig in with some analysis.

2. So much is built into just "getting in" to Name Brand University, that once they get there, students can coast. They no longer have as much motivation to continue the life-long process of learning.

Imagine that it has been your dream to attend University X, Y, or Z since you started high school. Throughout your high school years you have constantly striven to excel in every endeavor. You went all out to get A's in your classes and participated in a carefully balanced portfolio of activities in which you maximized your efforts, becoming a leader in all of them. Many, if not most, of your youthful efforts were spent with the goal of attaining admission to your Universities of choice.

Similarly, imagine that the big day has come when you finally receive notification from the institutions. Being the smart and capable student you are, you were honored with admission to all of them. All your hard work paid off. You can relax. Your dream has been fulfilled.

Now what?

How do you top achieving the biggest dream of your life, the central tenet of your existence? Doesn't it seem plausible that everything after this will be somewhat of a letdown? Schwartz argues that indeed this may be the case. It is possible that many young people in this situation are, in fact, eager go-getters and will continue to dream big. I hope so.

3. It is impossible to predict the fit of an institution to a student, and vice-versa. Differences between the "top" students and "top" institutions are so minute, that one cannot reliably evaluate those differences.

If true, the above will cause much hand-wringing among sincere admissions officials and students. The whole point of this college admission exercise is to find the right fit, isn't it? Haven't I proffered varying exercises and resources to help students with doing just that?

College admission officials are constantly trying to find the right balance of test scores, grades, coursework, extra curricular activities, and background that will give them insight into which students are best for their college. Likewise, students pour over rankings data, visit colleges, and talk to counselors, friends, and advisors in the hope of narrowing down their top choices.

If we are honest, however, it becomes apparent that Schwartz is on to something. If you can pare down the number of schools you are really interested in to five or so, then you are doing well. There may be small differences between the institutions, mainly dealing with location and size. However, if you are careful, you probably chose five institutions that will provide you with an excellent education. Therefore, whichever ones you get admitted to will most likely (more on this later) be peachy. The difference between the first and fifth schools on your list are not large enough to be worthwhile.

Schwartz believes the same is true of the students the colleges are choosing to admit. How much of a difference is there, in terms of the student's ability to succeed in college, between Student A (3.80 GPA, 1900 SATI, tons of leadership and extra curriculars) and Student B (3.90 GPA, 1850 SATI, ditto with leadership and extra curriculars)? It is so small, that no college application, short of one that requires extensive psychotherapy is going to tell the admission officials the difference.

What is his point? As I interpret it we are spending way too much time worrying about this stuff. We would be better served by doing something more interesting, like having a cup of coffee with a friend, reading a good book (for pleasure), or watching a sunset. So go ahead and do so. I would but I am at work!

Thursday, April 05, 2007

How To Read A Financial Aid Award Letter

Editor's Note: The scribe of this post is Samantha Kahn, a financial aid expert who has worked in a variety of institutional settings.

You're probably starting to receive award letters, or award notifications, from the Financial Aid Office at the colleges to which you've applied. These letters are automated and different programs print different information on them in varying styles, which can make them difficult to understand well enough to “compare and contrast.” Most colleges send the original letter via snail mail and post the award on their websites for you to access. When changes are made to your award, such as if you receive another scholarship or the name of an award is changed, those changes are usually only made online, though you may receive another award letter. The only one that is valid is the most recent.

The award letter includes all of the awards for which you are eligible at the time the letter was printed, including state and federal grants as well as institutional grants (that is, scholarships from the college), federal and institutional loans, and work-study. It may also include a category titled “PLUS Loan” or a line item titled “Finance amount.” However, the letter may not include anything like this category at all.

The first thing you must determine to really understand what your award is in relation to the expense of attending a college is the Cost of Attendance (COA). The COA is the total cost of attending the institution for one year, including tuition, room and board, books and supplies, transportation (between home and school), and miscellaneous expenses (ranging from a university t-shirt to toothpaste). The cost for each college will be different, and the COA for students living at home and commuting is different than for those living on campus or in off-campus housing (e.g. their own apartments). Note that the COA is a budget only and you may not spend as much as the budget allows. However, if you spend more, the college is not going to increase your budget just because you ask.

Note that not all universities' award letters include the COA on the letter itself. If that's the case, the booklet or brochure the college sends with the letter will list the COA and its elements, with the dollar amount estimated for each element (such as $600/semester for books). If they do not send a brochure, the cost of attendance will be listed on the financial aid pages of the website. Bear this in mind when it looks as though "Private" University #1 offers more aid than "State" University #1. The COA at "Private" is higher though it may cover less of the total cost.

After you have figured out what the COA at each university is, you can start looking at the awards. You want to look at them on a per semester basis. This is particularly the case when costs are skewed toward one semester in colleges that offer an “interim term,” between semesters, and bills for housing accordingly.

