Feb 27, 2010

UNCF and Verizon Team Up for Scholarships Honoring Black History Month

Five hundred words could earn lucky high school seniors $5000 toward college tuition and a complete technology “make-over.” In honor of Black History Month, the United Negro College Fund (UNCF) is partnering with Verizon Wireless to offer scholarships to students residing in specifically designated states. For the northeast regional competition, states include Maryland, Virginia, and the District of Columbia.

The assignment is simple: write a 500-word essay on how the evolution of wireless technology has changed the world in which we live. You’ll need to register and complete a very simple application to which the essay will be attached and uploaded. No financial information is requested or required.

To qualify, students must be graduating seniors with a minimum GPA of 2.0 and must reside in one of the eligible states or the District of Columbia. Applications for the northeastern region must be received by no later than March 15, 2010 (students in the midwest region have until April 15th).

But here’s the exciting part: there will be a total of twenty-five contest winners in the northeast region and twelve winners in the midwest. The top regional winners will each receive a scholarship of $5000 to be used during the 2010-11 academic year. They will also receive an HP mini 311 Netbook and DROID by Motorola cellphone with $2250 in Verizon Wireless gift cards that may be used toward wireless service. Additional scholarships ranging from $4000 to $1450 will also be awarded along with technology and gift cards.

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 26, 2010

Which Public Universities Are Most Welcoming to Out-of-State Students?

For tuition bargain hunters, public universities can offer some pretty sweet deals. But shopping for these deals involves a little creativity and research as well as a willingness to expand geographic horizons.

The logical first step is to look at the public universities and colleges in your home state. Although their purse strings are centrally controlled, public universities within a single state vary in terms of tuition and fees charged to residents.

In Virginia, in-state charges range from $11,100 at the College of William and Mary to $7117 at Virginia Commonwealth University. The differences within the Maryland system are narrower. The University of Maryland Baltimore County charges $8872, while Salisbury University charges residents $6618. A little comparison shopping can’t hurt.

If these programs don’t work and you’re prepared to venture a little further from home, get creative. You may be surprised to find how welcoming publics in other states can be to nonresident students. In fact, some states have a strategy of enrolling a large percent of nonresidents for revenue-generating purposes and tuition can be quite reasonable.

But just like you wouldn’t buy a pair of shoes two sizes too small because they were a terrific bargain, don’t jump too quickly at the price tag. Although, it’s tempting to let the bottom line drive the process, keep in mind the importance of “fit” in your college search.

In addition to some of the more obvious elements of fit—cost, location, size, campus character, availability of desired majors—you may want to consider the mix of in-state students vs. those coming from out of state. At a minimum, you can get an idea of how welcoming the campus is to nonresident students.

Based on data collected by US News and World Report, the following is a chart listing public universities with the greatest percentage of out-of-state students:

Public University

Out-of-state Freshmen

Out-of State Undergrads

University of Vermont



University of Delaware



North Dakota State



University of North Dakota



University of Wyoming



West Virginia University



University of Rhode Island



University of Iowa



University of Colorado--Boulder



University of New Hampshire



Auburn University



University of Oregon



University of Idaho



University of Arizona



University of South Carolina



While not necessarily the most important factor in your decision, these numbers should certainly provide you with some food for thought when considering out-of-state options. The complete list—including schools with the smallest percentages of nonresident students—may be found on the USNW website.

Feb 24, 2010

University of Denver Spoof of ‘The Office’ Illustrates the Challenges of Teaching with Technology

“These are floppy disks,” explains Michael, the class instructor, as he hands out brightly-colored plastic disks. “All my class notes are on here.” Really? Come on. That's 1980's style.

If you’ve been on a campus lately, you know “smart” classrooms are all the rage. Colleges (and some high schools) are investing extreme amounts of money turning old fashioned lecture halls into technological theme parks designed to engage students in the very hard work of being an undergraduate.

But it takes more than equipment to connect with today’s tech-savvy students many of whom are light years ahead of their teachers when it comes to technology. And colleges are beginning to understand that the transition from chalk to the web requires “renovating” the professor as well as the classroom.

To illustrate the challenges of teaching with technology, students at the University of Denver created a video spoof of “The Office” using the mocumentary format familiar to fans of the show. Students wrote the script, directed, acted, and shot and edited the video.

Their message was based on a survey of classroom technology use at the university which concluded that while many students may wish for more technology, others consider it a distraction. And just because the technology is available, doesn’t mean professors know how to use it.

“The professors who saw [the video] recognized some truth in it and were able to laugh,” said Professor Lynn Schofield Clark, who teaches the course for which the video was an assignment. “We all have those moments.”

