Nov 29, 2010

What to Do When Words on Your College Application Get Lost in Transmission

In case you missed the email, some gremlins sneaked in to the Common Application website last week and finally added a few prominent warnings that “your response may be cut off” in key sections of the form. As one mom lamented on Facebook, “Little late for my child.”

Unfortunately several hundred thousand applications have already been submitted through the Common App system, many of which no doubt had bits and pieces left off. And if you think you might fall into this group, you’re probably wondering what to do.

First, don’t panic. Most colleges know this happens and understand the quirks inherent in the electronic application system. It’s an imperfect technology with lots of opportunities for missteps—on both ends.

But if you’re concerned that the application you hurried to submit in advance of early deadlines reads like someone forgot to finish a thought, there are steps you can take to make corrections and provide colleges with information that may have gotten lost in transmission.

Start by going back to your original application and print out the PREVIEW. This will show you exactly what colleges will see when reading your application.

Review your responses, particularly in the Extracurricular Activities/ Work Experience and Short Answer sections. Then decide if important information was cut off making your answers unintelligible or incomplete. It’s most likely that your responses were clear enough, in which case you don’t need to do anything.

If you feel that the application seriously misrepresents you or if you believe colleges may be missing significant information, consider doing the following:

  • For colleges to which you have NOT yet applied, create an “alternative” version of the application. Follow the instructions carefully and make appropriate corrections. If necessary, use standard abbreviations or continue responses in the “Additional Information” section of the application. Note that you cannot resubmit an application. The new versions may only go to colleges remaining on your list.

  • For colleges to which you have already sent applications, email or write the admissions office. Be sure to indicate in the subject line or at the outset of your letter that you writing to provide information that may have been cut off in the transmission of the application. If the problem involves an extracurricular activity or work experience, you might want to send a resume or activities sheet. If you’re concerned about a short answer or essay, simply forward a complete or corrected version.

Most colleges will welcome the additional information. According to one admissions dean, “Sometimes we follow up with the applicant to request this but when things are really busy we do not always follow up.” He adds, “It would be very helpful for the student to take this initiative.”

Note that all the information, as you originally wrote it, remains in the system. It’s just difficult to access, and most readers won’t bother. But colleges understand the problem, so don’t sweat the small stuff.

If you still have questions about the application or how to address truncated text, contact the Common Application Support Center.

Nov 27, 2010

15 Common Mistakes Students Make When Completing Online College Applications

Once Aunt Maude and Uncle Howard pack up the sedan and kiss everyone goodbye, the Thanksgiving holiday is officially over and the excuse for not working on college applications departs along with the relatives.

If you’re among the large number of high school seniors who have either not started or may be far from completing your applications, don’t be surprised to find yourself tied to the computer and under parentally-imposed restrictions for the foreseeable future. There are deadlines involved, and your family would just as soon not have the December holidays ruined by your procrastination.

And face it—you’re little behind. At last count, the Common Application has already registered 241,362 users and 655,765 applications have already been submitted by remarkably organized high school students.

But before you start trying to make up for lost time by dashing out applications, remember that errors due to carelessness or misunderstanding can be costly. Thanks to some insider information from the makers of electronic applications, here is a list of common mistakes made by applicants trying to hurry the process:

1. Not reading instructions. Before starting any application, take the time to read instructions or view instructional videos. Consider printing out directions and having them handy as you work through the application.

2. Waiting until the last minute. Stuff happens. Your computer crashes, the internet goes down, or servers are reduced to a crawl. Why chance it?

3. Not entering a valid email address. And you wonder why you haven’t heard from any colleges?

4. Forgetting to disable pop-up blockers. And whose fault is it that you can’t see those parts of the application displaying in pop-up windows?

5. Using the wrong browser. Most online applications require more modern versions of Internet Explorer or other specific browsers which are clearly identified in the instructions. For example, the Common Application does not support Chrome, but the Universal College Application does.

6. Not checking EACH individual college’s requirements and deadlines. The information is all there—deadlines, fees, and supplementary information. Application software generally doesn’t allow you to submit after deadlines have passed. It’s really smart that way.

7. Forgetting to save data and log out.
You usually have no more than 60 minutes per web page before you’ll be timed out. If you walk off for any length of time to make a phone call or have a snack, be sure to use the save/logout feature to save your application. Otherwise work may be lost.

8. Using the “back” button. This can cause data to be lost or not properly saved to the application. Navigate through the document using the buttons within the application itself.

9. Clicking on the wrong item in a drop down menu. It’s amazing how many students say they’re from Canada or Afghanistan, both of which are frequently listed right after the United States as drop-downs for countries.

10. Entering incorrect data including date of birth or social security number. An incorrect date of birth may have several interesting consequences including failure to open an account (if you appear too young) and may require tech support to straighten out. An incorrect or missing social security number can affect financial aid. Double check the basics before "saving."

11. Not thoroughly reviewing the application for spelling or grammar errors and truncated text. Print out your completed application or application summary and proofread before clicking “submit.” Make sure nothing important was cut off. If things don’t make sense, revise and use commonly accepted abbreviations to fit in the space provided. Note that you will need to download Adobe Acrobat to preview your document.