Some schools send award letters that list by category and some that list by term. A letter could look like this:

Award FA '07 SP '08 TOTAL

Pell Grant $1200 $1200 $2400

Stafford Subsidized Loan $1750 $1750 $3500

Federal Work Study $1500 $1500 $3000

Finance Amount $2500 $2500 $5000


It could also look like this:


Pell Grant FA07 $1200

Pell Grant SP08 $1200

STAFSUB FA07 $1750

STAFSUB SP08 $1750

FWS FA07 $1500

FWS SP08 $1500

Finance Amount $5000


If you can't figure out the codes, they should be explained in the booklet/brochure or on the Financial Aid Office's website. Make sure you understand which awards are grants, which need to be paid back, which need to be earned through work. You may have to take additional steps to accept certain awards to actually receive the funds.

The difference between your awards and the total cost of attendance is what you and your family will need to either pay out of pocket or borrow, like with a PLUS (parent) loan. The college doesn't care how you pay the bill, and you can borrow some and pay the rest, either all at once or in payments if they have a payment plan (most do, with the first payment due in July or August before the first term begins). Questions about payment plans are usually handled by a third-party biller or by the college's Business Office. The phone number and website should be listed in the brochure and/or on the college's website.

At most colleges you can go online to accept or decline awards. Accept all of the grants; it's up to you whether you wish to accept the loans and work-study, if offered to you. One thing to understand about work-study, by the way: You're being offered wages for work, but you are responsible for finding a job and working the hours. If you do not find a job, you will not get those funds. Furthermore, make sure you understand whether or not your college will accept your work-study to pay for tuition, room, and board. I've worked at colleges that don't, so students with work-study had to come up with that amount to pay for tuition upfront, using their work-study earnings for the miscellaneous expenses.

I would suggest that you make a chart for yourself to compare awards at different schools. Make sure the chart includes the total Cost of Attendance as well as any amount not covered by grants, loans, or work-study, particularly if it means that you or your parents will have to borrow the difference. Do not expect that you will be able to cut corners on the COA. With the exception of off-campus housing, which can vary depending on how close you live to the college and how many housemates you have, the budget reflects the actual costs very well.

If a decision deadline is approaching and you have not received award letters from all the colleges to which you were admitted, contact the college with the approaching deadline and request an extension, explaining that you don't have information you need from another college. You'll probably get a week at the most. Then, after checking your account at the other college, contact them and ask when you might expect their award letter, explaining that you have a deadline at another college and you need their information so you can make an informed decision.

FinAid has good explanations of the different kinds of awards (such as Pell Grants, Federal Work-Study, and Stafford, Perkins, and PLUS loans) and how they work. To learn about awards specific to the institutions you're considering, you need to go to the websites for those colleges. If you have questions about an athletic scholarship, you should contact the coach. If you have questions about a scholarship that's based on your SAT or ACT scores and your GPA, you should contact Admissions.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Resume-Padding, Risk-Taking, and Intellectual Curiosity

In the last post, I laid out the salient points of Barry Schwartz's opinion piece on highly selective college admissions that ran in the LA Times. Today I am going to examine some of those points. Schwartz's first point:

1. The nature of admissions to highly selective institutions has encouraged students to expend more energy on high school resume-padding than engaging their minds and spirits on risk-taking and intellectual curiosity.

-Anyone who has worked with high schools students, including the students themselves, can see the validity of this point. Students are frequently looking for an angle on how the activities they are involved in can be put into play on their college applications. They may be genuinely interested in joining the chess club, for example, but if they want their involvement to have cache, then they better be one of the club officers. Similarly, they may want to help the less fortunate at a soup kitchen or by building a house (e.g. Habitat for Humanity), but at some level, they know doing so won't look bad on their college applications. The same is true for course selection. Students constantly weigh whether it is better to take a course that you know you can do well in or one in which you know your abilities will be stretched, but that nonetheless, you are interested in taking.

I don't mean to lump all students and their activities into an ulterior motive category, but it is hard to deny that at current levels of competition, the temptation exists. Because I know this, students know it, and college admissions officials know it, what can we do? All of us want to see students do things because they are genuinely interested in doing so. If someone likes chess, they should be able to be a member of the club without the nagging feeling that they should take on leadership.

By the way, if you listen to admissions officials, leadership is a buzz word. The student who is a member of a number of clubs because of interest but did not take on any leadership positions will not have the same leadership cred as the student who was intensely involved in only a couple of clubs and consistently held leadership positions in those clubs.

Colleges also love to talk about admitting applicants with "passion" and "spark" [see this LA Times article (subscription may be required) on UCLA's version of "holistic admissions"]. Colleges want students who will bring something unique to their campus. Passion and spark, apparently, are unique qualities. It seems reasonable that uniqueness will include passion and spark, but also may go in many different directions.

