9/26/2015 0 Comments
I was speaking with a parent today who was concerned about her children getting into a “good” college. Turns out by good, she meant Ivy. Obviously, the Ivy League schools (plus Stanford) are the Trump Towers of higher education—the biggest brand names—but like Trump Towers, they’re very expensive, difficult to get into and not the best fit for everyone.
This idea was really brought home for me in a couple of fascinating books: Excellent Sheep by William Deresiewicz and Where You Go Is Not Who You'll Be by Frank Bruni. Both books attempt to calm the mania surrounding the top-ranked schools in the country, but they come at it from different directions.
Hampshire is unique is that their students do not receive traditional letter grades. Instead students receive detailed narrative assessments from their professors (like students at Reed College, St, John's College and Evergreen State College). Instead of choosing a traditional major, Hampshire students design their own rigorous, personalized course of study, culminating in a year-long senior project. In light of this commitment to "authentic assessment," it's not so surprising that Hampshire has been test-optional since the college was founded. Since 1970, their Admissions officers will look at standardized test scores if students choose to submit them, but do not require such scores.
of civic engagement, their letters of recommendation from mentors, and their ability to represent themselves through their essays trump anything the SAT could tell us."
Hampshire took a big risk in deciding to go test-blind. U.S. News and World Report, publisher of the most influential college rankings, refused to include Hampshire in its rankings, because they use standardized test scores as part of their methodology. As I've mentioned in my parent presentations, the college rankings are big business to colleges; moving up in the rankings means an increase in applications in the following year as well as an increase in alumni donations. Sarah Lawrence College was test-blind for many years, but returned to being test-optional in 2012 so they could continue to be ranked. After dropping out of the rankings, Hampshire could well have seen a drastic reduction in both for the 2014-2015 school year.
But they didn't. Inside Higher Ed reports that although they did see a dramatic drop in the number of applications, they admitted the most diverse class in the school's history, including:
9/19/2015 0 Comments
In the world of acronyms, the PSAT/NMSQT is the biggest mouthful. But what does it all mean?
The PSAT evolved as a practice version of the SAT, but now is also the National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test (NMSQT). Only juniors can take the NMSQT, so if you took the PSAT for practice as a sophomore, your scores were not forwarded to National Merit Scholarship Corp. even if you got a perfect score. You also cannot retake the PSAT/NMSQT, as it is only offered once a year. There are other versions of the PSAT: the PSAT 8/9 and the PSAT 10. They all test the same skills, but "in ways that are appropriate for your grade level," which means the questions are likely easier, and the high scores are not as high. These tests are also offered at different times through the school year. Learn more about these other versions of the PSAT in the table below or by clicking the links.
9/12/2015 0 Comments
I love to learn for the sake of learning and not because I'm aiming for any star-studded diplomas or accreditations, but because there is so much to learn. Your book not only allowed me to see that there were other "Lost Kids" (that's what my guidance counselor called me) but further that there were places trying to find us because we aren't as lost as some of our superiors like to think.
Cool Colleges highlights schools where you run a ranch or a nuclear reactor, study the great books, don't receive grades, take one class at a time, attend after 8th grade or even attend for free! The second edition has added information on eco schools (including my favorite: the Fighting Geoducks of Evergreen State) and still has the traditional complement of ivies, near-ivies and other schools just waiting for the perfect students to find them. Intrigued? This book should be on your shelf.
The layout of the book can be challenging. It's quirky, like its subject matter, and can be difficult to follow. Do not buy the Kindle version: the hyperactive layout makes it virtually impossible to read in that format. That is the only drawback for an otherwise terrific book!
Have you read Cool Colleges? What did you think? Let me know in the comments!
Why is it important to demonstrate interest?
Just like in the middle school cafeteria, finding out that someone "likes you likes you" is a huge ego boost. You suddenly see the other person with new, somewhat rose-colored glasses. This "halo effect" can make a big difference in your student's chances of admission. A student "on the bubble" (not a clear admit or deny) who demonstrates interest may be admitted over the student who seems to be less interested in the school.
Homeschoolers have a lot of advantages in the college search. They have more time to work on special projects, more freedom to choose interesting classes, more time and freedom to find opportunities for leadership and community service. Even the most highly selective colleges are happy to accept homeschoolers in large numbers. In fact, in 2014 Stanford University accepted 27% of the homeschoolers who applied, vs 5% of the conventionally-schooled students.
But homeschoolers do have a big disadvantage: their "school" experience is so outside the norm, they need to find a way to communicate all that they are to Admissions officers. Colleges who are unable to see that you are ready for higher education and capable of doing the work will not admit you. Traditionally, this explanation has been done via physical portfolio. It still is, but there's a much easier way to create and share all this information.
