Feb 28, 2011

UVa Board of Visitors Approves Higher Tuition for McIntire School of Commerce

The University of Virginia Board of Visitors (BOV) has approved a plan to charge extra tuition for specific undergraduate majors. Beginning this fall, students enrolled in the McIntire School of Commerce will see an extra $3000 tacked onto their bills.

The move, approved Friday, is designed to offset the high cost of operating a “top-ranked” program. Undergrads apply to the program and then if accepted, spend their third and fourth years in the school.

The plan to charge a tuition “differential” to McIntire students is a matter of “fairness,” said UVa president Teresa Sullivan. Commerce education is expensive and the additional funds are needed to recruit top faculty and staff from the business world.

“It seems the right thing to do for students who benefit from this to pay for it,” she said.

The $3000 fee will apply to both in-state and out-of-state students and is projected to bring in about $1 million in much-needed revenues for the school. Current third-year students, however, will not be charged the additional tuition as they enter their fourth year in the fall of 2011.

Officials noted that the change in cost was considered ahead of the regular tuition discussion so that students thinking about applying to the McIntire School would be aware of the fee.

For now, the new fee structure is characterized as a “pilot” program that will be reviewed after a year. During the board discussion, Sullivan acknowledged that other schools within the University will be watching the McIntire experiment, noting that the School of Engineering and Applied Science may be the only major engineering school in the country that does not impose additional tuition or laboratory fees.

University Rector John O. Wynne also pointed out to the BOV that Virginia Tech has charged differential tuition “for years.”

Looking for other sources of revenue, the Board of Visitors voted to increase overall enrollment by an additional 1,500 students in the next five years—provided the state comes through with additional funding to support the projected growth.

In 2004, the University agreed to add 1500 students by the 2014-15 academic year as part of a restructuring plan. The University still needs to add 273 students to meet that target.

The latest plans will increase the enrollment target by 1400 undergrads and 100 graduate students in the next five years.

By the 2018-19 academic year, the projected undergraduate and graduate enrollment would be 22,842, or about 1800 more students. The University plans to maintain the current ratio of about 70 percent in-state students and 30 percent out-of-state.

For those students looking forward to a possibility of becoming a Cavalier in the next few years, your odds have just increased. But plan to spend more money as it looks like UVa is looking creatively at ways to bring in more cash.

Tuition and fees for other programs beginning in the fall of 2011 will be set at a special board meeting in April.

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.

Feb 26, 2011

DePaul Joins Growing List of ‘Test-Optional’ Colleges

DePaul University in Chicago recently announced that it will join the growing list of colleges employing a “test-optional” alternative for freshman admission. The new policy makes DePaul the largest private nonprofit university in the country to make standardized test scores optional for applicants.

While still working out details, DePaul officials suggest that the change in policy will enhance the university’s “student-centered” approach to admission and support their view that four years of performance and learning in high school are far more important than performance on a four-hour test.

“Standardized test scores are strongly correlated with income, and scores vary dramatically across ethnic groups, raising questions about their fairness to all members of our society,” the university said in a prepared statement. “The prevalence of the ‘test preparation industry’ and the ability of wealthier students to take the test repeated times contribute to the debate about equity.”

Beginning with applicants for the freshman class applying in the fall of 2011, students who choose not to submit ACT or SAT scores will be asked to write short responses to essay questions designed to measure “noncognitive” traits, such as leadership, commitment to service, and ability to meet long-term goals.

One of the nation’s 10 largest private, not-for-profit universities, DePaul joins such schools as Bowdoin, Gettysburg, Lawrence University, and Wake Forest that have successfully implemented similar admission policies.

Locally, American University, Christopher Newport, George Mason, Goucher College, Loyola University of Maryland, Trinity Washington University, and St. John’s College are among the more than 840 four-year colleges and universities listed by Fair Test that do not use the SAT or ACT to admit substantial numbers of bachelor degree applicants.

The move to test-optional is one of several changes in admissions procedures adopted by DePaul. Last fall, DePaul began using the Common Application and according to numbers provided to The Chronicle of Higher Education, the school already received 16,000 applications for a class of between 2300 and 2500 students, as of the first week of February. That’s a 42 percent increase in the number of applications DePaul received at the same point last year.

For more information on DePaul and the transition to test-optional admissions, visit the university website.

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.

Feb 25, 2011

Oops We Did It Again—CNU Forced to Rescind 2000 Offers

It’s just way too easy to mistakenly push the “send” button on both ends of the college admissions process. Anxious applicants do it, and now college admissions offices are doing it as well.

With increasing frequency, it seems some poor administrator makes an unfortunate slip and sends off offers of admission to a few thousand high school students and then is forced to admit it was all a huge mistake.

It’s happened to Cornell, North Carolina, NYU, and the University of California San Diego. In fact, it happened a year ago when George Washington University mistakenly sent an email letter of acceptance to 2000 Early Decision II applicants—after they had already received a letter of rejection.

