Jun 29, 2011

And Don't Forget the Interview

If any schools on your college list recommend or require interviews, now is the time to get out your calendar and begin scheduling appointments.

In fact, it’s a good idea to go to individual websites and carefully note all application requirements including admissions advice on the necessity of sitting for an interview—at your place or theirs.

So what does today’s college interview look like? To begin with, they come in all kinds of formats and configurations depending on the purpose of the interview or who is conducting it.

In general, they are either informational or evaluative, meaning the college is either inviting you to learn a little more about what they have to offer or the college is sizing you up as an applicant.

Interviews can take place on campus or in your community. For example, some colleges send teams of interviewers to cities. They camp out in a hotel and invite students to come in. The format can be structured on a one-to-one basis, or some schools have “group” interviews. The latter is far less desirable than the former, but you seldom have much say in the venue or the structure of the interview.

Some schools offer phone interviews, online interviews, or more tech-wise operations will give you a “skype” option. This is becoming increasingly popular as it saves time and travel expenses for all parties involved.

Interviews may be conducted by admissions staff, students, or alums. Alumni interviews usually take place in the fall, after you have submitted an application, while other interviews are scheduled starting now and running through the summer or until applications are due.

The level of professionalism and value of the interview will depend a great deal on how much training the interviewer has received. Staff interviews tend to be the best, but alums and students often aren’t as tied to the college marketing program and may give you a different perspective.

Locally, George Washington University “recommends” an interview and provides lots of different options. According to the GW website:

“An interview is not required for admissions; however, if you are an applicant and elect to participate in an interview, it will be considered in the admissions process. We offer a variety of interview options, both on and off campus, including interview weekends in major locations throughout the country, interviews with local alumni and on-campus interviews.”

Interviews are offered during the summer and fall, and according to the GW admissions office, the calendar fills quickly.

And here’s a little insiders secret: GW posts sample interview questions and an interview evaluation form on a web page designed to support alumni interviewers.

While there is no guarantee your GW interviewer will use these exact questions, they offer a great foundation for any interview—at any college or in any context. I recommend taking a sneak peak even if you aren’t planning to apply to George Washington.

Regardless of who is doing the interview and where, appointments are almost always limited and the sooner you email or call to schedule a time, the better. If you wait too long, you risk being left out of the interview process. It’s not usually a deal breaker, but if you have the opportunity to market yourself through an interview, why not take it?

Jun 27, 2011

Summer Reading Assignments for College Freshmen

Not long ago, the National Association of Scholars (NAS) compiled an interesting review of summer reading programs required of incoming freshman at colleges throughout the country.

Unlike traditional “required reading” assignments designed for students to get a little ahead or keep in the practice of reading over the summer, the college programs are more targeted to helping “start the conversation” during freshman orientation.

So what are freshmen reading? Based on an analysis of 290 programs, the top books last year were This I Believe (an essay collection assigned at 11 colleges), Enrique’s Journey (an immigrant’s story assigned at 10 colleges), Three Cups of Tea (the now controversial story of building schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan) and the Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks (ethics in research).

The study, titled “Beach Books,” looked at the themes and politics of the books selected for freshman reading and concluded that books about multiculturalism, immigration or racism were most popular (60 colleges). Next were books covering environmental issues (36 colleges), the Islamic world (27 colleges), New Age or spiritual books (25 colleges), and issues related to the Holocaust or genocide (25 colleges). NAS also reported that 46 of the choices have a film version, 29 are about Africa, 9 are related to Hurricane Katrina, and 5 are about dysfunctional families.

Following the trend, several local colleges incorporated summer reading into their freshman orientation activities. Students at George Washington University will be reading The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, and at American they will read The Good Soldier, by David Finkel. On September 7th, Finkel will visit AU to discuss the book in a program for newly-arrived freshmen.

Further to the east, students at Salisbury University will be reading Picking Cotton, by Jennifer Thompson-Cannino and Ronald Cotton. Both authors will be available at a book signing event scheduled during lunch for new students, and Ms. Thompson-Cannino will be the featured speaker at Convocation.

Established in 1998, Virginia Tech’s Common Book Project is designed to enrich the first-year experience and create “sense of community for undergraduate students.” This year, all incoming students have been given a copy of This I Believe II.

Marking the fifth year of the First Year Experience program, freshmen at St. Mary’s College of Maryland will read A Human Being Died That Night: A South African Woman Confronts the Legacy of Apartheid by Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela.

At Lynchburg College, freshmen will read selected essays from the This I Believe series, and Catholic University will once again assign Homer’s The Odyssey.

“The Odyssey bears directly to what you’re about to do,” said Dr. Todd Lidh, director of the CUA First Year Experience program. He goes on to explain that the first four books are “about Telemachus, Odysseus’ son, and his quest to find out who he is and who he comes from, what to believe and what to discard, who to trust and who to avoid. And he does this by leaving home—just as you are about to do.”

Jun 25, 2011

The Most Beautiful College Campuses in the World—Maybe

What could be more subjective than a beauty contest among colleges? And yet, it’s no secret that how a campus “looks” is of more than passing importance to most college-bound students.

“I really don’t like colonial-looking colleges,” said one local high school junior. “Jeffersonian doesn’t do it for me.”

So much for UVa, the College of William & Mary, and the University of Mary Washington.

Other students focus on how surroundings affect campus feel. “I could never go to school in a city,” mused another prospective college student. “Suburbs are okay, but I want a real campus and not a series of city blocks.”

Could she have been referring to NYU or George Washington? Then again, beauty is most definitely in the eye of the beholder.

While studies have attempted to connect the quality of student life to campus beauty, the premise is flawed by sincere differences of opinion about what constitutes beauty.

Unfortunately, that doesn’t stop “experts” from trying to rank and judge campuses on this most subjective of qualities.

