Dec 31, 2010

16 Reasons College-Bound Students Should Be Giving Thanks in 2010

At year’s end, it’s traditional to give thanks for all the many blessings received during the previous twelve months and to look forward to the coming year with a renewed sense of optimism. The following are sixteen reasons college-bound students should be giving thanks this year:

16. A simplified FAFSA form

15. Permission to guess on Advanced Placement exams

14. Tuition exchange programs

13. College tour guides who master the art of walking backwards

12. Over 830 “test optional” colleges and universities

11. Colleges allowing Score Choice

10. Non-binding early applications

9. The freedom to substitute ACT scores for SAT’s

8. Free on-campus visitor parking

7. The demise of SAT antonym questions—this happened in 1994 but you should continue to be thankful

6. Electronic applications that don’t cut answers off mid-sentence

5. Colleges with no loans

4. Applications with NO essay supplements

3. Colleges requiring fewer SAT Subject Tests

2. Teachers and guidance counselors still willing to write recommendations

And most important of all:

1. Family and friends who support and love you!

Best wishes for a healthy and Happy New Year!

Dec 27, 2010

SEAP Provides Outstanding Research Opportunities for College-Bound High School Students

This is really a tale of two “SEAP’s. Once upon a time there was a single Science & Engineering Apprenticeship Program (SEAP) offered to high school students interested in exciting ground floor research opportunities supporting basic science and engineering skills. But somewhere along the line the single program divided into two—one administered by George Washington University and the Department of Defense and the other run solely by the Department of Navy.

Here is what they have in common. Both programs provide high school students with amazing mentorships in participating defense-oriented laboratories located throughout the country. Students apprentice for eight weeks with assigned mentors on mutually agreed upon projects and are awarded impressive educational stipends for their efforts.

Both share basic eligibility requirements for applicants, who must be

  • High school students completing at least 9th grade (graduating seniors are also eligible to apply)

  • 16 years of age for most laboratories (some accept 15-year olds so it’s worth reading the fine print in lab descriptions)

  • US citizens. Participation by Permanent Resident Aliens is extremely limited and dual citizens are only accepted by some labs.

Either program will provide a college-bound high school student with exposure to cutting-edge research as well as the chance to engage in scientific practice not ordinarily available in a high school environment. Projects can provide the basis for science competition entries, and the credential is worth its weight in gold on college applications.

But here is where the programs part ways. The Department of the Navy requires students to submit their online applications no later than January 7, 2011, at 5:30 EST. The deadline for references is January 14, 2011, at 5:30 EST.

The GW/DoD program will accept applications until February 26, 2011 (the deadline to apply to GARRED at the Redstone Arsenal, AL is January 29). Again, it is an online process requiring teacher recommendations in science and mathematics as well as transcripts, a list of science activities in which the student has participated, an essay, and an indication of major academic and career interests.

The pay is also slightly different. First year participants in the GW program receive an educational stipend of $2000, while those in the Navy program receive $3,075 ($3,590 for returning participants).

Labs in the Navy program are found in DC, Maryland, Virginia, Texas, California, Missouri, Pennsylvania, Indiana, Florida, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Arizona, and Colorado. The GW/DoD program is based in Army labs located in Maryland, Virginia, Ohio, New Jersey, Alabama, and Illinois. Students either residing in or who have friends/relatives residing in the DC area have a clear location advantage for both programs.

Neither SEAP provides transportation or housing for the duration of the apprenticeship. Although in some cases lab coordinators may be able to assist in locating suitable housing, it is ultimately the responsibility of the student.

Talented high school students with interest in STEM fields will find participating in SEAP—either military branch—key to refining career goals and building a solid resume for future research opportunities. Both programs are very competitive.

For more information, visit both the Navy and GW/DoD websites.

Dec 24, 2010

A College Applicant's 'Twelve Days of Christmas'

College-bound seniors throughout the DC area and beyond are looking at some pretty heavy duty application deadlines over the coming weeks. The Common Application warns that time is running out, and anyone remotely connected with transcripts or recommendations has closed up shop for winter break.

Yet, there are forms to complete and essays to finish. And the family is not happy with the disruption to their celebrations.

In the spirit of the holiday season, I offer the following:

The College Applicant’s Twelve Days of Christmas

On the first day of Christmas, I still have lots to do…a heart-warming personal essay.

