Aug 31, 2010

Colleges Where Students are Most Likely to Pay Off Federal Loans

At which colleges are students most likely to pay down their debts? The US Department of Education recently released this information as part of a federal student loan repayment report designed to be a first step toward giving students and parents a more complete view of the financial aid landscape.

In its report, the government analyzed the repayment rates of 8,412 institutions including a wide variety of cosmetology and trade schools as well as those pricier name institutions that perennially sit atop college ranking lists. Without going into how quickly loans are repaid, the government summarized all the federal student debts of all students who graduated or left college between October 2004 and March 2008. The bar for repayment wasn’t too high—students only needed to pay $1 of principal to be considered active.

And the results, though controversial, are very interesting. It turns out that the schools with the “highest loan repayment rates are some tech, nursing, liberal arts, and religiously-affiliated colleges” according to an analysis completed by US News & World Report. Ninety-two percent of recent Cal Tech grads were paying loans in 2009, which was the highest level reached among schools analyzed.

Other high rates of repayment were found at colleges costing well above $50,000 such as Gettysburg, Lafayette, and Williams. These schools are also known to offer generous financial aid packages.

The report also documents the number of loans and median debt levels at each institution. Not surprisingly, the University of Phoenix had the greatest number of loans at 347,157. Among nonprofit institutions, Pennsylvania State University listed the most loans—41,679, with a median debt of $14,149.

Also predictable, high-end professional schools came in with the highest median debts. The New York Institute of Technology School of Osteopathic Medicine topped the list at $113,771, for 1,190 students. Slightly further down the list, Georgetown University School of Medicine listed a median debt of $85,715 for 715 med students.

Locally, the highest repayment rates could be found at James Madison University (79%), Georgetown University (79%), the University of Mary Washington (78%), Virginia Tech (77%), George Washington (77%), and St. Mary’s College of Maryland (76%). Some of the lowest levels were found at Bowie State (22%) and the University of the District of Columbia (29%).

Schools at the bottom of the list complained that the government’s analysis was unfair. Borrowers who go on to graduate school and properly defer payment were counted as nonpayers as were some graduates who signed up for the new income-based repayment program.

But more to the point, the Department of Education’s analysis doesn’t examine private student loans, which suggests an overly optimistic view of the amount students borrow and how much they are able to repay.

Picture of JMU courtesy of Wikipedia.

Aug 30, 2010

Local Colleges Contribute Recent Grads to Teach For America

Teach For America recently posted its annual ranking of the colleges and universities contributing the greatest number of graduating seniors to its 2010 teaching corps. Among the top local contributors were the University of Virginia (43) in the large school category and Georgetown University (41), William & Mary (23), and American University (21) in the medium-sized school category. With 10 graduates joining the corps, the University of Richmond was tied for the sixth highest contributor among small schools.

Teach For America corps members are highly-accomplished college graduates and professionals who commit to teach for two years in underserved schools. The organization recruits from all academic majors and backgrounds and seeks individuals who have demonstrated “outstanding achievement, perseverance, and leadership.”

Admission to the 2010 corps was more selective than in previous years, with a record 46,000 applying to join of whom only 12 percent were accepted. Because of the enormous number of qualified candidates, Teach For America was able to increase both the size and strength of the incoming corps.

This fall, more than 4,500 new corps members will start teaching in schools across the country. They represent more than 630 colleges and universities, and 81 percent are graduating seniors. The top 2010 college producers for Teach For America were:

• University of Texas at Austin (80)
• University of Michigan-Ann Arbor (79)
• Cornell University (60)
• University of California-Berkeley (57)
• Northwestern University (57)
• University of Wisconsin-Madison (56)
• University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill (55)
• University of Florida (54)
• Duke University (51)
• UCLA (49)

For college-bound students interested in pursuing careers in education, Teach For America offers incomparable training and leadership opportunities. In fact, two-thirds of the more than 20,000 Teach For America alums across the country are continuing to work full time in education. More than 450 serve as school principals or superintendents; more than 500 work in government or policy; and 30 serve in elected office.

More information and the complete list of top college contributors to the corps may be found on the Teach For America website.

Aug 28, 2010

Making the Most of College—5 Books to Read from the Pros

College consultants participating in breakout sessions at the annual Higher Education Consultants Association (HECA) conference held at the College of St. Benedict were asked what advice they gave to parents to ensure successful transitions from high school to college. Their responses generated a list of 5 “go to” books parents may find useful as they tackle everything from packing to homesickness:

Been There Should’ve Done That: 995 Tips for Making the Most of College, Suzette Tyler. This award-winning book covers everything from study habits to the “freshman 15.” Structured as advice from those who have ‘been there, done that’, these gentle academic and lifestyle management suggestions are much more likely to be taken seriously by college-bound seniors than anything their parents may have to say.

The Launching Years: Strategies for Parenting from Senior Year to College Life, Laura Kastner, Ph.D. and Jennifer Wyatt, Ph.D. Taking two very different approaches to parenting a child going off to college, this book opens the discussion on very real questions of senioritis, leave-taking, rules for holiday breaks, romance, substance abuse, and stress. The authors diplomatically refrain from giving direct advice and offer options for parents to “consider” instead.

Letting Go: A Parents’ Guide to Understanding the College Years, Karen Levin Coburn and Madge Lawrence Treeger. For more than a decade, Letting Go has been a “must read” for parents coping with the emotional, physical and social changes of high school students transitioning to college. The authors work in student services at a well-known university and boldly offer from first-hand experience, “…what your kids may be unable to tell you about what it’s been like for them.” As one local parent remarked, “It provides opportunity to empathize and a view of many things going on at college that is quite different than what I experienced.”

