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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.

Debate Continues Over College Rankings

Monday, May 23rd, 2011

It seems like every few months, U.S. News & World Report makes news for the methodology it uses in its annual ranking of best colleges. We last wrote about the controversy in our blog back in August.  

This time, it’s the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) that is reporting the majority of admissions professional surveyed  believe the rankings are based on flawed methodology. Furthermore, 87 percent agree or somewhat agree that the rankings encourage “counterproductive behavior” among colleges.  The admissions professionals also believe the title of “best colleges” is inaccurate and confuses students and parents.

 However, respondents are not ready to admit that they play any part in “gaming” the rankings. “Respondents’ beliefs that institutions are ‘gaming’ the rankings generally seems to apply to other colleges whereas they are less likely to perceive their own institution as manipulating the process,” the NACAC report says.

Interestingly, a majority of admissions officers surveyed also say they tout their college ranking in marketing campaigns even if only in a “limited fashion.”  Furthermore, more than 90 percent admit that the rankings encourage competitive strategies for improving their standing.

Clearly, feelings about the much-publicized rankings remain mixed. Concludes Robert J. Morse, director of data research for U.S. News: “Colleges are saying ‘We don’t like the rankings, but we’re going to use them as a means to validate our quality and to attract students.”

In an interview with the Chronicle of Higher Education , David A. Hawkins, NACAC’s director of public policy and research, said he hopes the survey findings will bring more clarity to the debate, even if they don’t prompt changes to the methodology. “If they’re receptive, that would be great,” he says, “but I don’t know that I’m holding my breath.”

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.

College Admissions: The Waiting is the Hardest Part

Thursday, January 21st, 2010

Your essays are written, your recommendation letters are mailed, and your college applications are submitted. Now what? Well, college admissions counselors suggest there are some things you can be doing while you’re waiting for the fat envelope. U.S. News & World Report talked to a few of them, and here’s what they suggest:

  •  Follow up with your high school: You requested your transcripts, but were they actually sent? This is a busy time of year for high school counseling offices, and it’s important to check so you don’t accidently fall through the cracks.
  • Market yourself to colleges: Now is the time to visit to the school of your choice and see if you can get an interview with someone from the admissions office. But once you’re there, be considerate of people’s time.
  • Consider your options: If you really like a school, but are undecided about your major, consider choosing a program with lower enrollments.
  • Think about finances: Now is the time to complete those lengthy financial aid forms, and talk to your parents about your options. Don’t wait until you’re accepted to apply for financial aid.

Those are some do’s, and you can find more tips here.  What about the don’ts? Greg Roberts, dean of admissions at the University of Virginia, Charlottesville, says that’s pretty simple. Don’t “send mountains of unessential supplemental information, or e-mail or continually contact the admission representative during the time when they are reading applications 60 hours per week.”