Friday, March 27, 2009

Financial Aid Increases at Top Schools

For decades, in-state tuition was the one advantage big state schools had that even the Ivy League couldn't match, in terms of recruiting the best and the brightest to their campuses. These days, though, that's no longer the case. Starting this September, some students will find a Harvard degree cheaper than one from many public universities. Though Harvard's is the most generous to date, Princeton, Dartmouth, Yale and Stanford have all launched similar plans to cap tuition contributions for students from low- and middle-income families. Students on financial aid at nearly every Ivy stand a good chance of graduating debt-free, thanks to loan-elimination programs introduced over the past five years. Other exclusive schools have followed their lead, as Williams, Amherst, Davidson College, and William & Mary all replaced loans with grants and work-study aid starting last year.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

SAT in the Recession

Parents of students who are taking the SAT test in May know that test prep can be an expensive proposition, limited mainly to affluent families who can afford expensive private tutoring sessions. Yet in a deepening recession that has forced families to cut back, the test-prep industry has responded by lowering prices, and business is diversifying. In addition to growing their online presence, test prep programs are expanding into an often subsidized arena: tutoring by public and private schools. Companies like Princeton Review and Kaplan are increasingly pushing their classes to high-end private schools and low-income public schools, while other tutoring companies choose to outsource their tutoring to India, lowering the cost while increasing the distance of student-tutor relationship.

As you decide what - if any - is the best recourse for SAT prep, be sure to consider price, but more importantly, how does your child learn best? In a class setting with a structured curriculum, with an on-line tutor for quick answers, or with a personal, in-home, one-on-one tutor? Answering these questions - while keeping perspective on the significance and relevance of SAT scores - will help prepare you and your child for the hyped-up exam.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Is This The Year For A Gap Year?

With financial aid availability unpredictable, and few jobs awaiting graduating college graduates, the herd mentality of going to college and finishing as quickly as possible is shifting ever so slightly. More and more college-bound seniors are considering a gap year or bridge year before enrolling in college. Many students use a gap year (imagine a one-year sabbatical between high school graduation and freshman year of college) to travel overseas or perform impactful volunteer work. Most agree that a gap year, utilized effectively, can provide for a more purposeful and enriching college experience.

There can even be some financial benefits to delaying college a year if it means adding another sibling in college to the household (read: marginal increase in financial aid eligibility) or more federal grant monies authorized by the Obama administration to trickle down to colleges for disbursement.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Tutoring, Relationships, and Rigor

When he was a child, Barack Obama's mother would wake him up at 4:30 a.m. to tutor him for a few hours before he went off to school. David Brooks of The New York Times reports that this experience is the perfect preparation for reforming American education because it highlights the two traits necessary for academic success: relationships and rigor.

The young Obama had a loving relationship with an adult passionate about his future. He also had at least one teacher, his mom, not inclined to put up with any of his crap. President Obama now wants to use student and teacher data to drive education reform. Yet as much as tutors can help students prepare for state and national standardized tests, these data points should not be the sole measure of a student's academic worth. Until we can find assessments that more accurately measure problem-solving skills and critical thinking ability, these exams will only tell part of the picture.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Score Choice: How Important is the SAT?

The history of the SAT is an interesting story involving the Ivy Leagues and Army recruits. More than 80 years later, it still determines the fate of many high school graduates. Score Choice is the newest SAT policy that lets students report only what scores they want to colleges. Some believe that Score Choice benefits only affluent students who can afford to take the test many times. However, as Laurence Bunin of USA Today argues, repeating the test does not guarantee score gains, and score improvements from taking the test more than twice are very small, if any. He argues the SAT is challenging enough, and Score Choice remedies the issue by not penalizing students if they didn't put their best foot forward on test day.

To read a different view of the importance of SATs, check out FairTest's report Test Scores Do Not Equal Merit. Over 815 four-year colleges and universities across the U.S., acting on the belief that "test scores do not equal merit," do not use the SAT or ACT to make admissions decisions about a substantial number of their incoming freshmen classes.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

College Admissions Process: Time To Rethink?

The downturn economy and shifting demographics have made this year's college admissions process more than a dramatic game. Cliff Mason of CNBC asks, "Is it time to rethink college admissions?" In today's climate, does it make sense to spend $200,000 on a private college education when no one will hire you when you graduate? (Aside: I've never seen so many MBAs out of work.) What's more disturbing: there is a growing number of businesses setting up students with community service projects solely to help students "promote" themselves on college applications.

Judy Prothro, a counselor at Los Altos High School, says that students have fewer safety schools, and she sees the stress students feel translating into an increased number of applications. The Mountain View-Los Altos Union High School District, and other schoosl across the Peninsula, offers Naviance as a tool for the college research and admissions process. The Naviance program provides a link between school and home with a customized, secure Web site that supports college planning and advising.

Obama's $100 Billion Education Plan, Part 2

Speaking with refreshing candor and knowledge about the State of our Education, President Obama officially laid out his plan for ending the "race to the bottom" in our public schools, promising a more rigorous and creative approach than the lackluster and underfunded No Child Left Behind Act. Among his many points:

- End limits on the number of charter schools while closing those that are not working
- Replace fill-in-the-bubble tests with more sophisticated examinations that better measure problem-solving and critical thinking skills
- Increased pay for teachers who work in math and science and are shown to produce the largest achievement gains over time
- $5 billion investment in Head Start and Early Head Start programs