Now it’s Christopher Newport’s turn to send apologies after emailing 2000 students welcoming them to the Class of 2015, only to be forced to withdraw the offers four hours later.

“We understand that for some students this is a highly emotional time and we would like to express our regret for any additional anxiety this may have caused,” wrote Maury O’Connell, CNU vice president for student services in an email to all accepted then rejected students. The mistake was “solely a result of human error.”

The crack investigative reporters over at The Chronicle of Higher Education checked with “Captain Chris,” the admissions office’s resident answer-bot for an explanation:

Q. Why did you extend and then rescind an offer of admission to 2,000 prospective students?
A. Admissions decisions are mailed on a rolling basis.
Q. Will heads roll over this mistake?
A. We’re sorry we could not find an answer to your question.

Gotta love it.

The real decisions will be emailed by March 15. In the meantime, anyone with questions about an application status can call 757-594-7015 or email admit@cnu.edu.

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.

Feb 24, 2011

Harvard and Princeton Follow UVa’s Lead and Reinstate Early Action

In separate releases this morning, Harvard followed by Princeton announced a return to non-binding early action admissions plans for students applying next fall. These policy changes come on the heels of UVa’s decision in November to discontinue an experiment with a “single admission” program begun in 2007.

While Harvard expressed dissatisfaction with administrative headaches associated with the single review policy and appeared ready to follow UVa’s lead, Princeton repeatedly expressed a commitment to remain with a program originally deemed beneficial to low-income students.

“It works for us,” commented Robyn Kent, Princeton’s associate dean of admission, in response to questions concerning the future of the single admission program. “President Tilghman is very committed to single review, and we have no plans to change our current application procedures.”

But that was last summer and once Harvard began rocking the boat earlier this year, Princeton evidently decided not to be left alone with a program that encouraged late submission of applications and hasn’t shown any particular advantage for minority or low-income applicants.

“We looked carefully at trends in Harvard admissions these past years and saw that many highly talented students, including some of the best-prepared low income and underrepresented minority students, were choosing programs with an early-action option, and therefore were missing out on the opportunity to consider Harvard,” said Dean Michael Smith of Harvard’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences.

And it didn’t help that other colleges simply weren’t interested in dropping early admission policies which serve to fill spots in the incoming class with well-organized and committed students.

Princeton President Shirley M. Tilghman said, “…in eliminating our early program four years ago, we hoped other colleges and universities would do the same and they haven’t. One consequence is that some students who really want to make their college decision as early as possible in their senior year apply to other schools early, even if their first choice is Princeton.”

Harvard and Princeton will join Stanford and Yale with "restrictive" or “single-choice” early action policies. Students who apply early to any of these schools cannot apply early elsewhere. But similar to other early action programs, students may also consider "regular" admissions offers and will not be required to decide until May 1st of the following year.

UVa has elected to go in a slightly different direction and will offer a more traditional early action option. Students will be free to submit other non-binding early action applications and will also have the freedom to choose among all offers of admission.

Feb 23, 2011

The Student Poverty Song

We’re coming into tuition-setting season. Over the next several months, tuition rates for the 2011-2012 academic year will slowly roll out across the country.

And you can bet that few will go in the direction of Sewanee, which recently announced an unprecedented tuition decrease of 10 percent for next year.

Although tuition increases are expected to moderate somewhat and aid should continue to rise faster than price, the totals will continue to astonish as increasing numbers of colleges and universities quietly cross the $50,000 mark.

Among the Ivies, the University of Pennsylvania already announced a 3.9 percent increase in tuition, fees, and room and board bringing the total to $53,976. Cornell approved a $1,875 across-the-board tuition increase which comes to about 4.7 per for the university’s endowed colleges and 8 percent for New York state residents in Cornell’s statutory colleges.

Yale is up by 5.8 percent bringing total tuition, fees, and room and board to $52,700, while Brown is requesting a 3.5 percent increase to $53,136. On the bottom end of the scale, Princeton will increase tuition by only 1 percent for the 2011-12 academic year, keeping the total at slightly below $50,000.

In other parts of the country, the news is similar. Stanford will go up by 3.5 percent to $52,341. Washington University in St. Louis (3.9 percent), Notre Dame (3.8 percent), Brigham Young (3 percent), Ithaca (4.76 percent), and Villanova (3 percent) all recently announced tuition increases. Wake Forest’s tuition will go up by 3.9 percent and housing by 5.6 percent.

And locally, Georgetown University will be going up by 2.8 percent, for a total of $53,910, while the George Washington University Board of Trustees approved an increase for incoming students of 2.9 percent.

So it’s no surprise that The Student Poverty Song, a video produced by students of Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, struck a chord with undergrads in the US. With average student debt close to $30,000—the highest of all Canadian provinces—Dalhousie students are making the case for maintaining a tuition freeze slated to expire at the end of the year.

