Archive for ‘applying to college’

September 12, 2014

Are African immigrants taking up college spots intended for African-Americans?

by Grace

African immigrants are over-represented at elite colleges compared to non-immigrant African-Americans.  Colleges probably don’t care as long as they can use immigrants to show how diverse their student body is.

… A 2007 study covered by the Washington Post found that a quarter of black students admitted to elite colleges were African immigrants, though they only represented 13 percent of America’s college-age black population. The study’s authors several theories on why black immigrants do better, including “to white observers black immigrants seem more polite, less hostile, more solicitous and ‘easier to get along with.’ Native blacks are perceived in precisely the opposite fashion.”

Immigrants did not experience the “stigma” felt by African-American black children.

Lani Guinier, a Harvard professor, argued instead that schools were attempting to “resolve historic wrongs against native black Americans by enrolling immigrants who look like them” but had different experiences. “In part, it has to do with coming from a country … where blacks were in the majority and did not experience the stigma that black children did in the United States,” Guinier said. Either explanation creates a divide — as if Africans can only succeed at the expense of black Americans, or vice versa.

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Arit John, “Why the All-Ivy League Story Stirs Up Tensions Between African Immigrants and Black Americans”, The Wire, April 1, 2014.

August 29, 2014

Beloit College goes test optional, hoping to attract more applicants

by Grace

Starting with the fall 2015 admission cycle, Beloit will become test optional, which means that the submission of standardized test scores (i.e. ACT/SAT) will be optional for domestic first-year applicants.

Statement from the vice president for enrollment, Robert Mirabile:

“Given the extremely competitive marketplace in which we recruit students, it is important for us to carefully weigh the costs and benefits of each part of our application,” Mirabile said. “From this perspective, I am concerned that the standardized test requirement adds little unique value to our selection process. Indeed, the requirement can, in some cases, inhibit access to Beloit among capable students who would greatly contribute to and benefit from the College.”

There are different ways to interpret the meaning of “contribute” as used in Mirabile’s statement.  The cost of attending Beloit College is $54,524 annually.  Here’s one cynical reaction to the announcement:

Translation: We’re so desperate, we’ll take anyone.

August 28, 2014

Make your college application essay memorable

by Grace

Franklin & Marshall College president Daniel R. Porterfield offers some advice for high school seniors dealing with “college mania”.  His thoughts on how to approach the college application essay seem particularly insightful.

write an application essay that’s so true to you that you’ll want to read it again in ten years as a snapshot of where you were at age 18. What experiences have shaped you? What questions obsess you? What people inspire you? How do you want to give and grow in college?

Approaching the essay this way may be a helpful tactic for applicants, but the piece matters most for its value to you at one of life’s turning points. And, as I’ve learned from my own applications for schools and jobs, when we honestly and authentically present ourselves and then don’t get selected, it doesn’t feel so bad. In fact, we’re often left with a strong sense of personal integrity.

I believe it’s true that most essay readers can tell if an application essay is authentic and genuinely reveals a student’s perspective.  So the advice to “put it in your own words” makes sense.  Thus the challenge sometimes becomes how a teacher or parent can help in editing an essay without changing the author’s voice.  The first time I tried helping with my kid’s essay, I found myself quickly falling into the trap of obliterating his message and inserting what I thought he should be saying.  I learned my lesson, and later I mainly left any editing to his guidance counselor, who seemed to know the right balance between minor corrections and sweeping modifications.

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Daniel R. Porterfield, “Six — Well, Seven — Pieces of Advice for College-Searching High School Seniors”, Forbes, 8/11/2014.

August 27, 2014

Step-by-step planning for college is one way to reduce the stress

by Grace

Families are stressed out about getting into college.

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They’re also stressed out about paying for college.

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All this is not breaking news to most families with teenage children.  However, since these survey results are from readers of  Princeton Review’s “Best Colleges” guidebook and users of their website, they are not really representative of the general population.  These survey respondents are more likely to be overly obsessed with the college application process than the average person.

Most families believe providing a college education for their children is very important, but are probably not “extremely” stressed out about it.

It is important to plan for college, but it’s unhealthy to become obsessed with the process.  Here’s some advice from parents and children on dealing with the stress.

Don’t spend too much time comparing notes with others going through the process. Makes people crazy. …

Make sure to take the college process in steps and you won’t feel so overwhelmed….

Don’t freak out. College is not the end of your life. Everything will be OK….