Making the Most of College: Students Speak Their Minds, Richard Light, Ph.D. Drawing from 1600 interviews conducted with Harvard students over a 10-year period, the advice offered is practical and grounded in real-life. Bottom line: good advising is crucial and students really must ask for help when they need it.

You’re On Your Own (But I’m Here If You Need Me): Mentoring Your Child During the College Years, Marjorie Savage. Another college administrator, Ms. Savage converts her experiences into practical advice for parents adjusting to the challenges of college-age children. Savage offers strategies for everything from dealing with complaints about food to teaching junior how to take responsibility for finances. The trick is figuring out how involved parents should be once they are no longer in charge, especially in the brave new world of instant communications.

Whether you’re helping your child download a copy of the Common Application for the first time or waving goodbye to your newly-minted freshman, these books can provide you with much in the way of wisdom, advice, and reassurance.

Aug 27, 2010

High Point University Goes Beyond ‘Up and Coming’

It’s an amazing story. High Point University (HPU) is no longer “up and coming.” HPU has definitely arrived—moving in four short years from 15th to 3rd place among Regional Colleges in the south, supported by a clearly defined business plan that includes growth in academic caliber as well as physical plant.

Almost a year ago, HPU president Nido Qubein, addressed a large group of educational consultants at the IECA Fall Conference. He promised the audience that High Point was a school to watch and that “great things” would come from what was once a sleepy North Carolina college. And he was right.

Here is the evidence—since 2005:
  • Freshman enrollment has increased 230 percent. This fall, HPU welcomed 1,220 first year students, up from 1,030 last year.

  • Total undergraduate enrollment is up 122 percent, from 1,484 to 3,300 students.

  • The campus has more than doubled in size from 83 to 210 acres.

  • SAT scores are up 100 points on average.

  • The number of faculty and staff has risen by 90 percent to 879: 115 more than last year.

Behind these numbers lies an aggressive program of transformation unlike virtually any college in the nation. Over the past five years, HPU raised and invested $300 million in academics, facilities, technology, and scholarships. The new construction program is unparalleled, with 15 new academic, residential, and student-life buildings, plus two new athletic stadiums and a field house, fountains, botanic gardens, laboratories, as well as nine modern restaurants.

But High Point isn’t just glitzy new buildings and facilities. Starting this fall, students will be greeted with a completely revamped core curriculum allowing more flexibility within student schedules. And with the creation of several new schools, including the School of Design, students will be choosing from among 50 majors and 42 minors.

Not everyone is completely sold on the new HPU. Some long-time counselors wonder if the growth and expenditures can be sustained, and others bristle at the “perfection” of the campus. “It’s a little like Disneyland,” commented one parent who recently returned from a tour of North Carolina colleges.

But students are responding. “The Maryland/DC area was our number one territory this year surpassing by one student our central and western North Carolina territory,” said HPU vice president of enrollment Andy Bills. “We will enroll close to 200 students in the freshman class from [the DC region].”

For more information or to learn when admissions representatives will be in your area, visit the HPU admissions web pages.

Aug 25, 2010

NACAC College Fairs Go Green with Electronic Scanning Devices

Anyone who has attended a NACAC college fair can attest that they tend to be paper-intensive events. Between large glossy view books, brochures, and piles of registration cards, colleges and students typically engage in a frantic paper exchange designed to support mutual information sharing.

But now some of the waste may be coming to an end. Since 2007, the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) has been piloting an online pre-registration program that links students with colleges through the magic of a bar code that may be scanned during encounters at a college fair.

“The online registration process creates a bar code that the students bring with them to the fair,” said Steve Cooper of College Fair Automation by TRC. “It streamlines the process for students and colleges and improves the flow of the whole fair.”

Logging on to the student registration site at, students provide basic contact information, an indication of academic interests, and graduation year and high school. In return, they receive a personalized bar code that is printed out and brought to the fair. College reps scan the bar code as a way to retrieve information thereby eliminating the need for filling out registration cards at every booth.

After the fair, students return home with the usual brochures and business cards. Colleges return with important information on students. “Two to three days after the fair, the colleges have all their leads emailed to them in an Excel spreadsheet, so they can start the follow-up process right away,” Cooper explained.

The complete schedule of fall National College Fairs is now available on the NACAC website. Pre-registration is available for 13 fairs, including greater Washington, DC, scheduled for Tuesday, October 12 at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center, and Baltimore, scheduled for October 18-19, at the Baltimore Convention Center.

Students unable to register online ahead of time may use a computer and printer at participating fairs to get admittance passes with personalized bar codes. Be warned, however, lines tend to develop quickly in the vicinity of the registration area, and students who register in advance save lots of time.

Note that pre-registration is not required to attend NACAC college fairs—they are free and open to the public.

While the automation of student data is clearly a boon to information-sharing, the greatest benefit lies in the creation of a more environmentally friendly college fair. It’s a win-win.

For more information and the complete schedule of National College Fairs, visit NACAC online.

Aug 24, 2010

UVa President Sullivan Thinks You Might Be a Helicopter Parent If…

During remarks to parents and students assembled in Old Cabell Hall for the first of many events marking the start of a new academic year, newly installed University of Virginia President Teresa A. Sullivan brought out a box of tissues. “These are for you,” she said.

As a parent and a newcomer to the university, Sullivan offered anecdotes from her own experience and empathized with the difficulty of saying goodbye for the first time. She also counseled parents to let their children grow and explore, yet be prepared for changes in thinking and attitudes when he or she comes home.

In addition, President Sullivan suggested signs that “you might be a helicopter parent” (with apologies to comedian Jeff Foxworthy’s “You Might Be a Redneck” routine):
  1. “You might be a helicopter parent if you say to your child, ‘Don’t bother getting an alarm clock; I’ll call you every morning to wake you up.’