And the refrain is familiar. “Can’t afford these happy times. I’m living off nickels and dimes. It’s hard to see what’s in front of me when I’m one step closer to poverty.”

Feb 22, 2011

Remembering Washington's Birthday

This article originally ran last year and has been updated.

Today is George Washington’s Birthday. Along with Lincoln’s birthday on February 12th, February 22nd used to be a federal holiday and a day off from school. Until the creation of a more generic “Presidents’ Day,” the shortest month of the year was distinguished by having two full vacation days honoring presidents.

In the past, DC celebrated Washington’s Birthday with the best sales of the year. Long lines formed early in the morning at Hecht’s and Woodward & Lothrop, where you could pick-up an appliance, a rug, or last season’s must-have fashions for a song.

School children prepared for the holiday by cutting out presidential silhouettes and reading stories extolling Washington’s honesty and heroism. And area bakeries featured cherry pies in honor of Washington’s famous encounter with a cherry tree.

Unfortunately, little remains of the original celebrations except in one corner of the city where Washington is celebrated as both namesake and mascot. Tonight (weather permitting), the students at George Washington University will mark Washington’s birth with a bonfire in GW’s University Yard, as part of a gala homecoming celebration. The party will include birthday cupcakes, period music, and a cherry pie eating contest.

But in an ironic twist of history, American University probably owes more to George Washington than GW. According to Kenneth Davis, author of Don’t Know Much about George Washington, our first president never went to college and regretted it all his life. As a result, one of his pet projects was to establish a university in the capital that would be open to all American citizens, so that none would be denied a college education as he had been. Although Washington never lived to see his dream come true, American University was founded as a direct result of his efforts.

So as you reach for a second slice of cherry pie, remember that two local universities have reason to celebrate Washington’s Birthday—one owing its founding and the other its name to our first president.

Feb 21, 2011

Presidents' Day at Macalester—Don’t Miss It!

This has been a spectacular year for students and administrators at Macalester College. Last year’s incoming class brought students to Minnesota from 42 states (and the District of Columbia) as well as from 47 countries around the world.

This year, Macalester applications are up by over 40 percent for the class of 2015, with 6071 students competing for slightly over 500 spots.

And Macalester students are doing great things.

In 2010, students volunteered 76,416 hours—that’s pretty good for a college with fewer than 2000 students. Undergrads won prestigious awards—Fulbright grants, National Science Foundation fellowships, as well as Goldwater, Truman, Beinecke, and Udall scholarships.

And fundraising has never gone better as Macalester is well on its way toward successfully concluding an historic five-year campaign to raise $150 million.

So Macalester President Brian Rosenberg has good reason to celebrate Presidents' Day in a very big way, which he did in a wonderful video produced last year in honor of the holiday.

“Being president of Macalester isn’t just a job, it’s a lifestyle,” said Rosenberg. “But this is the best job in the world.”

There’s no rest for the weary in Rosenberg’s world. He sleeps in a Macalester club tie and wakes to bagpipes blaring through his alarm clock. Then he’s off to clear snow, make deliveries, and lead campus tours. He takes meals with students, poses for a studio art class, appears as the school mascot, and gamely participates in fundraising (which we already know he does very well).

For 2011, Macalester decided against a sequel to the YouTube classic and posted instead a video about bad ideas for sequels. To celebrate the day, however, Rosenberg plans to call 18,000 alumni, parents, and friends—all at the same time. The call will be the largest in school history and will feature a few special guests including former Vice President Walter Mondale and author Tim O’Brien—both Macalester alums.

A Charles Dickens scholar, Rosenberg began his career at The Cooper Union in New York and passed through Allegheny College and Lawrence University on his way to Macalester. He’s clearly found home in Saint Paul.

If you’re not one of the 18,000 to receive a call from Macalester’s president, celebrate the day with a slice of cherry pie and an insider’s view of what it’s like to be president of an amazing college in Minnesota by viewing the original Presidents' Day video on the school website, YouTube, or by simply clicking below.

Feb 19, 2011

Which Virginia Colleges Enroll the Most Out-of-State Students?

This is a trick question. Or at least the answer isn’t intuitive.

Ask most local parents which of the Commonwealth’s public institutions enrolled the highest percentage of out-of-state students in the fall of 2010, and the answer will inevitably be, “UVa.”

But according to the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV), the University of Virginia was not guilty of enrolling the highest percentage of students from outside the state. The Virginia Military Institute (VMI) holds that distinction this year, posting 40.2 percent out-of-state students. UVa came in second at 33.5 percent, and the College of William & Mary came in a very close third at 33.3 percent.

Looking at numbers instead of percentages, Virginia Tech enrolled the most nonresidents in the fall of 2010 with 6198 students coming from other states. Once again, UVa came in second with 5225 out-of-state students, and James Madison University came in third with 5022 students from outside of Virginia.

In total, Virginia public institutions enrolled 161,417 students with 18.5 (or 29,919) coming from other states, no doubt to take advantage of Virginia’s reputation for excellence in postsecondary education.

