Thursday, April 30, 2009

Transfer Possibilities Increase at Some Schools

There will be tough decisions ahead for high school graduates as they pour over college acceptances this month. Students who did not get into their top college, fear not, there are many schools where it's easier to get into as a transfer than a freshman. While it's true, the Ivies and many competitive institutions make it tougher to get in as transfers - Dartmouth accepts 7% of transfers, Yale 4%, Stanford 1-2%, and Harvard and Princeton shut their doors to transfers - other select colleges have increased their transfer acceptance rate by 50% or more. Cornell, M.I.T, Georgetown, and Notre Dame all admitted more transfers than freshmen, and Vanderbilt admits 55% of transfers as opposed to only 25% of traditional incoming freshmen. Most colleges say it's all about the transfer essay, and many campuses prefer the non-traditional route of a 2-year community college experience before the Ivy Leagues become a reality.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

College Night Recap (part 1)

I attended the Exploring College Options panel in Oakland tonight which was held jointly by Stanford, Harvard, Penn, Duke and Georgetown. Lots of families in attendance so much so that there was an overflow room. After each of the schools gave their presentation, there was a broader Q&A session. Here are some tidbits of knowledge provided from the respective admissions officers starting with Stanford and Georgetown.

How can I best prepare my child who is currently a freshman to be competitive in applying for these universities?

Georgetown response:
  • Take the most competitive load of coursework that you can possibly handle. Push yourself and it will show through on the transcript.
  • Get compelling letters of recommendation especially from your teachers who know you best. You don’t want to have a letter written on your behalf that states you were the kid who sat in the front of the class and got an A. What we love to see are qualities that will transfer well to our incoming admit class, qualities that will enrich the experience of your peers at Georgetown. For example, perhaps your teacher can speak to the fact that you really pushed your peers to work harder or think for themselves or that you were a natural leader.
  • Show your passion for something. It can sometimes be asking a lot of an 18 year old particularly those applicants who only show a passion for their grades, but this is what means something to us and can separate you from others. If you have a real passion for something - something that isn't contrived - something that only you believe colleges will care about, it will jump off the page and resonate.
Stanford response:
  • We already know that 80% of our applicants can handle the academic rigors of Stanford. What we're looking for is something different. We're looking for commitment. And it often shows in extra-curricular activities. Why have you engaged in the extra-curricular activities that you did? How long was your commitment to them? Did you make an impact in the community?
  • In your essays, spend just one line explaining what the activity was. But spend the rest of the page explaining how it was significant for you, and how it may have changed your trajectory for high school or college. Because that kind of passion and growth will most likely lead you to engage others in the classroom or the campus community.
How much will SATs and APs factor in?

Stanford response:
  • Test scores are part of a holistic academic profile. It’s one component beyond your transcript and a measurement tool. But one bad AP score or lower SAT score will not eliminate you from the applicant pool. We look at it as a 1-day performance but how you did in the class is also something we look at.
Georgetown response:
  • Grades will really reflect your academic tenacity. Test scores are just one piece. The strength of your recommendations will tell us whether you're the type of student who will stay up until 2 am to finish your reading or whether you’ll close your book and go to bed at 10.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

You've heard from schools, now the real (financial aid) game begins

As the thick envelopes roll in this time of year, many families find themselves declining acceptance offers to their preferred (and often more expensive) schools in favor of the option that makes the most financial sense. Enter the financial aid award and the beginning of an elaborate dance. Parents facing layoff notices and losses in personal income and equity are naturally preparing to go to bat with admissions office to negotiate the more competitive aid packages. What they're often finding is not much wiggle room. In the case of Boston University, profiled in a great Times article from this past weekend, haggling for more dollars may result in an additional $500 to $2,000. While BU is offering the same level of financial aid this year as last, there's perhaps a great emphasis on being strategic with how those dollars are allocated. In other words, the select tier of high-achieving students targeted by BU are more likely to have their family need met or exceeded through need-based and merit-based aid. Other admits will receive need-based aid packages that fall short of expectations, and BU readily admits the student will probably never enroll.

Santa Clara University which runs $46,000 annually for tuition, room and board is having alumni phone every admitted student in an effort to stem the attrition of admits heading to other schools.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Financing Your College Education (Part 2)

About three-quarters of this country’s college lending is carried out through the private program, known as the Federal Family Education Loan Program. Under this arrangement, lenders are paid huge subsidies to make student loans that are virtually risk-free, guaranteed by the government. The direct-lending proposal - which would amount to $94 billion according to the Congressional Budget Office - is in the country’s best interest.