On the second day of Christmas, I still have lots to do…two college fairs, and a heart-warming personal essay.

On the third day of Christmas, I still have lots to do…three aid appeals, two college fairs, and a heart-warming personal essay.

On the fourth day of Christmas, I still have lots to do…four interviews, three aid appeals, two college fairs, and a heart-warming personal essay.

On the fifth day of Christmas, I still have lots to do…FIVE TEACHER REC’s, four interviews, three aid appeals, two college fairs, and a heart-warming personal essay.

On the sixth day of Christmas, I still have lots to do…six campus visits, FIVE TEACHER REC’s, four interviews, three aid appeals, two college fairs, and a heart-warming personal essay.

On the seventh day of Christmas, I still have lots to do…seven looming deadlines, six campus visits, FIVE TEACHER REC’s, four interviews, three aid appeals, two college fairs, and a heart-warming personal essay.

On the eighth day of Christmas, I still have lots to do…eight school reports, seven looming deadlines, six campus visits, FIVE TEACHER REC’s, four interviews, three aid appeals, two college fairs, and a heart-warming personal essay.

On the ninth day of Christmas, I still have lots to do…nine transcript forms, eight school reports, seven looming deadlines, six campus visits, FIVE TEACHER REC’s, four interviews, three aid appeals, two college fairs, and a heart-warming personal essay.

On the tenth day of Christmas, I still have lots to do…ten score requests, nine transcript forms, eight school reports, seven looming deadlines, six campus visits, FIVE TEACHER REC’s, four interviews, three aid appeals, two college fairs, and a heart-warming personal essay.

On the eleventh day of Christmas, I still have lots to do…eleven short responses, ten score requests, nine transcript forms, eight school reports, seven looming deadlines, six campus visits, FIVE TEACHER REC’s, four interviews, three aid appeals, two college fairs, and a heart-warming personal essay.

On the twelfth day of Christmas, I still have lots to do…twelve apps a-waiting, eleven short responses, ten score requests, nine transcript forms, eight school reports, seven looming deadlines, six campus visits, FIVE TEACHER REC’s, four interviews, three aid appeals, two college fairs, and a heart-warming personal essay.

Merry Christmas!

Dec 23, 2010

Top Holiday Videos for 2010

American University sends holiday greetings via a charming video featuring student and faculty hopes for the New Year, while the College of William & Mary captures the beauty of the historic Wren Building in a watercolor rendered to the tune of "Home for the Holidays." In honor of the season, the University of Maryland sends viewers on a tour of the College Park campus as "Walking in a Winter Wonderland" plays in the background, and George Mason University premieres an original work titled “Love, Peace, and Joy,” composed by Michael “Doc Nix” Nickens of the GMU School of Music.

Colleges are making creative use of YouTube and other internet resources for extending warm holiday greetings this year. Some will give you an opportunity to see what the campus looks like during winter months, and others will introduce you to key administrative staff who just happen to play starring roles in the productions.

And the videos can be anything from earnest messages read by college presidents seated in front of oversized Christmas trees to humorous collages of campus and student life. In addition to the four mentioned above, here are my candidates for the best of the 2010 holiday videos:

  • Beloit College: The squirrels are back. And while students, staff, and faculty are away, they have the campus to themselves.

  • Carleton College: This is snow like you’ve never seen snow before, shown through a series of amazing photos taken by current students and supported by a wonderful performance of the Carleton College Singers.

  • Carnegie Mellon University: More fantastic snow scenes provide the backdrop for a series of “plaid greetings” from members of the campus community.

  • Concordia University: Comet the Golden Bear searches for the Christmas spirit and finds it!

  • Eckerd College: President Eastman discusses how Eckerd students are “Thinking Outside for the Holidays” in sunny Florida.

  • Flagler College: Students and staff send holiday greetings with lots of reminders about how nice the weather is in St. Augustine, Florida.

  • Lawrence University: David Becker and the Lawrence Symphony Orchestra celebrate the season with a fantastic performance of “Hoedown,” by Aaron Copland.

  • Lewis & Clark: Follow Pio, the adorable canine mascot, as he spreads holiday joy throughout the campus.

  • Marquette University: Everyone from President Rev. Robert Wild to kids in the university daycare center sing snippets of “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.”

  • Northeastern University: All “Paws” wants for Christmas is a black Huskies hockey jersey, and he goes to enormous lengths to find one.

