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Rethinking Admissions

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Attention Helicopter Parents

Sunday, July 3rd, 2011

helicopter-parentsNext month, thousands of college freshmen will be heading off for school and venturing out on their own for the very first time. But if the college admissions process is any indication, it may be all they can do to make sure their parents stay behind.

According to anecdotal reports, super-involved helicopter parents are so enmeshed in the college admissions process that they may be doing their children more harm than good. In one of the most egregious examples, one mother admitted 15 years later that she had thrown away her son’s acceptance letter to Harvard without telling him. Her excuse? “Oh, I just love you so much that I didn’t want you to be that far away.”

With that in mind, here’s a list of don’ts for super-involved parents courtesy of nationally syndicated columnist and independent college advisor Lee Bierer.

Don’t write their essays. You might feel tempted to edit their essays because you think you know best about what admissions officers would want to read. Guess what, you’re probably wrong.

Don’t talk too much on the campus visit. Let your child have their say, and keep your own questions to a minimum. Whatever you do, don’t introduce your child to school officials. Let them introduce you!

 Don’t ever refer to this as being “our” college admissions process.  Comments like “we’re applying” or “we interviewed,” are all taboo. This is your child’s life, not yours. Not to mention, their essay, their application, and their interview.

For more tips, visit Bierer’s Countdown to College page.

The Case for Change in College Admissions

Tuesday, February 1st, 2011

This month marks two years since we started the conversation about the college admissions process by hosting the Rethinking Admissions conference at Wake Forest.  Since then, we have continued the conversation here on this blog, and many others have joined in the debate.

The latest example took place at the University of Southern California’s Center for Enrollment Research, Policy and Practice (CERPP). At a three-day meeting, “The Case for Change in College Admissions,”  a host of experts weighed in on what’s wrong with the current system and how it might be improved. Here are some views from a cross-section of participants:

“The admissions arms race we were talking about a decade ago continues to accelerate relentlessly and it’s possibly unstoppable…we’ve gotten to the point where we define the quality of an educational institution by how many applicants it turns away, which, when you think about it, is pretty weird.”

Andrew Delbanco, Director of American Studies, Columbia University

“If we want to craft a class that is as diverse as we will be in 2023, we need to make big changes.”

William G. Tierney, Professor of Higher Education, University of Southern California

“The battle for America is going to be fought in the public schools of the world. America either rises or falls to the extent we’re able to tap the talents of students in all of society rather than just the white, the privileged, the few.”

William Fitzsimmons, Dean of Admissions, Harvard University

“We are looking for diversity in the presence of equity, and opportunity in the presence of excellence.”

John Slaughter, Former President, Occidental College

“This meeting gives me hope that we might work together to develop different tools and practices to help colleges manage enrollment in the public interest.”

Lloyd Thacker, Executive Director, Education Conservancy

 

Rethinking Admissions Travel

Monday, November 29th, 2010

By Kevin Pittard

Kevin Pittard is associate director of admissions at Wake Forest University. Here he shares his insights on the 2010 fall travel season, when admissions counselors travel to high schools and college fairs across the country and around the world.

The admissions office at Wake Forest University recently finished its 2010 fall travel season.  We have put away our overnight bags, itemized our expenses, and counted up all our college fair inquiry cards.  We have survived an eight-week sprint that both saps our energy and re-energizes us as we go out to spread the word about our school.  Thankfully, travel season concludes just in time for us to interview more students here in our offices and mentally prepare to read the thousands of applications soon to be headed our way.

For a small liberal arts university, travel is thought to be a critical element in getting our name out to students who might not know who we are.   Even in the internet age, when our carefully crafted web image can be viewed by people the world over, staffers in this office have spent the past two months driving and flying to every corner of the country.  We visited schools in Miami, went to college fairs in New Hampshire, interviewed students in Seattle, and gave talks in San Diego. One of our more adventurous staffers visited three continents between September and October and is currently traveling in Toronto.  We put over 12,000 miles on our office vehicles just in driving around North Carolina.

Now as we make the transition from travel season to reading season, we will once again rethink the admissions travel process.  We will ask ourselves if all those miles were worth the effort.  Do students, parents, and counselors really use the information they get at college fairs?  After all, websites and admissions advice books include all the information we give out while on the road.  Do visits to schools and conversations with counselors who already know us well help in the application process or does it foster an ‘insiders club” that hurts the students at more geographically or economically remote schools?  Do applicants view the brief meetings with us more as a way of demonstrating interest in us or as a way of deciding which school is the best fit for them?  Should we visit the schools that always send us applicants or seek out schools we have never visited?  We know we will never be able to visit every school we need to visit; there are simply too many destinations and travel budgets can’t keep up with the demand.  Is there a simple answer?

If you talk to veteran admissions travelers, you will hear opinions stressing the absolute necessity of visiting individual high schools every year, while others will say that most travel these days is a relic since students and parents are now savvy enough to travel to the college campuses themselves. So why spend the money? Why generate the big carbon travel footprints or endure the sore feet from standing at all those fairs? Why lure students to miss valuable class time in order to sit and listen to one more pitch from one more school?  Does all this travel exacerbate the problem of application overload?