In fact, four Virginia public institutions (UVa, College of William & Mary, University of Mary Washington, and James Madison University) are among the top ten public colleges and universities with the best four-year graduation rates in the country based on data generated using a search tool provided on the IPEDS website.

While the state legislature engages in a perennial battle with UVa and William & Mary over perceived slights to tax paying in-state students, it’s interesting to look at which of Virginia’s public institutions are actually most friendly to out-of state students:

Feb 18, 2011

Verizon Wireless and UNCF Announce Black History Month Essay Contest

Five hundred words could earn lucky high school seniors as much as $5000 toward next year’s college tuition. In honor of Black History Month, the United Negro College Fund (UNCF) and Verizon Wireless are offering seniors in Maryland, Virginia, and the District of Columbia the chance to win one of several scholarships—all for the price of an application and an essay on "how the evolution of wireless technology has changed the world in which we live."

The rules are simple. Students must be graduating seniors with a minimum GPA of 2.0 and must reside in one of 12 qualifying states or the District of Columbia. Applications must be submitted online and received by no later than Tuesday, March 15, 2011.

The top three winners will each receive a scholarship of $5000 to be used during the 2011-12 academic year. In addition, they will get a netbook and a DROID by Motorola with Verizon Wireless gift cards that may be used toward wireless service.

No financial information is requested or required for this contest. Essays will be judged for quality and responsiveness. So watch out for grammar and be sure to answer the question.

This isn’t hard, and you could win up to $5000 to apply toward college tuition. For more information, go directly to the UNCF website.

Feb 16, 2011

Fairfax County will Likely Refund AP Test Fees

A recent ruling delivered by Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli is likely to result in Advanced Placement (AP) exam fee refunds for Fairfax County Public School (FCPS) families.

According to FCPS spokesman Paul Regnier, “Superintendent Jack Dale will present a plan to the Board at the March meeting that will recommend either refunding all AP test fees collected this year or declaring the test 'not required'.”

In one of several recent rulings, Attorney General Cuccinelli issued an official advisory opinion that no state law currently permits schools to impose AP fees.

In response to a question from Senator David Marsden, Cuccinelli wrote, “It is my opinion that a local school board cannot impose a mandatory fee on students taking advanced placement courses for the required taking of the Advanced Placement Examination.”

Cuccinelli noted, “Because the Advanced Placement Examination test is the required end-of-course examination, it cannot reasonably be viewed as a service or program for which a fee may be levied.”

Beginning this school year, FCPS implemented a number of school-based fees designed to make up for lost revenues in the school budget. Among these was the $75 charged to students taking AP exams, all of which is paid directly to the College Board.

In 2010, 15,439 FCPS students took 32,230 Advanced Placement exams. Refunds for the 2011 exams would cost the school system about $2 million.

The Cuccinelli ruling sent several local Virginia school systems scrambling to determine whether their fees are in compliance. FCSP Superintendent Dale’s decision to possibly refund fees will come with a further recommendation for the Board to examine future policies governing AP fees.

“There are two choices,” said Regnier. “The Board can go back to the previous policy of paying all AP fees or they can go back to an earlier policy of not paying fees and not requiring students to take the exam.”

FCPS students are currently required to take AP exams in order to earn an extra 1.0 GPA “weight” allowed for AP courses. The extra weight appears on college transcripts and is considered very advantageous for college-bound students.

If the county is unable to come up with the funds to pay back the fees, then the Board may act to remove the test requirement for this year. Parent leaders, however, feel this option is very unlikely. In fact, announcements have been made at several area high schools indicating that families should expect the refunds by the end of the school year.

Neighboring Loudoun County is also trying to figure out how the ruling will affect its policy.

“Our requirements are different because we don’t require that you take the exam unless you want the grade-point boost of the AP course—then it’s required,” said Loudoun County school board chair John Stevens.

Stevens thinks the Cuccinelli ruling is probably right. Loudoun County adopted the policy, like Fairfax, in response to a deepening budget crisis. It’s saved millions of dollars and “enabled the district to avoid cutting jobs.”

In the meantime, legislation sponsored by Delegate Kay Kory to prohibit local school boards from charging fees for both the AP and International Baccalaureate (IB) tests was defeated in the Virginia House Education Committee.

“I strongly believe that charging fees for AP and IB tests is the same as charging for enrollment in the course,” Kory commented. “I do not think it is fair to balance the budget on the backs of disadvantaged students.

The FCPS Board will meet on March 14 to discuss Superintendent Dale’s recommendations. Changes in policy for the 2011-12 school year will be considered during budget negotiations in May.

Feb 14, 2011

6 Ways Independent Educational Consultants Support College-Bound Students

According to a recent study by Lipman Hearne, conducted in cooperation with the National Research Center for College and University Admissions (NRCCUA), 26 percent of “high achieving” seniors used independent educational or college consultants to support college search.