  • Penn State: Campus interviews are conducted by the Nittany Lion, in which the band director hopes for a Saturday morning rehearsal where everyone shows up on time and a bus driver hopes for more wins for his favorite team.

  • Pitzer College: “’Twas the Night before Break” is read by President Laura Skandera Trombley, and we are assured that “absolutely no chickens, students or presidents were harmed during taping.”

  • St. Olaf College: This video features extraordinarily beautiful campus scenes backed by the St. Olaf College Orchestra performing "Rejoice," an original work composed by orchestra conductor Steven Amundson.

  • St. Peter’s College: “The 12 Days of Christmas” starts with 12 cups of coffee and ends with the Peacock putting a star up on the tree.

  • Syracuse University “Hallelujah To Ya”: A “flash mob” performing the Hallelujah Chorus is orchestrated by the Syracuse Symphony Orchestra as a holiday gift to the Central New York Community.

  • University of Washington: Students and staff are asked to describe 2010 in one word and then to project their hopes for 2011—also in one word. It was a challenge for English majors.

  • Wittenberg University: A postcard rendition of “All Through the Hollow” brings holiday greetings based on the more familiar “Night Before Christmas.”

  • Wofford College: Wonderfully off-tune renditions of "Jingle Bell Rock" convey humorous season’s greetings from staff and students.

Thank you to the many colleges that forwarded me copies of their videos. I enjoyed each and every one!

Best wishes to all for the Happiest of Holidays!

If you have some favorites I’ve left off, please feel free to leave links in Comments below.

Dec 22, 2010

The Common Application Issues Warning for Last-Minute Applicants

In a recent newsletter circulated to counselors across the nation, officials from the Common Application organization warned college-bound seniors to submit their materials well in advance of posted deadlines and to pay particular attention to the order in which they send required elements of individual applications.

Approximately one-third of the Common App’s member colleges and universities require that students submit a payment or supplement—or both—before submitting the application. In these cases, the requirements are clearly displayed in the Application section of a student’s My Colleges page.

Evidently, online credit card payments can take up to two days to go through the system. Because a record of payment will not appear in a student’s account until the fee has been processed, students who wait until the last minute may find they are unable to submit an application because of delays in updating their account. And once a deadline has passed for a particular college, the Common Application will no longer permit applications to be submitted to that college.

According to the newsletter, “The payment condition is especially important for students to understand.” And it is very clearly posted in every instruction related to colleges requiring payment first. So it’s to your advantage to read all instructions pertaining to each application you intend to submit before you start the process.

Locally, the University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC) requires both payment and the required supplement before the application may be submitted. Other area schools including American University, George Washington, Catholic, the University of Mary Washington, and Johns Hopkins want their applications first and payments second.

In addition to potential submission snafus related to forms sequencing, students should also be aware that technical support is not an instantaneous operation. The newsletter warns that waiting until the “eleventh hour,” may not leave enough time for staff to respond to questions submitted electronically “before the clock strikes midnight.”

For those keeping track, the Common App reports that individual applicants registering with the system now number over 345,000—21 percent more than last year. And as of December 15, 1,141,390 applications have already been submitted to Common App member colleges. This represents a 27 percent increase over this time last year.

For more information or further clarification of rules relating to the timely submission of applications, visit the Common Application website.

Photo of UMBC provided by Wikipedia.

Dec 20, 2010

10 Steps to Take If Your Early Application is Deferred

Lots of students who applied early this fall are finding they’ve been neither accepted nor rejected, but deferred to the regular admissions pool. If you’re in this position, know you’re not alone. Because many colleges received record numbers of early applications, it stands to reason that unless acceptances increase, you have considerable company—mostly disappointed.

Keep this in mind: just because you’ve been deferred doesn’t mean you’ll never get in. Think of it as a kind of holding pattern. Colleges are sending a signal that they need to know a little more about you before making a final decision. You can either respond or withdraw into a tiny shell of self-pity. I recommend responding. And here’s how:
  1. Don’t crash. There’s no question this is a setback. It’s normal to feel disappointment, but don’t let it be crippling. This is not the time to slack off. Most importantly, don’t let this minor bump in the road delay completion of the rest of your applications. Finish those essays as soon as possible and try to submit well in advance of due dates.