Private fund-raising will always remain a reality, however, yet colleges are having a hard time keeping their endowments up. At the University of North Carolina, Greensboro, for instance, fund-raisers are telling potential donors that some $30 million in requests for aid remain outstanding. On the other hand, Hamilton College’s $6 million annual fund drive is already flat compared with last year. “Flat is the new up,” Mr. Hysell, director of annual giving, said. The college based its pitch on a recent alumni survey in which almost 90 percent said they wanted their donations to support scholarships. “So, rather than talking about how a $100 donation buys 45 compact fluorescent light bulbs, we’re talking about how their gift affects a student in need,” Mr. Hysell said. That's a good way to raise funds.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

College Admissions Inequities

The SAT may never completely go away, but trends show a much less prominent feature on future college applications. Many more colleges are taking a less enthusiastic approach to SAT and ACT scores this year; more than 800 colleges have already deemphasized test scores in the admissions process (see a full list here). There is growing concern that an over-reliance on standardized exams -- and the test prep that affluent families can afford to spend on them -- is leading to a wider socioeconomic gap at the college level.

Bob Schaeffer, co-founder and public education director for the nonprofit National Center for Fair and Open Testing, has long urged colleges to reconsider the entrance exam requirement, saying the tests are stacked against kids without financial resources. "Our biggest concern about the SAT is that the SAT, rather than a gateway to opportunity, reinforces the factors that hold kids back from access to college... [SAT scores] march up -- it varies -- by about 30 to 50 points for every $20,000 in family income."

What's more, high school grades -- not SAT scores -- tend to be a better predictor of college grades. Appropriately, high school counselors have been pushing recently to emphasize more academic assessments like AP exams, SAT subject tests, and International Baccalaureates in the college admissions process. There may soon be a day when we can accurately measure and assess a student's potential with a portfolio of work, not just a number out of 2400.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Financing Your College Education

How do families pay for college when investments for college funds have depreciated by 75%? Tally Hart, former head of financial aid at Ohio State University, and Bill Hiss, vice president for external affairs at Bates College, share their thoughts about how to finance today's college experience. One bit of good news is that Pell Grants are being increased, along with a host of other federal and state funding. Grants are usually based on family income and are paid by the federal or states governments and the colleges themselves. Student loans most often come from the fed, and that helps with lower interest. First step, fill out your FAFSA form. Read or listen to one high school senior from Portland, Maine talk about his personal plans to pay for college and the various options he has.

Colleges Eliminate Out-of-State Tuition

Schools across the country are reducing or eliminating out-of-state tuition to attract more students in the depressed economy. "It is about economics, in a sense, but it's also about having a mixture of students from all over the country, from all over the world," says Southern Illinois University President Glenn Poshard. With the economy in a deep slump, however, eliminating non-resident tuition could be a double-edged sword.

California, for example, has a budget deficit of more than $40 billion, and the state's colleges are facing unprecedented cuts. Students in this state are getting bumped not only from four-year schools, but also from overcrowded community colleges. "It's a really strange, perverse kind of policy when you have thousands and thousands of students in state who need the access and who, without the access, are really not going to help the state flourish," Lillian Taiz, president of the California Faculty Association says.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

UC Schools Reduce Enrollment for 2009-10

Despite record-level applicants to UC schools this year, the University of California will stick to reducing its admission by 2,300 students. "This was an exceptionally competitive year," said Susan Wilbur, director of the university system's undergraduate admissions. Budget uncertainties and an expected tuition hike of nearly 10 percent in the fall clouded this year's admissions decisions. Davis, Irvine, Los Angeles, Santa Barbara, and Santa Cruz have all reduced their number of freshman admissions offers, while Berkeley and San Diego wait-listed more than 3,000 students for the spring term of 2010 instead of fall 2009. The good news is that all UC-eligible students - and about 72% of all applicants - were offered admission somewhere in the UC system.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Students More Likely To Be Wait-Listed This Spring

With the uncertain economy driving increasing numbers of applicants toward colleges that offer either prestige or value, families should be prepared for the possibility of being placed on a wait list. Many universities have been purposefully admitting less applicants this Spring in an effort to exercise greater control over their incoming class size. For example, let's say in past years, College A would issue 10,000 acceptance letters knowing that 50% would historically accept and enroll. This year, there's a strong paranoia amongst admissions officials that bargain-seeking students will result in higher enrollment rates which is good only if the university has the capacity to accommodate them. If College A only has enough dorm rooms for 5,000 students but 7,000 students decide to enroll, it's a logistical/planning nightmare.

Naturally, many universities are lowering their acceptance rates this Spring and conversely increasing their waiting lists. A larger wait list doesn't necessarily mean your chances of acceptance have decreased. It does however mean the wait to find will undoubtedly be longer.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

How Should We Test Our Students?

E. D. Hirsch, Jr. said that what we bring to the printed page determines how much we get from the printed page. Hirsch believes in a strict content-based curriculum, opposed to a skills-based approach to learning. These opposing philosophies of testing and learning are explored in several Letters to the Editor.

Think about the inordinate amount of time we spend on test preparation, which, in addition to having questionable value, has caused a serious narrowing of the curriculum. We have seen a sharp decline in the number of hours spent in social studies, science, art, music and physical education. Unfortunately, in our attempt to inch up test scores, we have not only forgotten our definition of the educated person, but we have created a school environment where children know less about the world and have difficulties becoming better readers - just better test-takers.