  2. “You might be a helicopter parent if you have the office phone numbers for all of your child’s professors, the Dean of Students, and me on speed-dial.

  3. “You might be a helicopter parent if you’re shopping for a new vacation home within 500 yards of the Rotunda.”

Responding to questions following her remarks, Sullivan revealed that her favorite part of UVa so far is the Lawn under a full moon. No, she has never “streaked” the Lawn and elaborating further she said, “nor do I intend to.”

Aug 23, 2010

Investing Time in Spanish Language Prep Can Pay Handsome AP Dividends

Spanish is by far the most popular foreign language taken by college-bound students. Once upon a time, French was the preferred language and many parents still believe it to be the language of choice for “high-end” institutions. Not so: colleges are perfectly happy with virtually any foreign language. They differ only in the number of years required or recommended for admission.

Regardless of your specific language commitment, it’s important to practice over the summer months. And anyone reaching the Advanced Placement (AP) level would be wise to jumpstart a few lessons before heading back to school.

“…when you are dealing with a foreign language, it is best to keep it ‘fresh’ over the summer months,” explained Lola Quintela, a local Spanish language tutor. “The idea is to make it fun while reinforcing grammar and vocabulary.”

So how hard can this be? Not too, it turns out. Whether you’re signed up for AP Spanish Language or Spanish 1, there are a number of no-stress steps you can take to build vocabulary, practice reading comprehension, and improve speaking skills.

To get back up to speed or prepare for a challenging Spanish language program in the fall, try the following:

• Work with a tutor. Don’t wait until after you’ve tanked on the first listening quiz of the quarter. Start now and make it your goal to spend at least two hours per week brushing up basic language skills with a native speaker.

• Go high tech and check out iTunes University for Spanish courses and apps. Levels range from beginners to a more technical medical Spanish class offered at Yale. The Do It Yourself Scholar recommends Notes in Spanish (free podcasts) or Open Culture’s Free Foreign Language Lessons.

• Watch UnivisiĆ³n, Telefutura, or Telemundo. You can replay clips or entire videos to practice listening comprehension. It may be a good idea to start with the news because it’s already familiar. But some of the telenovelas are very entertaining.

• Listen to Spanish language radio stations. While driving back and forth to sports or band practice, you can listen to the news or salsa radio stations. The announcers tend to speak quickly, but with many hours in the car your understanding will increase.

• Review for the National Spanish Exam. The National Spanish Exam website contains a treasure trove of old exams and practice exercises. You can improve reading comprehension, grammar and vocabulary by logging on and taking a few exams. Keep in mind that AP Spanish students should be working at levels 3 or 4 or higher.

• Take lessons with the BBC. The BBC offers audio and video language courses in 36 languages—free of charge. You can start with any one of several 12-week beginners’ courses in Spanish, French, German, or Italian. Sign-up and you’ll receive a weekly email offering encouragement and tips to help your language learning. Or if your level of expertise is beyond beginner, test your skills and you will be directed to those parts of the site that will be most useful for you.

• Visit a museum. The trick is to visit museums offering tours in Spanish. Locally, many of the major tourist sites have self-guided audio and group tours available in numerous foreign languages. This can be a very different way to see a familiar place.


Aug 21, 2010

The College of William & Mary Welcomes the Class of 2014

This weekend, the College of William & Mary welcomes an entering freshman class of roughly 1400 students. Judging by the numbers, tentative plans to expand class size by another 50 students were put on the back burner for now. It is, however, a remarkably diverse and interesting group of students.

“This is a diverse class with a wide range of backgrounds,” said dean of admission Henry Broaddus. “They are an intelligent and engaged group that cares about the world around them, and we are confident they will make their mark at William & Mary.”

Included in this year’s class are a nationally competitive martial artist, junior Olympic fencer, the only high school intern at “Hotline,” a dancer in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, a nationally recognized student journalist, contributor to the Library of Congress Veteran’s Project, and the co-author and researcher for a translation dictionary to help Bantu refugees.

The W&M Class of 2014 includes 26 percent students of color, 44 international students and 140 first-generation students. Sixty-five percent of all new students, including transfers, come from Virginia.

And they are smart. Selected from a record-setting pool of more than 12,500 applicants, the first year students bring a middle 50th percentile of 1280-1430 on the SAT math and critical reading sections. Of the students who attended high schools providing class rank, 79 percent finished in the top 10 percent. This year’s admit rate was 32 percent, down from 34 percent last year.

Freshmen will have about five days to adjust to their new surroundings before the academic semester for all undergrads begins August 25th. But in the meantime, here are a few events appearing on the new student orientation program:

• A series of briefings ranging from student rights and responsibilities to undergraduate research opportunities
• A night on the town in colonial Williamsburg
• Tours of the library, career center, and book store
• Volunteer service projects sponsored by Students Helping Out Williamsburg (SHOW)
• A campus activities and resource fair
• Theatrical productions by the William & Mary Department of Theatre, Speech, and Dance
• Movies under the stars on a giant 30-foot screen with surround sound
• Performances by hypnotist Tom Deluca, various rock bands, a cappella groups, and a stand-up comedian
• Laser tag
• An ice cream social

In the old days, orientation programs largely consisted of a stern lecture on “parietals” from the dorm mother. This sounds like a lot more fun.

Aug 20, 2010

What Freshmen Don’t Know

Born in the year Queen Elizabeth declared an Annus Horribilis, members of the class of 2014 have never found Korean-made cars all that unusual, and the availability of hundreds of cable channels has always been the norm. They come armed with iPhones and BlackBerries, on which making a phone call is less important than surfing the web. This is a generation accustomed to instant access—“awash with a computerized technology that will not distinguish information and knowledge.”