12. Not submitting the Early Decision Agreement and/or optional Art/Athletic Supplement FIRST. If you’re submitting these documents online, you’ll need to complete and submit them before submitting the full application. If submitting via mail, check the instructions for proper procedures.

13. Not verifying that the submission process is COMPLETE before logging out. Yes, you have to click “Submit” when you’ve finished. There may be a series of screens to go through to ensure data is saved. If you close down before going through the process, you risk an incomplete application or no submission at all. Even if you’re relatively certain it’s all been done correctly, check the application “status” function to be doubly sure.

14. Not following up with fees and required supplements. The application, supplement, and payment submissions are 3 distinct processes. Just because you’ve submitted your application doesn’t mean your payment and required supplements will “automatically” follow.

15. Refusing to ask for help. If you have technical difficulties, don’t be afraid to ask the “Help Desk,” Technical Support,” or use “Contact” links.

Nov 26, 2010

Learn FAFSA Essentials from the Pros

The National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) offers a number of wonderful free resources designed to support students and their families throughout the college admissions process. Most familiar are the NACAC college fairs, but the Arlington-based membership organization also sponsors research, surveys, and studies related to college admissions or the concerns of college-bound students.

For the past several years, NACAC has begun collaborating with experts to present a series of “webinars” targeted to students and their parents as well as to counselors or anyone interested in colleges or the admissions process.

For those new to this technology, a webinar is a seminar conducted over the internet. A key feature is the ability to give, receive, and discuss information. This is as opposed to a webcast which does not permit interaction between presenter and audience.

Next month, NACAC is conducting a webinar in conjunction with the folks who bring you the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Cindy Forbes Cameron, who works in the Federal Student Aid Office of Awareness and Outreach, will be offering the “nuts and bolts” of federal aid to anyone wanting to learn more about FAFSA eligibility or how to complete and submit the application.

The FREE webinar is scheduled for Wednesday, December 8 at 2:00 p.m. Eastern/11:00 a.m. Pacific. Among the topics to be discussed will be:

• Steps to take before applying for federal student aid
• Strategies and deadlines in the application process
• Expectations after applying
• An overview of program and application changes for 2011
• Resources for counselors, students, and families
• Frequently asked questions

Cindy Forbes Cameron is without doubt the best in the business. Very few “experts” have as much in-depth knowledge of the history and content of the FAFSA. In fact, I’ve never seen her stumped by even the most obscure question. You couldn’t pay for a better opportunity to learn more about the federal financial aid program and get answers to your questions.

To attend the webinar, simply complete a registration form available on the NACAC website. If you’re working, in school, or otherwise cannot attend, note that the webinar will be recorded and made available for download shortly after airing. By registering, you will have the link to access the recording session as soon as it is available.

This is a great opportunity for veterans of the process as well as those new to FAFSA. Don’t miss it.

Nov 24, 2010

12 Reasons College Freshmen Look Forward to Coming Home for Thanksgiving

Many of those high school students who were stressing over essays and application deadlines this time a year ago are getting ready to pack up and come home for a well-deserved Thanksgiving break.

While Mom’s home cooking and a miraculously clean bathroom rank high on the lists of reasons why freshmen look forward to the holiday, it might surprise some college applicants how much life changes and why home looks pretty good after a couple of months in a dorm.

For those who wonder, here are 12 reasons college freshmen look forward to coming home for Thanksgiving:

12. At home, mashed potatoes and stuffing are seldom served with an ice cream scoop.
11. As long as mom is in charge, you’re unlikely to run out of underwear.
10. No one will ask to borrow your class notes, calculus book, DVD, or iPod.
9. You won’t be sleeping on the common room sofa because your roommate is “entertaining” guests.
8. There is really no need to wear flip flops in the shower or worry about who’s using your soap.
7. Laundry facilities may be available other than between 3 and 4 am; quarters or other forms of payment should not be required.
6. Access to a car may be within the realm of possibility.
5. A student ID will not be required to get in the house or gain access to your bedroom.
4. No one in your family will bang on your door after midnight and want to “talk.”
3. Earplugs won’t be necessary to block out your roommate’s loud music, snoring, and/or video games.
2. You can answer your mom’s hourly text messages in person.
1. And for better or worse, Thanksgiving dinner will not be served on a slightly damp plastic tray.

Welcome home to all those who are fortunate enough to get there!

Picture provided by jolene's photostream on Flickr

Nov 23, 2010

What's Cooking in College?

Don’t be surprised if your visiting undergrad takes more than a passing interest in what goes on in the kitchen this Thanksgiving. The Boston Globe reports that the hottest course at Harvard this fall is the Science of the Physical Universe 27, also known as Science and Cooking: From Haute Cuisine to Soft Matter Science.

According to the Globe, “The class has drawn unprecedented interest.” About 300 students were selected by lottery from among 700 who applied, some of whom wrote essays and appeals to further their chances of admission.

Offered through Harvard’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, the class meets twice per week. On Thursdays, physics professor David Weitz or applied math professor Michael Brenner lectures on the scientific principles. The following Tuesday, a guest chef demonstrates how those principles provide the foundation for cooking.

Lab projects have included molten chocolate cake under the guise of studying heat diffusion, and ceviche and ricotta cheese as “illustrations of protein denaturation and aggregation.” At the end of class, experiments are enthusiastically consumed.