For what it’s worth, here is the Forbes list of the most beautiful college campuses in the world (note that only Princeton and Wellesley also appear on the equally subjective Princeton Review list of most beautiful campuses):

  • Kenyon College

  • Oxford University

  • Princeton University

  • Scripps College

  • Stanford University

  • Trinity College

  • Tsinghua

  • US Air Force Academy

  • University of Bologna

  • UC Santa Cruz

  • University of Cincinnati

  • University of Virginia

  • Wellesley College

  • Yale University

Jun 24, 2011

Who Likes the USNWR Rankings?

The National Association for College Admission Counseling recently released survey findings on attitudes among college admissions professionals toward the US News & World Report (USNWR) undergraduate rankings publication. And not much was too surprising.

According to NACAC,

  • Most college counseling professionals (including high school counselors and admissions officers) don’t like the USNWR rankings.

  • Public schools and institutions tend to view the rankings slightly better than private schools and institutions.

  • College counseling professionals believe the title “America’s Best Colleges” does not accurately represent the information contained within the USNWR publication.

  • USNWR methodology is a little suspect particularly with regard to data collected in the areas of peer assessment, student selectivity, and alumni giving.

  • Despite apparent distain, colleges use rankings to market themselves and promote their ranking as part of a marketing strategy.

  • Admissions officers acknowledge that rankings encourage counterproductive behavior among colleges.

  • More than 90 percent of colleges believe rankings put pressure on institutions to invest in strategies to maintain or improve their rankings.

Although painting a generally negative portrait of the USNWR rankings, NACAC reports that college counseling professionals believe specific data points provide useful information in college assessment. Among these are measures of financial resources, faculty resources, graduation rate performance, and overall graduation and retention rates.

In an open ended response question, the survey collected information about other concepts or data points they feel might be important in assessing institutional quality. Among these were surveys of student experience (National Survey of Student Engagement), student services, student outcomes, faculty quality, and few miscellaneous measures such as the Collegiate Learning Assessment, the diversity of the student body, the amount of financial aid distributed, the safety of the campus, and the variety of programs or majors offered.

In general, professionals in the field of college counseling worry that students and families don’t fully understand the ranking methodology. Because the methodology changes from year to year, there is concern the rankings are unstable and cannot be compared over time.

There was also the suggestion that some colleges, particularly name-brand private institutions, are unfairly favored by the USNWR formula, and that rankings are based too heavily on measures that are subjective and biased. And possibly most telling, respondents pointed out that there is little statistical difference between schools and by placing colleges in ordinal rank USNWR “creates the illusion of differences where there are none.”

So who likes the USNWR rankings? Not too many professionals actually working in the field of college admissions.

Jun 22, 2011

Electronic Applications Go Off Line to Retool

Both the Common Application and the Universal College Application (UCA) will be going off line during the second half of July for the purpose of clearing the boards and retooling. And both will be back in action on August 1—just in time for the official start of the 2011-12 college application season.

On Friday, July 15, at 11:59 eastern time, the 2010-11 Common Application will be closing for maintenance. At that point, all accounts will be deleted in preparation for the August 1st launch. Students will not be able to save information already entered, but they are welcome to download and print out a copy of the application using the “preview” function.

Students applying to Common App member schools with rolling deadlines or deadlines after July 15 may still use the paper version and submit via regular mail.

The UCA will temporarily go off line on Monday, July 25th. During the next seven days, enhancements will be added to already-available application tools. For the curious, a preview of the 2011-12 application is on the UCA website.

Students wishing to use the UCA to apply to any of several colleges still accepting applications for fall of 2011 should use the “Print Preview” function to print out the form before July 25 with the information they have entered, then complete the missing fields by hand, and mail the paper version to the college.

Now is the time to get familiar with both electronic application forms. Make note of which colleges use which form and determine where there may be some overlap on your college list. Locally, Johns Hopkins University, St. Mary's College of Maryland, and Towson University will be using both application forms for 2011-12.

For the record, both applications ask similar questions, but there are some subtle differences.
For example, the UCA is less directive than the Common App with regard to the personal statement, and the language around “disciplinary history” is slightly less threatening. The 2011-12 Common App, however, gives applicants more opportunity to provide information concerning proficiency in multiple foreign languages and allows colleges to ask probing questions around "future plans" if they choose.

The biggest difference between the two online forms, however, remains the availability of UCA’s multimedia link, which is located within the form and not in a supplement. Students using the UCA may easily link to online content without sending application readers scurrying around for CD’s, DVD’s, or portfolios. And that's a good thing!

Although application supplements will not be available from either the Common Application or the UCA until the official August 1st launch, colleges have begun the process of posting 2011-12 essay questions on their websites. Students wanting to get a head start on those essays can search websites or contact colleges directly. And keep in mind that the main Common App and UCA essay prompts are not changing for next year.

Jun 21, 2011

A Unique Opportunity for DC Area Teens

If you haven’t got any plans for the end of the week, consider volunteering as a “victim” for the Joint Rescue Task Force (RTF) training exercises scheduled for June 24, 27, and 30. It’s definitely something different to add to your resume and might even evolve into a VERY interesting college essay!

The RTF is made up of police and fire/EMS personnel from the City of Fairfax Fire and Police Departments. These are the folks who provide immediate medical aid to those injured in a shooting.

The upcoming training exercise was developed in response to previous active shooter events such as those that took place at Columbine, Northern Illinois University, and Virginia Tech. In those incidents, additional victims may have survived had they received life-saving care sooner.

RTF members are trained to enter a building, render aid, and remove victims while other law enforcement work to neutralize the shooter. These are truly heroic individuals who deserve all the support they can get from the community.