Each August since 1998, Beloit College has released the College Mindset List, the brainchild of Tom McBride, Keefer Professor of the Humanities and Ron Nief, former public affairs director. Designed to clue professors into what their new frosh experienced growing up, the list traditionally signals the start of the academic year.

Items on the list reflect the cultural and political world views of today’s 18-year-olds. For the class of 2014, China has always been an economic threat and Sam Walton, Bert Parks, and Tony Perkins have always been dead. Although the America they inherit is one of soaring trade and budget deficits, this generation has never known the terror of Russian missiles aimed directly at the United States.

Here are some highlights:

• Few in the class know how to write in cursive.
• Email is just too slow, and they seldom if ever use snail mail.
• “Caramel macchiato” and “venti half-caf vanilla latte” have always been street corner lingo.
• With increasing numbers of ramps, Braille signs, and handicapped parking spaces, the world has always been trying harder to accommodate people with disabilities.
• A quarter of the class has at least one immigrant parent, and the immigration debate is not a big priority.
• John McEnroe has never played professional tennis.
• Clint Eastwood is better known as a sensitive director than as Dirty Harry.
• Doctor Kevorkian has never been licensed to practice medicine.
• Colorful lapel ribbons have always been worn to indicate support for a cause.
• Fergie is pop singer, not a princess.
• DNA fingerprinting and maps of the human genome have always existed.
• Leno and Letterman have always been trading insults on opposing networks.
• Computers have never lacked a CD-ROM disk drive.
• “Viewer Discretion” has always been an available warning on TV shows.
• Czechoslovakia has never existed.
• Adhesive strips have always been available in varying skin tones.
• Bud Selig has always been the Commissioner of Major League Baseball.
• Russians and Americans have always been living together in space.
• Nirvana is on the classic oldies station.
• Food has always been irradiated.
• There have always been women priests in the Anglican Church.
• Ruth Bader Ginsburg has always sat on the Supreme Court.

Kinda makes you feel old.

For the complete list, visit the Beloit College website.

Aug 19, 2010

Secretary Sebelius Offers Tips on College Success

Members of Trinity Washington University’s Class of 2014 were recently treated to a college success pep talk personally delivered by Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. The nation’s highest ranking health official, Sebelius ‘70, returned to her alma mater to participate in new student orientation and offer tips on what it takes to succeed in college.

“It is a life-changing experience to attend Trinity and be part of this amazing community,” explained Secretary Sebelius. “I wouldn’t be in the job I’m in and I wouldn’t be able to do the job without the incredible education I received at Trinity and the lifelong friends I made here.”

In addition to comments on the changing landscape of health care and the critical need for more health care professionals, Sebelius zeroed in on what any college freshman needs to keep in mind when entering this important new phase of life and provided a roadmap applicable to students regardless of where they attend college.

Here are the basics:

• exercise every day—walk 30 minutes per day, five days per week;
• eat a healthier diet;
• get as much sleep as possible;
• actively work on eliminating stress;
• try to manage time and study regularly; and
enjoy each and every day.

In her remarks, Sebelius also underscored the importance of taking full advantage of going to school in a great city. Students need to make time to have fun, listen to music, visit museums, and benefit from the amazing array of cultural and educational opportunities available just beyond the campus.

Responding to questions from her audience of more than 300 newly-minted freshmen, Sebelius discussed what it means to take risks. “If you never take a risk, if you never walk through an open door, you’re never going to know what’s on the other side.”

And college can definitely be an important first step toward finding out what’s on the other side.

Photo from the blizzard courtesy of Trinity Washington University.

Aug 18, 2010

ACT Continues to Grow in Popularity and Importance

The ACT continues to grow in popularity and importance as a tool for determining college readiness, according to the Condition of College and Career Readiness Report, released today.

While scores remain basically static, the number of high school students taking the ACT in 2010 rose to 1,569,000. This represents an increase of 30 percent since 2006, when 1,206,000 students sat for the exam.

Over the same five-year period, students taking the ACT in Maryland and DC increased by 54 percent and 41 percent respectively. But in Virginia, the numbers have dramatically risen from 11,519 in 2006 to 19,236 or about 22 percent of the Commonwealth’s high school graduates in 2010. This represents an increase of 67 percent in five years.

Why would this be? Perhaps it's because the test is considered by many to be more “consumer-friendly” than competing College Board products. And at an increasing number of colleges, the ACT with Writing may be substituted for both the SAT Reasoning and Subject Tests—saving the test-taker considerable time and money.

But more important to college applicants is the fact that nearly every college and university in the country will accept either the ACT or the SAT. Because the tests are virtually interchangeable, students may elect to submit scores from whichever test they choose—usually the one on which they scored best.

"The Catholic University of America saw an increase in the number of applicants submitting the ACT compared to last year. In fact, in Fall 2009 about 5.6% of our new freshmen submitted the ACT only and for this Fall 2010 that rose to 10%," said Christine Mica, CUA dean of admission. "CUA recruits nationally and for years has accepted both the ACT and the SAT. Allowing students to submit just the SAT, just the ACT or both, gives them the ability to highlight their standardized testing skills in a format in which they feel most comfortable."

The ACT is a first cousin to the Iowa Test of Basic Skills, which many of us took annually in grade school (long before computers were there to score them). It is a “curriculum based” achievement test designed to measure the skills necessary to succeed in the first year of college.

For those keeping count, our area scored very well on the ACT this year. Virginia’s average composite score went up by .4 to 22.3, well above the national average of 21.0. The average composite in Maryland was also 22.3, and in DC, it was 19.8. Subscores in Maryland and Virginia were virtually identical with Maryland doing slightly better in Math (22.3 vs. 22.1), and Virginia doing better in Reading (22.5 vs. 22.4) and Science (21.9 vs. 21.8).