In December, students will get to present group projects at a science fair to be judged by some of Boston’s most famous chefs. The winning group gets a free trip to Barcelona, to work on a project with the Alicia Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to food and science.

But Harvard isn’t the only major university catering to student interest in food. At Stanford, students are picked by lottery for classes in cooking and wine tasting offered through the French Department. Not to be outdone, the Stanford German Department also offers a one-credit cooking class titled Kuche Mitt, and some years the Spanish Department provides an introduction to Spanish cooking.

Nearer to home, Washington and Lee University, in Lexington, Virginia, offers a “Science of Cooking” class that while designed for non-science majors, examines such topics as why egg whites foam better in a copper bowl. Field trips to restaurants or vineyards and an extended study program in Sienna, Italy are among the more interesting elements of the class.

And students at Carnegie Mellon University may sign up for a "Kitchen Chemistry" class where they “explore the science of molecular gastronomy through lectures and demos.” Offered in separate sections for science and non-science majors, lectures and labs cover a variety of food products and cooking techniques. For the final exam, students are required to create original recipes for edible dishes, which recently included dessert sushi, vegan chocolate cake, and a gruyere soufflĂ©.

Sorry, mom. Turkey with all the trimmings just isn’t going to have the same appeal.

Nov 22, 2010

'Molto Bene'—Italian Returns to the AP Lineup

Anyone who doubts for a moment that the College Board can be bought might take notice of the reinstatement of Italian to the lineup of courses and exams offered through the Advanced Placement program.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s not a bad decision. In fact, because well over 77,000 high school students take Italian each year, the reintroduction of Italian as an approved AP language is a good thing.

And, no doubt every American high school student should speak a second language. If Italian works because of your background or your interest in Italian food or culture, go with it. After all, there are approximately 60 million Italian language speakers in the world, and it happens to be number 15 on the list of the world’s top 20 spoken languages.

But what exactly does this mean for supporters of other less frequently taught and perhaps more immediately important languages or studies?

In short, if you’re able to attract a big-name lobbyist or some jaw-dropping funding, the College Board might sit down and talk.

It’s not really that frivolous an issue. Armenians or speakers of Portuguese may or may not have large enough lobbies to attract the attention of the folks in Princeton, New Jersey. But if the US government really wants to encourage more study of say, Arabic, it might consider doing what the Italians did—pay for it.

Last year, the College Board made a curious announcement about the future roster of courses offered under the AP program. Latin Literature, French Literature, and Computer Science AB would be ended due to lack of interest. Italian would meet a similar fate unless supporters could raise $1.5 million to keep it going.

With the door slightly open, the Italian community launched a campaign spearheaded by the New York based Cuomo family to keep the AP Italian exam on the College Board roster. An initial fundraising effort began but spluttered after the Italian government failed to come up with its contribution, and AP Italian soon joined the other three exams in the retired test category.

But the Italians were not to be deterred. With a great deal of persistence and star power, money flowed in from the Italian government, Italian-American groups, and the Italian Language Foundation. According to the New York Times, the Italian AP program now has financing “for the indefinite future.”

Local Italian language programs are few and far between. In northern Virginia, only Arlington’s Wakefield High School offers Italian, while 3 Montgomery County and 7 Prince George’s County public high schools have Italian language classes.

But it’s no secret that high achieving high school students go where the AP courses are. How else can they either prove academic proficiency or pass the nebulous “strength of curriculum” ideal promoted by many colleges? And then there’s the unquestionable advantage of being able to skip out on undergraduate course requirements with high enough scores on College Board achievement tests.

For the moment, the College Board offers French, German, Japanese, Latin (Vergil), Spanish, and Italian in the way of languages at the AP level. Subject Tests (the old SAT II’s) are also available in Modern Hebrew, Chinese, and Korean. Arabic, spoken by about 150 million people and the fastest growing language taught at US colleges and universities, is nowhere to be found on either list.

Nov 20, 2010

Harvard Welcomes Users of the Universal College Application

At a recent breakfast meeting sponsored by Harvard, Princeton, and UVa, guidance counselors and independent college consultants commiserated about this year’s problems with the Common Application.

“Your colleges haven’t had any deadlines yet,” remarked one northern Virginia guidance counselor. “We have recommendations that still haven’t been received by colleges with November 1st deadlines, and we don’t know where they are.”

Counselors are complaining loudly on message boards about the inflexibility of the Common Application and despair about issues involving the electronic submission of supporting documents through its for-profit associate, Naviance.

Applicants are warned that their carefully crafted responses to Common Application questions may be cut off and not seen by admissions readers who download a document that looks exactly like a preview, which may or may not be readily available for viewing.

And colleges are quietly complaining about the inability to receive transcripts and recommendations as soon as they are transmitted by high schools if those documents are filed before the student actually submits the Common Application online.

It’s not unusual for software to experience glitches, but when one company so totally controls the market, it’s difficult for unhappy “customers” to find less buggy alternatives, particularly when the top dog goes to extreme lengths to block competitors.

“We at Harvard welcome competition,” said admissions dean William Fitzsimmons, in response to questions about the rivalry between the Common Application and the Universal College Application, both of which are accepted at Harvard. “We’ve been with the Common Application since 1992, but the Universal Application definitely has some advantages for us.”