You may help by volunteering to “role play.” Twenty volunteers are needed from 8:00 am to 1:00 pm on each of the three days. Students may volunteer with an adult if they are at least 14 years old and without an adult if they are at least 16. The trainings will take place in a location central to the City of Fairfax, and lunch will be provided.

Note that anyone interested in participating must be comfortable in a stressful environment, as police and fire personnel will be wearing ballistic protection, carrying fake weapons, and treating volunteers as victims during the exercise.

For further information or to sign-up as a volunteer, contact Matt Lyttle, Emergency Response Program Manager at Volunteer Fairfax at mlyttle@volunteerfairfax.org.

Image by SharedFerrett

Jun 20, 2011

11 Ways Teen Entrepreneurs can Volunteer in their Communities

Students experiencing difficulty linking up with more established volunteer organizations may want to take an entrepreneurial approach to serving their communities this summer.

With a little creativity and willingness to tackle tasks others find boring or difficult, you can show initiative and hone managerial skills—qualities that colleges value and others appreciate.

Consider a few of these ideas:

1. Establish a donations program. Most nonprofits and churches need in-kind donations such as books, school supplies, or art materials. One local high school student collected used children’s books. She donated most but sold others through a yard sale, the proceeds from which she donated to a nonprofit.
Hint: Use Facebook or other social networking sites to get the word out.

2. Begin a tutoring service. Reach out to organizations serving younger children or look within your immediate community to volunteer your services as a tutor. You can even put your high school foreign language training to good use by working with English as a Second Language (ESL) students and adults.
Hint: Teaching others will help sharpen your own skills.

3. Be an entertainer. Gather friends and create a traveling road show appropriate for venues such as senior centers or summer camps. One local high school band volunteered to be the entertainment at a dance for retarded adults and was wildly received.
Hint: These projects can evolve into great opportunities for a fledgling rock group or for the budding thespians among your inner circle of friends and if you can't perform you can always be the manager.

4. Develop a curriculum. It can be as simple as kitchen science experiments or as comprehensive as one local student’s work on environmental issues which she developed into an educational program for children. Do some research, put together a project, and then approach organizations looking for activities or presentations to supplement their own.
Hint: Summer camps are particularly receptive to scheduling special events or classes for campers.

5. Support a child care center. Read stories, develop art projects, coach easy sports concepts, or create a movement or stretching class. Share your knowledge and skills to enrich the program as well as provide relief to teaching staff over the summer.
Hint: Inner city programs serving low-income children are in particular need of support.

6. Use your computer skills. This can be as complex as offering to make or maintain a website for a local nonprofit or as simple as providing one-on-one support to an early learner or a senior citizen.
Hint: Many seniors want to set up Facebook accounts to connect with old friends and family but simply don’t know how.

7. Write for a local newspaper. Submit an article on how students give back to their communities. Describe your experiences, interview local volunteers or volunteer organizations, or promote upcoming events.
Hint: Published articles may be attached or linked to college applications.

8. Create a blog. One local student developed a blog on her experiences living with cerebral palsy. Her suggestions and thoughtful commentary received responses from all over the country. Blogs are not difficult to create, and they can reflect a range of experiences, interests, or expertise.
Hint: Well-written and maintained blogs can be of great interest to college admissions officers.

9. Adopt a Highway or a Street. Although rules vary by jurisdiction, most states will allow families and small independent groups to adopt highways. And many municipalities have street adoption programs. In Virginia, one member of the group must be 18, but the work crew can have members as young as 10. The adopting group will be asked to make a commitment to pick-up litter several times per year from an assigned segment of highway in return for training, equipment, and trash bags.
Hint: Come up with a creative name for your group and write about your experiences or the kinds of trash you’re gathering (see numbers 7 and 8 above).

10. Develop a product to support a cause. A couple of years ago, a local student used her sewing skills to make simple sundresses she marketed over the internet. She designed the dress, set up a website, obtained fabric donations, and solicited help from friends. All proceeds were donated to charity.
Hint: This young lady had no trouble getting into college.

11. Provide services for shut-ins. There are folks in your community who could use extra help but can’t afford to hire a professional service. Offer to be a companion, do light housekeeping, run errands, walk the dog, pull weeds, or organize the garage.
Hint: You can support your volunteer effort with a paid enterprise marketed to those interested in “renting a kid” in your neighborhood.

Some activities can have a life beyond the summer. They can evolve into long-term service learning projects or new clubs at school.

Be creative and industrious, but feel free to have a little fun too.

Jun 18, 2011

Fabulous Gift Ideas for the College-Bound High School Grad

If you hate the thought of shoving a few bucks in an envelope, consider graduation gifts that are memorable, significant, and maybe even useful.

“Part of the fun of being invited to a graduation party is selecting the gift,” said Kathryn Hollis, as she ran between parties celebrating various DC area high school graduations. “Logo merchandise from university bookstores will always bring smiles, but there are other equally wonderful possibilities.”

And it can all be done online. Simply let your fingers do the walking and check out the following website suggestions:

  • College Bookstore: This time of year, bookstores do big business and frequently sell out of the most popular items. Simply enter “bookstore” in the search function located on the college website and a link should appear. Note that many bookstores are run by Barnes and Noble and that a gift card to the college bookstore always “fits.”

  • Team Shop: In addition to typical bookstore items, many college athletic departments or boosters maintain separate team shops where you can find logo gear. Use Google or your favorite search engine and enter the college name and “athletics.” Not all these sites sell team products, but it’s worth a try.

  • Off Campus Food: Undergrads are either really excited about dining hall options or they’re not. Google their favorite chain to see if there is a location near campus and arrange for a gift card. Or take the idea one step further and research fancier dining options with tablecloths. If you go this route, be sure to put enough on the card to support more than one diner!