Have fun with it! If you enjoy the process along the way, the outcome will hopefully be more beneficial….

Thoughtful planning is good, and deep breaths can also help.

August 12, 2014

Interest in Ivy League schools continues to be strong

by Grace

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Despite a drop in applications at Dartmouth, Harvard and Columbia, overall interest in Ivy League schools continues to be strong.

The number of applications has risen steadily for over a decade (perhaps best shown HERE), so even small drops in applications won’t have a huge effect on admission rates at the Ivies. Harvard may have dropped 2% in the number of applicants, but their admit rate went from 5.79% last year to 5.90% this year, not a massive change. Columbia received 1.73% fewer applications from last year to this year, but the competition is not exactly wavering; their admit rate for the Class of 2017 was 6.89% and for the Class of 2018 was 6.95%. Want an even scarier number? Across all Ivy League universities plus MIT and Stanford last year 305,101 students applied and 26,758 were accepted (8.77% overall acceptance rate). This year? 313,981 students applied and 26,154 were accepted. So what’s that percentage tell us? It’s not easier to get in. 8.33% overall acceptance rate. Admissions is a numbers game and the numbers aren’t bending.

There seems to be a general consensus that even with the current downsizing trend in higher education, “elite colleges will continue to hold their value”.

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“Breaking Down the Numbers in Admissions”, Application Boot Camp, July 24th, 2014.

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June 26, 2014

More students are receiving special accommodations for SAT and ACT tests

by Grace

Some recent numbers show the increase in students receiving special accommodations for SAT and ACT testing.

During the 2010-11 school year, 5 percent of all test takers were provided with some feature that was intended to adapt the test to their needs, ACT spokesman Ed Colby said, compared with 3.5 percent of test takers in the 2007-08 school year.

The numbers of requests have been rising among SAT takers, too, along with an increase in test takers overall. Once students are approved for an accommodation, they don’t have to reapply. Of new requests—almost 80,000 during the 2010-11 school year, compared with 10,000 fewer five years earlier—about 85 percent are approved, said Kathleen Steinberg, the spokeswoman for the College Board. The ACT said roughly 90 percent of requests made are granted.

Rich kids are more likely to receive accommodations.

Controversy has swirled for years about which students deserve special help. A 2000 California audit concluded that those getting college entrance testing accommodations “were disproportionately white, or were more likely to come from an affluent family or to attend a private school.”

More than a decade later, the Tribune’s review of data obtained under open records laws indicates that’s true in Illinois, where the percentage of test takers with accommodations doubled the national average.

Schools in wealthy enclaves with predominantly white students were at the top of the list when it comes to students getting ACT testing accommodations in Illinois, the 2011 data show.

A recent report from the General Accountability Office found that testing for qualifying disabilities “can cost from $500 to $9,000″.  Wealthy families can afford to pay these costs when the schools will not.  They also tend to have the expertise and money to force schools to pay for legally required testing.

One local affluent school district recently had a long list of applications for accommodations that was waiting to be submitted, probably typical for high-income locales.

The most commonly requested accommodation is extended time, but some others include “a quiet testing room, a reader or a scribe, enlarged print test booklets and/or answer keys, the use of a computer, additional or extended breaks, and multiple-day testing on the ACT”

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Nirvi Shah, “More Students Receiving Accommodations During ACT, SAT”, Education Week, May 14, 2012.

 Diane Rado, “Many Illinois high school students get special testing accommodations for ACT”, Chicago Tribune,  April 29, 2012.

Jed Applerouth, “SAT and ACT Accommodations”, Independent Educational Consultants Association, April 9, 2014.

May 5, 2014

Feeling pressured to attend college

by Grace

The New York Times Motherlode column shared stories and commentary about children who are not going to college.  It started with a request by the mother of a child “whose primary interests were in creative pursuits, and who is, at best, “ambivalent” about college”. 

…  “He loves to learn but heavy-duty academics are not something he relishes, so on that front, I don’t want to push him into a four-year college where he would be miserable and we would spend what amounts to a fortune from our meager budget.” College of some kind may or may not lie in his future, and she is trying, amid some support from friends and some judgment, to feel sanguine. “It would really help to hear stories from other parents whose kids found a meaningful life with decent work, without college,” she wrote, as well as stories of what children who don’t choose college do after senior year.

Many parents whose children are not following the traditional college path feel conflicted, and endure the angst of being judged by others.