Interestingly, the most frequently listed major/career interest among students in both Maryland and Virginia was Health Sciences & Allied Health. In DC, the most frequently cited major was Business and Management.

And somewhere in the DC region, 11 students earned perfect composite scores of 36—one in the District, five in Maryland, and five in Virginia.

For more a more complete summary of ACT national and state test results, visit the ACT website.

Aug 16, 2010

Forbes Tries Again to Rank Colleges

For the third year running, Forbes Magazine recently trotted out its sorry attempt to upstage the soon-to-be-released US News and World Report annual ranking of colleges. And number three is no better, useful, or accurate than numbers one or two.

“…the Forbes list comes off more as a parody than any real competition for the U.S. News & World Report ‘Best Colleges’ edition, which has its own well-publicized problems with credible outcomes data,” commented Trinity Washington University president Patricia McGuire, for Inside Higher Ed. “Once again, greed trumps truth while masquerading as a consumer service.”

And still it’s embarrassing to see how many prestigious publications, including the Washington Post, rise to the bait and run the list. Even more embarrassing are the press releases from colleges basking in the glory of so much as a mention. Without naming names, one local college boasted of landing somewhere considerably north of 200 in the ranking of 610 institutions.

Happily, most of the Forbes top ten colleges ignored the honor and didn’t dignify the list with as much as a web note. Only Claremont-McKenna and West Point, which dropped from number one in 2009 to number 4 this year, issued releases earnestly bragging of their rankings as top ten institutions.

But did they look at the methodology? Even with over eleven web pages of self-justifying blather, Forbes can’t get beyond the fact that the most of the data used to generate their list has no real validity. Who’s Who in America? And what sense does it make to lump major research institutions with liberal arts colleges in the same ranking?

For the record, is a compilation of opinions shown to be largely from very happy students OR very very unhappy students—not much in between. And, if anyone would bother to look, RateMyProfessors is becoming obsolete as a rating tool as colleges create and post their own private rating websites (see Stanford's site for a good example).

Equally ridiculous as a serious evaluation tool, invites readers to self-report salaries. Not only is there no possible way to judge the accuracy of this information, but it also usually represents a very small and select group of recent graduates.

And Who’s Who is a vanity listing geared toward selling books to anyone whose name mysteriously finds its way into those volumes.

So for what it’s worth, DC area institutions didn’t fare too well on the Forbes rankings. Only the U.S. Naval Academy and Washington & Lee made it within the top 40 “best” colleges in America. The Naval Academy was also named as one of the top 40 “best buys,” in a list somewhat biased toward schools charging no tuition.

“Evaluating the best college for any given student is a process that starts with a clear understanding of the student’s own intellectual talents, academic interests and social needs,” concludes President McGuire. “No list rank-ordered by someone else’s idea of ‘best’ can substitute for the student’s own judgment, after in-person research, of what will really be the best place to learn, live and grow successfully.”

Words to live by.

Aug 14, 2010

College Board Eliminates Guessing Penalty for AP’s—Can the SAT Be Far Behind?

The cat is out of the bag. Any plans the College Board had for an official August announcement were blown when a recent memo to Advanced Placement (AP) school coordinators was circulated on the NACAC listserv revealing the elimination of the “guessing” penalty for multiple-choice sections of all AP exams.

“Beginning with the May 2011 AP Exam administration, total scores on the multiple-choice section will be based on the number of questions answered correctly,” wrote Kelly Fitzsimmons, of the College Board. “Points will no longer be deducted for incorrect answers and, as always, no points will be awarded for unanswered questions.”

Under the old College Board policy, AP scores were based on the total number of correct answers minus a fraction for every incorrect answer—one-third of a point for questions with four possible answers and one-fourth of a point for questions with five possible answers. AP students were trained to work the odds by eliminating one or more possible answers and then making an “educated guess.” In fact, the College Board traditionally supported this strategy saying, “…if you have SOME knowledge of the question, and can eliminate one or more answer choices, informed guessing from among the remaining choices is usually to your advantage.”

So after years of counseling test takers against random guessing, the College Board is relenting and students may now do so without fear of hurting their AP scores. This is indeed good news for a few, who absent direct knowledge of correct answers or in the face of time constraints may comfortably bubble in responses to every question. It’s not Vegas or the Lottery, but it sure looks like Lady Luck could figure in here.

Last year, the College Board announced plans to redesign a number of AP courses starting in the 2011-12 academic year. The new scoring policy is being advertised as one element of an overall reconfiguration of the tests to decrease emphasis on more complex multiple-choice questions.

Well, maybe. But the more suspicious among us can’t help but feel like this concession might represent a first step toward eliminating a similar guessing penalty on the SAT Reasoning and Subject Tests. It’s hard to justify keeping it for one test and not the other.

The ACT, which is rapidly gaining significant market share against the SAT in the DC area, has never had such a penalty. And let’s face it—being able to guess is a significant stress reducer. Test takers really appreciate not having to waste time and mental energy deciding whether or not to chance a guess—educated or not educated.

In fact, the absence of a penalty for guessing may account for some part of the increased popularity of the ACT. In an interview with Inside Higher Ed, Robert Schaeffer, public education director of the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, described the ACT as “more consumer-friendly.” And it is

Aug 13, 2010

UVa Class of 2014: Diverse and Academically Strong

Closing the books on the 2009-10 admissions cycle, the University of Virginia (UVa) Office of Admission announced an incoming class lauded as the “strongest and most diverse” yet.

“We’re seeing and enrolling more top students,” said Greg Roberts, UVa’s dean of admission. “And what’s more, those students are coming from many different backgrounds.”

Despite a national downward trend in the number of high school graduates, UVa received a record 22,516 applications and offered admission to 7,224 students or about 32% of total applicants. Last year, offers were made to 6,775 students or 31% of the students seeking admission. By move-in day on August 21st, UVa expects to welcome 3,246 students—55 percent of whom will be women.