Creating a website
For those who have not done this before, the very idea is intimidating. "I don't know how to code! What is HTML? Don't people do this for a living?" New free hosting sites like Weebly and Wix take all that scary coding stuff and replace it with easy to use templates and drag-and-drop functionality. I'm going to focus on Weebly because that's the site I used to build the sample portfolio website, but the same thing can be done with Wix or Wordpress. (Another option is a Linked In resume, but I find having a website is more easily customizable and less unwieldy.)
In his book The End of College, Kevin Carey argues that we are on the brink of a revolution in higher education. He believes that college-as-usual (aka four-years-and-football) is not sustainable and disruption of the research university model is on its way. He argues that:
Boy, there's a lot of college admissions advice available out there! Some of it is really good, some not so good. As with anything on the internet, you have to take what you read with a grain of salt (or sometimes the whole shaker.)
Take, as an example, the myriad websites offering standardized test prep. The College Board (SAT) and ACT.org offer free and low-cost information for test-takers, but it's generally pretty vague and can lead to a false sense of security. Other sites (SparkNotes, for example) have outdated advice for the ACT, particularly for the writing section. Their information was correct when the writing section was introduced, but the ACT engages in incremental revision of its test sections (as opposed to throwing out the old and starting fresh, like SAT), so prep sites that are not also incrementally revised can get stale fast. How to find a good prep site? Look for up-to-date information (on their blog, for example) and test questions that come from actual retired ACT tests to practice on.
Finding Good Admissions Advice
You could easily spend 2,000 hours reading everything the web has to offer on college admissions: which schools have the best or worst ROI, the top admissions essay blunders, how to fill out the FAFSA. Most of these articles are nothing more than scare-mongering and clickbait. The media tends to focus on what's going on only in the most selective colleges in the country. You know the ones I mean; the schools that admit students in the single-digit percentages. Nationwide, colleges average 64% acceptance--that includes those single-digit monsters as well as those schools that accept 80% of their applicants. Studies says 75% of students are able to enroll in their first choice college.
The most accurate admissions advice comes not from the HuffPo or CNNMoney, but directly from the Admissions Offices of the colleges to which you are applying. Most of your questions can be answered by searching the school's website. Or schedule an interview with an Admissions Officer.
3 Ways to Tell If The Advice You're Reading is Legit
Have you found really good or really bad college admissions advice on the web? Share the links in the comments!
More and more colleges are taking advantage of multimedia to help widen their reach to students across the country and across the world. Obviously, the best way to get a feel for a particular campus is to visit in person. You can interact with current students on your own terms, sit in on classes and even visit overnight. But with many students applying to 8-10 colleges across the country, it’s not feasible for most students to visit every campus before they apply.
That’s okay. I recommend that students and families use some of the virtual tour sites to “look” around campus and get a feel for the school before applying and then plan visits to the schools that you are accepted to and definitely might choose to attend.
How do you virtually visit campus? With a virtual campus tour. These tours can run the gamut from shaky hand-held video to slickly produced ad spots for campuses. In between you can find slideshows, 360° panoramic photographs, and even collections of interviews with students-all of which give different insight into the culture of a campus. Let’s look more closely at a few.
The first place you should look is on the school’s official website. Here you should find some means of looking at campus via a video tour or slideshow. If you’re having trouble, I recommend visiting CampusTours.com for basic information as well as a link to the school’s preferred tour.
Some of the tours you find will have been produced by Youvisit.com. Youvisit produces audiovisual--and just visual--panoramic tours of campuses, travel destinations, businesses, and events and venues. The Youvisit tours are optimized for most platforms: laptop, tablet, phone and even virtual reality! Ecampustours.com also offers panoramic photo tours as well as some college admissions information.
Youniversity TV provides commercially produced video spots about campus, similar to the college commercials you see during football games. These videos are difficult to watch on phones, which make them less useful for students than they might be for parents. The student-on-the-street interviews as CollegeClick TV are more Millenial-friendly, and better provide an actual feel for the campus and its students vs the professional marketing pieces at Youniversity or Youvisit. Once you figure out the tags that interest you, you can search for videos from multiple campuses about their athletics or theatre programs, for example, which can help you expand your college search.
Whichever site or sites you choose to use, remember that the only way to get an authentic feel for a campus is to visit in person. But virtual campus tours can be a good way to narrow your travel choices.
Lessa Scherrer is an college admissions consultant who has worked with college-bound students for many years. She is a member of NACAC and WACAC and also teaches ACT Prep, speed-reading, college study skills and college-level writing.
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