College is not for everyone, and we should consider the wisdom of this statement.

… being intelligent is not the same thing as being scholastically inclined…

This boat analogy struck a chord with me.  It is not only relevant to the pressure of “having” to attend college after high school graduation, but of the many other  pressures parents feel when their children do not march in lockstep with their peers along the “smooth and quick” path to adulthood.

Amanda Rose Adams, aunt to a high school senior, wrote that she told her niece: “When you’re 18 and just graduated from high school, there’s a luxury liner waiting for you at the dock that will take you more smoothly and swiftly into a professional future. Of course, that’s not guaranteed, but it’s far more likely if you get on that boat that you will get wherever you wanted to go much more quickly and with less pain than if you stay on the dock and watch it leave.” But for students who are uncertain about direction, Ms. Adams wrote, “then it’s O.K. to not get on, to wait for the right boat for you.”

Contrary to what this mother wrote, I have found that gap years are becoming more accepted and even encouraged.  But I partly attribute this to the growing popularity of the idea that our children need a prolonged period of adolescence.

“I am forever lamenting that it is crazy that in this culture we expect all 18-year-olds to decide what they want to be,” wrote Molly of Boston. “And we profess to saying it’s acceptable to take a ‘gap year,’ but that is not what my son felt when he made his decision.”

As it turns out, sometimes learning disorders underlie academic difficulties that make college unappealing.

Delaying or avoiding college can sometimes result from a battle with learning difficulties. Been There, of Tulsa, Okla., wrote about a son who struggled with attention deficit disorder, anxiety and depression throughout high school. “My son is extremely bright but at this point directionless,” Been There wrote. “We’re trying to steer him toward community college but I’m really not sure how this is going to turn out.”

Sometimes it’s the child who is hardest hit by the pressure to attend college.

Anxiety abounds for some parents of students who feel compelled to follow the path their friends are taking. “My stepdaughter is headed to college in the fall, but the hard truth is that none of the four ‘parental units’ in her life really think she’s ready,” E wrote. “We are all trying to be supportive (including scraping together the money to help her get there), but we are all very apprehensive. She’s not a strong student and has failed several high school classes, but since many of her friends are going to college, she is hell-bent on doing the same.”

If college is not the right choice, forcing the issue is unlikely to end well.

“Please encourage parents not to send their children to college if the children don’t want to go,” Laurie Cubbison wrote. “The students will work very hard at failing, if only as an act of rebellion.”

Why parents push their kids to go to college (Cost of College)

April 9, 2014

Want to appeal your college financial aid?  Go for it

by Grace

Ron Lieber in the New York Times has some tips for students hoping to appeal their college financial aid packages before making the final decision on where to enroll in the fall.

A change in a your financial situation holds the best chances for a successful appeal.

Your best shot with an appeal will come from a change in your family’s financial circumstances since you applied for aid. Possibilities include job loss or other reduction in income, new health expenses, death of a parent, disability of a family member, nursing home costs, natural disasters or parental credit woes that make borrowing impossible.

Adjusting need-based aid may be a more straightforward proposition, but that’s not always true since need-based awards are often based on a ‘student’s academic merit’.

Some tips:

Some schools automatically match offers from similar schools.

Cornell instantly corrects itself if you’ve got higher need-based aid offers from other Ivy League schools or M.I.T., Duke and Stanford; it will match that offer, no questions asked.

Carnegie Mellon appears to be acting similarly, noting on its site that the university has “been open about our willingness to review financial aid awards to compete with certain private institutions for students admitted under the regular decision plan.” …

Go for it.
Based on some feedback from colleges, Lieber seems to suggest that the odds are not bad that an appeal will result in increased aid.

The worst that can happen is that the financial aid office says no …

Related:  Will colleges negotiate financial aid packages? (Cost of College)

April 3, 2014

Coast to coast decline in support of affirmative action

by Grace

Two recent events, one on the West Coast and one on the East Coast, demonstrate that after half a century, support for racial preferences in college admissions is getting more and more unsustainable — both politically and intellectually.

Strong opposition by Asian-Americans helped defeat a California ballot measure pushing for the repeal of “Proposition 209, which banned racial preferences at state universities”.

… Asian Americans … flooded legislative offices with petitions arguing that a repeal would hurt their children’s prospects for getting into the most competitive public campuses. S. B. Woo, a former Democratic lieutenant governor of Delaware who is president of the Asian 80-20 PAC, led the effort, saying, “Asian Americans have always been picked out to be stepped on in race-conscious college admissions.”