And their academic credentials are impressive. For the first time, more than 90 percent of incoming UVa students were ranked in the top 10 percent of their high school graduating classes. They scored an average of 1,993 on the SAT (as compared to 1,984 last year), with the middle 50 percent ranging from 1,880 to 2,140 or ten points higher on either side from a year ago.

UVa also greatly increased minority enrollment. More than 980 students identified themselves as members of one or more minority groups as compared to 892 last year. The number of African American, Hispanic, and Native American students remained relatively stable, while the number of students from Asian backgrounds increased by about 25 percent to 546.

And thanks to Access UVa, the percent of students from low-income backgrounds significantly increased. This year saw an impressive 35 percent gain from 204 to 268.

“The economy continues to play a factor in families’ decision,” Roberts explained. “We’ve spent a considerable amount of time and effort reaching out to families in the rural and urban areas of the country.”

According to the UVa press release, the flow of students from Virginia’s Community College System remains strong. The University expects to enroll 560 transfer students, including 264 from Virginia’s 23 community colleges.

But UVa continues to tread close to the line in meeting a legislated balance between in-state and out-of-state students. Including transfers, the in-state portion of the entering class remains virtually the same as last year at 69 percent.

Aug 11, 2010

The Colleges That Change Lives Go South

This weekend, the Colleges That Change Lives (CTCL) launches a southern tour taking their traveling road show from Houston and Nashville to Austin and Atlanta. Back by popular demand, the CTCL will stop in Tulsa for the first time in two years and Memphis for the first time in four years.

“Counselors in Memphis and Tulsa asked for us to return,” said Marty O’Connell, executive director of the Colleges That Changed Lives. “In spite of the economy, our attendance has been steadily growing and these were logical cities for us to visit.”

In fact, the CTCL sessions have been “standing room only.” Over 1000 people showed up at the Bethesda Marriott Hotel last May for the DC area event. Similar crowds attended in New York City and Los Angeles.

But it’s not possible for the CTCL to visit every city. For this reason, the CTCL launched a Speakers Bureau as an alternative for bringing the CTCL message to communities not included in the tour.

In a nutshell, the CTCL Speakers Bureau features Executive Director O’Connell as well as other experienced admission deans and directors who present programs designed to motivate college-bound students or facilitate discussions on the latest issues in higher education.

Topics may include admissions selectivity and outcomes; college rankings and their importance; how campus characteristics and learning opportunities relate to college success; and where financial aid fits into the overall picture.

In the coming months Ms. O’Connell will be speaking at high schools located in every corner of the country—from Florida to California and back. In November, she will be visiting the Long Reach High School, in Columbia, Maryland, for a conversation on college admissions. The evening session, scheduled for 7:00 pm on the 16th, is open to the public.

For students and families lucky enough to be located near a tour stop, the CTCL program begins with a 30-minute panel presentation followed by a college fair lasting about 1.5 hours. While sometimes hectic, the fair is a wonderful opportunity to demonstrate some interest and meet one-on-one with representatives from each of the Colleges That Change Lives.

After the southern tour, the CTCL heads toward the Midwest in September with stops in Chicago, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Indianapolis, St. Louis, and the Twin Cities. The tour takes a winter break so admissions staff can concentrate on reading applications, but resumes in the spring.

For more information on the tours or to learn more about the College That Change Lives, visit the CTCL website.

Aug 9, 2010

Tips for Completing the Common Application’s ‘New’ Academics Section

Within 24 hours of launch, the 2010-11 Common Application clocked nearly 25,000 registrations for new online accounts. Ninety-eight applications were submitted, with the first person hitting the submit button a mere 3 hours and 37 minutes into the new year.

Absent a few bumps including a temporarily missing delete button, the transition to the new form appears to be going relatively smoothly. There are a few changes from last year, however, the most notable of which are in the Academics Section. As you begin completing the form, be aware of the following:

The Common Application now asks students to “self report” class rank. Self-reported information supplements but does not replace score reports and school records. Provisions are made on the new form for school systems, like Fairfax County, which do not rank. But if a student selects a Class Rank option other than “None,” additional information becomes required and must be completed before the student can submit.

Grade point averages are also requested. GPA is not required for submission. If a student enters a GPA, a dropdown menu appears asking about the nature of the scale used and whether the GPA is weighted or not. If you have a choice, the Common App asks that you report weighted GPA. But if your school does not calculate a cumulative numerical GPA or if it uses a scale that is different from the options available in the dropdown menu, leave the Cumulative GPA field blank. Note: students are expected to report their current GPA and class rank and not anticipate improvements in the coming year.

There is a new layout for self-reported SAT scores. While a little confusing, the intent is for students to “showcase” their best efforts irrespective of what Score Choice allows or individual colleges might require. Students are asked to list their best SAT Reasoning Test scores across the test dates, which runs counter to how scores may be reported using Score Choice. Note that Score Choice only allows you to send score reports from selected “sittings,” so you may want to be careful that what you report on the Common Application relates to what you are requesting from the College Board. If for some reason you wish to report scores from more than three test dates, you may report remaining scores in the Additional Information section.

ACT subscores may also be reported. You are instructed to report your highest individual composite and subscores earned so far, even if they are from different test dates. This reporting method is not meant to imply that colleges will compute a new composite “superscore” based on individual subscores. And, you should not attempt to calculate a new composite based on individual subscores. Keep in mind that additional ACT reports cost extra. Some colleges will, however, accept self-reported information in situations where the applicant is using scores from multiple sittings. This helps students avoid additional expense (see Yale’s policy).