If so, you’re not alone. Even the leadership of the Independent Educational Consultants Association (IECA) didn’t expect these results, despite evidence of growth in membership and the number of students annually served by member consultants.

Nevertheless, based on a survey of 1,264 students achieving 1150 or higher on the SAT (1600 point scale) and/or an ACT composite of 25 or higher, it seems that educational consultants are now very much “mainstream” and may work with as many as 160,000 college applicants each year.

Not so long ago, college consulting was considered a “Park Avenue” kind of luxury, which only the wealthiest of families could afford. But with in-school counseling workloads reaching the breaking point, middleclass parents and students are increasingly reaching out for additional support and information on colleges and the admission process. And many of these families live in the Washington metropolitan area.

But the real reasons behind this trend may be because independent educational consultants are

  1. Available. Consultants aren’t tied to a school, a school district, or a school calendar. They work with students in the immediate neighborhood or across the world thanks to readily available technology. Not surprisingly, consultants do much of their most important work over the summer months getting seniors ready for the admissions process, and many work long weekend and evening hours—after team practice or between dinner and homework.

  2. Responsive. It’s part of the business model. Consultants have to respond promptly to emails, phone calls and other forms of inquiry or they’re quickly out of business (see 6 below). Deadlines are everything in the world of college admissions and no one is more aware of time constraints and the need for immediacy than independent educational consultants.

  3. Knowledgeable. Consultants spend significant time visiting college campuses and attending professional workshops or conferences. It’s no secret that colleges have different personalities and management practices. But it’s virtually impossible to get a feel for these personalities or keep up with changes in programs and facilities without visiting on a regular basis. Yes, it’s expensive and time-consuming, but the best consultants travel as much as 20 percent of the workweek to be the eyes and ears of the families they serve.

  4. Credentialed. Reputable independent educational consultants maintain memberships in organizations such as the IECA, the Higher Education Consultants Association (HECA), the National Association of College Admissions Counselors (NACAC) or local NACAC affiliates—each of which sets individual membership requirements demanding years of specialized experience, education and training, and a firm commitment to continuing education.

  5. Ethical. As members of the above-mentioned organizations, consultants subscribe to specific Principles of Good Practice governing the actions of consultants in their relationships with students and families, schools and colleges, and with colleagues.

  6. Parent-recommended. Anyone in the consulting business will tell you no amount of marketing will ever bring in as many clients as simple word-of-mouth. Informal surveys of educational consultants suggest that as many as 90 percent of families seeking college consulting services are referred by other families. The best consultants are well-known in the community and are respected for the service they provide. It’s as simple as that.

Feb 12, 2011

Maryland and Virginia Score Well in 'AP Report to the Nation'

Once again, Maryland and Virginia claimed two of the top three spots in performance on Advanced Placement (AP) exams administered to students graduating from public high schools, according to the College Board’s 7th annual AP Report to the Nation.

For the third consecutive year, Maryland had the nation’s highest percentage (26.4 percent) of seniors scoring a passing mark on at least one AP exam—up almost two percentage points over last year. Virginia placed third at 23.7 percent, just behind New York (24.6) and above Connecticut (23.2). Nationwide, nearly 17 percent of public high school students from the class of 2010 completed high school with at least one successful AP experience

Maryland also earned honors for being among the states with the greatest five-year percentage increase (4.8) of seniors scoring 3 or higher on an at least one exam. Virginia followed with a 4.0 percent increase in successful test-takers over five years.

More than a half a million public school students from the class of 2010 earned a passing score (3 or higher out of a possible 5) on at least one AP exam during high school—nearly doubling the number of successful students from the class of 2001 and exceeding the total number of students from the class of 2001 who took AP exams.

In Maryland, Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) set a new record for AP performance with half of its 2010 graduates (more than 5000 students) earning passing scores on at least one AP exam—almost double the rate of the state as a whole. MCPS represented more than a quarter of Maryland’s graduates taking an AP exam and about one-third of the graduates scoring a 3 or better. In fact, MCPS represented one percent of the nation’s graduates with passing scores.

“We are proud that MCPS students are leading the nation in taking rigorous AP classes and demonstrating college readiness on the exams,” said Christopher S. Barclay, president of the Montgomery County Board of Education. “The outstanding effort and focus of our school staff is ensuring that a greater number of students each year are college and career ready.”

According to the College Board, research shows that students who score a 3 or higher on AP exams “typically experience stronger college outcomes than otherwise comparable non-AP peers.” As the AP report clearly demonstrates, area high schools have responded by increasing the availability of AP courses and encouraging more students to take AP exams.

A complete copy of the 2011 AP Report to the Nation is available on the College Board website.

Feb 11, 2011

Area Colleges and Universities Rock the Peace Corps

George Washington University and the University of Mary Washington headed up lists of top volunteer producing colleges and universities in two of three major undergraduate categories announced by the Peace Corps in its 2011 Annual College Rankings.