  • Amazon: After entering the name of your targeted college or university in the Amazon search, you will be presented with a list of relevant departments including Sports & Outdoors, Books, Clothing & Accessories, and Home & Garden. Some products are sold directly by Amazon, but frequently items will come from independent vendors selling under the Amazon umbrella.

  • UGrad Shop: This site features classic products ranging from cuff links to sports coats. Seasoned shoppers recommend UGrad’s service and price. The collection of colleges featured on the site includes Georgetown, University of Maryland, UMBC, UVa, and Virginia Tech.

  • Ebay: If you’re looking for a slightly offbeat or keepsake item, try Ebay. Not everything is “used” and if that’s not a problem, you might find “collectables” such as college prints and old fraternity pins or barstools and used flip flops.

  • NCAA College Store: This site advertises as having the "largest selection of college merchandise anywhere." There are over 550 colleges and universities from which to choose, and the selection of products is nothing short of amazing. Look for some real bargains among sale items.

  • Vineyard Vines: Check out the college collection for everything from boxers and loungewear to ties and tote bags. The "preppy" designs are unique and very much in vogue among undergrads. It’s so popular that many college bookstores have “exclusives” on their Vineyard Vines products.

  • College Snuggie: The blanket with sleeves now comes in over 90 college logo designs available on the Snuggie site, including UVa, UMd and Virginia Tech. They are enormously popular among undergrads who wear them to sporting events, class, and to study—sometimes.

  • T-Shirt Quilt: If you’re sitting on a stash of t-shirts from school, team, or volunteer events, why not put them to good use by creating a fabulous keepsake quilt. You pick the size and price based on how many t-shirts are going to be incorporated into the quilt, send a deposit, and mail the shirts. There are several vendors online and most ship completed quilts in a matter of weeks.

  • Magnolia Lane: These unique pottery and ceramic items periodically show up at local Hallmark Stores and include UVA and Virginia Tech in the product line. You can shop directly from the manufacturer, but a better price may be found at invitationbox.com.

Jun 17, 2011

Bridgestone Offers $10K for College and a New Set of Tires

Amateur videographers or students with a creative side and access to a camera are invited to enter the fifth annual Bridgestone Safety Scholars Video Contest. The grand prize winner will take home a cool $10,000 scholarship.

The point of the contest is driver safety, and the requirements aren’t too tough. Simply put together a 25- OR 55-second video on some aspect of automobile or driving safety. For example

• Seat belt usage,
• Tire inflation,
• Avoiding distractions while driving (like cell phones and texting), or
• Driving defensively

Local drivers can take a few cues from the Fairfax County Police “Youthful Driver Program” or the resources provided on the Montgomery County Teen Driving Safety website. You can even check out last year’s winning videos for ideas.

Once you’ve hit on a topic, think about the most effective way to present it—say as a story from experience or a music video or a demonstration. Then shoot—a video of course!

You’ll need to complete a very simple registration form and then upload your video to the Bridgestone site by no later than June 24th. Judges will narrow down the entries, and the top 10 videos will be posted for viewer voting from July 11 to 29. Winners will be named on August 1st.

All of the top 10 filmmakers will at least win a set of new tires (worth a maximum of $1000), with $10,000 going to the Grand Prize winner and $5,000 going to each of two runner-ups. And the winning videos could air as public service announcements on TV stations nationwide!

The contest is open to legal permanent residents of the 50 states and the District of Columbia or Canada, ages 16 through 21. Entrants must possess a valid driver’s license and be enrolled as full time students in an accredited secondary, college level, or trade school.

You can’t crib someone else’s work, and don’t bother to include anything inappropriate. And pay VERY close attention to the time specifications because videos that don’t conform will be automatically disqualified.

For more information on registration and the complete set of rules, check out the Safety Scholars webpage. This is huge money, so think about it!

Jun 15, 2011

To the Class of 2015

As GMU’s Patriot Center and other area graduation venues roll out the red carpet and polish the podium, reality is setting in for seniors transitioning from top dogs in the high school hierarchy to lowly freshman at the bottom of the college heap.

But before the ink dries on those diplomas and you sneak off for beach week in the Carolinas, I want to take advantage of one last opportunity to offer thoughts on your next great adventure.

College is THE SHOW. You've made it out of the minor leagues and into the majors. That's great, and you deserve all the credit in the world. But be warned—the transition from secondary to post-secondary education can be a little tricky.

It might surprise you to learn that the rate of college freshman dropouts is estimated at about 1 in 4. Of course this varies among institutions, and many dropouts do eventually find their way back to school.

Still, studies show that only a little over half of those entering post-secondary institutions as freshmen graduate in six years. For mom and dad about to shell out serious money, this is an alarming statistic.

And what are the most-frequently cited reasons for dropping out? The obvious ones involve academics and finances, but homesickness and too much partying also figure in. College is very different from high school, and some students simply aren’t prepared for the challenges.

To address these problems, many colleges offer transition programs over the summer or just before the start of school. If your college offers such opportunity, take it. Not only will you make friends, but you'll also learn the shortest path to the dining hall. And don’t underestimate the value of spotting a friendly face on move-in day or in the first class you attend.

If you're still concerned about the college transition, talk to friends who've been there, counselors, and your parents. We all have stories about goofy roommates and ugly rush parties. Now that you're entering the college club, maybe you can hear a few. For example, my brother-in-law's freshman roommate at Trinity College ate styrofoam cups. He didn't last long.

You might also want to hear what experts have to say. I like a webpage titled, “How is College Different from High School,” devised by SMU. And, The Professors' Guide is good because they lay things out in easy-to-grasp lists like 15 habits of top college students and 15 secrets of getting good grades in college.

Or you might want to listen to an interview with Stanford’s Dean Julie, who works almost exclusively with freshmen (scroll down the page for the recording and skip the ads at the end). Yes, the bottom line is ask for help when you need it.