• There is space to list only eight AP/IB/SAT Subject Test Scores. Once you select a specific test type, dropdown menus will appear on which only applicable subjects and scores are displayed. If you have more than eight test scores to report, you should give priority to the scores you have already earned, followed by SAT Subject Tests you intend to take. In the event you have taken any of these tests multiple times, only report the single highest score. Note that the Common Application expects colleges to discern which Advanced Placement and IB tests you will take later this year from your transcript, so if room is tight you can leave these tests off the form. If you still need more space, however, you are directed to report remaining scores in the Additional Information section.

Little yellow question marks appear throughout the online Common Application, which provide pop-up "help" boxes specific to those questions. But if you continue to be confused about the form, do not hesitate to contact the Common App’s Support Center.

Also, take time at the outset to review the demo video, a link for which you won’t find until you’re about to tear your hair out. Although it doesn’t go into too much detail, it’s really fairly helpful and deserves a more prominent location on the site.

Aug 7, 2010

Harvard, Georgetown, and Others Change SAT Subject Test™ Policies for 2010-11

Without much fanfare, Harvard, Georgetown and several other universities changed long-standing application policies concerning the submission of SAT Subject Tests™. Until this year, Harvard and Georgetown were the last two colleges in the U.S. to require all students to take and submit scores for three Subject Tests.

Possibly signaling a reduced role for standardized testing, Harvard will only require two SAT Subject Tests for students applying to be admitted for the fall of 2011. According to the Harvard website, applicants may not submit two Subject Tests in mathematics, and candidates whose first language is not English should “ordinarily not use a Subject Test in their first language.”

Applicants are encouraged to convey the “breadth of their academic interests” by taking tests in different subject areas and to submit additional test scores including AP and IB that provide evidence of academic accomplishment.

Georgetown is a little more subtle in approach. For 2010-11, it is now “strongly recommended” that all candidates, whether they have taken the SAT Reasoning Test or the ACT, submit three SAT Subject Test scores. In the past, these scores were “requested.” Note that in the college admissions business, recommend usually translates to require. Nevertheless, the change in language leaves open the question of what role these scores actually play in Georgetown's admissions.

These shifts in policy leave the University of Toronto as the only postsecondary institution requiring the submission of three SAT Subject Test Scores as part of a complete application for admission for all applicants.

Along similar lines, other colleges expanded policies allowing the substitution of ACT for SAT Subject Test scores. So far this year, Rice and Brandeis have joined a growing number of colleges no longer requiring Subject Tests from students taking the ACT with Writing. Some colleges with these policies include Amherst, Boston College, Boston University, Bryn Mawr, Duke, Haverford, McGill, Pomona, Swarthmore, Tufts, Penn, Wellesley, Wesleyan, Williams, and Yale.

Further complicating the evolving role of SAT Subject Tests, a few colleges are allowing these and other standardized tests (AP, IB) to be submitted instead of SAT and/or ACT scores. Bryn Mawr, Colby, Colorado College, Furman, NYU, Middlebury, and UMUC fall into this category.

Locally, Johns Hopkins continues to “recommend” three subject tests. Across the Potomac, Washington and Lee still requires two “unrelated” SAT Subject tests, while UVa “strongly recommends” the submission of two subject test scores.

Catholic University recommends either a Subject Test or an AP/IB exam in language for Arts/Sciences and Philosophy candidates. GW requires or recommends Subject Tests for accelerated programs. For example, BA/MD candidates must take both a math and a science Subject Test, and the Honors Program recommends any two Subject Tests.

Several colleges will “consider” subject test scores if submitted. In the DC area, Goucher, William and Mary, Mary Washington, and the University of Richmond fall into this camp.

No doubt the guys in Princeton, New Jersey are watching these developments closely. With market share and revenue at stake, each shift in admissions policy has some impact on their bottom line. What started as a conversation about the role of SAT’s and the College Board in admissions has turned into a clear trend toward less reliance on scores and greater flexibility for students.

Thanks to Cigus Vanni, NACAC Professional Development Committee, as well as to the folks at Fair Test and the Compass Education Group for working so hard to keep ahead of shifting sands in standardized testing. For the most accurate and up-to-date information, students are advised to go directly to individual college websites.

Aug 6, 2010

Low Stress Tips for Acing U.S. History—AP or Other Familiar Forms

American history is pretty much a rite of passage for college-bound students. Whether we’re talking about a general survey course, the International Baccalaureate “History of the Americas,” AP U.S., or the ever-popular US/Virginia history hybrid, at least one full high school year will be devoted to explorers, civil war heroes, and no less than 44 presidents of the United States.

But it doesn’t have to be painful. In fact, there are a number of enjoyable “high tech” ways to brush up on events of the last several centuries as part of a no-stress summer prep program that will get you in great shape for charging through history and tackling AP’s in May or SAT Subject Tests at the end of the school year.

To begin your summertime adventures in American history, try tuning in to BackStory with the History Guys. Trust me—there’s no heavy lifting here. You can listen on your local NPR affiliate or download a relatively painless dose of U.S. history (including back programs) onto your iPod and then go about your business jogging, mowing the lawn, sunbathing, or otherwise zoning out around the house.

And here’s the secret: these guys (professors from UVa and the University of Richmond) are really funny. Starting with topics ripped from today’s headlines, BackStory spends an hour exploring history from the perspective of “History Guys,” each of whom represents a century in American history. Over three years, they’ve covered everything from the startling history of American courtship to partisanship and the press. Did you know Puritans encouraged couples to sleep together before marriage? Check it out.

If an hour is too much commitment, you can find snippets of history offered as downloads at the iTunes store, including a free series entitled Moments in American History. I particularly enjoyed the “Entertainment and Teen Culture” segment since it squarely placed blame for the roots of teen rebellion on my grandmother.