What about the unique kid who defies the tide of "me too" approaches to college admission by doing exactly what Schwartz argues - taking risks and being intellectually curious? Say this hypothetical student takes a couple of college courses, studies abroad, works at Starbucks, volunteers on a Habitat for Humanity project, but only gets middling grades (a 'B' average in today's heady times). Does she pass the passion and spark tests? I bet she doesn't and because of that, probably won't have a place at the "best" colleges. It is students such as this hypothetical one that are being left out of admissions equations. To display the kind of pizazz that UCLA and other "top" schools are looking for, you need to have it all - grades, leadership, sustained involvement. In truth, it sounds rather formulaic and thus, not so unique.

To think, this is only Schwartz's first point! I promise that there will be more of a positive bent in future posts surrounding Schwartz's article.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

A Thought-Provoking Article

A couple of Sunday's ago, one of the more thoughtful articles (subscription required) I have seen in a long time about the business of college admissions came out. The author, Barry Schwartz, a professor of psychology, makes a number of points in the piece which are worth devoting some time to:

1. The nature of admissions to highly selective institutions has encouraged students to expend more energy on high school resume-padding than engaging their minds and spirits on risk-taking and intellectual curiosity.

2. So much is built into just "getting in" to Name Brand University, that once they get there, students can coast. They no longer have as much motivation to continue the life-long process of learning.

3. It is impossible to predict the fit of an institution to a student, and vice-versa. Differences between the "top" students and "top" institutions are so minute, that one cannot reliably evaluate those differences.

4. As a student, the most accurate time to determine whether or not a college is right for you is after you are actually enrolled at a college and have spent some time there, not before.

5. Because there is so little measurable difference between students at the top of the statistical heap (a group that grows larger seemingly every year), colleges could lump all of the "acceptable" students together and then randomly pick the names of those who will be admitted.

6. Instead of students working to be the "best" applicant to Name Brand University, they could work to be good enough. Once you have reached the point of "good enough," you have as good of a chance of being admitted as all the other "good enoughs." According to Schwartz, this would allow students to pursue activities because they want to, not because they want to pad their application.

7. Such a system would have the effect of teaching students about the randomness of life. We all like to think of the American system as a meritocracy (those who work hard and are smart are rewarded), but in actuality, success and failure have a lot to do with luck and chance. Schwartz argues that this would imbue students with a newfound level of sympathy and empathy for the less fortunate around them.

Schwartz acknowledges that his proposal for a new admissions environment has flaws (how to deal with historically underrepresented populations of students, for example) and that people will not like the random aspect of admissions. There is much to discuss here. I wanted to get Schwartz' salient points out in the open. The next few blog posts will deal with the various issues he raises. I encourage readers to respond if they are interested, as always. I would love to get a discussion going.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Interesting Writing Elsewhere on Education

I like the idea of providing some links to compelling reading about education. Though I wouldn't want this blog to become a link dump, I think it is appropriate to link to outside work from time to time. Thus, without further ado:

1. A Los Angeles Times (free subscription required) opinion piece on the soaring costs associated with attending some private institutions. The target of this particular screed is George Washington University, which recently became the first college in the United States to charge over $50,000 a year for tuition ($39,000/year) plus assorted fees, housing included. Though the first university to hit the $50K barrier, it will not be the last. What I like about the article is that it explicates the dirty reasons as to why the price of an education has risen so dramatically over the past decade.

2. An article from Inside Higher Ed on the upcoming novel, Acceptance, about the ridiculous nature of admissions to highly competitive colleges and universities. The novel is a satire of the entire process, from selecting the right preschool, to the hiring of consultants to help an applicant flush out their profile. In an admissions world that puts so much pressure on students to get into the "best" colleges, it is not surprising the measures people are resorting to.

3. A National Public Radio series on "The College Admissions Game." This is an examination of the issues surrounding how college admissions became so nutty, alternatives to following the herd, and tips for surviving the process with some integrity.


Thursday, March 08, 2007

The Wisdom of Insecurity

"It must be obvious...that there is a contradiction in wanting to be perfectly secure in a universe whose very nature is momentariness and fluidity." -Alan Watts

I would like to take credit for the title of this post, but I cannot do so in good conscience. The post title is taken from a book by Alan Watts, bearing the same name. In it, Watts proposes that there is wisdom in not being sure of what you want to do, or wisdom in being insecure in your belief system, as well as other seemingly strange (to our sensibilities) philosophical positions. Likewise, in this post, I want to propound on the wisdom of major insecurity.

Students hold the belief that they should have a good idea of what they want to do upon entering college. People don't do much to help them in believing that they should think otherwise. How often have you been asked, "What is your major?" That question will be something you continually get asked throughout your college career and even beyond. We hold a particularly strong preoccupation with the future. Once you graduate from college, you will be asked, "What are you going to do now?" Once you get a job, you will be asked, "When are you going to start a family?" The questions about the future never end.

