Monday, February 28, 2011

Is the College Admissions Process Morally Ambiguous?

There was a headline in our local paper today about the "moral ambiguity" of characters in a particular TV series. My daughter said she disliked that phrase, thought it seemed over-used to the point that it didn't mean anything. And that was after she'd spent hours working on a history essay about Jefferson, so she clearly grasps the meaning of the phrase.

And maybe I am just in a mood, brought on by a rainy Monday. But it made me wonder: isn't the college admissions process at times morally ambiguous? We tell our kids to work hard, participate in meaningful activities, write thoughtful essays, do well on the standardized tests, and all should work out. But are we really telling the truth? The Huffington Post looked at some 2011 admissions rates and found that based on the highest ever number of applicants, the year is shaping up as a year with some of the lowest acceptance rates ever. Our kids have a dream, do what they are supposed to do, and many won't get into the colleges of their choice.

Maybe it's all the way of the world. For a laugh, look at actions taken by some students (and their parents), have done to get into their college of choice. Bribes, declaring an ethnicity that isn't, etc. There are some good tips, here, too.

Now, I understand that teens need to learn about the real world; that they are usually happy wherever they wind up; and that colleges need to keep up their standards so that appear as selective as possible. Oh well, maybe I am confusing moral ambiguity and life.

But here's an antidote to all of my kvetching. Just read about these kids, chosen as Times Scholars by The New York Times.

Friday, February 25, 2011

First Campus Visit -- A Way to Get Into the Head Game of College

My daughter, a friend of hers and I embarked on that critical first step, the one that brings college just a bit closer. We took a group tour of Rutgers University, the State University of New Jersey.

It was my first tour, so there's no way I can compare -- yet. But it seemed to be a good overview: an hour with an admissions officer talking about the school and answering questions, and an hour on a bus touring the campuses that make up Rutgers -- and seeing a model dorm room. Certainly the tour left the girls interested and me better educated about Rutgers and its strong points.

Thank you, Rutgers, for giving two teens their first whiff of higher academics, and encouraging them to start focusing more on their pathway to college.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Student Newspaper -- Good Training that Goes Beyond Writing

I've just been reading the February issue of The Columbian, the student newspaper at our daughter's school. Wish I could share it with you, but it is not online. That's a shame.

It's an impressive display of student thinking, writing, art and whimsy. And it's also an incredible amount of work. The students need to plan, adhere to deadlines, work as a team (not particularly easy for adults, let alone teens), coerce and charm fellow students into getting their assignments done and try to understand school politics.

The editorial this month looked at an event that had occurred in the fall. A student-painted mural called "We the People," created by an AP U.S. History class, was removed by school officials. Nothing was said before the removal and no one had any comments after the deed was done. I have no idea why the mural disappeared and why the administration isn't talking. But I do believe the paper's editorial board handled the issue well.

The editorial began by acknowledging the high degree of freedom the paper has in reporting on news. Then the editorial outlined all that the editors tried to do to learn about what happened to "We the People."

Although they could draw no conclusions because the editors still had no facts, the editorial still managed to raise the issue and teach a lesson on the value of freedom of speech.

Nice work. And congratulations on a fine school newspaper.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Moms and Their Teens - Letting Go

There's a new novel by Karen Russell, Swamplandia, which is getting fine reviews.\

Swamplandia! is set in a down-at-the-heels tourist attraction in Florida that spotlights alligator wrestling. It's about the wonderful and bizarre family that runs it, and a big old bear named Judy Garland. Haven't read the book (yet?), but the reviewer said that a line at the end of the book sums up the book's focus: “mothers burning inside the risen suns of their children.”

Not sure I fully understand the meaning without reading the book, but let me give it a shot. The line could apply to any mother, from Mama Rose in Gypsy to ordinary moms. We're the ones who don't want to relive/redeem our own lives through our children, but who just plain hope we've given them all that they need to succeed, be happy. And, I'd also suggest, we also hope that we can pinpoint some parts of ourselves in that success.

Here's a related article by Harold S. Koplewicz, MD, president of the Child Mind Institute, on letting go of your child, when the time comes. He looks at it from the transitional point of the high school senior/college freshman.

From this parent's perspective, the first 18 years of our children's lives amount to a crazy, meshed process of being protective and supportive and always there while at the same time letting go, bit by bit. If we wait till they are off to college, I am not sure either mom or child is then fully prepared (or able to cope) with the next phase.

As Dr. Koplewicz says, college is just another transition point. Our children will still need us, for which I am mightily glad.

Thanks, Andrea, for sharing this site with me.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Can It Be? FAFSA a Detriment in Admissions?

It's come to this: need blind is dead. Some colleges today are more likely to accept students who can afford the college. I don't think we're at the money-trumps-qualifications stage yet, but it seems to me it's a slippery slope.