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Feeding Our Students Better

In the midst of bailouts and stimulus packages, Alice Waters - founder of Berkeley's Chez Panisse and grand dame of the "Slow Food" Movement - asks an important question: How much would it cost to feed 30 million American school children a wholesome meal? She says it could be done for about $5 per child, or roughly $27 billion a year, plus a one-time investment in real kitchens. A healthy school lunch program would bring long-term savings and benefits in the areas of hunger, children’s health and dietary habits, food safety, environmental preservation and energy conservation. Currently, the United States Department of Agriculture gives public schools cash for every meal they serve — $2.57 for a free lunch, $2.17 for a reduced-price lunch and 24 cents for a paid lunch. In 2007, the program cost around $9 billion, a figure widely acknowledged as inadequate to cover food costs.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

UC Schools Raise Tuition 10%

These are tough economic times, and although prices are falling many places, they are rising at our UC schools. Facing a significant budget shortfall - the state decided to slash $115.5 million from UC over two years - the University of California plans to increase tuition at its 10 campuses by 9.3 percent by July, in time for the summer session. Under the proposal, families earning more than $100,000 would pay the full fee increase, families earning from $60,000 to $100,000 would pay half the fee increase, and families earning less than $60,000 would not be subject to the fee increase. Various student services fees are expected to rise, as well. Keep this in mind as you are preparing your 2009-10 school budget!

False Admissions Hope

As if college admissions wasn't already a cutthroat process, now the applicants themselves are playing odds-makers rating their peers' chances of getting into selective schools. Students who frequent the popular College Confidential "What Are My Chances?" forum can post their test scores, GPAs, extracurricular activities, and other relevant information to get an informal assessment of where they stand in the admissions process. Peer-to-peer comments as you would expect are not always flattering or encouraging. Bruce Poch, Dean of Admissions at Pomona College, says "some of them are getting false encouragement, some are getting a little ego massage, [but] they aren't necessarily getting an answer."

Where Did All The College Visits Go?

If you haven't noticed already, your high school's college visit calendar is probably looking bare as colleges and universities reorganize their admissions operations to stay lean in tough times. Admissions offices at MIT and Harvard are cutting staff, scaling back on travel and marketing budgets and starting to focus more on recruiting locally. What does this mean for prospective Bay Area college applicants? It's more likely that you'll have to reach out to out-of-state colleges on your own or rely on multi-school college fairs (like Exploring College Options) to have a chance to talk face-to-face with admissions staff. We'll keep you posted on any fairs coming through the Bay Area this Spring.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

UC Schools Overhaul Admissions Process

The UC Board of Regents approved the most sweeping changes in admission standards in almost 50 years. "The bottom line is that it will be more diverse and more fair," says UC President Mark Yudof says. This is good news for anyone applying to UC schools. The following changes will affect the freshman class of 2012:

- SAT subject tests will no longer be necessary
- The considered applicant pool will widen, but the number guaranteed entry will shrink
- The top 9 percent of high school graduates statewide will be ensured entry, as well as those in the top 9 percent of their graduating class

Q & A with Admissions Officers

Read a great Q&A session with a panel of admissions officers from Yale University, Pomona College, Lawrence University, and University of Texas at Austin. Questions were submitted by high school students and Times editors. Topics ranged far and wide, and included common misperceptions, standardized tests, financial aid, essay writing, fairness and what not to do when trying to make a good impression.

Tough Choices for College Admissions

It should come as no surprise that each year gets tougher and tougher to get into college. This year is no different, as a perfect storm of shifting factors - demographics, culture, and the economy - has made this one of the most difficult ever for college admissions.

In terms of demographics, more Baby Boom children are college-aged, and a higher percentage are applying to college. Combine that with our ultra-competitive culture that emerges when most jobs now require a college degree, and our down-spiraling economy that makes the classroom a better option than the office, and you have an applicant pool wider and deeper than ever before.

Considering (and despite) all these factors, schools are receiving more early admissions applications, giving more in financial aid, and finding new and creative ways of screening applicants (webcams!)...

Obama's $100 Billion Education Plan

President Obama plans on involving the government in education funding more than ever before, ushering in "a new era in federal education spending". Obama's stimulus bill will raise spending on Title I schools, special education, and Pell Grants, the most important federal program of aid to college students. The proposed stimulus bill will raise federal education funds to about $135 billion this year, and to about $146 billion in 2010. Other federal agencies would administer about $20 billion in additional education-related spending.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Harvard Onboard with Score Choice, SAT Scores Still Matter

Harvard University Dean of Admissions covered these topics among others in a recent interview:

- Importance of SAT/ACT: despite leading a commission to de-emphasize test scores, Harvard still cares about them
- Score Choice: despite all the criticism, applicants should have the option to present their best test scores
- Financial Aid Overhaul: as a result of their new financial aid guidelines, Harvard saw a 30% increase in admits from households earning less than $80,000 annually.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

State Schools Looking More Attractive, Seeing More Applications

With the economy sliding, it should come as no surprise that public universities and state colleges are becoming more and more popular among applicants looking for value in their tuition dollars. Massachusetts state colleges saw a 60% increase in applications last year while SUNY admissions officials are having to manage the number of admits in 2009 after unexpectedly high freshmen enrollment last year. These trends undoubtedly mean the top public schools (UC schools, Univ of Michigan, Univ of Virginia) are going to become even more competitive than they already were.

Welcome to The Thick Envelope!

This is Tutorpedia’s new blog covering all things college admissions. As a service to our many loyal clients, we realize that many of you invest in academic tutoring with an eye towards helping your child prepare for college and by necessity the college admissions process. It seems each year the process grows more frustrating and confusing; some of this can be attributed to the growing amount of information (and misinformation) available from colleges, industry analysts, and so-called experts. We don’t proclaim to be experts in the field of college admissions. However, what we do seek to accomplish with The Thick Envelope is provide a reliable and well-maintained resource of news links and information from the experts we do know.

So please visit us often, and let us know what you’re looking for. Our goal, just as it’s been Tutorpedia’s goal, is to do whatever we can to help your child succeed in school and beyond.