I want to help stop this insanity and fixation on the future. It is perfectly normal to not have the foggiest idea of what your major will be or even what you want to do with your life. Because of our fixation on the future, however, we feel inadequate or somehow left out if we don't have a strong sense of what we want to study or do. Don't fall into this illusory trap. Use college as a time to explore. Explore your interests, friendships, and self. College can be a place where individual growth is pursued. Growth, in my estimation, is stunted when we limit ourselves to fixating on one end point. Allow time to explore. You never know what you'll discover in both the world around you and in yourself.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

How Much College Debt is too Much?

Students are increasingly having to borrow money to pay for their education. As someone who has worked in education as well as borrowed to pay for my own schooling, I generally say that student loans are good deals. The interest rates are fairly low (you can lock in rates as low as 4% presently, but that doesn't mean you will always be able to do so) and the time and flexibility you have in paying them back is abundant. However, as debt loads continue to increase (PDF), it is pertinent to examine how much debt is too much.

According to the College Board report linked to above, for 2003-04 college graduates, the average debt students incur is $19,300. According to the report, however,

"Despite median debt levels of under $20,000, 23 percent of borrowers from private nonprofit colleges and 14 percent of those at public four-year colleges graduated with $30,000 of debt or more. Forty percent of those who graduated from four-year programs at for-profit institutions had this much debt. On the other hand, 38 percent of bachelor’s degree recipients from four-year public colleges did not borrow at all and another 30 percent had less than $10,000 in debt when they graduated."

Reports of students going into what some might call obscene levels of debt are not uncommon. What drives students to incur so much debt in order to get a college education? Imagine that you really want to go to Name Brand University and in order to do so, you will have to borrow copious amounts of money. You will probably ask yourself at some point if the degree from said University is worth it. However, your borderline obsession with getting a degree from Name Brand U may blind you to the reality of what it means to owe $50,000. Additionally, as the USA Today article points out, students don't just borrow to pay for education costs, they also end up borrowing from credit card companies to subsidize their outside spending. Instead of being on the hook for $50,000, students may instead owe $60,000 when you include credit card debt (an entirely different, less forgiving type of debt).

The federal government is mulling increasing the Pell Grant, but in reality, any increase will have little effect on borrowing. College costs (tuition, books, room and board) have "risen 81 percent, more than double the inflation rate, between 1993 and 2004" (NYT). It is therefore important to consider what you feel is a tolerable level of debt. The articles I referenced in this post can give you some perspective on what other students have borrowed, how they are coping with it, and what you can do to minimize overburdening yourself with loans.

Friday, February 16, 2007

The Long Wait for an Admission Decision

It may seem like a lifetime has passed since you submitted your applications for admission. In many instances, the wait is not over. If it has seemed like a lifetime up until this point, then figure on at least another lifetime or two until you officially hear. In the meantime, I have posted some notes on what you should be focusing on until the decisions start rolling in. In this post, I want to point you to some interesting articles I have been reading lately about higher education.

1. A fascinating story on the state of diversity at UC Berkeley from the New York Times (NYT). The demographics, in California at least, of higher education are changing rapidly. How is this affecting traditional minority students? What do students think about issues of diversity?

2. Another NYT piece on rural colleges and universities. As students become accustomed to more modern luxuries, e.g. Starbucks, massive cineplexes, and ethnic cuisine, how do rural colleges compete with their urban and suburban contemporaries?

3. College Rankings, courtesy of the Washington Monthly Magazine. Why should you care about another ranking system? Start with their premises for what make a college or university excellent, "how well it performs as an engine of social mobility (ideally helping the poor to get rich rather than the very rich to get very, very rich), how well it does in fostering scientific and humanistic research, and how well it promotes an ethic of service to country." It is a compelling way to think about education. I would like to explore this ranking system more in depth in a future post.

4. Wired article on an education program designed to teach students the art of making video games that have meaning. Think world peace over world domination, or swords to plowshares.

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Sources of Information for Studying Abroad

There are a myriad of places to go on the Internet for students interested in studying abroad. I will post links to a few below for readers to peruse:

The first place to go is to your college's Study Abroad or International Programs office. They will have information about programs specifically designed to work in conjunction with the curriculum of the college you attend. You can also check with the department that houses your major to see if there are programs specific to your major. (Editor's note: This was how I found the study abroad program I participated in).

If you will be studying at either the University of California or the California State University, then you are in luck because the systems each have overarching programs that are available no matter which campus you attend. Again, check with your individual campus to learn about special campus-specific programs, of which there are plenty.

You can also look at general purpose sites, which link to programs that are offered no matter the college you currently attend. These also have information on the study abroad process, what to expect, how to prepare, how to choose a program, etc.

Some organizations have developed their own programs, which are not necessarily connected to any Universities in the U.S.

Additionally, there are organizations that are dedicated to certain types of abroad experiences, like field studies. This organization works with students interested in science and environmental abroad opportunities.