By the way, the University of Denver just announced a 2.98% tuition increase for next year--the smallest in years. By judiciously trimming expenses, DU was able to keep costs under control and avoid burdening students with a double-digit tuition hike.

Feb 23, 2010

Do the Tufts Admissions Videos Compromise Applicants?

We don’t ask college applicants to post their essays on a public message board prior to uploading them for admissions review. Why? For one thing, there are potential privacy issues. And who wants work subjected to indiscriminate public scrutiny? Adolescents applying to college have enough to worry about without having their essays critiqued by a bunch of yahoos with nothing better to do.

Yet suddenly the Boston Globe and New York Times are so charmed by the Tufts application supplement allowing students to upload optional videos that they are providing links to a few favorites. According to the Times, Lee Coffin, dean of undergraduate admissions for Tufts University, reported that the idea for a video option “came to him” last spring as he watched a YouTube video someone had forwarded. “Maybe I was naïve, but it didn’t occur to me that these videos would be so public and so followed.”

The video supplement is not really new. Athletes and musicians have sent scouting and audition tapes—now videos—for years. Other colleges have encouraged creativity among applicants by giving them the opportunity to show off video accomplishments. Rollins College is well into the second year of a test score waived option (TSWO) for which students may send a “personal representation” that is defined as anything from YouTube videos to slide shows.

Locally both George Mason University and St. Mary’s College have given the applicant the option of substituting a video for an essay. In fact, the practice has become so popular that the Universal College Application has specifically provided for uploads on its standard form.

What’s different here is that Tufts opened the door a little further without giving much thought about the privacy of their applicants or how commentary in a public forum could be abused. As a result, about 1000 applicants developed and uploaded videos clearly labeled with both names and targeted university.

Some of the videos are slick, some are brilliant, a few are silly, but most are sincere attempts to win a highly-coveted acceptance to the college of their dreams. And predictably, the videos have generated running commentary from viewers, some of which so awful it had to be removed. Sure there are supportive remarks and there are five-star ratings—some from alums and some from current students cheering applicants on. But there are also obscenities and personal criticism cutting to the edge of what could be a few fragile egos.

Since bringing the videos to light, major news sources have generated tremendous interest in both Tufts University and students applying for the class of 2014. They’ve also brought thousands of viewers to videos labeled “Tufts” or “Tufts Admissions.” You couldn’t buy this kind of publicity.

But the trend toward providing technology-based outlets for creativity and alternatives to essay-writing isn’t necessarily a bad thing especially insofar as it makes applicants multi-dimensional and pulls forth that elusive “voice” colleges always talk about. The trick is to make it safe and confidential and not public and subject to abuse.

The technology is there. So why not establish a process that protects students and their work before jumping feet-first into the media fray effectively blowing the cover of applicants who may have been even more naïve than Dean Coffin?

Feb 22, 2010

Happy Birthday George!

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 “President’s 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, and long lines began forming early in the morning at Hecht’s and Woodward & Lothrop, where you could pick-up an appliance 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. Area bakeries featured cherry pies in honor of Washington’s famous encounter with a cherry tree.

Today little remains of the original celebrations except in one corner of the city where Washington is celebrated as both namesake and mascot. Tonight, the students at George Washington University will celebrate Washington’s birth with a bonfire in GW’s University Yard. The party will include food, period music, and a cherry pie eating contest. Nominees for Mr. and Ms. GW will be introduced and there will be appearances by university mascots, the Colonial Army, GW band, and cheer team.

But in an ironic twist of history, American University owes more to George Washington for its founding 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 have a university established 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, eventually American University was established in Washington, D.C., 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 20, 2010

Area Colleges and Universities Earn Honors as Top Volunteer-Producers for the Peace Corps

The Peace Corps recently announced its annual rankings of the top Peace Corps volunteer-producing colleges and universities. As in previous years, colleges located in the DC metropolitan area were well represented in each of three categories of institutions reported.

For the second year in a row, the George Washington University ranked number one in the medium college and university category with 53 undergraduate alumni currently serving in the Peace Corps. American University came in second with 51 volunteers, followed by the College of William and Mary (40) and Georgetown (30) ranking 5th and 8th respectively.

With 23 alums currently serving, the University of Mary Washington came in second among small schools. St. Mary’s College of Maryland followed in 7th place with 19 active volunteers. And despite being among the smallest of the large colleges and universities listed, UVA ranked 10th for producing 64 Peace Corps volunteers.

In 2009, the Washington-Arlington-Alexandria area produced the greatest number of volunteers in a ranking of large metropolitan areas. Per capita, the District of Columba (7.8/100k) came in second place for producing the most volunteers—second only to Vermont (9.7/100k).