  2. Contact Admissions. Try calling or emailing the admissions representative for your area. He or she most likely read your application and knows who you are. It’s a busy time of year for admissions, but if you’re lucky you might be able to get personal feedback and a sense of how your application stacked up against the rest of the early pool. You might also get ideas on how to improve your candidacy by clarifying misunderstandings or by submitting additional test results, information, or recommendations. But whatever you do, resist the temptation to complain or badger the staff.

  3. Update your application. Although colleges require mid-year grades sent directly by your high school, take the initiative to forward a copy of your most recent grade report with a cover letter firmly restating your commitment to attend if admitted—only if that’s truly the case of course. Include reference to any new and improved standardized test scores, additional leadership positions, new memberships, recent events or community service activities in which you have been involved, and any special awards you received. Also consider sending an additional writing sample or essay. Remember colleges really only want to know what’s happened since you submitted your original application, so don’t rehash the past.

  4. Consider a campus visit. If you haven’t already spoken with the area representative, try to make an appointment to meet sometime in January or February. This can be an opportunity to make your case for admission face-to-face. If the rep is not available, don’t be discouraged—it’s peak reading season and time is limited. Instead, visit a class, have lunch, and take a closer look at the campus. You may find subtle changes in your feelings about the school that open you to other possibilities.

  5. Send another recommendation. Make arrangements to have another recommendation sent on your behalf. Look for someone who can speak to qualities other than those represented in recommendations the college already received. Consider asking a coach, your employer, a faculty sponsor for one of your membership organizations, or someone in the community. Do not flood the admissions office with hundreds of additional recommendations. This won’t help.

  6. Try retesting. If test scores appear to be a barrier to admission, try retaking either the SAT (January) or the ACT (February). Who knows? Your scores may improve significantly enough to make a difference in your admissions prospects.

  7. Make academics your first priority. Now is the time to reveal your true character by working even harder to improve class standing. Don’t be lured into senioritis. Colleges on the fence about your candidacy will be impressed by a continued upward trend in grades.

  8. Step-up community or school involvement. This is definitely NOT the time to quit participating in school- or community-based activities. Instead, you should seek out leadership opportunities and have a continued impact on your community. Colleges want to see a commitment to service that doesn’t just end because the paperwork was submitted.

  9. Follow-up on your mid-year report. Provide your counselor with the most up-to-date information on additional accomplishments that may be relevant to your application and ask for them to be included along with mid-year grades. If the college remains your first choice, suggest your counselor make this point somewhere on the form or possibly in a cover letter. In some cases, a call from your counselor to the admissions office will help, particularly if he or she has a strong relationship with the college.

  10. Move on. Consider your deferral an opportunity to explore other options. It’s hard not to be miserable over a less-than-positive response to all the hard work you’ve put into being the best possible candidate for admission. But once you have done everything possible to persuade the college to admit, turn your attention elsewhere and don’t dwell on the negative. Remain confident in your prospects. Even with this small detour, you can still have lots of great choices.

Dec 18, 2010

The Top 20 Priciest College Dorms

In DC and beyond, the college amenities war is escalating. Despite a rotten economy and increased evidence that cost contributes significantly to high dropout rates, colleges continue in their pursuit of ever more luxurious and attractive living space for undergrads.

In late October, the College Board reported the average price for room and board rose by 4.6 percent at public and 3.9 percent at private colleges for the 2010-11 academic year. And this is a trend. Over the last decade, room and board charges have risen more than 24 percentage points faster than the average living costs of nonstudents.

Why would this be? Colleges claim that student demands for fancier, bigger, and more technologically advanced accommodations have driven up dorm costs. And they’ve responded with glitzy new residence halls that offer loads of extras including free Wi-Fi, fitness centers, cable, air conditioning, large common areas, and even concierge staff.

But it’s not all the fault of the students. Colleges are also increasingly looking toward room and board as potential profit centers to make up for needs in other areas of campus budgets.

According to a list compiled by Campus Grotto, Eugene Lang College, in New York, boasts the most expensive college dorms for the second year in a row with room and board totaling $17,110 (up from $15,990 last year). Berkeley rose from number four to number two by increasing average room and board by $924 to $15,308, with Suffolk University in Boston solidly hanging on to third place at $14,624. Locally, American University remained at number 16, with room and board totaling $13,430 per year.