My advice is that if you have an inkling that studying abroad is something you might like to do, plan ahead. Start talking to your University's study abroad office as soon as you can. Planning is paramount so that you don't increase your time to graduation and are fully prepared for the adventure you will take. I encourage you to find out more and if interested, I highly recommend studying abroad.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Studying Abroad

Studying abroad allows you to travel the world as a student, earn credits toward graduation, get invaluable cultural experience, and have an incredible time doing so. What isn't to like about that? Most colleges and universities have programs that allow students to study in a foreign country while paying the same tuition as they would normally pay. Transportation to and from your country of destination will be the one significant cost beyond typical college expenses. You will also have to pay for housing, which varies widely throughout the world. However, you would most likely be paying for housing anyway.

The limiting factor in studying abroad is one's tolerance for difference. Can you handle living in the third world (most of Africa and parts of Latin America and Asia) or would you feel more comfortable in the developed world (Europe, Australia, as well as parts of Latin America and Asia)? Do you feel comfortable studying in a country where English is not the predominant language? Is a robust nightlife and cultural scene your flavor or would be happy studying somewhere less urban and more rural? It is questions such as these that prospective study abroad students must ask themselves.

Most colleges, including 2-year community (or junior) colleges, offer study abroad programs. If for some reason the college you attend does not offer study abroad programs, there are often people on campus who can point you in the direction of legitimate abroad organizations and programs. In the next post, I will share some online resources for students interested in finding out more about studying abroad.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

The Importance of Feedback

Hello. I apologize about not posting for a while. I have been busy with putting on an event for applicants to the College where I work. Luckily, it is done and I have somewhat more sane days. The experience of running a program, however, serves as the inspiration for this post.

In creating anything and putting it out there for people to look at, you make yourself vulnerable. Vulnerability isn't necessarily a bad thing. It is hard to judge one's work without letting others get a chance to peruse it. We often have an internal gauge of how we are doing and we should listen to that gauge very intently. However, we also need to hear about our work from others. Specifically, what did we do that worked well. What didn't work so well? What is another way we could have approached the situation?

I have solicited feedback on the event I put on for the College from the students attendees, the faculty and staff who worked the event, as well as students who represented the College. Not all of the feedback has been glowingly positive. I don't expect that it would. People have different ways of doing things. One of the great things about feedback is that you can get an idea of how other people view the situation or problem you have been wrestling with. In doing so, you can see how you might approach a problem or situation differently with this new perspective. One of the most important aspects of feedback is our willingness to listen to it and learn from it.

As you spend your college careers writing papers and working on projects, you will get a lot of feedback. When you do, keep in mind that it is usually in your best interests. You can tell the feedback that isn't constructive, but the majority of it is good. It is all with the intention of helping you become a better person, writer, scholar, and student. Don't fear feedback, embrace it. You will be a much better student (and person) for it.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Online Distance Education Courses and Degrees - Pros

Online and distance education courses and degrees are starting to become a fixture at many colleges and universities. There are many good reasons for the explosion of offerings. Let me give you some reasons why I think this is the case.

1. Ease of attending "virtual" classrooms - If you are employed full-time, have a family, or other responsibilities that make getting to a traditional classroom challenging, then online or distance education is immediately attractive. You can log in at whatever time is convenient to you and post responses to the week's questions, submit your assignments, and email a professor or fellow student. If you live far away from a college that offers a program or class you want to take, being able to enroll in an online or distance version is your only option.

2. Interactivity is potentially increased - This was mentioned in the last post, but it is important enough to repeat. In many online formats, student-student and student-professor interactivity is higher than it is in traditional formats. Student-student interaction is often the most interesting because many traditional classrooms stick to the teacher knows best dichotomy. Most of the discussion comes from the front of the room, with few questions and little discussion coming from the back of the room. In many ways, the discussion flow is opposite in an online course. It is amazing how much you can learn from classmates when they are truly given a chance to speak.

3. The potential exists for learning to increase - Note: This point is based on personal experience, and not based on any scientific studies. I have found that online courses force you to do all the reading, reflect on it, and discuss your views on the topics at hand with your fellow students and the professor in ways that aren't always possible in a traditional classroom. In doing so, you often find yourself defending and then altering your views as you take in the views of your classmates. You re-examine the readings in light of what other people are writing. In this way, you are engaging the learning material more substantively than if you merely read it and listen to the professor talk about it. The other side of the coin is that online courses can be more demanding than their traditional counterparts.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Is an Online Course or Degree Right for You?

Online courses and degree programs are more demanding than most people realize. They require that a student be a capable independent learner who is self-motivated to complete projects, papers, and readings without someone constantly hounding them about it.

Online "classrooms" do not have the anonymity of a large lecture hall or even a moderate-sized class. The expectation (in most cases) in online courses is that students will participate. Your grade is partially based on your participation. Unlike traditional face-to-face courses, you must do the assigned reading. Because you are graded (partially) on participation, you don't want to be seen as uninformed and lacking in preparation for the week's discussion. It is fairly obvious who has read and prepared for the discussion and who hasn't. If the students can see it, then it is a safe assumption that the professor can as well.

