college bound parent

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Choosing College with the help of the Web

There was another article in the NYT today about using search engines to find college choices, kind of like computer dating.

As the college application process has become increasingly available through the Web, many companies —Princeton Review, the College Board, Kaplan, Thomson Peterson and others — are offering search engines that help students put together a list of colleges to consider. Although some sites purport to calculate a student’s likelihood of winning acceptance, the site Annie used, and similar ones, are like a computer dating service, matching students with potentially compatible colleges.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Great advice for parents

Carnegie Mellon University has a terrific page with advice for college bound parents.

It includes (in order of what I think is most important):

Timeline for Preparation - This is a fabulous timeline for the application process. It begins in January of Junior year and goes until April of Senior year. It applies to all college applications.
What Do We Want to See - This section includes information on what virtually every college "wants to see" in terms of Academic and Artistic Potential, Standardized Tests, Activities, Jobs and Other Interests, Interest in This College, and Other Personal Information.
How to Prepare - This section has lots of good information about documentation and good "Tartan Tips" that seem common sense but are nonetheless great to have put in front of you.

Monday, September 18, 2006

More proof that we don't need Harvard or Any College Will do

The Wall Street Journal reported today that "Any College Will Do." Yet more evidence that where one goes to college has little to do with (financial) success.
The college diplomas of the nation's top executives tell an intriguing story: Getting to the corner office has more to do with leadership talent and a drive for success than it does with having an undergraduate degree from a prestigious university.

Turns out most CEOs did not go to Ivy League or other "prestigious" universities. This all sounds so familiar (see the previous post on Who Needs Harvard?"). So why does this keep being newsworthy? Because, as we all know all too well, it is harder than ever to get into those "prestigious" universities that are not turning out CEOs. Where's the paradox? This, too, sounds familiar (see the previous post on The Straight Talk on Highly Selective Colleges). Can it really be to that we want our kids to go to good schools simply so we fulfill our ego goals? Or is it, more likely that many of our kids probably won't end up be CEOs and therefore getting good post-college jobs and into grad school if the want seems important to us? It looks like being talented and driven will trump pedigree. And thank goodness. It makes me feel better knowing that my kid will likely achieve or not based on his talent and drive. But, as a grad of a seven-sisters college, I can say (as a universe of one) that the brand-name degree helped me get interviews. Then it was up to me as will be for our kids.

So, I like to keep reading that Bob Iger went to Ithaca College. I also want to help (but not pressure my kid) get into the best school he can. But, it seems, that, like everything else, will depend on him.

David Shapiro once said to me: "Your kids will get into the colleges they deserve to get into." I believe it still.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Barnard changes ED policy

As a Barnard Alumnae Admissions Representative, I just received a hot-off-the presses e-mail about a change in Barnard's ED policy (nothing as drastic as eliminating it!):
[Barnard has] a new admissions policy this year regarding early decision (ED) applicants. If a student applies ED, she can now request to defer her admission for one year. This is a change from last year, whereby ED students could NOT defer. But now they can! Note: deferrals are not automatically guaranteed. They have to be approved by the Dean of Admissions.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Advice for parents from an MIT admissions guy

One of my favorite admissions blogs is Matt McGann of MIT's. It has a lot of interesting advice for kids and parents even if they are not applying to MIT!

Here's his basic advice to parents about Helping Your Kids Through This Process
If you're like most parents, helping your child find the right college feels like one of your last great parental responsibilities - as important as having taught that long-ago baby to walk. This time, however, the job is more complicated. You may be less certain of how best to help, and the stakes can seem painfully high.

As you and your son or daughter begin this process together, it's useful to get some perspective on the roles you may want to play:

Preparing for a rite of passage

Try to see the admissions process as a rite of passage - a challenging initiation that marks the passage out of childhood and into adult responsibility. In our secular society, we share very few such formal milestones; that makes the application process valuable in its own right, however it unfolds. You can and should provide support and encouragement. You can celebrate each step along the way. But the process must belong to your child.

Cheering from the sidelines

Here's another useful way to look things: It's as if your child were about to appear in a recital. You can help make sure he or she sleeps well beforehand, eats a good breakfast, dresses properly and gets there on time - but at that point you have to step back and let the child perform. You would never run up on stage and start playing the piano if your child missed a note; in the same way, in applying to college your child must be the only one in charge of his or her own performance.

Practically speaking, that means you need to make sure you are not too caught up in the process yourself. Watch the language you use: if you find yourself referring to "our application," you are not allowing your child enough room.