The New York Times recently published a series of quotes from this year’s notable college commencement speeches which goes nicely with a column last year by Nicholas Kristof, titled “The Best Commencement Speeches Ever.” One of my personal favorites is the address given to Stanford grads by Steve Jobs, in 2005, but this year’s speeches by Arianna Huffington and Conan O’Brien may also eventually make the all-time best list.

In all of these wonderful remarks, you’ll find much good advice offered to college seniors whose numbers you will be replenishing in the fall.

But for now, enjoy your moment at the Patriot Center or Constitution Hall. Then turn the page and think of yourselves as members of the Class of 2015!

Jun 14, 2011

Catholic University Returns to Single Sex Dorms

Over four decades ago, I was assigned to a single-sex dorm at the University of Pennsylvania. Hill Hall, now rebranded Hill College House, was a new, sixties-looking brick dormitory with a single entrance and walkway over what was essentially a moat blocking unwanted male intruders from getting in.

To enter the dorm, we passed a front desk presided over by a dorm mother and/or one of her minions. It was the era of “in loco parentis,” Latin for “in place of a parent.” In other words my parents in suburban Maryland could be assured that Penn was taking full responsibility for both my morals and behavior while I was under their jurisdiction.

And so we had curfews and rules. Young men were allowed in the building only during specified hours, and an “open door, feet on the floor” policy made it tricky for unauthorized congress to take place between sexes.

Zoom forward about 30 years, and my daughter is living in a “residence hall” at Yale on a floor with six young men. She has a private room, but shares the shower and toilet facilities. The arrangement made me cringe, but she thought nothing of it. The sexual revolution made single-sex housing appear frumpy and hopelessly old fashioned.

So it comes as somewhat of a surprise that just when George Washington University announces that male and female students will be permitted to live in the same room or suite in nearly all of its residence halls next fall, Catholic University across town is making a U-turn and returning to single sex dorms.

Using an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal to make his announcement, Catholic’s new President John Garvey admits that what he is doing is “countercultural” as more than 90 percent of college housing is now co-ed. But quoting liberally from Aristotle, he justifies his attack on the “ethical challenges” of binge drinking and hooking-up by looking at the facts.

“...Christopher Kaczor at Loyola Marymount points to a surprising number of studies showing that students in co-ed dorms (41.5%) report weekly binge drinking more than twice as often as students in single-sex housing (17.6%),” writes President Garvey. “Similarly, students in co-ed housing are more likely (55.7%) than student in single-sex dorms (36.8%) to have had a sexual partner in the last year—and more than twice as likely to have had three or more.”

Next year, all freshmen at Catholic will be assigned to single-sex dormitories. The year after, the change will be extended to sophomore halls.

The transition will no doubt cost money, and Catholic will have to pay closer attention to the ratio of men and women admitted to the freshmen class. But college administrators feel it’s in the best interests of students.

And in matters of housing, at least, elements of “in loco parentis” will once again be injected into the college experience.

Jun 13, 2011

College Lists Go High-Tech

If you like Steve Antonoff’s College Finder, you’ll love InsideCollege—a website spinoff based entirely on Antonoff's hundreds of college lists.

Plugging into the power of the internet, Alloy Education took college list-making high tech and devised a search tool that even the most seasoned college admissions professionals may enjoy using.

The concept is simple. Many college guidebooks—and websites for that matter—include “too much information with too little subjective content.” These enormous tomes don’t really help readers differentiate among colleges. Narrative guides, on the other hand, feature a great deal of subjective data, but on a limited number of colleges.

College Finder is a compromise. Information is distilled to the most basic level—a series of lists including those formed by tallying opinions of experts—counselors, admissions reps, educational planners, and other industry pros. The result is a smorgasbord of opinion, statistics, and trivia, all of which can be enormously helpful in the college search process.

InsideCollege brought Antonoff’s 600 lists online, with another 100+ thrown in for good measure. The website is significantly jazzier than the original book and has a number of additional bells and whistles you may or may not find useful. But the content essentially remains true to the original list concept despite ads and invitations to sign-up for more information.

As an organizational guide, the InsideCollege lists are divided into Facts & Stats, Expert’s Choice, and User-generated lists. The website even lists most popular lists—a list of lists.

For example, within the list of “Campuses Where Movies Were Filmed” (a perennially "most popular" list) you’ll learn that True Colors was filmed on the UVa campus in 1991 and Head of State was filmed at Johns Hopkins in 2003. Or if you believe the experts, among the "colleges with the very best dorms" are American University, George Washington, and Loyola University of Maryland.

Also based on the Antonoff list-making concept is a slightly less glamorous website titled College Lists Wiki. Largely a labor of love maintained by the amazingly resourceful Shelley Krause, College Lists Wiki is free, publicly available site kept current by counselors across the country who have editorial access and can edit its content.

Although great resources, all of these lists represent the personal opinions of anonymous contributors and should only represent discrete elements of a comprehensive college search toolbox.

By the way, for the less technologically inclined, you can still buy Antonoff’s book—College Finder: Choose the School That's Right for You. It’s a wonderful reference found on the bookshelves of nearly every college advisor I know.

Jun 11, 2011

UVa Releases 2011-12 Essay Questions

There aren’t too many surprises among next year’s essay questions for the University of Virginia supplement to the Common Application. After all, they’ve been asking the same basic questions in one form or another for a long, long time.

But for college-bound juniors wanting a head start on their summer assignment, a couple of options were changed or subtly adjusted to produce more targeted responses.

In general, UVa continues to look for “passionate students” to join a “diverse community of scholars, researchers, and artists.” Beyond the questions required by the Common Application, prospective Hoos are asked to write two 250-word statements, the first of which ties into a school or major with the second requiring a response to one of four prompts.