Currently, there are 7671 Peace Corps volunteers serving in 76 host countries around the world. A college degree is not mandatory for service, but relevant experience in areas such as education, health, business, IAT, environment, and agriculture is required. In 2009, the Peace Corps received over 15,000 applications, an 18 percent increase over 2008—the largest number since the agency began electronically recording applications in 1998.

In surveys of college freshman, the availability of on-campus volunteer opportunities is becoming increasingly more important. According to the CIRP Freshman Survey, 56 percent of incoming first-year students reported volunteering frequently during their high school years and a record number indicated that they expected to participate in community service or volunteer work during their college years. Evidently, that interest in civic engagement among college students is contributing to greater numbers of Peace Corps volunteers.

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

Feb 19, 2010

MD and VA Score High on Advanced Placement Exams

Maryland and Virginia claimed two of the top three spots in performance on Advanced Placement (AP) exams administered to last year's graduating seniors, according to the College Board’s 6th annual AP Report to the Nation. Of the approximately 3 million students who graduated from public schools in 2009, more than 479,000 or 15.9 percent earned a passing score (3 or better out of 5) on one or more AP exams during the time they were in high school.

For the second year running, Maryland had the nation’s highest percentage (24.8) of seniors scoring a passing mark on at least one AP exam. Virginia placed third at 23 percent, slightly behind New York.

Montgomery and Fairfax Counties Lead the Way
Virginia and Maryland were also among the seven states with the highest five-year gains, carried largely on the strength of the performance of Fairfax and Montgomery counties. Montgomery County students accounted for about 40 percent of Maryland’s passing scores, and in Fairfax, students earned passing scores on nearly 71 percent of the 30,000 tests administered in the district—up from 66 percent in 2006. Additionally both states saw more than 20 percent of their public school students graduate from high school having earned at least one AP score of 3 or higher.

The report also cites Eleanor Roosevelt High School, in Prince George’s County, for being among those schools with the most African American and Latino students experiencing success with the AP. Roosevelt claimed top honors for performance in the AP Biology, Chemistry, and English Language programs.

AP US History Tops the List of Most Popular Tests
According to the College Board, the average high school now offers ten AP courses—up from seven five years ago. AP US History, English Literature, English Language, Calculus AB, and US Government were the five most frequently-administered tests across the country. Locally, US History, English Literature, and English Language appeared among the top five most popular exams for Maryland, Virginia, and DC.




AP Exam


AP Exam


AP Exam


English Language


US Government


English Language


English Literature


US History


English Literature




English Literature


US History


World History


English Language


US Government


US History




Calculus AB


US Government


Calculus AB




Calculus AB


World History








World History






Human Geography








Failure Rate Grows as AP Test-Takers Increase
While school districts rush to upgrade and increase AP course offerings, controversy surrounds increasing rates of failure and the value of pushing students to take college-level courses beyond their readiness to succeed. Originally limited to top students at competitive high schools, the AP program has evolved into a measure of high school excellence and now plays a much greater role in college admissions.

Although the majority of students taking AP exams continue to pass, the rate of failure has begun to creep up as more high school students take the tests--from 39 percent in 2001 to 43 percent in 2009. According to reports generated by USA Today, the failure rate is particularly striking in the southern states where almost 50 percent of the AP exams taken resulted in scores of 1 or 2. A study conducted by the Dallas Morning News suggests that poverty as well as teacher preparation may play significant roles in the failure of students to succeed in these programs.

Feb 17, 2010

Top Factors Influencing College Choice

In addition to providing interesting demographics from last year’s high school graduating class, the recently released CIRP Freshman Survey also gives insight into those factors that proved most influential in a student’s final decision to enroll in a college or university. Finances are clearly key as college cost and the availability of financial assistance made it into the top 5 “very important” reasons affecting a student’s decision to go to a particular college. But other factors such as a visit to the campus and college reputation also figured highly.

While high school juniors are just beginning the process of developing college lists, seniors are starting to sort through responses to their applications. Because both groups are considering many of the same enrollment factors, it might be useful to take a look at the entire list presented to the nearly 220,000 freshmen who responded to the survey.

Reasons and the percentage cited as “very important” in influencing a student’s decision to attend are listed from highest to lowest:

1. College has very good academic reputation: 63.6 percent
2. This college's graduates get good jobs: 56.5 percent*
3. I was offered financial assistance: 44.7 percent
4. The cost of attending this college: 41.6 percent*
5. A visit to the campus: 41.4 percent
6. Wanted to go to a college about this size: 39.8 percent
7. College has a good reputation for social activities: 39.3 percent
8. Grads get into good grad/professional schools: 34.6 percent
9. Wanted to live near home: 20.1 percent
10. Information from a website: 19.2 percent
11. Parents wanted me to go to this school: 18.8 percent
12. Rankings in national magazines: 18.5 percent
13. Admitted early decision and/or early action: 12.9 percent
14. Could not afford first choice: 12.2 percent
15. High school counselor advised me: 10.3 percent
16. Not offered aid by first choice: 8.9 percent*
16. Athletic department recruited me: 8.9 percent
18. Attracted by religious affiliation/orientation of college: 7.8 percent
18. My teacher advised me: 7.8 percent
20. My relatives wanted me to come here: 7.3 percent
21. Private college counselor advised me: 3.6 percent
22. Ability to take online courses: 2.7 percent

*The highest level since this question was added to the survey.