It seems that now is the time to argue for a broader definition of what constitutes “admissions travel”.  If schools and applicants are truly interested in finding out more about each other, we need to realize that travel not only works both ways but in new ways altogether.  In addition to the tried and true travel schedule, it is clear that the internet, Skype, and podcasts all can and should play a role in helping students and colleges get to know each other better. The bottom line is that every school (and every student) wants to show off what makes them special. So regardless of where student and school encounter one another, whether it is on each other’s campus or on-line via a virtual campus tour,  it is to accept that in this new world of college admissions it is more about the contact than about the travel itself.

“Conscientious Objector” Opts Out of SAT

Friday, October 29th, 2010

lawrence_fullWhen admissions officers at Lawrence University met high school senior Sylvie Baldwin, they realized that she was a perfect example of why the school decided to enact a test-optional policy back in 2005. So they came up with the idea of producing a video with Sylvie and posting it on YouTube. In the 5-minute clip, Sylvie explains why she has decided not to take standardized tests ever again and plans to apply to both test-optional colleges and those that still require SAT or ACT scores.

Entitled “Standardized Testing in College Admissions: Profile of a Conscientious Objector,” the video begins Steve Syverson, Lawrence’s dean of admissions. Syverson explains that the school’s decision to go test-optional was driven in part by the fact that test-prep has become a $1 billion per year industry.  After Lawrence went test-optional, he added, even some students with very high test scores opted not to submit them as part of the admissions process because “they resonate so strongly with the attitude that these tests don’t represent who I am as a person.”

Enter Sylvie, a student at the Northwest School in Seattle. She made her decision to opt out of standardized tests after receiving notice that she would soon be “represented” by her test scores. “I don’t want that. I’m more than a number.” While she realizes that some universities might not consider her application without the scores, she is hoping to have conversations with admissions officers.  “I hope I’ve at least put the idea in their brain that there could be a ton of students out there who would say, ‘I don’t want to take this test. I don’t think this test is fair. I don’t think this test represents me or who I am.’”

Baldwin has calculated that she would have spent 50 to 60 hours preparing for the exams. She will invest that time instead in writing proposed legislation for the state of Washington that would require drivers ed courses to add a unit on the environmental impact of driving. She adds that her conscientious objector status has nothing to do with fear of not doing well on the SAT. “I don’t believe in (standardized tests). I don’t support this. And I’m one of those people that say if I don’t believe in this, I’m not going to do it.”

A Kaleidoscope Approach to Admissions

Wednesday, September 29th, 2010

sternberg bookBack in the day when standardized college admissions tests were created, most applicants were white males in the middle- to upper-middle-class. Today, applicants are from all racial and ethnic backgrounds. That’s one of the reasons why Robert J. Sternberg, the new provost of Oklahoma State University, is urging college admissions deans to go beyond standardized test scores and high school GPA and consider a wide range of qualities when ranking applicants.

The admissions strategy Sternberg is espousing is called the “Kaledioscope” system, and it has been used successfully at Tufts University where he served as dean of arts and science for the last five years. We first wrote about the system on this blog last year.  Now Sternberg has outlined the details of the experiment in a new book called College Admissions for the 21st Century (Harvard University Press)

In an interview with Inside Higher Education , Sternberg said the Kaleidoscope system is based on the view that a college education should produce leaders who will make a positive difference in the world. That’s why questions are based on a theory of leadership called WICS, which stands for wisdom, intelligence, creativity, synthesized.

In a nutshell, the system entails assessing applicants’ creative, analytical, practical and wisdom-based skills. For example, applicants might be asked creative questions like “write a story with a title such as ‘The End of MTV’ or submit a creative video via YouTube. Or in assessing analytical thinking, the question might be: ‘What is your favorite book and why?’ An example of a practical item would be to explain how you would convince a friend to change their viewpoint on an issue. A wisdom-based question could be to explain how you would take a current passion and transform it later to serve the common good.

While the responses are rated holistically, they also are based on rubrics. In addition, the system’s ability to predict college success has been validated statistically, Sternberg said. Furthermore, while traditional standardized tests show “substantial ethnic-group differences, Kaldeidoscope measures do not,” Sternberg said, adding that the measures are designed to supplement traditional assessments, not replace them.

Measurements like the ones in the Kaleidoscope system reflect 21st century thinking, in contrast to standardized tests, which have remained largely unchanged for the last 100 years, Sternberg said.

“Those who work for testing organizations might see this constancy of measurement as a positive thing. But imagine if other technologies, such as in telecommunications or medicine, were largely stuck a century in the past!” he said. “The problem, as I see it, is that the skills measured by traditional tests are quite narrow and do not adequately reflect the full range of skills needed for college and life success.”