As in past years, students applying to UVa’s College of Arts & Sciences are asked to discuss a work of art, music, science, mathematics, or literature that “surprised, unsettled, or challenged” them in some way. Applicants to the Architecture and Nursing schools have to describe experiences that led them to choose those professions.

Prospective engineers are once again asked to come up with a “small engineering project,” but the distracting $10,000 limit has been lifted. This time, the sky’s the limit and you no longer have to assemble a team.

In a curious new addition to the supplement, students headed toward the Kinesiology program are specifically asked what led them to “choose the major.” The Kinesiology Program within the Curry School of Education offers both an undergraduate degree as well as a 5-year BSEd/MT program in health and physical education. It looks like applicants are being asked to commit early.

For the second essay, three of the four possible prompts remain the same:

  • What is your favorite word and why?

  • Describe the world you come from and how that world shaped who you are.

  • Discuss your favorite place to get lost. (This question was written by U.Va. students who live in one of residential colleges, Brown College at Monroe Hill.)

But instead of responding to a challenging statement related to “The Dumbest Generation” and the erosion of social and private environments, applicants may now choose to discuss something they “secretly like but pretend not to, or vice versa.” Is that a collective sigh of relief?

The Common Application officially launches on August 1st after a brief hiatus at the end of July. This is when retooling takes place and new supplements are brought online.

In the meantime, a 2011-12 preview edition is available to downloand and take to the beach. Prospective UVa early action applicants would be wise to take it along and start drafting a few essays.

Jun 10, 2011

Stanford and Dartmouth to Live Stream Commencement Ceremonies on YouTube

Can’t get enough of those uplifting speeches? Need a little inspiration? Or maybe you just can’t make it to commencement ceremonies for one of your favorite undergrads.

If so, there are some amazing ways you can “virtually” attend a college graduation without leaving the comfort of home. And it’s all thanks to the high-tech wizardry of YouTube.

Already there are hundreds of 2011 commencement speeches posted on YouTube. The truly dedicated can catch local reruns of Michael Bloomberg’s remarks at George Washington University or Bob Schieffer at American University.

And then there’s Denzel Washington at the University of Pennsylvania, Tom Hanks at Yale, or Arianna Huffington at Sarah Lawrence.

But if you crave the thrill of live action, YouTube has selected a few favorite collegiate partners to present graduation ceremonies as they happen using a brand new live streaming platform called YouTube Live.

On Sunday, June 12, YouTube will partner with Stanford University and Dartmouth College to broadcast commencement ceremonies on www.youtube.com/live. You’ll have to get up early, as Dartmouth’s graduation begins at 9:30 ET. And it’s going to be a study in contrasts as Conan O’Brien is slated to deliver the address while President George H.W. Bush collects an honorary degree.

Across the country and several hours later, Stanford’s commencement will get underway at 12:30 ET, with Mexican President Felipe Calderon addressing thousands of graduates, proud parents, and guests in Stanford Stadium.

And if you haven’t experienced a Stanford graduation, be sure to tune in early for the traditional “Wacky Walk,” which is unlike any processional you’ve ever seen. The infamous Stanford Marching Band will also make an appearance to whip-up the audience into a final frenzy of dancing and wild celebration.

You can add both of these events to your calendar or subscribe to various “channels” on the YouTube Live website. In fact, you can even “log in” to engage with live streamers and the rest of the YouTube community using a live comments feature.

So microwave a bag of popcorn and be there. By the time the Stanford Marching Band finishes on Sunday afternoon, I guarantee you’ll feel inspired!

Jun 9, 2011

5 CTCL Member Colleges Help Form New D-III Athletic Conference

Five of the Colleges That Change Lives (CTCL) joined with 3 other liberal arts colleges in the southeastern region to announce formation of a new Division III athletic conference beginning with the 2012-13 season. All but one of the 8 schools are current members of the NCAA Division III Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference (SCAC).

Drawing from six states, the new conference will include Birmingham-Southern College in Alabama, Centre College in Kentucky, Hendrix College in Arkansas, Millsaps College in Mississippi, Berry College and Oglethorpe University in Georgia, and Rhodes College and The University of the South (Sewanee) in Tennessee.

According to a press release from Oglethorpe (home of the Stormy Petrels), the new conference is being formed to “foster athletic competition and cooperation among academically selective, residential liberal arts colleges located in the southeastern region of the United States.”

As part of the agreement, Hendrix College agreed to officially re-institute football, which had been discontinued after the 1960 season. The school will also add women’s lacrosse.

Now centered in two time-zones, the realignment should result in reduced travel time and costs as well as fewer missed classes. The new league will have all the teams in contiguous states, keeping within about a 500-mile radius.

“The new conference will more closely resemble the makeup of our academic consortium, the American Colleges of the South, further ensuring the continuity of our mission in our academic and athletic programs,” said Hendrix College president J. Timothy Cloyd.

Founded in 1962 by Centre, Rhodes, and Sewanee, the 12-member SCAC will be forced to regroup as a result of the departure of 7 schools. Remaining with the SCAC will be Austin College, Colorado College, University of Dallas (joining in the fall), Southwestern College, and Trinity University in Texas.

The first official meeting of the new conference took place immediately following the conclusion of the 2011 annual SCAC meeting.

Jun 8, 2011

The Best College Recommendations

A colleague in a Midwestern high school recently posted phrases collected from honest-to-goodness recommendations sent on behalf of students applying to college.

“I look forward to John’s final term at the school,” earnestly stated one recommender begging an obvious question. And, “This young lady has no problems to speak of,” vaguely suggested there might be something more to know.

One teacher claimed, “I promised Jimmy I would write him the best recommendation I could,” but ruined the effect by adding, “Unfortunately this is it.”

In addition to “damning with faint praise,” recommendations are becoming increasingly generic. One assistant admissions dean recently commented, “Recommendations just aren’t as useful as they once were. They don’t tell us much.”