With 32 undergraduate alumni currently serving around the world, UMW came in first among "small" schools, retaining a place among top volunteer producers for the eighth consecutive year. A total of 215 Mary Washington alumni have served the 27-month Peace Corps commitment since the program’s inception in 1961.

Joining the list of high achieving small schools, Johns Hopkins University came in 6th place with 22 volunteers and St. Mary’s College of Maryland came in 13th with 18 former students serving around the world.

For the third year in a row, GW ranked number one in the medium college and university category with 72 undergraduate alums currently serving in the Corps, closely followed by UVa with 71 volunteers. American University (55), the College of William & Mary (41), and Georgetown (37) also earned spots among the top ten medium sized colleges, ranking 4th, 8th, and 10th respectively.

And with over 1000 volunteers serving since President Kennedy created the Peace Corps, the University of Maryland was among the leading volunteer producing large institutions with 50 alums currently posted abroad.

Celebrating nearly 50 years of promoting peace and friendship around the world, more than 200,000 Americans have served with the Peace Corps in 139 host countries. Today, 8,655 volunteers are working with local communities in 77 countries, representing a 13 percent increase over 2009.

Although a college degree is not mandatory for service, relevant experience in areas such as education, health, business, environment or agriculture is required. In 2010, the agency received nearly 13,500 applications for volunteer positions with only one in three applicants chosen to serve with a Peace Corps program overseas.

The Peace Corps’ nine regional offices located across the US recruit and provide information and guidance to prospective volunteers including current undergrads. Potential applicants can connect with local recruiters by visiting the Peace Corps website.

Feb 9, 2011

Economics Continues to Influence College Choice

This year’s CIRP Freshman Survey confirms what most local families already know: financial concerns influence college choice. In fact, almost two-thirds of the 201,818 incoming freshmen surveyed by UCLA at 279 of the nation’s baccalaureate colleges and universities reported that the “current economic situation significantly affected my college choice” (20 percent agree strongly and 42.0 percent agree somewhat).

The CIRP Freshman Survey is the largest and longest-running survey of American college students. It has been published annually since 1966 and reflects the attitudes and trends expressed by a sample of the 1.5 million first-time full-time students entering four-year colleges in 2010.

In this year’s survey, students reporting an economic effect on college choice were also more likely to have “major” financial concerns about financing their education, to plan to live with family during school, and less likely to be going to a college more than 100 miles away.

And although both “affected” and “not affected” students were equally likely to report being accepted by their first choice institutions, those reporting that their college choice was impacted by the economic situation were much less likely to be attending their first choice college.

According to the Higher Education Research Institute (HERI), the “challenging economic landscape” also continues to influence students’ college experiences. The percentage of students using loans to help pay for colleges remains high at 53.1 percent and more students reported receiving grants and scholarships than at any point since 2001—73.4 percent.

“The increasing cost of higher education poses a significant barrier to college access for today’s students,” said Sylvia Hurtado, co-author of the CIRP report and director of the Higher Education Research Institute. “Students and families are now charged with the task of becoming more resourceful and strategic in finding new and creative ways to pay for college.”

Although academic reputation still weighs heavily in college choice, it’s clear that financial considerations are becoming increasingly more dominant as families and students are faced with harsh economic realities.

The following are the 22 reasons for choosing a college that students were offered in the UCLA survey. They are ranked in descending order, based on which factors students said were “very important” in influencing their final choice.

  1. College has a very good academic reputation (62 percent)

  2. This college’s graduates get good jobs (53.3 percent)

  3. I was offered financial assistance (45.5 percent)

  4. A visit to the campus (41.8 percent)

  5. The cost of attending this college (41 percent)

  6. College has a good reputation for social activities (39.5 percent)

  7. Wanted to go to a college about this size (38.7 percent)

  8. Grads get into good grad/professional schools (32.2 percent)

  9. Wanted to live near home (19 percent)

  10. Information from a website (17.9 percent)

  11. Rankings in national magazines (16.7 percent)

  12. Parents wanted me to go to this school (13.7 percent)

  13. Admitted early decision and/or early action (13.7 percent)

  14. Could not afford first choice (12.2 percent)

  15. High school counselor advised me (9.6 percent)

  16. Not offered aid by first choice (8.9 percent)

  17. Athletic department recruited me (8.8 percent)

  18. Attracted by religious affiliation/orientation of college (7.3 percent)

  19. My teacher advised me (6 percent)

  20. My relatives wanted me to come here (6 percent)

  21. Private college counselor advised me (3.5 percent)

  22. Ability to take online courses (2.7 percent)

For more information or to order a complete copy of the report, visit the HERI website.