What factors do you think are most important in the decision of where to go to college?

For more information or to order a complete copy of the report, visit the Higher Education Research Institute website.

Feb 16, 2010

How To 'Demonstrate Interest' in the Admissions Process

You wouldn’t ask a complete stranger to the prom. Why? Because a complete stranger probably wouldn’t accept your invitation. You’re more likely to ask someone to the dance if you know the person a little and if you have an idea they might be a teeny bit interested in you.

Similarly, colleges want to know you’re interested. Stealth applicants who shoot off applications without taking time to get to know a place are a little suspicious. You can’t help but wonder if the student has done any research or put thought into the application. Is there a fit here? Who could possibly know?

If you haven’t shown interest in the months before proposing a relationship, a college has no way of judging whether you would accept an invitation to join their community. And many schools take this very seriously as your decision affects “yield” or the percent of admits who actually matriculate and join the freshman class.

In fact, the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) found that 52 percent of colleges assigned interest “considerable” or “moderate” importance in the admissions process. Interest outranked counselor and teacher recommendations, interviews, and extracurriculars, and was just behind class rank and personal essays.

So come out of the shadows and introduce yourself. Here are some ideas you can use to demonstrate the kind of interest colleges like to see:

1. Visits. There is no better way to try a college on for “fit” than actually visiting the campus. Take a tour, go to the information session, participate in a recruitment event, and definitely accept offers to interview or meet one-on-one with an admissions representative. Colleges understand if distances make visits impossible, but if you’re within a reasonable distance of campus, don’t neglect to see it for yourself.
2. Information requests. Register interest by requesting information and getting on mailing lists. Not only will you receive glossy print materials and cheery emails, but you also are likely to get invitations to campus or local events. Warning: some colleges take communications to the extreme and the load of mail can be overwhelming.
3. Research. Colleges create view books, spend thousands of dollars maintaining websites, and engage in forms of social media because they want to educate applicants and their families. Ignoring these information sources hardly demonstrates interest. Before touring a campus or meeting with an admissions representative, take time to see what the college says about itself in print and on the web.
4. Local events. Because of budget constraints, colleges are increasingly traveling in groups. For example, Georgetown travels with Duke, Penn, Harvard, and Stanford, and UVA travels with Princeton and Harvard. Schedules are on listed on admissions web pages. If an event or reception is scheduled within reasonable distance of home, try to attend and have a conversation with the representative for your area.
5. College fairs. Fairs are typically scheduled in the spring and fall. NACAC and the Colleges That Change Lives organize some of the most visible fairs, but many local campuses and high schools also schedule events. Although often hectic, fairs can provide an opportunity to get face time with admissions staff.
6. School visits. Make every effort to attend college presentations at your school. Your guidance office or college/career center will post dates and times well in advance of these visits, so mark your calendar and follow school rules governing attendance.
7. Thanks. If you’ve had the opportunity to meet with an admissions staff person, take the time to follow-up with a brief thank-you note. Get a business card or look up the address and send a short email or hand-written note.
8. Correspondence. It’s not always easy to differentiate between the college spam you receive and genuine inquiries from interested admissions staff. Err on the side of courtesy and respond to those appearing to anticipate a response. Or if you have a question, initiate correspondence—preferably with someone you’ve met in admissions or the representative from your area. Again, be brief and to the point. And do check spelling and syntax.

Parents please take note—the interest being demonstrated is the applicant’s not yours. These should be student contacts and as much as it hurts, control the urge to take over.

Also, demonstrated interest is not meant to be a license to harass colleges and admissions staff. Daily contacts, obsessive texting, calling or emails won’t win you points. Use commonsense and don’t risk turning off the object of your affection.

Feb 15, 2010

President Casteen Reflects on 20 years at the University of Virginia

Retiring University of Virginia (UVA) President John T. Casteen used the recent occasion of his final State of the University speech to take a look back at his 20-year tenure. “This is my 20th State of the University report, and also my last,” he remarked to an overflow crowd in Old Cabell Hall Auditorium.