Coming Soon to a Mailbox Near You

Thursday, March 18th, 2010

acceptance letterCollege acceptance letters are on their way to mailboxes across the United States, but instead of the traditional snail mail correspondence, you may be receiving an email, a link to an Internet video or maybe even a fancy certificate that you can frame and put up on your wall.  U.S. News & World Report recently provided a round up of the novel approaches universities are taking to notifying students that they have been accepted. Among the most unusual? Elon University emails students a link to a video entitled “Congratulations. You’ve been accepted to Elon!” complete with a cheering crowd and picturesque scenes from the North Carolina campus.  St. Bonaventure University mails out a college T-shirt with its acceptance letter, while MIT includes a poster and confetti in its package to applicants accepted under early decision.

Email also continues to be a popular way of notifying students about admissions decisions, but many schools are grappling with whether to follow up their, “no” with snail mail correspondence. While some students have complained that they do not need to hear the bad news twice, others have lamented the fact that a lack of a formal letter only makes them feel more rejected. “They say they won’t be sending you an actual letter because that would only make it worse. Ha ha like I didn’t cry enough,” said one student who was denied admission to Stanford.

Given that their news can elicit either cheers or tears, some universities are timing their emails to ensure they don’t disrupt the school day.  For example, Hamilton College in Clinton, N.Y., now posts its admissions decisions on Fridays at 8 p.m. so that “people have time before they see their friends,” admissions dean Monica Inzer told the magazine. But regardless of what time of day they email their news, universities are making doubly sure that they have their facts straight. George Washington University recently sent acceptance emails to 200 applicants who actually were rejected. What to do at that point? Follow up with another email admitting that they had made a mistake.

How to Cope with College Rejection Letters

Tuesday, February 23rd, 2010
Expect the best, but prepare for the worst. That’s what your mother might advise as you wait for your college acceptance (or rejection) letters to arrive in the mail. Of course, college-bound students are not the only ones feeling anxious these days. Parents are too. Jennifer Stanley recently blogged that though she is used to rejection in her work as a writer, nothing prepared her for the pain she felt when her son was rejected by multiple private schools.

Writing for Psychology Today,  psychotherapist F. Diane Barth says both students and their parents can expect to go through three distinct stages if the dreaded college rejection letter does arrive:

  • Accepting that rejection hurts. There’s no question about it. A rejection letter feels very personal. Even though many of the top universities are overwhelmed with applications and must reject plenty of good students, it doesn’t lessen the hurt if that student happens to be you. Understand that your feelings are reasonable, even if they are not accurate.
  • Understanding meaning. If a rejection letter does arrive, reflect back on what you expected to accomplish by attending that particular school. Did it seem like the only way to reach a particular goal? Did it have special meaning for you or your family? As you reflect, keep in mind that no particular school holds the key to a student’s future, even though it may seem that way right now.
  • Changing direction. Anyone who has been through a major disappointment knows that it can often lead to new personal strength and an increased capacity for problem-solving. Take time to grieve over the rejection, but then think about what’s next. Make a plan and take action.

Barth shares that she herself was rejected by several schools during her college career. But looking back, she can see that the rejections had their benefits. “I believe that these failures were crucial to my development into the person and the therapist I am now. I learned from these experiences that while rejection really does hurt, it can lead to intellectual, personal and emotional growth. “

Failure Insurance for Students? Why Economists Think it May Work

Monday, January 11th, 2010

What if students applying to college knew that they could enroll in the school of their choice, and receive a tuition reimbursement if they later discovered it wasn’t a good fit? That might be possible some day if the insurance industry adopts a type of policy that two economists have outlined in a working paper. In Insuring College Failure Risk, Satyajit Chatterjee, an economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia, and A. Felicia Ionescu, an assistant professor of economics at Colgate University, explain why such a policy makes sense.

At the annual meeting of the American Economic Association, the economists presented mathematical models, which show that “failure insurance” might be a useful component of the federal student loan program. The models theorize that students’ college decisions are driven by their finances, their views on future earnings, and the amount of “disutility” that they expect from the academic work. If structured correctly, the failure insurance would ease student anxieties over debt, while giving them an incentive to stay in school. The economists explained how it would work in a Q & A with the Chronicle of Higher Education.

Cutting College Admissions Expenses

Friday, November 27th, 2009

Every parent is all too familiar with the high cost of sending a child to college, but many people do not consider that the admissions process can get expensive too – unless you adopt some cost-cutting strategies. Jean Chatzky, the Today Show’s personal finance expert, reports that the average family spends $3,500 preparing and applying to college. But she has a number of tips for bringing that cost down. For example, are you interested in a campus tour? Narrow down your choices through virtual online tours. Then when it’s time to travel on site, see if you can combine the trip with your family vacation or business meeting. Another cost-cutting strategy is to avoid applying to literally dozens of colleges, which can get expensive in application fees alone. Ask your child’s high school counselor to narrow down the choices to schools that are both academically and financially feasible. Last but not least, consider the costs of standardized test-taking and preparation. By planning ahead and preparing well in advance, you can avoid many of the extra fees associated with testing. Or consider a university that has opted to go test-optional, Chatzky suggests. That way, you can send in your scores only if you do well, and avoid the angst – and expense — of taking the test again and again if your score is average or below.