The most critical UCA advantage cited by the Harvard dean is the ability to download transcripts and recommendations in advance of an application submission. The Common Application refuses to allow these documents to go to colleges before a student commits to an application.

For colleges with a “single review” process, meaning no Early Decision or Early Action, this can result in artificially long delays in receiving materials and getting application files started. These delays often result in a bottleneck toward the end of the process when the floodgate of materials suddenly opens and drowns admissions staff struggling to keep up.

Another UCA advantage may include the ability to “customize” counselor recommendations, which colleges complain are becoming too “generic” thanks in part to Common App rules against tailoring information for a particular school. The UCA also does not discourage applicants from customizing essays and makes the process relatively straightforward for enterprising students willing to make the extra effort.

There’s no question that the Common Application organization was a pioneer in college admissions. The founders may be applauded as nothing short of visionary for recognizing the advantages of a shared form and pulling colleges into the brave new world of electronic applications.

But now it’s time to welcome others into the market and understand that the entire industry benefits from the challenge of competition. As much as we try to streamline and simplify, college admissions will never be a one size fits all kind of an operation.

Nov 19, 2010

NACAC and the USNWR ‘Best Colleges’

The National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) Ad Hoc Committee on U.S. News & World Report Rankings recently released the first in a series of three reports on NACAC member attitudes toward the USNWR publication, “America’s Best Colleges.” The findings are part of a larger discussion concerning the “role and influence” of rankings in the college admissions process.

Last May, NACAC member colleges, counselors, and organizations were asked to respond to a series of questions related to the content, methodology, and overall usefulness of the USNWR rankings. Slightly over 44 percent of the respondents represented colleges or universities, and nearly 49 percent were from counselors (in-school as well as independent).

Not surprisingly, “NACAC members expressed a significant degree of skepticism and dislike of the US News & World Report rankings.” But a deeper probe into the findings suggests an important divide between colleges and counselors relative to the overall usefulness of the rankings.

It appears that the majority of those in college admissions thought that rankings are “a helpful resource for students and families interested in college information.” Most counselors, however, felt just the opposite.

Both parties agree that “US News rankings are useful to college and university recruiting efforts.” But both also agree that rankings “cause counterproductive behavior at colleges and universities.” In other words, the rankings may be blamed for bad behavior among colleges attempting to ‘game’ the system by manipulating data they submit for analysis by USNWR.

Despite fundamental differences over the perceived value of the rankings, virtually everyone agreed that US News & World Report adds very little to the objective evaluation of colleges. An overwhelming 89.1 percent of all respondents agreed or somewhat agreed that the USNWR rankings offer misleading conclusions about institutional quality.

So what does this mean? It means that for colleges interested in using institutional comparisons to generate glossy marketing materials, rankings are a good thing. For counselors seeking to help students discover colleges that represent a good ‘fit,’ rankings are a distraction and source of confusion.

Nov 17, 2010

Centre College to Accept Scholarship Nominations from Independent College Consultants

Recognizing the growing role of independent college consultants in the admissions process, Centre College recently invited members of the Independent Educational Consultants Association (IECA) to submit nominations for the prestigious Centre College Fellows program.

“We understand how well you know your students,” said Bob Nesmith, dean of admission and student financial aid. “Your recommendations will help us identify and ultimately reward deserving students through our Centre Fellows Program.”

Located in Danville, Kentucky, Centre College is included among the 40 Colleges That Change Lives. Recognized by US News & World Report, Forbes, and the Fiske Guide, Centre boasts of unquestionable success among prestious national award programs (Rhodes, Fulbright, Goldwater, etc.) as well as placement into top graduate and professional schools.

The Centre Fellows Scholarship was designed to be an innovative merit program targeted to outstanding high school juniors “sincerely interested” in a liberal arts and sciences education. In the past, nominations were accepted only from high school guidance counselors.

To expand the reach of the Centre Fellows Scholarship and thank the many independent college consultants who refer students to Centre, Dean Nesmith announced during an information session scheduled as part of the recent IECA Fall Conference that the Fellows Program would begin accepting nominations from consultants working high school juniors in the college search and application processes. The invitation is also extended to members of the Higher Education Consultants Association (HECA).

Consultants may nominate up to four outstanding high school juniors who

• Rank in the top 5% of the junior class and take a strong college prep curriculum
• Have PSAT combined critical reading and math score of 125 or higher or SAT critical reading and math of 1250 or higher or ACT composite of 28 or higher or PLAN composite of 26 or higher
• Have a sincere interest in a liberal arts and sciences education and are outstanding citizens of their highs school and community

Nomination forms must be received by May 1st. Once approved, students will receive a letter informing them of their status as Centre Fellows.

As an initial benefit, Fellows receive a waiver of the $40 application fee. If they are admitted to Centre, they will receive a minimum scholarship of $13,500 per year for four years. And they will receive automatic consideration for higher scholarships, which if received will replace the Centre Fellows guarantee.

The Centre Fellows Scholarship Program is made possible by gifts from generous alumni interested in attracting talented juniors from across the country to Centre College. For more information or to download a nomination form, visit the Centre website.