It also means that prospective students should do all their own work. They should be the ones to go online or call for application materials. They should set up their own interviews and attend them on their own. They should ask their own questions on campus tours. They should conceive of and execute their own essays and application answers. For young adults, taking this initiative is an important way of trying their wings, the first step toward flying away to create a life of their own.

Broadening your child's horizons

Young people come to the process of college admissions with lots of unspoken assumptions - "My parents would never let me go so far from home." "We could never afford an out-of-state school." "Dad really thinks I should go to his alma mater." "I'm not a math jock like my sister, so I could never go to MIT." Help your son or daughter think as broadly as possible, early in the search process, so he or she has a better chance of finding a school that fits.

Getting current

It helps to remember that college admissions aren't the same as when you may have applied to college yourself. In the last two or three decades, the process has become dramatically more pressured and competitive, and students now routinely apply to many more schools than before.

In many cases, individual schools are different now, too. They may be stronger in certain areas, or be emphasizing entirely new things. Be sure you're working with current information. For example, if your impression of MIT (or any other institution) comes mainly from a friend who graduated in the 1970s, you owe it to yourself and your child to get a more recent perspective. And if you only know a school through guidebooks or general word of mouth, it probably pays to visit.

Finding the right fit

For your son or daughter, the college search and application process should be about one thing only: finding the right fit. Does that mean finding a school where he or she will blend in without a trace? Not necessarily. Does it mean that there's only one perfect school for every applicant? Obviously not. Fit means finding a community where your child shares the fundamental values and priorities, and feels comfortable enough to take the social and intellectual risks that make college really worthwhile.

Fit is also a two way proposition. Your child's job is to find the school that feels right. Our job in Admissions is to choose - from among thousands of qualified applicants - the students we think are most likely to thrive in and contribute something important to the community of MIT.

Again, does that mean there is some "ideal" MIT student, and if your son or daughter can only match that magic profile, he or she is in for sure? Fortunately, no - or MIT would be a horribly dull place. You and your child know his or her strengths and potential; we know the strengths and potential of MIT. The goal is to find the right match between the two.

Getting ready for the decision

A critical job for parents is to make sure that young people don't interpret disappointing admissions decisions as a terrible verdict on their worth as a human being. Many students describe finding the right school for them as a little like falling in love: one trip to the campus and they "just knew." That kind of intense emotional connection can make it especially distressing if an application is denied.

No matter how confident you are of your son's or daughter's abilities and college chances, it's a good idea to find some way, perhaps long in advance, of talking about disappointments or reversals in your own life. That way, whatever the outcome, your child will know that it is all right to feel hurt, frustrated, even heartbroken - but that the hurt eventually goes away, life goes on and other doors inevitably open.

Dealing with disappointment

If a letter from a college brings sad news, you may feel tremendous frustration and disappointment. But your job at that moment is to manage your own reaction so you can help your child move forward with confidence. If your child is not accepted for admission, it is not a reflection on your skill as a parent, nor a reflection on the worth of your child. Most often, rejections are due to too many excellent applicants and too few available spaces. Your support and encouragement are obviously especially important if your child is not admitted to his or her first-choice school.

In the face of serious disappointment, children (even very mature 17- year-olds) suffer more than adults because they have less perspective. Help your child look around at other adults you know living happy, fulfilling lives. Almost certainly, they did not all attend the "perfect" college, nor did their lives proceed "perfectly" after that. There are many, many paths to becoming an interesting, successful person; one of life's hardest but most useful lessons is that we don't always get to choose which one we take.

Harvard Does Away With ED

The Harvard News Press Office has said:

'The college admissions process has become too pressured, too complex, and too vulnerable to public cynicism,' said Harvard interim President Derek Bok. 'We hope that doing away with early admission will improve the process and make it simpler and fairer.'

At first I was cynical. But after some reflection I spoke with a friend in education who said she thinks Bok is a true "visionary" and the move was made for all the reasons stated. So, here's the full text of the statement:

Harvard to eliminate early admission

Beginning next year Harvard College will eliminate its early admission program and move to a single application deadline of January 1, the University announced today (September 12). The change in policy, which builds on Harvard's efforts over the past several years to expand financial aid and increase openness in admissions, will take effect for students applying in the fall of 2007 for the freshman class entering in September 2008.

"The college admissions process has become too pressured, too complex, and too vulnerable to public cynicism," said Harvard interim President Derek Bok. "We hope that doing away with early admission will improve the process and make it simpler and fairer.

University contact:
John Longbrake
(617) 495-1585

FAS contact:
Robert Mitchell
(617) 496-5399

"Early admission programs tend to advantage the advantaged," Bok continued. "Students from more sophisticated backgrounds and affluent high schools often apply early to increase their chances of admission, while minority students and students from rural areas, other countries, and high schools with fewer resources miss out. Students needing financial aid are disadvantaged by binding early decision programs that prevent them from comparing aid packages. Others who apply early and gain admission to the college of their choice have less reason to work hard at their studies during their final year of high school."