Students must be comfortable with communicating asynchronously, as most online courses use discussion boards to hold conversations about the week's readings and assignments. As well, technophobes need not bother. Online learning requires that one be comfortable with discussion boards, chat rooms (in some instances), email, and digital distribution. In the next post, I'll talk about some of the advantages of online learning.

Friday, January 12, 2007

What to Make of Online Education

Online education is a growing segment of higher education. It is difficult to pin down exactly what percentage of students are getting degrees through programs that deliver instruction, testing, and discussion online. However, all you have to do is a search in Yahoo! or Google for online education to know that it is a big business. There are probably ads on my site that reference it. Separating the quality programs from the 'out to make a buck' ones can be difficult. However, it is certainly doable and here are a couple of things to look at:

1. Look at accreditation. At bare minimum, you want to see that the institution is accredited by a regional accreditation body, e.g. WASC, MSA, NWCCU, NCA, NEASC-CHIE, SACCS-CC. Regional accreditation is required by graduate schools and most employers. Be careful of alternate accrediting boards that sound like they are regional. If the institution's accreditation isn't from the six I listed above, then skip it.

2. Does it look to good to be true? This is an important question to consider. If a program is promising a degree with a minimum of hassle and courses to be taken, then back off. Likely, they have not been regionally accredited to offer the degree and are suspect. There may be specific instances where an alternate accreditation is acceptable, but you should know about that before ever searching for a program.

I have some experience with online education, and if you have a question, feel free to post it in the comments.

Toying with Blog Format

I am going to try an adjustment to my blog writing. In lieu of writing longer posts, I want to write shorter, less in-depth pieces. Doing so will have the effect of keeping blog postings fresh and somewhat more frequent. This doesn't mean that I won't occasionally write a longer piece, but I am going to try something a bit different for a while. I welcome any and all feedback from readers and am excited about continuing to make this blog accessible for students, parents, and professionals.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Applying for Financial Aid

Editor's Note: This was written by Samantha Kahn, a financial aid counselor with years of experience in all kinds of institutions.

As of January 1st, the FAFSA for the 2007-2008 academic year is available on the web. The US Department of Education strongly advises families to apply for financial aid online rather than with a paper application, because it cuts down on errors and incomplete applications.

Completing the FAFSA online includes three steps. The first is that you and your parent must apply for a USED Personal Identification Number, which you can use as your electronic signature on the FAFSA and on loan applications. Applying for a PIN takes no time at all, you can do so at:

Be prepared to provide your SSN, address, and other common items. They'll process your application and send you an email with instructions on how to get the PIN. You'll probably receive this email within 72 hours after submitting your application.

Note that the student and the parent each need their own PIN. PINs are essentially a permanent electronic version of signatures, so each person applying needs his or her own. If you and your sibling are applying at the same time, you need a PIN, your brother needs a PIN, and your parent needs a PIN. Your PIN will never change regardless of your own status as a parent or student (or financial aid officer).

The FAFSA itself is a long and complex document, into which you have to put a lot of data. Don't worry, though; it's highly encrypted and your demographic and financial information is safe. However, it's a good idea to use the worksheets provided by the Department to gather all the information together. This way you can sit at the table with your tax returns and bank statements, write in the numbers, and type them in when you go to the FAFSA website.

If you have to use a public computer, such as one at a library, you MUST prepare in advance with the worksheets. Expect it to take at least 45 minutes to complete the FAFSA online.

Here is the link for the FAFSA worksheets: Look for the link for the 07-08 FAFSA worksheet in color. The FAFSA is color coded by year for the students - 07-08 The student information sections will be in yellow. Parent info is always purple. It's important to not put the same information in both sections!

You can go to that link and print out the FAFSA worksheet, which will be eight pages. Then you can fill in the boxes with your year-to-date figures off your's and your parents' 12/31/06 paychecks and statements.

Once you have your PIN and between January 1 and the earliest filing deadline (which will probably be March 2 for schools in California, but that information can be checked on college websites), you can go online and enter all the data from the worksheets. If you are not sure what the filing deadline is for any of your prospective colleges, MAKE SURE you know before you miss the deadline! Some schools' filing deadlines for the best/most financial aid eligibility can be as early as February 1.

You will need to put in the school code for all the colleges to which you areapplying (there should be space for at least six on the FAFSA). Codes can be found on the FA pages of the prospective schools' websites or even more easily at

You can make corrections to the FAFSA and should do so when you and your parents complete your respective tax returns. Don't wait to complete the tax returns before applying for financial aid. This is the only document which is more important to submit on time than it is to submit it correctly. If you don't have financial information when you have to complete the FAFSA, DO NOT put in zeros. Estimate as well as you can; you want the college to offer you the best aid based on the best information.

