Monday, January 30, 2012

I Wouldn't Want to Be in Vassar Admissions Today

I know mistakes can happen. I know that as wonderful as technology is, it can cause headaches and even heartbreak. Here's an illustration: on Friday afternoon,Vassar sent "congratulations you've been accepted" emails to students who'd applied to the school's via Early Decision II. Except, the email had been a test, a placeholder, that was sent in error. So for about 30 minutes, 76 kids who were not accepted thought they were -- and alerted friends and family. Read here for more of the sad details.

One elated student went back to read the happy news again, and saw that in truth he'd been declined. Of course Vassar is mortified and apologetic, but geez, isn't the admissions process emotionally difficult enough without getting accepted when you've actually been rejected.

It has happened at other schools - this is not a first. But this morning, those disappointed students and their parents will be calling Admissions -- it will be the first time since this all happened Friday that they have been able to scream, cry or try to be rational in speaking with an admissions officer.

I wouldn't want to be on either side of that call. But one thing is almost certain. This sure won't happen again, at least not at Vassar.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Take a Look at these Small Public Universities, Including TCNJ

Most state universities seem so massive. Will attention be paid to an undergraduate? Will a freshman feel lost? Are there public options that offer great resources on a smaller scale?

There are a number of higly ranked smaller public institutions that focus on a liberal arts education. Here's a list of some good ones.

I've heard of most of them, and know good things about St. Mary's (MD), College of Charleston (SC), UNC - Asheville (NC) and the University of Mary Washington (VA). But here was the revelation: The College of New Jersey. I'd read that it was a good school but it wasn't till I looked at its profile and this chart comparing TCNJ to other colleges, private and public, in New Jersey and saw it comes in second after Princeton in SAT scores.

I was surprised and impressed. And I bet there are lots of other good surprises out there. It's just a matter of looking, and not being too restrictive in the college search.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Tracking Costs of College

During the State of the Union address last night, the president spoke about the need to lower interest rates on student loans and urged colleges to figure out how to lower their costs, too.

These are actions beyond the control of families with children heading off to college -- and who knows how long it will take for improvements to occur. But families can take steps to ensure that the college education doesn't turn into a financial nightmare -- or what's more likely, a constant stream of requests for more walking around money from the student followed by agitated texts or calls from home saying enough already.

It all starts with the Discussion: what the family can afford; what level of debt (if any) is acceptable; understanding what it means to take a college loan and how it will affect options post-college; what can the student contribute to defray costs, etc. Teens really must be a part of the conversation -- it will help them on the course to becoming financially responsible adults. And this is true even if the family was able to save enough to cover most college costs.

Then when students learn where they've been accepted and how much financial aid, if any, they have received, having held the Discussion will make it somewhat easier to narrow decisions.

Once students are off to college, they should be responsible for adhering to a budget. Here's a good breakdown of costs of college for one family, including the day-to-day expenses for a freshman. (Note: public college, in the midwest, so figures may not look real to those of us on coasts. But that doesn't matter. It's the tracking that does.)

Learning how to keep a simple budget should be a part of prepping for life away from family.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Thinking Way too Much about SATs, etc.

If you have a junior in the house, it's quite possible you are obsessing about SATs, subject tests, APs -- the whole mess of tests that are just one more hurdle in getting into college. You are probably already sorting through scheduling of tests, too. The SAT in March is the morning after the opening of our school musical -- doesn't seem like propitious timing. So, that means taking the SAT in May, subject tests in June, and quite possibly, the SAT again in the fall. My head aches.

Here's an at-a-glance range of scores that some of the most select colleges are looking for. As the article points out, numerical scores are one consistent way to view applicants. Even if SATs and ACTs still remain an important part of the application, remember one important thing about these ranges: these are the median scores, and 50% of accepted students fall within the range. Another 25% are above, the other 25% below.

Even if we think that these kinds of tests don't really predict that much about the ability to thrive in college (and schools that are dropping the testing requirement seem to think that), they are part of the non-monetary price of admission. So get a tutor or have your child take some SAT classes. At minimum, persuade them to take lots of practice tests at home. Practice may not make perfect in this case, but it sure can help.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Doctor, Help Me! I'm the Parent of a H.S. Junior

Deborah Gaines, a mother of a junior who's mired in some of the same questions and concerns I am, has ably reviewed the neuroses of parents like us, in Huffington Post. I'm sort of embarrassed to see myself reflected, on any given day, in every one of the comments these people have. We're all parents seeking good fit, good name, good value from colleges. On a sane day I say good grief!

As i have been saying to anyone who will listen, I need to be less obsessed. But it isn't that easy to go cold turkey on the college stuff.

Any suggestions on how to help me help myself?

Monday, January 16, 2012

Wise Words for High School Seniors (and Juniors, too)

I thought we could be ahead of the admissions game, visiting colleges early, trying to get a sense of what attracts our teen, and what she hates, about various colleges.

The truth is, our junior's ownership of the process will occur when she's ready, not when I am. No amount of parental guidance makes it happen more quickly or efficiently.

That said, I hope my teen and others read this thoughtful, sensible piece on how to choose the right college the first time.

Meanwhile, I don't suspect there will be any revelations anytime soon. We've got midterms and the school musical taking precedence. But maybe after that?

Early Admission a Rejection Nightmare

Apparently for many years early admission was "owned" by students attending private schools, or, according to The New York Times, early admission was "once the almost exclusive preserve of the East Coast elite."

But the secret got out and the number of early admission applicants has increased by as much as three-fold at some schools. And that has left far more disappointed students this year, particularly in some of the famous New York prep schools.

Another factor contributing to greater numbers of unhappy kids is an increase in international students applying for early decision, who are also willing and able to pay their way without any financial assistance. On the other hand, more public school kids are applying early -- and getting in.

If a student is absolutely sure one school is the school, and there's a reasonable chance for acceptance, by all means, apply early. But as kids learned this year, make sure you're ready to go with the regular decision applications. Given the early admission environment in 2012, it's nearly impossible to believe next year will be any better.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Who's a Candidate for a Gap Year?

With all of the stress that comes with the college admissions process, I can understand why a gap year might be appealing. Here's the thinking on this. You apply, are accepted at a college you like, you send in the deposit and then request a deferral of admission. (You might want to talk to someone at the college first, so that you know the school's policies on this.)

Then the student pursues a dream -- works on a research project. spends time building Habitat homes, finally gets comfortable and competent in the foreign language she has studied for years. It doesn't really matter. In theory, you then go to the college of your choice a semester or a year later really ready to learn.

Gap year has been a topic of discussion at The New York Times college blog. Middlebury's dean of admissions thinks it's a good idea. He thinks a gap year gives a student a greater sense of direction, and that translates into a more dedicated, serious student once the gap year is over and college begins.

Here are more thoughts on this concept.

Parents may not like the idea but it might make sense for a student who has reasonable plans for the gap year -- and who has been accepted and then officially deferred at the college of choice. What's a bad idea? Trying to apply to colleges during a gap year, especially if the student is traveling, or living overseas. It could be a logistical nightmare that turns the gap year into a really bad idea.