Many leaders in higher education have spoken publicly about their concerns regarding early admission programs. Harvard will thus delay the shift to a single admissions deadline until the fall of 2007, so that other institutions wishing to make a change will have time to adjust their processes in the same admissions cycle. Furthermore, Harvard will commence the unitary system with a two- to three-year trial period so that it can monitor the impact of this change and make sure that it does not have a negative impact on student quality.

"I am delighted that President Bok and the Corporation have determined that we are in a position to take this excellent step," said Jeremy R. Knowles, interim Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences. "The frenzy that surrounds college admissions threatens important educational values, and early admission programs are part of the problem. These programs distort the high school experience by forcing both students and colleges to commit prematurely, based only upon the record at the end of the student's junior year. Moreover, students who are admitted early receive what often appears to be a 'free pass' for their second semester, sadly encouraging them to disengage from their academic experience.

"I hope that our decision to eliminate early action will help to turn down the heat on admissions, allowing students, parents, and teachers to continue to focus their energies on the joys and rigors of education itself," Knowles continued. "The impact will obviously be greater if other institutions join us in moving to a single, later, admissions cycle. I hope they will."

For students applying this year (fall 2006), Harvard's admission process, including early action, will be unchanged. Beginning in the fall of 2007, the application deadline for all applicants will be January 1. Harvard will maintain its current April 1 notification to students, and May 1, the national common reply date, as its deadline for receiving responses from students.

'Early action' versus 'early decision'

Harvard's existing early admission program, adopted over 30 years ago, takes the form of nonbinding "early action," rather than the binding "early decision" used by many colleges with early admission programs. Under Harvard's current early action policy, students who apply by November 1 are notified by December 15 as to whether they are admitted, denied, or deferred to the regular pool. They are not, however, bound to accept an offer of admission, and they have until May 1 - the deadline for regular admissions - to make their decision.

Harvard's early action program differs from so-called "binding" early decision programs, whereby a student makes a commitment at the time of application to attend if admitted. Harvard has always had early action rather than early decision because it preserves the ability of students to apply to other colleges during the regular admissions cycle, to compare financial aid packages, and to make a much more informed choice in May, rather than October, of their senior year.

"We have always felt that early action avoids the most troublesome aspects of binding early decision while preserving the original aim of early admission - providing students with early notification of admission without binding those who change their minds later in the process," said William R. Fitzsimmons, Dean of Admissions at Harvard College. "If after several years with a single admissions deadline, we find ourselves needing to reinstate early admission to preserve the quality of our student body, we will return to early action.

"We are concerned, however, that even our non-binding program contributes to the pressures and inequities of the college admissions process," Fitzsimmons continued. "Only the more sophisticated students and families look behind the label of 'early admission' and distinguish early action from binding early decision programs. Thus students from less advantaged backgrounds either fail to take advantage of early admission because they are less well-advised overall, or they consciously avoid our program on the mistaken assumption that they will be unable to compare financial aid packages.

"Under the leadership of Larry Summers, we have worked aggressively over the past several years to expand financial aid, and families with incomes under $60,000 are no longer required to contribute to the cost of a Harvard education," Fitzsimmons added. "An early admission program that is less accessible to students from modest economic backgrounds operates at cross-purposes with our goal of finding and admitting the most talented students from across the economic spectrum."

Expanded outreach and recruiting

Harvard intends to use the time and capacity freed up by the move to a single admissions cycle to focus more energetically on outreach and recruiting. Fitzsimmons and his admissions staff will travel more widely to make presentations in key cities and other areas to educate students, families, and college counselors about Harvard and the college admissions process more generally. The University will also work with secondary schools in a renewed effort to make applying to college less complicated and less stressful than it is today.

According to Fitzsimmons, this effort is particularly important in light of disparities in access to, and the quality of, college counseling. The average ratio of students to college counselors in the United States is 500/1. In some states, such as California, the ratio is 1000/1, and many high schools have eliminated college counseling altogether.

Some affluent schools, however, have student to counselor ratios as low as 50/1, in addition to parents who are more knowledgeable about college admissions and more likely to be able to supplement school counseling with outside help.

"As a person who has worked in college admissions for over 30 years, I am particularly grateful to Dean Knowles, President Bok, and the Harvard Corporation for supporting this move away from early admission," said Fitzsimmons. "I hope and expect that this change will sharpen the focus of the admissions process on its most important goal - helping students find the right college match."