It doesn’t have to be this way. Guidance counselors and teachers support the mission and want to do the best possible job. But they may need a little help.

Here’s how you can go the extra distance to ensure your recommendations are the best:

  1. Work on relationships.
    Keep in mind that you may not always have a choice of recommenders as colleges generally specify who they want, with your guidance counselor almost always at the head of the list. And since colleges usually prefer recommendations from teachers you had junior year, you pretty much know the universe of possibilities.

    So it makes basic sense to cultivate these relationships by being a good student and an engaged member of the school community. Talk to teachers after class and take the initiative to meet periodically with your guidance counselor. Relationships matter, and you don’t want your request for a recommendation to be your first one-on-one conversation with that person.

  2. Choose the best.
    You definitely want people who can attest to your strengths and who are both credible and reliable—literate sometimes helps too. Review your list and choose those you can trust to do the best possible job on your behalf.

    And remember that the most obvious choice isn’t always the best. A teacher who can speak to your character and perseverance in a class that wasn’t necessarily your strongest, might provide more compelling comments than one in which you aced every test and paper with ease.

  3. Ask early.
    By the end of junior year, you should be able to approach a couple of teachers to request college recommendations. By asking before school lets out, you’re giving teachers the opportunity to begin drafting over the summer, which helps if you’re planning to apply early. And since more and more teachers are limiting the number of recommendations they are willing to write, it can’t hurt to get your request in early. Besides it shows organization and commitment.

    But regardless of whether you feel confident enough to ask before the beginning of senior year, don’t delay too long into the fall. No one likes short notice to write a recommendation. It shows lack of consideration and courtesy. Look carefully at due dates and plan to give at least a month’s notice to each of your recommenders.

  4. Ask in person.
    Don’t send an email or leave a voicemail. Asking in person conveys how important the recommendation is to you and allows you a face-to-face opportunity to “sell” your candidacy. These conversations can also give you a small indication of how strong the recommendation is likely to be. If the response is tepid or indifferent, you might consider alternatives.

  5. Provide information.
    Once you have secured a commitment from recommenders, find out what information they need and when they want it. If they don’t want to hear from you again before the start of senior year, fine, but if they want the material before summer break, get it to them.

    At a minimum, put together a package with a cover letter listing the colleges to which you will be applying and the relevant due dates. Include a brief statement suggesting why you thought they might be able to provide a good recommendation and why you would be an outstanding candidate at any of the colleges listed. If you have a particular connection to or qualification for a specific program, feel free to provide that information as well.

    In the package, you should also include a resume and any relevant forms clipped together with stamped addressed envelopes if your school does not submit electronically. By the way, if recommendations are going to be sent electronically, be sure to follow application directions and provide all relevant names and email addresses.

  6. Sign the waiver.
    Yes, you need to waive your right to read your recommendations—now and in the future. Federal law grants you rights to review recommendations, but applications almost always include forms asking you to waive them. For many different reasons, these waivers provide application readers with a sense that the information provided is candid and accurately reflects what the writer truly believes. Recommendations without signed waivers are likely to be given less weight in the application process.

  7. Follow-up.
    It’s your responsibility to make sure that your recommenders are aware of deadlines and complete everything on time. Without being a total pest, politely follow-up on the status of your recommendation after a reasonable period of time. Often colleges will let you know when the recommendation has been received, so avoid being annoying by using those tools to do the tracking whenever possible.

    If you have no confirmation that the recommendation has been received within 3 days of deadline, gently remind the recommender that the material is due soon. Sometimes a nice thank-you note will jolt a quick response.

  8. Express appreciation.
    Teachers are under no particular obligation to write recommendation letters. Although most are happy to help, teachers really are doing you a huge favor. So don’t neglect to tell them how much you value their personal support and follow-up with a handwritten thank-you note. Also, once you’ve received admissions decisions, take the time to bring your recommenders up-to-date and thank them again. It’s the nice thing to do.

Jun 6, 2011

HS CounselorWeek: Keeping Current on Colleges, Admissions, and Kids

It’s getting close to the end of the school year and time to thank Gene Kalb for the outstanding work he does on behalf of High School (HS) CounselorWeek, one of the best news sources for information on colleges and admissions.

For those new to the concept, HS CounselorWeek is a FREE internet newsletter containing links to stories and resources targeted to counselors, educators, and anyone with a stake in the college admissions process. But it’s not just for professionals. Parents, students, hobbyists, and other admissions junkies are more than welcome to subscribe.

There’s nothing flashy about HS CounselorWeek—no videos, gadgets or gimmicks. Subscriptions are divided into editions—Western, Southern, NorthEast, and MidWest. I receive the maroon and gray NE edition, but I could as easily receive the aqua and gold southern edition—DC seems to fall somewhere between.

Within each newsletter, links are provided to articles subdivided into areas of interest—big picture, college admissions process/strategies, campus visits, college price, parents, summer, athletics, etc. Links to articles with specific geographic content are also provided. But I really appreciate the attention paid to important subjects such as bullying and teen drinking.

What’s truly amazing about what Gene does is that somehow he manages to read every article in every major media outlet in the country and hit the best, most useful, and current in college admissions. You’ll find links to USA Today, Inside Higher Ed, Forbes, Time Magazine, Wall Street Journal, New York Times, US News & World Report, and the Washington Post.

Smaller and more regional news outlets are also included such as the San Ramon Express or the Charlotte Observer. And once in a while, links appear to articles in the Washington, DC edition of Examiner.com. Those are the weeks I sit up and take notice.

Gene makes it very easy to subscribe and/or unsubscribe depending on where you are in the college admissions process. The newsletter may be shared free-of-charge on school websites and contains only a few unobtrusive ads to help defray costs.