Feb 7, 2011

Celebrate National School Counseling Week with a ‘Thank You’ and a Hug

Most local high school guidance counselors won’t have much time to celebrate National School Counseling Week (February 7-11) this year. According to the American School Counselor Association, here are a few of the reasons why:

• Nearly one in three girls and one in four boys report being highly stressed
• Suicide is the third leading cause of death for 15- to 24-year olds, and the sixth leading cause of death for 5- to 14-year olds.
• Among students nationwide, 5.4 percent had not gone to school on one or more days in the last month because they felt unsafe.
• Between 15 to 25 percent of students are bullied with some to moderate frequency.
• More than half of sixth graders report peer pressure to drink beer, wine or liquor. One of every three sixth graders say they feel pressured to use marijuana.

In other words, these folks are busy. And they’re busy helping kids address personal and social problems, substance abuse, attendance issues, and academics. They’re busy trying to keep kids from dropping out, doing dope, or causing harm to themselves or others—all within the context of caseloads that far exceed the wildest estimates of what anyone thinks is prudent or sane.

The National School Counselor Association recommends that parents “maintain an open dialogue with their child’s counselor and establish contact in-person, or via phone and email at least three times per school year.” Sounds good, but how often does it happen?

I work with many local students and parents who have never met, nor think it’s particularly important to meet with their guidance counselor. In all fairness, the counselor may not have had time to reach out, and the system does seem to actively work to thwart the relationship. But still, the door is seldom entirely closed.

And yet when it comes time for applying to college, who do these same students and parents think organizes the school paperwork and writes the recommendations? Who’s in the process of gathering information for the all-important mid-year reports on which college candidacies may rise or fall? And how does anyone think these reports or recommendations can be anything but generic if there is no personal interaction at any time during the high school career?

So let’s begin breaking down barriers. Why not take a moment to make to start or renew a friendship in the guidance office? Take the occasion of National School Counseling Week to send an email, write a note, or stop by the office to thank the person behind the desk. Even better—drop by the principal’s office and tell the boss what a great job your counselor is doing.

And knowing many school counselors in every corner of the country, I’d say a hug would very likely be appreciated and warmly accepted.

Feb 5, 2011

The University of California Drops SAT Subject Test Requirement

Students applying for fall 2012 admission to colleges in the University of California system will no longer be required to submit SAT Subject Test scores. For local students who find themselves “California Dreamin’,” this could be welcome news and should lessen the pressure to schedule additional standardized testing during the coming months.

The new eligibility requirements are based on recommendations made by UC’s Academic Senate and are designed to bring UC’s testing requirements more in line with other public universities. Until now, UC was the only public higher education system in the nation to require students to take two subject examinations.

Locally, Virginia’s flagship university in Charlottesville currently “strongly” recommends two subject tests, while the University of Maryland requires none for admission.

The elimination of the subject test requirement stems from in-house faculty research suggesting that SAT Subject Tests “contribute very little to UC’s ability to select freshmen who will do well at UC, once their GPA and SAT or CT scores are considered.” In fact, research suggests that the overall value of subject tests has “declined markedly” with the addition of the writing test to the main SAT and ACT exams.

Studies have also shown that students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds are less likely to take SAT Subject Tests. Rather than maintain a barrier to admissions for this group of students, the UC system elected to eliminate or loosen the requirement.

Still, some UC campuses will continue to “recommend” SAT Subject Tests for certain schools or majors. And in the world of college admissions, you can usually translate “recommend” into "require. "

For example, UC Berkeley’s College of Chemistry and College of Engineering will consider SAT Subject Tests in a science and Math Level 2 a “plus.” UCLA’s Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science also recommends the submission of Math Level 2 and a science scores. And UC Santa Barbara’s College of Letters and Science states that subject test scores will be considered as “value-added achievements during the application evaluation.”

And note that under the new policy, students could still choose to submit subject test scores for consideration as part of their application, just as they now do with Advanced Placement (AP) or International Baccalaureate (IB) scores.

For more information on this and other changes in UC admissions (many of which pertain only to California residents), visit the UC website check under freshman admission requirements.

Feb 4, 2011

Tips for College-Bound Homeschool Students

The Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) recently came out with tips for homeschool parents and students that should help enormously with the college admissions process.

While the HSLDA reports that colleges and universities are increasingly more open to homeschoolers, problems occasionally occur when admissions officers are either unfamiliar with homeschooling and related legal requirements or are fearful of losing eligibility for federal support if students with “unaccredited” diplomas are awarded financial aid.

The following is a summary of HSLDA’s recommendations for how to avoid challenges and communicate with college admissions staff:

• Make sure you are familiar with the homeschool requirements in the state in which your high school program was conducted.
• Collect proof of compliance with state law.
• Have available a copy of your “notice of intent” (if your state requires one) demonstrating filing requirements were met (Maryland, Virginia, and DC all require some official notification/verification of intent).
• Make sure your transcript is professional as well as informative (it can be helpful to have transcripts notarized).
• Put together a portfolio of your best work from high school and make it available to admissions counselors.