Nov 16, 2010

UVa Returns to Early Admissions

As predicted, the University of Virginia Board of Visitors has confirmed a plan to offer a nonbinding early action (EA) application option starting in the fall of 2011.

“We explored many early admission options and, after careful consideration, determined that an unrestricted EA plan is the most flexible and helpful to students and families,” said admissions dean Greg Roberts in a statement on Dean J’s admissions blog. “You will be hearing more about the specifics of this plan in the coming months.”

UVa did away with a binding Early Decision (ED) program in the fall of 2007, and made a highly publicized move to join with Harvard and Princeton in condemning all forms of early admission as disadvantaging low-income students. Deans from all three schools have since traveled together as part of a fall tour promoting greater accessibility in admissions.

Because EA allows students until May 1st to review and compare financial aid packages, it is considered somewhat more in line with in line with accessibility goals. UVa specifically chose this option as more “flexible” and likely to result in the “most diverse applicant pool.”

At a recent counselor breakfast jointly sponsored by the three schools, Dean Roberts alluded to administrative headaches incurred when students wait until late in the process to submit their applications. By setting a November 1st deadline suggesting a small unspoken advantage in the admissions process, UVa hopes to provide an incentive for more organized students with strong credentials to apply early. Students benefit by receiving earlier admissions decisions, and UVa benefits by snagging committed students early.

Of course, it also helps that the huge December bottleneck in the UVa admissions office might diminish to some extent, and the process should become a little less frantic for everyone involved.

The new program in no way affects applications submitted this year under the current “single review” process. EA will be in effect starting for students who are juniors this year. And both Harvard and Princeton have expressed a commitment to continue with tours Princeton Dean Janet Rapelye refers to as, “Very beneficial to the process.”

Picture provided by Wikipedia.

Nov 15, 2010

‘Preview’ Your Online Application OR Risk Coming Up Short

Judging from questions posted on “professional” counselor bulletin boards, even the pros get confused about what colleges can and cannot see when they download or view your application.

In short, what colleges see is exactly what you see when you preview the document—even if you take extreme care to stay within the allowable character or word limits specified in the application instructions.

This holds true for the Common Application, the Universal College Application or most other applications you submit electronically. And this is why all forms strongly suggest that you “Preview” your document before pushing the submit button—regardless of how tired you are or how close you are coming to deadline. Otherwise, you risk sending a document that will be weirdly truncated.

One easy-to-blame culprit involves “variable-width” fonts. In the early days of computing, programmers worked with monospaced fonts, or fonts whose letters and characters each occupy the same amount of horizontal space. Without getting too technical, computer applications have moved away from monospaced fonts and now routinely employ variable-width.

When you complete an application question online, your response is posted in an efficient variable-width typeface. But the system can only enforce a character count and cannot measure the physical length of a response. And not all characters are created equal.

For example, the Common Application sets a 1000 character limit on the question asking you to “briefly elaborate on one of your extracurricular activities or work experiences.” The suggested “word” limit is 150 words or fewer. But because characters are not equal in the amount of space they take up, your essay can easily exceed the space limitation imposed by the document.

If you doubt this is the case, try typing 1000 “W’s” or “M’s” and paste your “document” into the answer box. You’ll find that all are happily accepted by the program. Now, press preview. What you will see is only about half of your “document.” If you substitute with 1000 “i’s”, you will see all of the document plus lots of additional white space allowing for even more characters. “W’s” and “M’s” take up way more space than “i’s.”

In the Common Application, the problem occurs not only in the short answer section but also in the fill in the blank responses in the “Extracurricular Activities and Work Experience” section. Even if the application allows you to describe in detail all the awards and honors you received as a member of your high school dance team, it’s possible they will not all show up on the documents colleges actually read.

A second, more obscure formatting problem involves spacing. If you persist in hitting the “enter” key—for multiple paragraphs or if you like to write in haikus—you easily run the risk of scrolling beyond the space allotted for an essay response, regardless of the word or character limit. The Common Application appears to allow no more than eight single lines in the 150 word short answer, even if those lines are single words and fall well within all limitations.

For those of you who previewed your documents and noted some truncating but went ahead and hit the submit button anyway, don’t despair. If you stayed within the character limit—in other words, if the application allowed you to type your entire answer, the data is still there. It is available to readers if they care to take the time to go back into the system and read the complete answer.

I won’t lie to you, however. It’s not easy to retrieve the data, and it’s extremely unlikely that the average admissions reader will bother.

So what should you do? Preview—not just for typos but also for what shows up on the document. If truncating occurs in such a way that the response makes no sense, go back and edit. For essays, look for extra words and tighten up your prose or paragraphing. For other responses, use standard or easy-to-understand abbreviations (capt. for captain). Do not use text-speak or nonstandard abbreviations.

Unfortunately, there is a little more bad news for users of the Common Application. The Common App’s system requirements list a limited number of “supported browsers,” which include modern versions of Internet Explorer and Safari, among others. Students using Safari, however, have reported problems previewing applications. And anyone using an older version of Internet Explorer or Chrome is plain out of luck.

In the event you are experiencing problems with your online application, do not hesitate to contact the various “support centers." But whatever you do, don’t wait until the last minute. Responses can be significantly delayed depending on traffic to the site.