The pressure led three Asian Democrats who had voted for the bill in the senate to withdraw their support and urge assembly speaker John Perez to postpone a vote. “We have heard from thousands of people throughout California voicing their concerns about the potential impacts,” they wrote Perez. “Many in the [Asian/Pacific Islander] and other communities throughout the state feel that this legislation would prevent their children from attending the college of their choice.”

Meanwhile on the east coast, support of race-based admissions among Harvard students dropped after a debate on whether “affirmative action does more harm than good”.

… Harvard professor Randall Kennedy, the author of the book For Discrimination, and Columbia professor Ted Shaw, the former head of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, argued that diversity is an important and noble goal that universities must pursue. UCLA professor Richard Sander, author of the book Mismatch, and University of San Diego professor Gail Heriot, a commissioner on the U.S. Civil Rights Commission, presented statistics from over 20 peer-reviewed studies that showed how the good intentions of affirmative-action supporters have had disastrous results.

The research cited by Sander and Heriot shows that universities routinely put a race-conscious fist on the admissions scale, rather than a thumb. These heavy preferences mean that the median African-American student at law school has credentials lower than those of 99 percent of the Asian and white students — and underrepresented minorities admitted to law school based on a heavy preference are two to three times more likely to fail the bar exam.

… Professors Kennedy and Shaw didn’t challenge the empirical studies on mismatch, and Kennedy even stipulated that they were true. But he said the quest for diversity is important enough to justify affirmative action …

Professor Kennedy defended the harm inflicted on Asian-Americans, as long as it benefited other minority groups.

… Kennedy didn’t deny that Asians are harmed by racial preferences; he simply said the benefits of diversity are worth some individual sacrifice: “We have all sorts of programs that disadvantage people.” Sander replied that the “large racial penalty for Asian Americans” is “really repugnant” — Asian Americans are being “treated the way we used to treat Jewish Americans” when there was a cap on their presence at elite schools.

Given the overwhelming liberal ethos of Harvard’s campus, the impact of the debate on the audience was surprising. Audience members voted by keypad before and after the debate. Among those expressing a position, opposition to affirmative action rose by nearly a third — from 31 percent before the debate to 40 percent afterward. Support dropped from 69 percent before the debate to 60 percent afterward.

A recent Gallup poll shows most Americans oppose affirmative action in college admissions.

Related:  ‘Racial preferences mostly benefit fairly privileged students of color’ who help dispel stereotypes (Cost of College)

John Fund, “Racial Preferences Under Siege”, National Review Online, March 20, 2014. 

April 2, 2014

Don’t ignore student characteristics when measuring college ROI

by Grace

Most reports that claim to measure the value of a college degree do not control for a vital factor — the student.  They fail to account for what Bryan Caplan calls the “ability bias“.  This bias favors personal traits like intelligence, work ethic, and conformity — traits typically valued by selective schools as well as by employers seeking candidates for high-income jobs.

Psychology professor and author Christopher Chabris explains how the recent PayScale College ROI Report means very little unless ability bias is factored into the equation.

This means that the Return in this “ROI” depends on much more than the Investment. It also depends on who is doing the investing. In fact, it is far from trivial to figure out the true ROI of going to Harvard versus Wayland Baptist versus Nicholls State versus not attending college at all. To figure this out, you would have to control in the analysis for all the characteristics that make students at different colleges different from one another, and different from students who don’t go to college. Factors like cognitive ability, ambition, work habits, parental income and education, where the students went to high school, what grades they got, and many others are likely to be important. In fact, those other factors could be so important that they wind up explaining more of the variation in income between people than is explained by going to college—let alone which particular college people go to.

Even controlling for data we might be able to obtain, like the average SAT score of students who attend each college, or their average parental income, would not completely solve the problem, because there could be factors that we can’t measure that have an important effect. Only by randomly assigning students to different colleges (or to directly entering the workforce after high school) would we get a fair estimate of the true ROI (measured in money—which of course leaves aside all the other benefits one might get from college that don’t show up in your paychecks for the ensuing 20 years).

Look beyond the school name when predicting financial success.

While a degree from Harvard certainly has the signalling capacity and network connections that can boost earnings opportunities for its graduates, the characteristics of the students who enroll there figure prominently in determining future employment success.  Families should keep this in mind when they find their children shut out of admission to elite universities.  It’s not all about the school.

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