Among the many changes since 1990, he noted:

• The size of the undergraduate program has grown by 16.4% or 1588 students—all from Virginia.
• The UVA student body has become more diverse from 17.8 percent minority to 25.5 percent and more female—from 50 percent to 56 percent.
• The international student population has increased from 3 percent to 7 percent of total.
• Faculty-led student study abroad programs multiplied from 10 to 50.
• There are at least ten new majors, three new minors, and four new concentrations.
• Even in the “digital age,” the book collection in the library has grown from 3.2 million to 5.1 million.
• The University has purchased, constructed or is currently constructing 134 buildings resulting in new facilities for teaching, research, the arts, athletics, student life, libraries, and health care.
• UVA Wise has added 13 new buildings.
• Global ties in international student enrollment and study abroad have increased dramatically.
• The curriculum has become much more interdisciplinary.
• Public service opportunities for faculty and students are rising.
• Campus-based technology now provides access to a wealth of information that was simply unimaginable 20 years ago.
• Email is no longer a “constant adventure” and today 99.9 percent of students arrive at UVA with a computer, the majority of which are laptops.
• The portion of state general funds allocated to higher education has dropped from 16.7 percent to just 10.7 percent.
• Tuition and fees now account for 16.9 percent of the University’s revenues and for the first time ever, in-state students pay a larger percent of their total tuition than the state.

Overall, President Casteen leaves the job with few regrets and takes great satisfaction in the legacy he leaves behind. “We have found that external observers—alumni, faculty members from other institutions, the parents of our students and former students—support and want to assist, want to give life to the University in the form of various contributions,” Casteen concludes. “…they and you have made these 20 years the high point of my own life and a time of constant pleasure and joy.”

Feb 13, 2010

Shout Out To All My FAFSA Soldiers—Charta Squad Is Back

Riding high on the overnight success of “Relax,” the Charta Squad is back with a new “number one hit single” entitled, FAFSA Hooray.” With a little help from Hip Hop Hooray by Naughty by Nature, the original cast from Williamsburg Charter High School (WCHS) collaborated with financial aid wizards at the New York State Higher Education Services Corporation (HESC) to put out the call, “Move without delay, don’t wait another day” and fill out your FAFSA—today!

Located in Brooklyn NY, WCHS is part of the Believer network of charter schools. Director of college guidance and academic culture at WCHS, Art Samuels and his colleagues spearheaded the effort to expand FAFSA awareness by capitalizing on the overwhelming popularity of their first rap music video aimed at getting students to “relax” about taking the SAT.

“We believe there’s real value in taking a topic such as financial aid and using a creative outlet such as hip-hop to share vital information with students, explained Mr. Samuels. “Our hope is that our video sheds some light on the FAFSA process in a manner that makes it less intimidating and scary, and makes college more accessible to students.”

So if you “asked Santa for tuition but he didn’t look [your] way,” go to “F-A-F-S-A dot E-D dot GOV" (www.fafsa.ed.gov) because “That’s where you need to go to get financial love.” Even if you’re digging out from under the Blizzard(s) of 2010 or still snowed in, the FAFSA consumer hotline isn’t. Check online to get answers to your questions or call 1.800.4.Fed.Aid.

“Secure your future today; get started on your way. Go online and apply.” Charta Squad out.

Feb 12, 2010

A Storm of Historic Proportions Hits Local Campuses

Anticipating the worst, Trinity Washington University President Patricia McGuire spent the night on campus during the second of two blizzards to hit the DC area. “I woke up in Main Hall this morning having stayed overnight because of the dire forecast,” blogged President McGuire, at 5:30 a.m

By 8:30, conditions on campus had significantly deteriorated. “Total whiteout. The blizzard is here!” The pictures accompanying President McGuire’s blog are breathtaking and provide an amazing visual record of the evolving storm.

But students weren’t totally off the hook as Trinity faculty stayed in close touch, assigning quizzes and reading materials as well as hosting online office hours and class discussions. One faculty member posted a 45 minute video on child development and asked students to participate in an online discussion.

At Catholic University, Rev. Robert Schlageter, University Chaplain, grabbed his camera and narrated two videos for parents and others wondering how the university was doing during the blizzard. “We just want to let everyone know that everything is fine here at CUA,” Father Schlageter said as he walked around campus and greeted students trudging through snow to dining facilities. Responding to questions about the level of academic activity occuring during the days off, one student said, “We’ve done so much studying that we don’t need class for the next three days. We’re ahead.”

Across town, rival camps from Georgetown and George Washington Universities staged a massive snowball fight at Rose Park. Reports from the battle zone estimate 225 GW students took on just 75 Georgetown combatants. Even GW President Stephen Knapp showed up. According to the Washington City Paper, desperate Georgetown students “turned to the U.S. News & World Report rankings for a last-minute morale boost, chanting ‘Georgetown waitlist’ and ‘safety school.’”