If your family has experienced some financial setback that isn't reflected in your tax information, such as a layoff late in the year, or high medical expenses that can't be deducted, you should complete the FAFSA so it reflects the tax information and then contact the colleges to which you've applied and advise them of this disparity.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

The National Survey on Student Engagement (NSSE)

Quick check of hands, how many of you have heard of the above NSSE? If not, it is time to get acquainted with it. We have previously talked about rankings in this blog and I promised we would return to the subject. The NSSE is not so much a ranking system as it is a measure of how colleges and universities are engaging their students along five different dimensions:

1) Level of academic challenge
2) Active and collaborative learning
3) Student-faculty interaction
4) Enriching educational experiences
5) Supportive campus environment

Students are surveyed (PDF document) about their experience along these different dimensions. From reading the survey, it is obvious that NSSE takes a thorough look at student engagement. Unlike other surveys, NSSE does not give numerical ranks to each of the colleges that participate. Instead, what you will find in their report is how institutions are doing on average based on their Carnegie category (Doctoral, Master's, and Baccalaureate). If you are considering attending an institution like the University of California, then you would be interested in NSSE data on Doctoral (Very High research activity) whereas if you were looking at a California State University, you would want to look at Master's data for the size of the University (Large, Medium, or Small). You can download the 2006 report here.

This data, like the Princeton Review's system we examined earlier, is qualitative in nature. However NSSE data is collected and analyzed through statistical research and interpretation methods. NSSE does not compile silly lists, as does Princeton Review. It is a
serious attempt to understand the quality of education that the nation's colleges and universities are providing. Colleges who participate in NSSE do so for a variety of reasons. They may be looking for ways to improve their education, understand their student's perception of their education, or they believe in the goals of the NSSE.

As a student or parent, I suggest you look at the variety of questions asked in the student survey, determine which of those measures are most important to you, and then look at the results to see how institutions of the general type you are interested in are doing according to their students.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Why You Shouldn't Apply to Too Many Colleges

I hope that all is well with your applications and that you are now resting a bit. I wanted to share some interesting data I have been collecting. As part of my job, I have been running a survey in which I ask students, among other questions, how many colleges and universities they applied to. This was the topic of an earlier post and at the end of that post, I mentioned I would return to the topic. So here we are.

While the survey is not scientific and only has data from over 40 respondents, the results are interesting. The number of schools that people are applying to vary widely. The extremes were a total of 2 schools applied to on the low end and 16 applied to on the high end. The mean number of schools applied to is 5.875 or 6. The mode is 6, however 5 and 7 applications are the most frequent numbers cited. Again, this is not a scientific survey, it is merely a sampling of students.

What does this mean? Well, it is hard to say with any accuracy. But I have some comments. Firstly, applying to 16 schools is overkill. You can only attend one (1) of those schools. Applying to so many indicates an applicant who has not done their homework. They should be able to easily cut that number down to the average, or 6 in this sample. If you think about it, you should be able to narrow down a list of schools you are interested in to at most 10. From that 10, you should be able to pare it down to as low as four, as high as six. You know realistically what kind of a shot you have at many of these schools. You also know that a number of them are safety schools. You shouldn't need so many safety schools. One is enough. You really have no intention of going to a safety school unless there is some unforeseen catastrophe.

Applying to more schools than is reasonable is a problem for all the concerns we discussed previously. In addition, I would like to make this a bit more personal by saying that when one applies to more than 7 or 8 schools, they are being selfish and lazy. Lazy because, as mentioned above, you didn't do your homework. You are being selfish because you are taking up precious time that admissions reviewers could spend on serious applications. As well, you are taking potential spots of admission from people who really might love to attend a particular school. What if the person who would really love to attend the school you just whimsically sent off an application to is someone you know? What if it is a good friend and because of your meaningless application they were not offered a spot of admission? How would either of those situations make you feel?

I don't mean to be impudent in this post. Rather I hope to be applying a dose of reality to a situation that, by many estimates, has gone out of hand. Admission to college has become increasingly stressful and difficult. I believe one (of many) causes of this is due to the fact that students over-apply to colleges. Talk to your friends and people you know about this. Get their feedback. Maybe I'm making too much out of nothing. Feel free to post a comment. I encourage dialogue.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

November 30th has Arrived

Today is the final day for many of you to submit your applications for admission to various colleges and universities. In California, the University of California campuses and some of the California State University campuses stop accepting applications after today. A fair number of Cal. State University campuses will accept applications beyond November 3oth, check here for more information. Many of you have already submitted your application and are now playing the waiting game. What does one do in the interregnum between application submittal and notification of admission (or not)?

I suggest focusing on enjoying and continuing to succeed in your final year of high school. College is an entirely different experience than high school has been. Many, myself included, feel like college is much more rewarding. If you particularly enjoy high school however, then live it up. Academically, the most important thing you can do during this time is to continue to practice the study habits that have gotten you to a place where you can reasonably expect to get into a good college. Practice makes perfect, or so they say. In the case of studying, writing, and success, I think "they" are right.

