Wednesday, May 25, 2011

No Meritocracy at the Top Colleges

Is college admissions to the nation's top schools rigged? Need only the affluent apply?

I certainly don't believe it's rigged in any classic sense but there sure are inequities. And these lead to a class/economic divide.

No matter the occasional heart-warming stories of smart, plucky kids from poor neighborhoods making it to the big time of the Ivies; no matter the daydreams of middle class kids with the grades and scores to get them into a highly selective school. The top colleges, for the most part, select students whose image reinforce the notion that elitism is alive and well.

As this column points out, the president of Amherst, Anthony Marx, decided others needed a chance, too, and created a model that encouraged more low-and middle-income students to attend. Why did he think a change necessary. Marx mentions a Georgetown study that found that the class of 2010 at 193 of the most selective colleges had only 15 percent of students from the lower half of the U.S. income spectrum, while 67 percent came from the top 25 percent in income.

One of the significant changes Marx made was to admit transfer students primarily from community colleges.

More schools are looking at how to diversify while still having an exceptionally gifted student body. Cheers to the colleges who are working hard at being more fair.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

My High School Does Walk of Shame

I have always been proud of my education at Western High School in Baltimore, the oldest all-girls public high school in the country. When I went off to college, I was as prepared academically as fellow freshmen from private schools. Good school, great teachers, a character and confidence-building experience.

But Western has really screwed up this year. First, there was a guidance department failure, it appears. Transcripts and related materials were not sent to the colleges the girls applied to. As a result, the students might not have gotten into the schools of their choice.

But that, to my mind, is not the worst thing Western did. Get this. It had a rule that only girls heading to four-year colleges could walk in the graduation procession. Even if they met all requirements for graduation, even if they are headed to a community college or into a profession.

At a time when students are graduating from college in debt, when we know that one size does not fit all when it comes to post-high school graduation and that community college can be a fine option, the Western rule was insane.

PS: the rule was suspended and all graduates were able to walk in the grand procession, as one group, proud graduates of Western High.

*** Also follow my posts at's Parental Guidance section.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Soon It Will Be Summer, But Don't Forget Thoughts of College

As much as teens need a break from the early morning risings and pressures of homework and projects, they can't shove thoughts of college too far back. Summer is a great time to think about schools and what kind of place might make sense.

Here's an overview, particularly geared to juniors. From thinking about which colleges to visit to mapping out a testing schedule. After all, do you really want to take SATs at the same time you're taking AP and subject tests?

The truth is, I can't remember when I started thinking seriously about colleges. But there was enough time to visit a number of colleges. And that, as the article above points out, is really important. The more contact with the school, the better.


You can also follow my thoughts on admissions on

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Happy Mother's Day to all Moms -- Especially Those with College-bound Kids

Don't we all wish we'd appreciated our parents more? And if we did appreciate them, did we let them know it?

Because of the blog, I think about college a lot. And recently I've been thinking back to a long ago Mother's Day, when I graduated from college. My mother was so proud of me, and so thrilled to have such a momentous event occur on her day.

She deserved the happiness. She and my dad had worked hard/budgeted carefully to pay for college. And four years later, they had their very own Duke graduate. I remember that I did not share the absolute elation. I didn't have a job lined up yet and I would be heading back home to Baltimore, clueless about my future. Why do I suspect I didn't tell my parents how grateful I was.

I've found a stash of the many letters my mom sent me while I was at school. They were filled with the everyday stuff about her friends, my grandparents, how work was treating my dad, how my brother was doing in high school. I understand now how much she missed having me around -- the letters were a surrogate for face-to-face chat.

And I apparently expressed anguish about some difficult classes and even about my social life. She offered good, straightforward good advice. There were also letters in which she was upset with me -- about something in a previous note, or something I said on the every Sunday phone calls. Who knows what foolishness I said at 18, or even 20.

I am already wondering how I will react when our one and only child heads to college. I sure hope I have things to keep me busy. I miss her already.

But I still have plenty of time to drive her crazy, and she will sweetly reciprocate. My mother's day gift to my child -- maybe I will start some form of meditation so that I can remain calm in times of deadlines and angst. So that I can be, at all times, a good, supportive mom through the challenges ahead. Involved but not suffocatingly so. Questioning but not tormenting. Understanding but firm. All the usual mom stuff, multiplied by a thousand.

Happy Mother's Day!

Friday, May 6, 2011

Excuses, Excuses

Mom's College Cram Course has not disappeared. It's just that I have been spreading my wings as a blogger on college admissions issues for -- and true to form, have struggled a bit in the past week with the mechanics of a more complex blog program.

But dear reader, you will continue to see my musings and concerns here. And please let me know what's on your mind when it comes to all things college.

Monday, May 2, 2011

On Days Like This, College Madness Seems a Little Less Important

Our daughter was in first grade on Sept. 11, 2001. It was a day when the only thing that seemed to offer hope was that beautiful blue sky, the sky that had also ushered in devastation. Thoughts of college were a long way off then -- but we also didn't know, at that moment, when we'd see normal again.

So today, nearly 10 years later, the world has a shorter to-do list. And we need to be grateful for our heroes, dead and alive, who've enabled us to continue living our lives in relative comfort and safety. So that we can squander untold hours worrying about college and how much is too much to spend on getting our children ready for what is, in the end, just four years of their lives.

Let's celebrate the good, in the now. College will take care of itself (with a little help from dedicated, determined parents).

Also follow Karen at Guidance.