All things considered, local campuses appeared to take the storms in stride. As GW professor Lorenzo Norris explains about the impact of snow on the human psyche, “If you expect the worst, you are going to plan for the worst. If you expect for things to be a little inconvenient, then consequently you are going to be able to keep a better mood and a better outlook on things.” Now back to the books kids.

Feb 11, 2010

Admissions Offices Stay on Schedule despite Big Snow

DC area colleges and universities may be closed for the week, but behind the scenes, teams of dedicated admissions professionals continue the work of reviewing applications and making decisions for the Class of 2014. “Thankfully, one thing that has not been delayed by the snow is the review of our applications,” explained Greg Grauman, American University Director of Admissions. "'Snowmageddon' has actually provided our staff with more time to review application files, as all our reviews are done online.”

Even with a 39 percent increase in applications received to date, the admissions office at Trinity Washington University is managing to keep up with new inquiries, applicants, and accepted students. “While we are not at 100 percent capacity [since] Trinity has been closed all week, our admissions staff are keeping up with the work and staying in touch with prospective students,” said Ann Pauley, Trinity’s Vice President for Institutional Advancement. “…anticipating the storms, staff members took files home to review.”

Jenni Pfeiffer, Assistant Director of Admissions at George Washington University agreed. “If anything, the blizzard has been great for us. Without all the usual office interruptions, we’re definitely getting reading done.”

The storms have resulted in several extended due dates. Towson University moved its deadline from February 15 to 19, so students can return to school and work with counselors on application materials. GW is delaying deposit deadlines for students accepted during the second Early Decision round (ED2) because admissions packets containing financial aid information are in the office waiting to be mailed.

While Catholic University asks students to submit application and scholarship forms by February 16th, admissions will accept other documents submitted late such as recommendations and transcripts. “The biggest impact the blizzard will have on our admissions office will be the processing of materials that arrive by mail,” said Christine Mica, Catholic’s Dean of Admissions. “Items must be opened, date stamped sorted, entered into the system and matched to an applicant’s file.” While recognizing that students get anxious to know if files are complete, Dean Mica asks for a little patience. “...by working late and on weekends, I am confident our office can catch up and decision letters will be mailed without delay.”

The view from other area admissions offices is the same. “We do not anticipate having to delay notifying our applicants of an admissions decision,” concludes AU’s Greg Grauman. Or as Trinity’s Ann Pauley adds, “The bottom line: Blizzard vs. Admissions—Admissions is winning.”

Feb 10, 2010

DC Snowpocalypse Results in Rescheduled ACT’s

Among the casualties of the first blizzard to hit the DC area were the many ACT tests scheduled for last Saturday. Most—but not all—test locations rescheduled and posted new dates on the ACT website. They range from as early as next Saturday, February 13 to as late as February 27.

If you were supposed to take the February 6 ACT, at one of the centers closed for snow, you should be notified of the rescheduled date and given complete instructions. This process is taking time as many of the centers have been continuously closed since the original storm.

The ACT advises that in the event you cannot attend the rescheduled February date for your test center, you have two options. First, you may go to another test center on the day of the test and ask for a test center change. If they have space available, you may be able to make the switch.

For example, if you were scheduled to take the February 6 ACT at Oakton High School and have a conflict with the February 27th rescheduled date, you may go to Robinson Secondary on February 13th or Herndon High School on February 20th and ask for a test center change. If space is available, you will be seated for the exam. Because of the huge number of postponements for the February test, ACT will not process changes in advance. You simply have to show up and take your chances.

If this isn’t going to work for you, you may reschedule for either the April 10th or June 12th test date by calling ACT Registration at 319.337.1270 (M-F, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Central Time). Identify yourself as having been registered to test at one of the centers that closed on February 6 and indicate you want to make a date change to a future test.

You may reschedule for any available site on any regularly scheduled national Saturday test date at no additional charge—as long as you make the change via phone by the registration deadline (March 5 for April and May 7 for June). Although you may make the same change online using your Student Web Account, you will be charged a test date change fee. Don’t ask me. I don’t make the rules.

For more information and specific reschedule dates, check the ACT website or call ACT registration at 319.337.1270.

Feb 8, 2010

Does the National Merit® Scholarship Corporation Have Something to Hide?

The conversation began, “My name is Eileen Artemakis, from the National Merit® Scholarship Corporation, and I have been asked to get the name of your attorney.”

There were no preliminaries or explanations. Ms. Artemakis, NMSC public information director, was employing a not-so-subtle tactic to frighten me out of crossing her bosses at the Corporation who were not pleased by my columns on the scholarship competition. A letter from legal counsel followed a week later.