Here's a news report that looks at the latest admissions angst.

Williams has begun admitting more international students able to pay the full cost of tuition, and this year it will once again include loans as part of financial aid packages. The article also says Middlebury and Wake Forest have begun to look at the financial aid status of wait-listed students when they consider admission. Tufts University, which used to admit all students on a "need-blind" basis (students were admitted regardless of ability to pay in 2007 and 2008), is once again "need-aware" for some applicants, which means it looks at the applicant's financial status. some noted schools that still have need-blind admissions are raising costs for higher-income families.

From the article: "Mark Kantrowitz, founder of, a financial-aid Web site, estimates that about 5% of the application pool may increase their chances of being admitted by not applying for aid—with international and wait-listed students seeing the greatest benefit. If the school does practice need-blind admissions, he says, ask if that policy also applies to international or wait-listed students."

It's possible we may be facing a new era of admissions. The view isn't pretty.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Sewanee Cutting Tuition -- Cue the Applause

Sewanee: The University of the South is cutting tuition 10 percent. Schools just don't take this step -- and those that have are generally small, unknown.

Sewanee, located the highlands of Tennessee, is noted for its English Department in part due to a bequest from playwright Tennessee Williams. The college is not exactly altruistic in making this move. It believes that doing so will allow it to compete more effectively against state colleges such as UVA and UNC, two colleges to which it loses students it has accepted, and against private colleges such as Vanderbilt and Washington & Lee which are, of course, increasing tuition.

Last September I suggested we start the Tuition Coalition, a means of banding together to decry the high costs. Right now it's still a group of one, but as sole officer of the coalition, I hereby bestow our highest honor on Sewanee. Here's to doing the right thing, whatever the reason!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Colleges, Think About Your Messages

Ever since our daughter took the PSATs as a sophomore, she has been swamped with emails and letters from colleges. She is astounded by the silliness of the correspondence.

As she says, they all say the same thing, in slightly different format: 7 "Must-Know Campus Visit Tips," "Four Things You Need to Know about College," take the "Your Personality...Your Major" online quiz, another quiz called "Major Decision Time," "5 Expert Tips about Scholarships and Financial Aid." And so on, and so on.

Hey guys, sophisticate up. These are hokey, silly and a waste of money -- at least that's how the teen in this household perceives it.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Is There Any Time for Good, Old-Fashioned Recreational Reading?

Amidst all of the homework, the prepping, sports, clubs, socializing in person or online, getting a little sleep, is there any reading of unassigned books going on?

First, my personal confession. Though I read print newspapers and periodicals, my weak showing in book reading is a personal embarrassment. How can I urge our teen to read books of her choosing (but not necessarily ones she had read before) when I am not doing it myself.

There is an interesting trend -- an uptick in reading among young people who use e-readers.

If it takes an electronic delivery system to get teens to read, well, I am all for whatever works to broaden their reading menu, give them something new to consider, or allow them to provide an interesting response when asked by an admissions officer what they've been reading.

My husband reads lots of real books. He sets a good example. I do not. So I am going to start reading again. And to hold my feet to the fire, I will report once a week (or so) on what I've read. Who knows, there may still be a book club in my future.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Sophomores Look Ahead to All Important Junior Year

One of the guidance counselors at our high school shares what she is telling sophomores now as they begin thinking ahead to next year.

“It is important that students choose their classes carefully for their junior year. They should discuss with their teachers the right levels to take. And they should work at the most difficult level at which they can experience success.”

On their own, she says, they should start considering their summer activities. “If they have an idea about what they are interested in studying, they should begin exploring summer programs. Many are listed in Naviance. Summers are also a good time to seek employment and volunteer work.”

Finally, she reminds us about something we've discussed before -- something that can be done now to ease possible headaches down the road. “Sophomores should be listing all of their activities, honors, awards, athletics, volunteer work and employment now in the resume builder in their personal Naviance accounts. This will greatly ease some of the burden of the application process during senior year.”

And as always, the College Board has specific advice for sophomores. So there you have it -- more homework for sophomores.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

A Postponed and Evolving Post about Girls/ Are We Giving Them the Right Stuff

It all started a few weeks ago when I was looking at a Bloomberg Business Week. I flipped through about 15 pages in a not particularly thick publication before I found a woman -- any woman -- in anything other than ads. I had looked at page after page of mostly white men who were heads of companies or serving on boards and wondered why more women weren't on these pages.

I had gotten this far when our daughter saw what I was writing and told me this wasn't really related to college admissions. I thought that maybe she was right, so I put it aside.

The post is back, after I read some facts backing up my concern. In the current issue of the same magazine, an article asks, Business Plan Contests: Where Are the Women?" It's about contests for student entrepreneurs, of which there are about 100 in the U.S. Apparently only about 20 percent of the entries are from women.