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Technorati Profile

Technorati Profile

Any advice for SAT prep courses??

Here's a summary of what EB08 parents have to say about SAT Prep courses:

1. Capital Educators offer group classes in DC and Bethesda locations.

My son is doing the Capital Educators course at WIS this Fall. He's had one class so far and seems to like it.

Another parent said of CE:
We used Capital Educators for my daughter last year and were very impressed. Her scores went up significantly. We plan to use them again this year.

2. Another parent mentioned
Landon Zee who offers individual sessions and will meet Burke students at school during their fee periods.

He also has an office in Bethesda office at 4701 Sangamore Road, Suite 135 So., Bethesda, MD 20816 in the Sumner Place offices and in McLean (listed below).

He is expensive ($180 per hour!). I hear "...he's the one"... I say he better be!

Landon Zee
Math, Reading & Writing Tutor
Zee Tutoring, LLC
6663-B Old Dominion Drive, 2nd Floor
Mclean, VA 22101
(c) 202.528.2272 (o) 703.288.3360 (f) 703.738.7035

UPDATE: A call to Zee confirmed that his fee's are actually $190-210 per hour.

3. FROM A PREVIOUS POST: A friend who has two kids at Yale another at UVA told me I had to get to her kids SAT tutor, Ned Johnson, owner of Prepmatters TODAY or he'd be booked up.

I met with Ned last Spring (I "won" an hour with Ned at the Burke Auction last year!). He only works with seniors and only after they have been working with her underlings junior year. He was really smart and nice, but charges $300 and hour. I think his tutors charge in the $150 an hour range at their location in Bethesda.

UPDATE: Here is a link to Washington Checkbook's 12 page review of SAT Prep Courses.

Any other suggestions? Please post them in the comments...

Monday, September 11, 2006

Who Needs Harvard?

The Atlantic Monthly contributing editor Gregg Easterbrook on why the pressure on smart kids to get into top schools has never been higher, but the differences between these schools and the next tier down have never been smaller.

A nice (2004) article about, among other things, the "admissions mania" surrounding the 25 "Gotta-Get-Ins:"

The twenty-five Gotta-Get-Ins of the moment, according to admissions officers, are the Ivies (Brown, Columbia, Cornell, Dartmouth, Harvard, Penn, Princeton, and Yale), plus Amherst, Berkeley, Caltech, Chicago, Duke, Georgetown, Johns Hopkins, MIT, Northwestern, Pomona, Smith, Stanford, Swarthmore, Vassar, Washington University in St. Louis, Wellesley, and Williams.

He goes on to quote researchers that point out:

The advantages conferred by the most selective schools may be overstated. Consider how many schools are not in the top twenty-five, yet may be only slightly less good than the elites: Bard, Barnard, Bates, Bowdoin, Brandeis, Bryn Mawr, Bucknell, Carleton, Carnegie Mellon, Claremont McKenna, Colby, Colgate, Colorado College, Davidson, Denison, Dickinson, Emory, George Washington, Grinnell, Hamilton, Harvey Mudd, Haverford, Holy Cross, Kenyon, Lafayette, Macalester, Middlebury, Mount Holyoke, Notre Dame, Oberlin, Occidental, Reed, Rice, Sarah Lawrence, Skidmore, Spelman, St. John's of Annapolis, Trinity of Connecticut, Union, Vanderbilt, Washington and Lee, Wesleyan, Whitman, William and Mary, and the universities of Michigan and Virginia. Then consider the many other schools that may lack the je ne sais quoi of the top destinations but are nonetheless estimable, such as Boston College, Case Western, Georgia Tech, Rochester, SUNY-Binghamton, Texas Christian, Tufts, the University of Illinois at Champaign Urbana, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the University of Texas at Austin, the University of Washington, the University of Wisconsin at Madison, and the University of California campuses at Davis, Irvine, Los Angeles, and San Diego. (These lists are meant not to be exhaustive but merely to make the point that there are many, many good schools in America.)

Then he goes on to look at members of the Senate:

Fully half of U.S. senators are graduates of public universities, and many went to "states"—among them Chico State, Colorado State, Iowa State, Kansas State, Louisiana State, Michigan State, North Carolina State, Ohio State, Oklahoma State, Oregon State, Penn State, San Jose State, South Dakota State, Utah State, and Washington State.

Then Fortune 500 CEOs. Then Rhodes Scholars. Then Steven Spielberg. And, well, it goes without saying that we all know examples of really successful people who did not go to the Gotta-Get-Ins.

The article goes on to mention lots of good evidence why going to an elite school isn't as important as people think.

BOTTOM LINE: This article makes you feel good about not buying into the admissions mania.