What did I do to merit threats of legal action? I posted qualifying scores for each of the states and the District of Columbia. According to NMSC lawyers, the Corporation considers this information “proprietary.” But nothing on their website warns of confidentiality and the data is freely shared on the internet. Even the kids on College Confidential have the cutoffs about right every year.

Evidently, the public is not supposed to know or see the numbers laid out in their totality. Why? Possibly because the cutoff scores really don’t look too fair when compared across states, and the Corporation is determined to tamp down uprisings before they become revolutions.

The National Merit® Scholarship Corporation (NMSC) is well-known for sensitivity to criticism. Just ask the National Association for College Admissions Counseling (NACAC) or FairTest, both of which suggested that the NMSC make adjustments in the way it distributes millions of scholarship dollars each year.

And I’m not the only blogger to receive a similar call from the NMSC. NMSC uses a search tool on a daily basis to review websites (sort of like the Chinese government) and the order to contact me came directly from the Corporation’s CEO, Timothy McGuire, who had reviewed my columns.

Today, the Chronicle of Higher Education ran an article (subscription may be required) on my predicament and FairTest released the complete list of qualifying scores for the 2010 competition on its website. It would make much more sense for the Corporation to post this information for public review and walk away from the controversy.

If you run a good program, use a fair methodology and are proud of the outcome, you should have nothing to hide or fear from a little criticism now and again.

Weather Affects College Choice but Not How You Think

For those of us shoveling out from under the DC Blizzard of 2010, it comes as no shock that weather could affect a prospective college student’s feelings about a particular campus. But it is a little surprising that this phenomenon has been studied and scientifically tested by a researcher at the University of California—San Diego and that the results run directly counter to common wisdom.

In a report entitled, “Weather To Go To College,” Uri Simonsohn analyzed enrollment decisions of 1,284 high school students who visited a university known “for its academic strengths and recreational weaknesses.” What he found was that current weather conditions influence future decision-making. OK, that makes sense. But based on his research, Simonsohn found a statistical link between clouds and enrollment that is a little surprising. Statistically, an increase in cloud cover on the day of a campus visit is associated with an increase in the probability of enrollment.

Wow. That’s huge! We know that campus tour guides have a big influence over enrollment decisions, but now it looks like weather has an impact as well. Strangely, cloudy weather on the day of a visit can make it more likely that the student will enroll if accepted. This has got to be great news for colleges in Seattle, Portland OR, and Binghamton NY, numbers 4, 5, and 7 on the cloudiest cities in a US ranking.

Mr. Simonsohn’s study of “projection bias” as it relates to clouds and college enrollment might leave you scratching your head. High school students are ordinarily advised not to allow weather conditions during a college visit affect their assessment of an institution’s general worthiness because we don’t want bad weather to “cloud” perspective and have an unfairly negative impact on enrollment decisions.

According to this report, overcast weather makes academic activities appear more “inviting” and this feeling carries over to future enrollment decisions at institutions where you need to work hard to succeed. Not surprisingly, clouds promote school work. Hence there is future “utility” in going to a school that experiences cloudy weather.

The study, published in the Economic Journal, takes care not to identify the institution studied except to say that a college guide characterizes students as believing campus life works like this—“sleep, friends, work, choose two.” Further investigation finds these terms used in relation to MIT. One wonders if similar results would have come out of study of students at the author’s home institution—UC San Diego. Doubtful.

Feb 6, 2010

Blizzard Blues and the FAFSA

Based on the view outside of my suburban DC home, I can confidently report that today’s FAFSA completion workshops sponsored by College Access Fairfax have been cancelled. The Maryland College Goal Sunday events scheduled for the Ebenezer African Methodist Church in Prince George’s County and Loyola University in Baltimore no doubt suffered the same fate.

The Blizzard of 2010 has effectively shut us down. Many are without electricity and the snow just keeps falling. No end seems in sight.

But if you are lucky enough to have access to a computer and the internet, it still may be a good day to gather together tax materials and get started completing your FAFSA. One major college deadline has come and gone, but the second most popular financial aid due date—February 15—is right around the corner.

Locally, American University, Catholic, the University of Maryland, Richmond University, the College of William and Mary, Howard, Goucher College and Hood require all financial aid materials to be submitted by February 15th. Several take both the FAFSA and the CSS Financial Aid Profile.

If you still need help with the FAFSA, most of the cancelled financial aid workshops have snow dates and are rescheduled. In Fairfax, a series of snow dates including after school in a few cases are listed on the College Access Fairfax website. The event in Prince George’s County will take place—weather permitting—on February 14th. Loyola doesn’t list a snow date.