Nov 13, 2010

Early Application Competition Intensifies for Class of 2015

As the dust settles from the first round of early application deadlines, it appears that students are continuing to respond to the measurable “early” advantage in college admissions. In last year’s admissions race, 65 percent of the colleges with binding early decision (ED) policies reported increases in the number of ED applicant accepted, and nearly three-quarters of colleges with early action (EA) programs reported increases in both EA applications and EA admits.

The University of Pennsylvania was the first to report results from its November 1st binding early decision deadline. For the class of 2015, Penn received nearly 18 percent more ED applications, bringing the total to 4,557—up from 3,851 a year ago.

Early returns from other binding programs are equally impressive. According to the New York Times, Duke and Johns Hopkins are up by nearly 14 percent, having received 2,282 and 1,314 applications each. Further south, Rice saw an increase of about 15 percent, with 1000 early applications.

Among schools with nonbinding early action programs, Northwestern is up by a stunning 25 percent, and the University of Chicago continues on a roll with an 18.5 percent increase in early applications. MIT is up by about 15 percent, and Boston College reports a 7 percent increase over last year. Locally, Georgetown received nearly 9 percent more applications for its “restrictive” early action program through which students are free to apply to other early action programs but prohibited from applying Early Decision elsewhere.

On the west coast, Stanford’s Office of Admission reports receiving approximately 5,950 applications under its “single choice” early action program. This represents a 7 percent increase from last year.

“Universities and colleges are continuing to see an increase in application[s]…but we’re not seeing an increase in enrollment,” said Bob Patterson, Stanford’s new director of admission in an interview with the Stanford Daily. “With an increased applicant pool and the same class size, it’s going to be a little more competitive.”

But not every school is seeing an increase in early applications. At Brown University, 2,765 early decision applications were received—about 80 less than last year. “When considering a pool of roughly 30,000, 70 to 80 less is not a big deal one way or another,” said Jim Miller, Brown’s dean of admission, in comments to the Brown Daily Herald.

This weekend, high school students will continue to scramble to get essays and miscellaneous paperwork completed for the next major early application deadline—November 15.

Nov 11, 2010

NSSE Looks at Student Veterans

For the first time in the 11-year history of the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE), the responses of veterans were singled out and compared with those provided by nonveteran undergraduate students.

Using data collected from 564 colleges and universities in the United States, NSSE analyzed the responses of about 362,000 freshmen and seniors to get a handle on what is actually going on in the lives of students and the quality of their college experience.

To explore the unique experiences of a growing population of veterans at four-year baccalaureate programs, NSSE surveyed nearly 11,000 self-identified veterans (3.4 percent of all US NSSE respondents), including 4,680 combat veterans. Seniors comprised 75 percent of the sample, while the remaining 25 percent were first-year student veterans.

The veterans surveyed were predominantly male and more likely than their classmates to be older, enrolled part time, first-generation students, transfers, and distance learners. First-year vets were comparable to nonveterans in terms of race and ethnicity, but seniors included proportionally more African Americans and fewer Caucasians. Although enrolled in all types of institutions, student veterans were most likely to attend public colleges or universities.

And sadly, one in five of the combat vets reported at least one disability.

It turns out that those veterans attending four-year institutions spend much more time working at jobs and caring for dependents than their nonveteran peers. In fact, full time first-year combat veterans spent “twice as much time working and about six times as many hours on dependent care” as their nonveteran classmates.

But, they spend just as much time studying.

On the negative side, student veterans, especially in the senior year, were “generally less engaged and perceived lower levels of support from their campuses,” according the 2010 report. Despite these perceptions, there were no significant differences between first-year student veterans and nonveterans in the levels of overall satisfaction.

Based on these findings, NSSE recommends that institutions should seek ways to “engage student veterans in effective educational practices and provide them with the supportive environments that promote success.” Further, as the number of veterans seeking educational benefits continues to grow (last year over 300,000 student veterans used the new GI Bill to pursue postsecondary degrees), colleges will need to devote resources to serve the unique needs of these students.

Locally, several colleges and universities are working to support veterans. Recognized as "military friendly" institutions, American University, George Washington University, George Mason University, and Marymount University are making extraordinary efforts to welcome returning vets and provide services designed to promote their transition to college.

For more information or to read the entire 2010 National Survey of Student Engagement report, visit the NSSE website.

Picture provided by Wikipedia.

Nov 10, 2010

Is There An Advantage to Applying Early?

According to findings from the National Association of College Admission Counselors (NACAC), there is not only an advantage to applying early, but the advantage is growing as colleges and universities seek methods of controlling student enrollment in the wake of an explosion of electronic applications submitted to their institutions.

In the 2010 State of College Admission, NACAC defines Early Decision (ED) as the application process in which students make commitments to first-choice institutions where, “if admitted, they definitely will enroll.” Early Action (EA) is the process in which students “make an application of preference and receive a decision well in advance of the institution’s regular response date.” Variations on the theme exist, but for NACAC’s purposes they represent too few colleges to study separately.

For the 2009 admissions cycle, NACAC found that 65 percent of colleges with Early Decision policies reported increases in the number of ED applicants accepted. This is as compared with 43 percent in 2008 and 36 percent in 2007. And nearly three-quarters of colleges with Early Action policies reported increases in both EA applications and EA admits.