All the best in-school and independent college counselors I know subscribe to HS CounselorWeek. It’s free, dependable, and a truly wonderful resource.

Thank you, Gene. And have a great summer! (HS CounselorWeek takes an annual vacation during the summer months).

Jun 4, 2011

Be the Genius behind the Design and Win $1000

Time is definitely running out, but if you’re one of those mega creative high school students who either has a portfolio of design ideas on hand or who can put together some creative artwork on short notice, consider entering the Staples and DoSomething.org Back to School 2012 Design Contest.

In search of a few fresh ideas, Staples has joined forces with DoSomething.org to offer six talented students the opportunity to see their designs in Staples stores nationwide—including 49 stores in the DC metropolitan area—AND a $1,000 scholarship to be used toward their education.

Simply zero-in on an inspirational theme like patriotism, environment, animals, peace & equality, education or the arts and put together a submission. Samples of last year’s winners might give you some ideas and are available on the DoSomething.org website. And only 500 kids competed last year—so your odds are at least reasonable.

You can submit as many designs as you want, and your creations will be judged by an “amazing group of top designers and artists.”

Here are the basics:

  • You must be a US resident between 13 and 25 years of age (ok—college students are eligible too)

  • A completed application and design submission should be emailed to designs@dosomething.org

  • Each attachment can be no larger than 8 megabytes

  • No copyrighted materials may be used in any design

  • Each design should include a brief story (no more than 100 words) that provides the inspiration behind the design

Note that designs that don’t comply with the size requirements will be disqualified and “bonus points” are awarded to designs incorporating the DoSomething.org logo. All submissions must be received by no later than Sunday, June 5, 2011, before midnight ET.

So if you think it would be cool to see your design on notebooks and folders and if you could use that $1,000 for school, get busy. The clock is ticking down!

Jun 3, 2011

The Last 18 Years in Rap: 1993-2011

If you’re already done with the cap and gown thing or even if you’re still waiting out a secondary school career at Oakton, BCC, Madison or wherever high school, the hip-hop poets at Flocabulary want to present you with a very special graduation gift.

“It’s not the week in rap—this is 18 years of rap for the high school grad.”

And using its internet video platform, Flocabulary magically serves up images from the most compelling stories of your life—so far.

From the tragedy in Waco (1993) and the debut of Pokemon (1995) to the birth of Harry Potter (1997) and the tears at Columbine (1999), the pictures inspire as the lyrics recall what it’s been like to grow up from one century to the next.

But “we all remember the hour, when we heard that two plans had hit the towers.” Life changed in an instant, and war became condition normal.

The Last 18 Years in Rap
comes to you from the same guys who do the weekly current events project, The Week in Rap. It’s meant for the classroom, but subscriptions are free and open to anyone. You just need an email address and the link arrives every Friday
The Flocabulary team is on break for the summer. But they promise to be back with more headlines and rhymes come September. In the meantime, you can check out their library and get the subscription.

“Yeah. To all the high school graduates,
Think of yourself and tell me, are you proud of it?
Channel One, Flocab wishing you congrats,
This has been the last 18 years in rap.”

Jun 1, 2011

Community Service Opens Doors

While putting together plans for the summer, don’t forget to leave quality time for volunteer activities or projects. Incorporating service into your life is incredibly rewarding and almost always habit-forming. In fact, it can open doors for life.

But as you consider volunteer options, look for opportunities that fit you—your interests and skills. You don’t have to travel across the world—look local. You can be deeply involved in a one-time event or you can sign-on for a couple of hours each week. It really doesn’t matter.

And yes, it pays off handsomely. By sharing your time and talent with others, you:

  • Do some good. As a volunteer, you have the opportunity to make a difference—change lives, support a cause, or improve your community.

  • Test-drive career options. If you’re thinking about medicine, teaching, or even large animal husbandry, spend volunteer hours in a clinic, a school or on a farm. Volunteering opens new vistas and provides opportunities to explore different career paths.

  • Polish job-readiness skills. Being dependable, on time, and responsible will not only make you a great volunteer but will also prepare you for entering the world of work. In addition, you can develop communication, organization, and invaluable “people” skills, all of which make you incredibly employable.

  • Expand your network. Volunteering is a great way to make new friends and build solid connections to businesses, schools, or other community-based organizations. These are the kinds of relationships that tend to grow and blossom, particularly if you find yourself working in a team or supporting a cause. A byproduct of the experience can be a strong personal recommendation for college or a future job.

  • Challenge your comfort zone. If life as a high school student has become a little too boring and predictable, try volunteering in a totally unfamiliar part of your community or serving a population with which you don’t ordinarily come into contact. Expose yourself to new ideas, challenges and situations that will help you grow as a person.

  • Hone leadership skills. As a volunteer, you may be presented with opportunities to build supervisory, management, or decision-making skills as a team leader or project organizer. These are talents that colleges and future employers value highly.

  • Upgrade college portfolio. Yes, colleges want to see that you’ve done something more with your summer than Facebooking. To volunteer is to give strong evidence of character, commitment, and motivation—all of which are plusses in the college admissions process.

  • Discover an essay topic. The best college essays flow out of personal experience. In fact, essay questions often ask about significant achievements, events, people, or encounters—all of which may be found in the act of volunteering.

  • Learn something. You learn by doing. And if you’re lucky, you may even be offered specific skill training you can take with you long after the event or project is completed.

  • Do some good. This cannot be overstated.

In her recent commencement address at St. Mary’s College of Maryland, Deputy Peace Corps Director Carrie Hessler-Radelet pointed out that, “We grow by challenging ourselves—by stepping out of our comfort zone.” And she adds, “…the more you understand about the community around you, the more you understand about yourself….More than that, inevitably, you realize you got far more than you gave.”

So step up and get involved. You really can make a difference!