So if you’re in the Washington metropolitan area, looking at the snow continuing to come down, now may be a good time to fix a cup of cocoa and begin organizing those tax documents. Take it from the Charta Squad shout out to all you FAFSA soldiers, “Early bird gets the worm--so file early, see.”

If you have any questions or need additional assistance, contact the FAFSA on the Web Consumer Service either online or by calling 1-800-433-3243 (1-800-4-FED-AID). Although the location of the FAFSA support center is top secret, I can assure you they are not affected by the snow.

Feb 5, 2010

Most Freshmen Admitted To ‘First-Choice’ Colleges but Fewer Attend

Although most freshman report being admitted, far fewer are actually attending their “first-choice” colleges according to the CIRP Freshman Survey, UCLA’s annual report on first-year students at 297 four-year colleges and universities. Of nearly 220,000 freshmen surveyed, 79 percent reported being accepted while only 61 percent are attending colleges labeled as first-choice among those to which they applied.

Possible explanations for the lower number of students attending first-choice colleges may be found in answers to questions related to finances. For top reasons described as “very important” in selecting the college attended, 12 percent reported not being able to afford their first choice and 9 percent were not offered aid.

In addition, 67 percent of the students surveyed indicated having “major or some concern” about paying for college, and more than half said that a very important factor in choosing to attend their college was that graduates got good jobs. Future employment is clearly on the minds of this year’s freshman class as a record high reported having unemployed fathers (4.5 percent) and over 78 percent list being “very well off” financially as an essential or very important goal.

Other interesting facts about this year’s freshman class:

• 53% applied to 4 or fewer colleges
• 16% applied to 8 or more colleges
• 68% took at least one Advanced Placement test
• 56% volunteered frequently in high school
• 30% estimate their parents earn less than $50,000
• 12% estimate family income over $200,000
• 35% are attending colleges within 50 miles of home
• 14% attend colleges more than 500 miles away from home
• 53% are borrowing money to attend college
• 7% are undecided about their majors

For more information or to order a copy of the report, visit the Higher Education Research Institute website.

Feb 3, 2010

4 More Ways to Pay In-State Tuition at Out-of-State Schools

Regional “reciprocity” agreements are one way to pay in-state tuition at out-of-state colleges. If your state participates in one of the major tuition exchange programs, you may be eligible to attend a public institution in another state and pay less than nonresident tuition. But if you don’t happen to reside in a state covered by an agreement or if the restrictions on participation are too limiting, there are other options for bringing out-of-state tuition to a more manageable level:

• Bargain Hunting. In some states, nonresident tuition and fees at public institutions can be very inexpensive—less than $8000 per year. A number of these schools charge little or no additional tuition for nonresidents because they want to recruit to their usually rural campuses. If you live in Illinois, Pennsylvania, Michigan, New Hampshire or Vermont, out-of-state tuition in Minnesota, New Mexico, North Dakota, and South Dakota could look pretty good.

• Good Neighbor Policies. Some colleges offer deep discounts on nonresident charges to applicants from neighboring counties or bordering states. States also have reciprocity agreements outside of or in addition to the larger regional programs. Minnesota has statewide public post-secondary tuition reciprocity with Wisconsin, North Dakota, and South Dakota. Other states with variations on the good neighbor policy include California and Nevada, Georgia and South Carolina, and Kentucky and Indiana. Washington has reciprocity with Idaho and a border county agreement with Oregon.

Qualifying By Virtue of Credentials. Some colleges waive out-of-state fees for students who meet specified qualifications. These are most often based on academics and are offered similar to merit scholarships. For example, the University of South Carolina—Upstate offers in-state tuition to students with GPA’s of at least 3.0, SAT scores of 1000, and top 20 percent ranking in high school. But other qualifications can count. Louisiana State University offers a 75 percent exemption of non-resident fees to children of LSU graduates.

Establish Residency. Military families and residents of the District of Columbia have special exemptions, but states generally grant in-state status only to students who have graduated from in-state high schools or whose parents live in the state for at least a year and prove residency. But some states are not too fussy and some colleges have special exemptions. Arkansas requires just six months and Tennessee does not have a durational component to residency requirements. Students at North Dakota universities who pay local rent for at least one year and make other efforts such as registering to vote, paying local taxes, and switching car registration can also apply for in-state status. Residing on campus as a student does not normally earn you residency, but because of variations in the rules, it’s certainly worth investigating.

The moral of the story is that if you’re looking for a way to qualify for reduced tuition at an out-of-state college or university, you have to do a little homework. You can start with the regional collaboratives, but then get creative in your research. Look carefully at state residency requirements, special price reductions offered to nonresidents or residents of bordering communities, and consider some of the bargain tuitions offered in other states. The devil is in the details, but those details can really pay off!