As in previous years, colleges with Early Decision reported a higher acceptance rate for ED (70 percent vs. 55 percent overall). The result is a growing gap between acceptance rates—from 8 percentage points (61 percent vs. 53 percent) in 2006 to 15 percentage points during the last admissions cycle.

Though employed by a minority of institutions in the US, admissions strategies like Early Decision (used by 18 percent of respondents) and Early Action (used by 24 percent) are “fixtures of the college admission landscape” likely resulting from “the presence of such policies at America’s most selective colleges and universities.”

NACAC notes that private colleges are more than twice as likely as public institutions to offer ED, while almost half of the respondents accepting fewer than 50 percent of applicants reported having ED policies in place.

It’s no wonder, given that the average yield rate (the percent of students accepting an invitation to enroll) at ED colleges was 86 percent as opposed to 33 percent overall. The difference in yield rate at EA colleges (30 percent vs. 28 percent overall) is less compelling.

And if early returns are any indication, students are certainly aware of and responding to the advantage. The Daily Pennsylvanian reports that the University of Pennsylvania received 17 percent more ED applications this year, bringing the total to approximately 4,500—up from 3,851 a year ago. Penn typically fills half of the incoming freshman class with ED applicants by accepting about 1,200 students all of whom have expressed undying loyalty to the “red and blue.”

Locally, the “early” advantage varies. George Washington accepted 47 percent of their binding Early Decision applicants last year, and 37 percent overall. American accepted 73 percent of the ED candidates, and 53 percent overall.

At James Madison University, the EA edge was minimal (64 percent vs. 61 percent), but at Johns Hopkins the ED advantage was huge (50 percent vs. 27 percent). The College of William and Mary accepted 53 percent from its ED pool and 34 percent of the total, while the University of Richmond took 69 percent of the ED applicants and 39 percent overall.

While colleges insist that the advantage rests with the quality of early applicants—more organized and with strong academic records through the end of junior year—these numbers should certainly be food for thought for those high school seniors still weighing what options continue to be open to them.

This is the 3rd in a series of reports on NACAC's State of College Admission.

Nov 8, 2010

Harvard Admissions Office Considers a Variety of Anti-Fraud Measures

At an information session targeted to DC-area college counselors, Dean William Fitzsimmons hinted that the Harvard College Office of Admissions would be implementing a variety of measures designed to detect fraud in applications submitted for the class of 2015.

“After some soul searching last summer, we have put new procedures in place,” explained Fitzsimmons. “While we obviously won’t be providing many details, these procedures will put us in a better position to catch fraud.”

In the wake of a recent scandal involving a student admitted to Harvard allegedly using falsified application documents, University President Drew Faust suggested that changes were necessary to prevent a repeat of what became a huge embarrassment to the school. Using what were found to be doctored transcripts, SAT scores, and letters of recommendation, Adam B. Wheeler was admitted to Harvard and Stanford Universities as well as Williams College as a transfer student.

The case is clearly a sore point for the Harvard admissions office and remains unsettled. A November 8th hearing date has been set for Wheeler, who so far has pled not guilty to charges of fraud.

While declining to give specifics, Fitzsimmons did acknowledge that Harvard had explored the system of random application audits being employed for the first time this year by Stanford University. More likely, however, will be the possibility of making phone calls to guidance counselors who wrote letters of recommendation on behalf of admitted students.

“After people are admitted, you might get a call from us,” Fitzsimmons suggested to the counselor group. “We want to make contact and thank you for writing the recommendation.” The unspoken inference was that the conversation could also be used to verify information contained on the original application.

“There are many different ways of doing this,” concluded Fitzsimmons. “But we aren’t going to let concerns about a small minority of dishonest students take over the process.”

Picture provided by Wikipedia.

Nov 6, 2010

JET College Nights Reach Beyond Catholic High Schools

Not so long ago, the Jesuit Excellence Tour (JET) wrapped up two weeks on the road in Colorado and California. What was formerly an ad hoc group of college reps visiting Catholic high schools has now become a much-anticipated tour in which members of the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities (AJCU) introduce their schools at a series of college fairs open to the public throughout the school year.

“The Jesuit Excellence Tour has been a highly effective vehicle for Jesuit colleges and universities to jointly recruit in targeted areas across the nation,” said Jeffrey Blahnik, assistant dean of admission at Marquette University. “From the students’ perspective, the JET’s provide simultaneous access to a host of Jesuit schools—some of which the students may not have had previous exposure to—from varied regions of the country.”

Beginning in early September, tours featuring any number and combination of the 28 Jesuit institutions are arranged from California to DC and back, with stops in many cities in between. In California, for example, eighteen colleges and universities hosted fifteen college fairs including public events in Los Angeles, Sacramento, Oakland, and San Francisco.

The Denver JET is typically the Wednesday-Friday following Labor Day each year. This year, the JET organizers devised a unique billboard campaign to promote individual events. Each of the eight billboards had a website with links to participating Jesuit colleges and universities.

In the DC area, the Jesuit Excellence Tour will hit area schools during the week of March 7, 2011. The public is invited to attend fairs scheduled for the evening of March 7th, at Loyola Blakefield in Towson and on Thursday, March 10th at Georgetown Preparatory School.

