Monday, October 31, 2011

In case you missed it...

This week there was just too much going on--too much to do, too much to read, too much everything. Add an internet outage and hey, necessity is the mother of invention, right? Because of this, I will now have a semi-regular feature to bring you. Here's a roundup of the week's most interesting stories.

Student Loans
College is expensive, we know this . It's probably the only time where it's almost considered responsible to take on thousands of dollars in debt because it's an investment in your own future. (Not like credit cards, which are usually an investment in new shoes and dinners out.) And now it's getting political attention--Ron Paul wants to end student loans. And then there's the White House. There has been a push to make the process more transparent (see net price calculators ) and now there is another effort to simplify: A one-page form to compare college aid offers. Right now they're asking for feedback, so we probably wouldn't see it for a little while, but I'll be watching to see how that plays out. Finally, an interesting "experiment" in community colleges and for-profit institutions-- limiting the amount of federal loans their students can borrow.

Amidst reports of yet another school jumping their conference ship (ahem, West Virginia.) Let's start with some good news: more athletes are graduating. There are some proposed NCAA reforms, namely a $2,000 increase in scholarship amount and increasing academic eligibility standards. No new proposal is without controversy, however-- as a Chronicle analysis shows that "Division I athletes, on the whole, appear to be better off, financially speaking, than the general student body". Even college administrators aren't convinced, saying that these reforms don't address underlying concerns.

Happy reading!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

2011 State of College Admissions

The National Association for College Admission Counseling, or NACAC, has released its annual State of College Admission report. The association culls information from surveys it sends to colleges and universities. This year's report outlines some interesting trends as they relate to enrollment, social media trends in the admissions process, information on high school graduation, acceptance rates, and factors in admissions decision-making.

Here are some highlights:

1. Number of High School Graduates Has Peaked after Decade of Growth
There were 3.33 million high school graduates in 2008-09. In 2010-11, that number will dip to an estimated 3.28 million. The decline will continue, but rebound eventually and remain there through 2017-18.

2. College Enrollment Continues at All-Time High
By 2020 college enrollment is expected to increase to 23 million, up from approximately 20.4 million in 2009.

3. Racial/Ethnic Minorities and Low-Income Students Underrepresented in College
Only 55 percent of high school completers from the lowest income quintile transitioned to college in 2009, while 84 percent from the highest income quartile went on to college.

4. Application Growth Continues
73 percent of colleges experienced an increase in the number of applications received from 2010. For students entering college in 2010, 25 percent of them applied to 7 or more schools.

5. More Colleges Use Wait List; Chances of Acceptance Drop
48 percent of institutions used wait lists for fall 2010 admissions. In 2009, that number was 39 percent. An average on 28 percent of students were accepted off the wait list, a six point drop from fall 2009.

6. Admission Offices Identify Grades, High School Curriculum and Test Scores as Top Factors
In order of importance: grades, curriculum strength, standardized test scores, overall high school GPA, essay, demonstrated interest, class rank, counselor and teacher recommendations, and extracurricular activities.

7. Student-to-Counselor Ratio
US Department of Education data in 2009-10 showed a public school student-to-counselor ratio of 460:1 (that's including K-12 schools). NACAC data indicated an average ratio of 272:1 in secondary schools (including part-time staff). ASCA's ideal ratio is 100:1.

8. Time Spent Counseling for College
Public school counselors reportedly spent an average of 23 percent of their time on college counseling. Private school counselors spent 55 percent of their time on college counseling.

9. College Counseling Staff
26 percent of public schools had at least one counselor (either full- or part-time) on staff dedicated to college counseling, compared to 73 percent of private schools.

10. Cost to Recruit
$585 was the average dollar amount spent by colleges and universities recruiting applications for fall 2010.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Just how important is the essay?

In a word… very. That's not meant to oversimplify. No doubt you've heard that the essay is the best way for an admissions officer to learn about who you really are. Your grades and test scores aren't the things that define an applicant. If they were, why would colleges ask for more?

Joyce Carol Oats said "…as soon as you connect with your true subject you will write". No matter what question the essay actually poses, underneath it all the real question these schools want to know is "who are you?"

It's a hard question to answer. Don't know where to start? Still struggling? No matter where you are in this process, these three starting points can help you find your topic.

1. Free write
Forget about the essay topic at hand. Set a timer for 5 minutes and don't pick your pen up from the paper. Don't worry about grammar or whether or not it makes sense. Is there still time left on the clock? Keep writing. When you're done, underline any ideas you think might be worth expanding.

2. Idea clusters
Maybe you already know your writing topic. Write it down in the middle of a blank piece of paper and circle it. Any ideas related to your main idea will be connected to this with line and another circle. Any ideas worth exploring? Try free writing (see above).

3. Say it out loud
This is how I would start a session with a client. If you're having trouble getting the ideas from your head to the page, talk it out. Tell a story. Keep a notebook next to you when you have a brainwave, but keep going. If you're feeling inspired at the end of the conversation, dive right in and write!

You'll do several revisions of the essay, so don't worry about it being perfect from the get-go. Hopefully you'll find that the more you get into it, the more you'll find to write about.