HSLDA suggests that some colleges mistakenly believe federal regulations require college applicants to have an “accredited” high school diploma or GED in order to qualify for financial aid. The US Department of Education, however, allows homeschool grads to self-certify completion of their secondary education in a homeschool setting and no “proof” of accreditation needs to be submitted for students to receive federal aid.

“We work with homeschoolers every year. Each one is different and has different application materials with regard to transcripts,” said Jean Swartz, Shenandoah University’s director of undergraduate admission. “We have a webpage of information for them with our application process.”

George Mason University also offers advice for homeschool students on its website and emphasizes that such students "will be viewed no differently than those who apply from traditional high schools." And the College of William & Mary advises that although there are no special requirements for homeschool students, applicants must complete the Common Application's Home School Supplement and should consider taking SAT subject tests to prove proficiency in certain academic subject areas.

Kelly Gosnell, Vice President at Trinity Washington University, advises that college admissions offices like to see “a full reading list—everything you have read from 9th grade up through 12th,” including pleasure and text reading as well as related writing samples. Along the same lines, homeschoolers should be able to “exhibit full math and science progression through documented projects with samples.” She also suggests, “Keep a condensed activities resume showing extra-curricular (social, academic, and athletic) and community service activities through the years.”

In a handout prepared for homeschool students, Catholic University (CUA) recommends that transcripts, whether created at home or through a homeschooling organization, must list all courses of study with explanatory descriptions and assessment of academic performance. Catholic also requires at least one recommendation letter from someone other than the homeschooler’s parent—a coach or pastor might be a good option.

While welcoming applications from homeschooled students, CUA reviews each application on a case-by-case basis and all homeschool applicants are given the same consideration for scholarship and financial aid as traditional students.

“The homeschooled students who apply to CUA are almost always well prepared for college level work,” said Christine Mica, Dean of Admission.

The challenge is being aware of all requirements and compiling the necessary information to make a persuasive case for admission.

For more information on homeschooling rights and responsibilities as they relate to college admissions, visit the HSLDA website.

Feb 2, 2011

Cure Fear of FAFSA at FREE Financial Aid Clinics

Fear of FAFSA is a known, but treatable disease. Often it begins with math phobia or chronic avoidance of anything related to personal finances. Individuals who have never balanced a checkbook or filed their own taxes are particularly susceptible.

But help is available! If you’re still procrastinating or have come up against the proverbial FAFSA “wall,” local associations of financial aid professionals are organizing a series of FREE FAFSA filing clinics scheduled to take place in virtually every corner of the country over the next two months.

In the DC metropolitan area, students and their families can choose among Super Saturday events, sponsored by the Virginia Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (VASFAA), College Access Fairfax, or College Goal Sunday, sponsored by independently-funded organizations in Maryland and DC.

There are no residency requirements for any of these programs. Maryland or DC students are welcome to attend Virginia events, and Virginians are welcome to cross the river to attend events in Maryland or the District. Just find a convenient date and location. But considering institutional “priority” FAFSA filing deadlines, you may want to target some of the earlier dates.

Super Saturday, Virginia
This year, the VASFAA will host 20 Super Saturday events across the Commonwealth on Saturday, February 5, 2011. Each Super Saturday site will offer two financial aid workshops designed to explain the federal financial aid process, followed by a Q & A period.

The host sites will have computers available for students/parents to begin or complete their FAFSA’s, with one-on-one assistance provided by volunteer financial aid experts. And to sweeten the deal, a $100 Book Scholarship will be awarded to one student at each Super Saturday site to be used at the winner’s college of choice during the 2011-12 academic year.

Participants should bring personal FAFSA PIN numbers (it's best to register in advance), Social Security numbers, driver’s license, income and tax records, bank and investment statements, and residency documents for noncitizens. More information is provided on the VASFAA website as well as on several location-specific web pages.

College Access Fairfax
College Access Fairfax, in conjunction with the Fairfax County Public Schools, has scheduled 11 events in various locations around the county. All workshops are free and open to students and families from any high school, and most will provide on-site Spanish translation services.

College Goal Sundays, Maryland
In Maryland, nine College Goal Sundays have been scheduled in locations across the state. At each site, FREE professional assistance will be available to help students and their families begin and hopefully complete the FAFSA filing process. In addition, there will be information on state-wide student services, admission requirements, and other financial aid resources. Although not required, participants are strongly encouraged to register in advance as computers, translators, and volunteers are limited.

To complete the FAFSA process on-site, you will need to have your Social Security number, driver’s license, income and tax records, investment and bank statements, and your alien registration card if you are not a US citizen. Details are provided on the College Goal website.

DC College Goal Sunday
The DC College Goal Sunday program has scheduled three events taking place on three separate Sundays--February 6, 13, and 20th. In addition to identification information such as Social Security numbers and driver’s license, parents and students should bring their latest tax information and/or last pay stub to complete the form.

If you’re suffering from Fear of FAFSA, you’re not alone. Get help. It’s FREE, professional, and confidential.