For more information or to learn when the JET colleges will be in your area, check directly with any of the 28 AJCU member schools.

Nov 5, 2010

How Much Does College Cost?

According to a report recently released by the College Board at its national conference in DC, college isn’t getting any cheaper. Average tuition and fees to attend a public four-year college in-state increased by 7.9 percent or from $7,050 in 2009-10 to $7,605 in 2010-11. This is on top of a 6.5 percent increase the year before. Out-of-state students saw a smaller increase of 6 percent and now pay an average of $19,595—up from $18,548.

Private nonprofit colleges posted somewhat smaller increases in tuition and fees. For the 2009-10 school year, private schools went up an average of 4.5 percent, from $26,129 in 2009-10 to $27,293, in 2010-11.

At both public and private nonprofit institutions, room and board increased by a little less than 5 percent. This brings average total charges, including tuition and fees and room and board, to $16,160, for students attending public college in-state. Out-of-state undergrads are charged an average of $19,595 at public institutions, and private school students are looking at costs totaling $36,993.

The College Board report, “Trends in College Pricing 2010,” appears consistent with findings published earlier this year by the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities (NAICU), which also pegged increases in tuition and fees at private nonprofits at 4.5 percent. This follows a 4.3 percent increase for the 2009-10 academic year.

After several years of decreasing, net tuition and fees (tuition less all grant aid and federal higher education tax benefits) actually rose between 2009-10 and 2010-11, as grant aid and tax benefits did not rise enough to make up for increases in published costs. In 2010-11, full time students received an average of about $6,100 in grant aid from all sources—$16,000 at private nonprofits and $3,400 at public institutions.

Both the College Board and the NAICU point out that the net price of college has not been going up faster than inflation. For students and parents shouldering the expense, however, the very real increase in out-of-pocket expense might be more relevant.

Nov 3, 2010

High Schools and Colleges Experiment with E-Textbooks

According to the results of a survey conducted by the National Association of College Stores, the vast majority of college students say they prefer printed textbooks over electronic versions.

The survey found no change from last year in student views relative to e-texts, despite several efforts to introduce electronic books to undergrads in the past year. Seventy-six percent of students indicated they would pick a printed book over an e-text, all things being equal and if the choice were left entirely up to them.

Why electronic texts? They’re cheaper to produce, making bulk purchase more feasible. The Chronicle of Higher Education suggests that by “ordering books by the hundreds or thousands, colleges can negotiate a much better rate than students were able to get on their own, even for used books.”

Virginia State University’s business school recently made a bulk deal with Flat World Knowledge, one of several e-textbook publishers. “For our accounting books senior year, there’s nothing under $250,” said Mirta Martin dean of the business school in an interview with The Chronicle. “What the students were saying is, ‘We don’t have the money to purchase these books.’”

About 13 percent of the students surveyed said they had purchased an e-book in the past three months, mostly because a digital edition was required by their professors. Only 8 percent, however, actually owned an e-reader device such as Kindle or Sony Reader.

Digital textbooks are also making inroads into high school classrooms. A California initiative hopes to replace many high school science and math texts with free, “open source” digital versions. California spends approximately $400 million per year on textbooks, according to the California Open Source Textbook Project.

In Virginia, four school divisions—Arlington County, Henry County, Newport News and Pulaski County—are participating in the Virginia Department of Education’s “Beyond Textbooks” initiative, which is exploring the potential of wireless technology and digital textbooks. Because the average lifespan of a K-12 text is two to three years, the idea of a cheaper alternative has some appeal.

This year, 9th grade students at Washington-Lee High School in Arlington will leave their history textbooks on the shelf and log on to “World History: Volume 1” e-textbook. And AP Biology students enrolled in Virtual Virginia, VDOE’s online learning program, are experimenting with an electronic version of their text using iPads.

Nevertheless, college students responding to the trend express some resistance. “Students can rent textbooks from the bookstore for about half the retail price AND write in them!”

Nov 1, 2010

Talbots Supports Women Returning to School

Once again, it gives me great pleasure to help the Talbots Scholarship Foundation get word out about the 2011 Nancy Talbot Scholarship Award. Targeted to women returning to full or part time undergraduate studies, this program is designed to empower women to “enrich themselves through learning and achieve a college education later in life.”

The Talbot’s Women’s Scholarship Fund will award $180,000 in college scholarships for the 2011 academic year, including ten $15,000 scholarships and one $30,000 scholarship. Only applicants seeking a bachelor’s degree are eligible to receive an award.

Finalists will be selected based on a number of criteria including academic record; demonstrated leadership and participation in community activities; honors; work experience; financial need; and a statement of educational and career goals.

To qualify, applicants must be

• women currently residing in the US or Canada;
• women who earned a high school diploma or their GED on or before September 2001;
• enrolled or planning to enroll in a full or part time undergraduate course of study at an accredited college or university in the US or Canada;
• attending the full 2011-12 academic year and receiving a degree no earlier than May 2012; and
• at least two semesters short of graduation as of the beginning of the 2011 fall academic term.

All applications must be submitted electronically by January 3, 2011, and only the first 5,000 eligible applications will be considered. Registration and more information may be found on the Scholarship America website.