One note to parents--try to be as hands-off as you can be during this process. Not only is this a critical part of the application, but it's also a very draining. Proofread it, don't edit. There's an important distinction there.

There are no bad topics, just bad writing. (It's an essay about YOU, how can that be a bad topic?) Just be thoughtful.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

4 Tips for All 4 Years continued

There's a lot of information here and a lot to think about. Don't get overwhelmed. Everything's manageable if you pace yourself.

Freshmen and Sophomores, you can find your tips here. Juniors and Seniors, it's officially college crunch time.

Junior year
1. It's time to work.
This is by far the most important year for your grades. Think about it--when you're applying to college there's a good chance your first semester of your senior year won't be over yet. So which year's grades will be sent? You got it. Don't worry if your grades from 9th and 10th grade aren't perfect. You'll make a strong argument for yourself if your Junior year grades show an upward trend.

2. Lead.
By now you should be involved in activities you care about. This is the year to start to take a leadership position. Go after an editor position if you're on the school paper or chair a committee.

3. Study for the test.
I already mentioned your grades…am I repeating myself? The PSAT, SAT, and ACT are all tests. You'd study for a history test or a vocab quiz, so why wouldn't you study for these? Prepare yourself--it's worth the effort.

4. Start the list.
This is when you think about college in more concrete terms. What do you want to study? Who offers those programs? Maybe it's been your dream to go to State U., but what if they don't have the program you need? Expand your horizons. There are thousands (literally) of schools out there and you'll attend the one that's right for you.

Senior year
Don't think for a minute that because your applications are in you can go easy on your work. Colleges have the option to rescind and believe me, they'll do it. You've worked hard for three years, don't let it all be for naught.

2. A little organization goes a long way.
There are a lot pieces to your applications and you've got to keep it all straight. Colleges get inundated with material and they'll lose stuff. Make sure you have copies of all of your material.

3. Fill out the FAFSA.
Hopefully you've taken a thorough look at the family finances before this. Think you don't need to or that you won't qualify? Do it anyway. There are grants, scholarships, and work study opportunities that require the FAFSA. Don't miss out on something because of an assumption.

4. Breathe!
Take some time to enjoy your last year of high school. You've accomplished a lot and you should reap the benefits of it. Go to events you wouldn't normally go to. You've been thinking about the future a lot, but don't forget to enjoy the now.

Listen to what he says

I'm sure a lot of people are posting things like this today, but for good reason. Jobs will give you a lot to think about in just 15 minutes.

Innovate. Don't be afraid to fail. Follow your heart. Do what you love.

Steve Jobs' 2005 Commencement Address at Stanford.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

4 Tips for All 4 Years

Ah, October. The official start of fall. Everyone has been back in school long enough to establish some routines, get some grades back, and if you’re a freshman, get a handle on this whole high school thing. If you’re a senior, college is looming large on the horizon. (And if you’re one of my senior clients I’m encouraging you to get your applications finished by Thanksgiving.) But seniors aren’t the only ones who should be thinking about college right now. Here are 4 tips for all 4 years. Today, Freshmen and Sophomores:

Freshman Year

1. Sign up for some activities.
Start to get an idea of what you’re interested in and what activities you’d want to see through to Senior year. It’s ok to sign up for a bunch of different things now because the whole point is try.

2. Start off on the right academic foot.
Make sure your course load is in line with a college preparatory degree. Requirements will vary from college to college, of course, but they’re looking for 4 year of English, 3 years of science, 3-4 years of math, 3 years of history, 3 years of foreign language, and 2 years of art.

3. Start volunteering.
Don’t do this just because you think this is what colleges are looking for. This goes hand-in-hand with your activities. Just sign up for things you think might be interesting. It doesn’t have to be forever but you never know when you’ll find something you’ll really like.

4. Read!
You should absolutely be reading for your assignments, sure, but I’m talking about soaking up other information too. Books, magazines, opinion pieces, anything. There’s a big world out there and it’s important to be well-informed. And besides that, reading is a great way to expand your vocabulary for when you have to take the (drum roll) SAT’s or ACT.

Sophomore Year

1. Keep up the good work.
Your grades will always be important. If you had any struggles, now’s the time to sort it out. No one said it was going to be easy but it’s only a weakness if you don’t do anything about it.

2. Remember those activities?
Time to start getting serious. There’s no need to stick with something you absolutely hate, but hopefully you’ve found some things you can really get into. If you haven’t, get at it. If you have, now’s the time to ramp up your involvement.

3. Test Prep. Yes, those tests.
As a sophomore, you can take a practice PSAT or the PLAN, which is the pre-ACT. If you do well, then that’s fantastic! If you don’t, then you’ll know where to focus your energy. And remember, it’s only practice so even if you do well on the practice PSAT you’ll still need to take it again as a Junior. If you don’t want to take any actual tests, then get yourself some prep books. Just make sure they contain actual test material.

4. Have some fun!
High school is not simply the means to get to college. Go to dances, go to games. Or don’t, if that’s not your thing. High school is an experience for us all. There will be high points and low points, to be sure, but believe me, you’ll be stronger for it.
Juniors and Seniors, tomorrow is for you!