Or if you want to dig a little deeper, check out some real university professors on iTunes U. Recommended lecturers include Yale University’s David Blight and Stanford’s Jack Rakove, both of whom offer fairly specific U.S. History courses online. The Do It Yourself Scholar recommends several survey classes and is a wonderful resource for the serious student or the hobbyist.

There are also podcasts specifically geared to the AP U.S History curriculum. One produced by David Shocket is designed to go with the AP U.S. History book America Past and Present by Robert Divine. And McGraw-Hill also offers U.S. History quiz set "apps" which subtly advertise “your score on an AP exam can mean the difference between acceptance into the college of your choice and disappointment.” Yikes!

So why all the sudden interest in US history?

“Because that was now…and this is then”—The History Guys.

Aug 4, 2010

The Worst of the Best of Princeton Review

In a carefully worded press release, the Princeton Review debuted results yesterday of surveys conducted among 122,000 students attending 373 schools (up 2 from last year) designated the “best” colleges in America. By midmorning, the Princeton Review website crashed and became impossible to view as thousands of interested parties raced to learn which schools earned distinctions in 62 published categories.

And this is big news. While Princeton Review gently tries to steer interest in “Green Rated” schools and earnestly directs attention to the winners in “Best Financial Aid,” most press inevitably flows toward schools with “Lots of Hard Liquor” or “Reefer Madness.” And that’s what sells books.

Pity the school described as “purgatory” or the college where professors are described as inaccessible. While high school students gravitate toward the party schools, parents understandably take a dim view of winners in many high profile categories.

Unfortunately, the urban legend spin-offs from these competitions tend to have a long half-life, and reputations aren’t easily rehabilitated. Mention West Virginia University in this area and you’re guaranteed to get a response more in line with its party reputation than its standing among the few colleges offering a petroleum engineering major.

I suppose the moral of the story is that for some colleges, publicity—any publicity—is welcome. For others, these kinds of rankings produce an ongoing headache as they try to explain the unscientific nature of the study or to laugh away a survey presumably conducted in the spirit of good fun.

Among the more positive local outcomes, American University took first place in the “Most Politically Active” category and the University of Maryland won “Best Athletic Facilities.”

Best campus food may be found at Virginia Tech, James Madison University and the University of Richmond, while Sweet Briar and St. Mary’s College of Maryland received high rankings in the “Most Beautiful Campus” category.

DC stood tall among “Great College Towns” with George Washington, American, and Georgetown earning spots among the top 20. The most politically active campuses also included American, GW, and Georgetown, as well as George Mason and Hollins.

Happy students are found at William & Mary and St. Mary’s of Maryland, while dorms are like palaces at Loyola of Maryland and George Washington. Howard University ranked among colleges with the best college radio stations and best college newspapers—along with the University of Maryland.

The University of Virginia joined a number of Ivy League schools with “great financial aid.” And professors got high marks at Sweet Briar, Hampden-Sydney, the College of William & Mary, and Randolph College.

To view the complete list of rankings you might have to open an account and risk having an email box flooded with college spam. Or you can buy The Best 373 Colleges—2011 Edition from Princeton Review.

Aug 2, 2010

Virginia Campuses Roll Out the Red Carpet for Private College Week

From chilled drinks and platters of cookies to flowers on the tables, Virginia’s private colleges and universities rolled out the red carpet for hundreds of high school students touring during Private College Week.

“So far, I’ve visited Shenandoah and Marymount,” explained one local senior whose mother and five-year old brother came along on both trips. “I’m resting tomorrow but then we’re driving down to Washington and Lee.”

Starting early Monday morning, scores of prospective college students and their families traveled from one corner of the Commonwealth to the other. They were treated to special presentations as well as a few t-shirts and souvenirs.

Following my own advice, I visited three private colleges. The weather was perfect for walking tours and the enthusiastic welcome from staff and students made the trips worthwhile. In
addition to basic facts and figures, here is a little of what I learned:

• Taking time from his busy calendar as the new president of Bridgewater College, George Cornelius addressed college “fit” and the many advantages of a liberal arts degree, in remarks directed to Private College Week visitors. Bridgewater has grown enormously over the past ten years and is rapidly moving toward the goal of enrolling 1800 undergraduates on a 300-acre campus located in the heart of the Shenandoah Valley. Organized as a “residential” college, Bridgewater offers an innovative Personal Development Portfolio (PDP) program along with glamorous new facilities, including an Equestrian Center housing an equine studies minor.

Marymount University is a hidden gem located in Arlington, Virginia—just over the Potomac and five subway stops from the nation’s capital. In October, Marymount will open an amazing new $50 million mixed-use facility housing a suite-style residence hall, an academic building with state-of-the-art science and health science (nursing) laboratories, four levels of underground parking, and beautiful outdoor gathering spaces. To sweeten the deal, substantial scholarships are available for strong “B” students applying with high school averages starting at 2.8 or better.

• The Conservatory at Shenandoah University boasts a faculty of more than 100 professionals in music, theatre and dance and an alumni base that includes performers from Broadway to the concert halls of Europe. Majors include costume design, music recording & technology, dance education, church music, music therapy, and theatre for youth—to name a few. Located 70 miles west of Washington, DC, Shenandoah was on this year’s USNWR list of top up-and-coming schools and ranked among the best master’s level institutions in the south region.

Of course, there’s much more to tell about each these schools, but I wanted to provide a taste of the variety and depth of Virginia’s private college system. Supported by such programs as the Virginia Tuition Assistance Grant (TAG) and the availability of merit and need-based financial aid, independent colleges offer quality education at an affordable cost.

To cap my experience, I’m running out to the mailbox to mail my completed “passport” back to the Council of Independent Colleges in Virginia (CICV) to receive my three FREE application fee waivers. Sweet!