I hope that this blog has given you some food for thought and I intend to continue writing about topics relevant to the college search, including making a decision about which college to attend, issues facing education that students need to be aware of, and many others. I hope you will continue to join me in this peregrination.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

How Many Colleges to Apply to

In recent years students have been applying to more colleges and universities than they have historically. This is often thought of as a sound strategy given how competitive admissions has become at certain colleges. However, this practice is compounding the competitiveness in college admissions.

If you apply to seven different schools, each of these schools will treat your application as a serious one. They have to spend time and effort reading and evaluating the application. We all know, however, that not all applications are serious applications. In other words, students apply to some schools as "safety" schools which, barring an unforeseen disaster, they have no intention of enrolling. The number of safety schools students are applying to has also been increasing. Many of these applications are in fact vacuous. They have no real intention behind them.

Practically, for schools you have no intention of enrolling at, your application is in fact contributing to the increased competitiveness. For every application that is genuine, there maybe as many as one application that is not genuine. But to admissions offices, it doesn't matter. Colleges only have so many offers of admission they can award based on the size of their freshman class. Thus, if you have two applications, and the admissions rate for a particular college is 50%, one of those two people won't be admitted. What happens if the person who is admitted is the person who has no intention of enrolling while the person who wanted to attend that college got a denial? The college just lost a potential member of their freshman class and someone's heart got broken.

When you play this scenario out on a large scale, you can begin to see how the rise in the number of applications submitted by single students is increasing competition. Imagine at the hypothetical college I mentioned above that instead of just two applications there were ten, and that only five of them were genuine. If the 50% acceptance rate holds, then five will be admitted and five denied. However, when more applications start pouring in, colleges have to adjust their acceptance rates to accommodate the increase. Instead of accepting 50%, the college could now accept 40%. In that case, four students will be admitted and six denied. This might be a great situation for the college's rankings in US News and World Report, but it is not a good one for serious applicants.

More to come...

Friday, November 17, 2006

College is Not a Panacea

I apologize for not posting in the past couple of weeks. Things have been quite busy at both work and home. Thanks for sticking with me!

You might be wondering what I am referring to in the title of this blog post. What I mean is that going to college is not going to solve all of your problems. You will still have your family, your friends, and most importantly, yourself to deal with. College may provide you some physical and mental space to reflect on the various things that cause you to groan, but it will not make them magically go away.

I have spoken to many students who just can't wait to go to college so they can get away from the circumstances of their lives. However, just as one moves from place A to place B for college, one's problems also move from place A to place B with you. You can never escape from the things that ail you without confronting them head on. It often seems like it would be easier to confront our problems if we weren't so enmeshed in them. But this is precisely why they are problems. They are a part of you, and are related to how you see the world and your relationship to it. You will still see the world the same way when you go to college.

Does your mom become less overbearing when you don't live in the same house? Perhaps in the sense that she isn't physically looking over your shoulder all the time, but not really in the sense that she calls your cell every 3 hours. You see, the problem - your mother's overbearing nature and your inability to deal with it - remain. As I said, the only hope going to college provides is that it can give you time to reflect and consider new ways to constructively deal with your problems. Making new friends might aid you in this process, but the hard work - change - is all up to you.

Welcome to adulthood!

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Application Time is Upon Us

We are right in the middle of the application crunch. Many people are aware of the looming deadlines and have either already submitted all their applications or are working on them presently, or perhaps are waiting until Thanksgiving to get started. If I had one suggestion it would be not to wait. This process is stressful enough as it is. Waiting till the last minute may be your modus operandi, but consider what you are doing.

Applying to college is probably one of the more important milestones in your life up until now. You are making a determination about where you will spend the next four years of your life. This isn't math homework, or even a history project. This is your future. As an example, let's think about the personal statement. Writing a personal statement that is not a laundry list of everything you have done, but instead a coherent essay that addresses your motivation, challenges faced, and evidence of sustained engagement in academic and non-academic activities takes a lot of time and thought. Astute application readers, and most of them are fairly good at what they do, can tell the pretenders from the contenders.

Likewise, given the often limited space you have on a college application to list activities you have been involved in is not something to be taken lightly. If you only have one line left to list an activity and yet have four more activities you would like to list, what do you do? Do you put Powder Puff, Math Club, Lion's Club, or Student Newspaper? To answer that, you need to carefully consider what else you have listed and which activity conveys the true spirit of who you are.

Too often students try to create a false image of who they are to the admissions committees instead of accurately portraying themselves. They believe that in order to get admitted, one needs to be involved in particular types of activities or organizations. There is nothing wrong with listing Powder Puff, provided that it is something you are passionate about and have participated in for years. As someone who has read applications, I want to know who you are, not who you think I want you to be.