Entrepreneurship experts blame a lack of confidence and bluster, fear of risk and an ongoing lack of women in engineering. And guess where the problem starts! With us, in our girls' childhood. As one woman says, "You have to be able to toot your horn in a way that we're not seeing women doing." We don't seem to teach that skill to girls.

Some of these competitions are now focusing on increasing women's participation. Meanwhile, what can we do as parents to ensure that our daughters are ready, and eager, to take chances in their careers? What can we do to let them see and grasp options that go beyond the standard "girl" choices.

I can't believe we still must ask these questions in 2011.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Help from an Expert on Financial Aid Questions

Here's a seven-part series, a financial aid Q&A that, if you are patient in reading through it, you are bound to find useful.

It looks at a number of issues related to the FAFSA as well as more arcane financial aid questions.

One thing we should all remember: if financial circumstances change (loss of job, substantial decrease in salary or loss of a minor's Social Security benefits when he turns 18, for example) it is difficult to make this clear on the FAFSA form, particularly if the event occurs mid-year and is not reflected in tax forms. That's when you call the financial aid office of a school your child is interested in or has been accepted by. And you ask for a professional judgment review, aka a special circumstances review or financial aid appeal. Once the college has the required documentation of this change in situation, it will make an adjustment to the FAFSA form. By the way, colleges are not required to make this adjustment but have been strongly encouraged to do so, in a letter from the Department of Education.

Happy reading!

Sunday, February 6, 2011

There's Value in Old-Fashioned Science Fairs

I've decried the lack of research paper assignments. Today my old fogey remarks are related to science fairs.

President Obama recently said that science fair winners should be celebrated just as much as Super Bowl winners. Science fairs seem to die out after middle school. We need them in high schools. These fairs, for decades, enabled students who might not have considered themselves scientist material to think about science as a career. Michele Glidden, of the nonprofit Society for Science & the Public, said, "Science fairs develop skills that reach down to everybody's lives, whether you want to be a scientist or not."

Of course, one of the reasons the fairs are becoming so rare is that teens are too busy doing other things to help them get into college -- and yet the fundamentals learned in doing these projects might help them be more successful students and more engaged citizens than some of the other activities. And, these fairs help students get excited about science in ways that classroom learning just can't elicit.

My high school didn't have science fairs. That was a pity. Our daughter will be participating in one later this spring -- a group endeavor. So not only will she gain more knowledge about the subject but she and her peers will also gain more experience in collaboration.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Metacognition -- Useful Skill or Just Hokum?

As parent of a sophomore, I am most interested (right now) in making certain our daughter has the learning skills she needs to succeed in school, college and life. That's why I am intrigued when I read about techniques to help students learn and study.

I am currently fascinated by metacognition, defined, at least by one source, as awareness or analysis of one's own learning or thinking processes. Here's some background on the subject, which opens with a tantalizing question: "Why do some students in a course perform better than others of roughly equal ability?" the article describes discussions on the topic at the recent annual meeting of the Association of American Colleges and Universities.

By the time kids get to college, you would hope that they know how to learn. We all know that isn't true, and I can sympathize with professorsa who want to focus on content, not how- to-study-seminars. So, is there anything to this? I don't know, but while I was investigating the subject I found this list of questions based on metacognition fundamentals.

I may use some of them to keep me on course when I am trying to sort through a project or assignment. I'm all for anything that brings clarity -- and self-awareness, even now.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Some Straightforward Guidance on Admissions

One of the benefits of blogging is that I look at so many other writers, whether in blogs, print or even TV. I am especially impressed with work I see on the Patch, the online news platform backed by AOL that can be found across the country, dispensing local news and prompting discussion.

Here's a two-part discussion on admissions from the Annapolis, MD, Patch -- from the private and public school perspectives.

I found the private school counselor had the most interesting, commonsense points. And I also learned about an organization I didn't know about: the Education Conservancy, which describes itself as "a non-profit organization committed to improving college admission processes for students, colleges and high schools." Be sure to read its manifesto, offering guidance for students and parents.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Wall Street Recruiters' Shallow Field of Vision

Here's some commentary from The Atlantic on the issue of why Wall Street primarily seems to hire Ivy graduates.

What does that have to do with the undergraduate application process? Well, I think it has something to do with why kids want the most highly selective/big name schools. They perceive advantages that are economic and prestigious. As the piece points out, there are just as bright kids in other schools, but it's easier to recruit from a handful of places, rather than having to travel all over the country looking for those who might make the cut.

It's all crazy. But it is also how the game is played, at least now. So how should we advise our teens when increasingly the ability to make a living plays into decisions our teenagers have to make about colleges?