But in all fairness, the list slants toward colleges located in the most expensive areas of the country in which to live. Only four of the top twenty are located outside of California or New York.

Using prices a typical freshman will pay for a standard double room, the following are the top twenty most expensive room and board plans as listed by Campus Grotto:

  1. Eugene Lang College, NY: $17,110

  2. UC Berkeley, CA: $15,308

  3. Suffolk University, MA: $14,624

  4. Fordham University-Lincoln Center, NY: $14,614

  5. Fordham University-Rose Hill, NY: $14,491

  6. UC Santa Cruz, CA: $14,172

  7. St. John’s University, NY: $14,000

  8. Manhattanville College, NY: $13,920

  9. Sarah Lawrence College, NY: $13,820

  10. Pace University, NY: $13,800

  11. UCLA, CA: $13,734

  12. Cooper Union, NY: $13,700

  13. Chapman University, CA: $13,510

  14. NYU, NY: $13,507

  15. Franklin Olin College, MA: $13,500

  16. American University, DC: $13,430

  17. Marymount Manhattan College, NY: $13,416

  18. Harvey Mudd College, CA: $13,198

  19. Drexel University, PA: $13,125

  20. UC Santa Barbara, CA: $13,109

When it comes time to finalize decisions about which colleges on your list make most “economic” sense, check out the cost of room and board. It’s a huge part of the total expense, particularly among colleges requiring on-campus residency for any part of your college career.

Dec 17, 2010

The Marines Partner with a Few Good Colleges

The Marine Corps is partnering with a few good colleges in Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina, to bring the newly-created Elite-to-Elite Academic Mission (ETEAM) Program to campuses seeking to upgrade support for recent veterans.

“We want Marines to continue their education, and return to the community as an educated and skilled workforce, according to Major General Carl Jensen, commanding general for Marine Corps Installations East. “The intention is to make it easier for Marines to attend great collegiate institutions.”

Separate from the Yellow Ribbon Program, ETEAM is designed to simplify and hasten the admissions process for eligible Marines who want to attend specific colleges. Participating institutions include the entire University of North Carolina system, as well as East Carolina University, NC State, and NC A&T among 14 North Carolina colleges and universities.

In South Carolina, the University of South Carolina Beaufort recently joined with Coastal Carolina University to offer the program. And closer to home, Virginia Tech is also among participating colleges and universities.

Although each institution has individual agreements with the Marine Corps, the program operates to shorten and expedite the overall admissions process for qualified Marines. In general, standardized test scores (if taken within the last two years), transcripts, a personal essay, service records, and letters of recommendation are among the required materials to be submitted.

More information and application procedures may be found on Marine Corps web pages.

Photo provided by sharedferret at Flickr.

Dec 15, 2010

Get Ahead in the Financial Aid Game by Starting NOW

You can get ahead in the financial aid game by going on the offensive early. While the folks at the US Department of Education feverishly prepare for kickoff on January 1st, take to the practice field and work on getting in shape starting today.

Simply follow these five easy plays from the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) playbook and position your team to maximize scholarship potential by learning the drill before game day:
  1. Check out the FAFSA website ( Accept NO substitutes. And note—this is the FREE application for federal student aid. It’s not meant to be a pay to play game. Anyone charging for the privilege of providing you with a FAFSA form or a top-secret internet link is working a scam. Also, be aware that there are a number of FREE local sources of assistance for completing the form if you need help when the time comes. In general, the FAFSA website is pretty user-friendly, even if color scheme is unfortunate.

  2. Apply for your PIN(s): Do it NOW—today even. There’s really no reason not to. Students and parents both need FAFSA PIN numbers, as they are your official signatures for electronic submissions. They are free and very easy to obtain. Again, if anyone wants to charge you for a FAFSA PIN, don’t fall for it. This is a service brought to you by your federal government.

  3. Note deadlines: You should complete the FAFSA as early in the New Year as humanly possible. Don’t use IRS or tax deadlines as your guide because states and individual colleges have way earlier financial aid due dates. Georgetown University, for example, posts February 1st as its deadline for FAFSA submission. You may estimate if necessary by using previous-year tax information to complete the form. Consider filing a first draft as a placeholder and then plan to go back and amend later.

  4. Download the FAFSA on the Web Worksheet: Practice makes perfect, so why not give it a try? Thoughtful government officials even give you the choice of printing the form in color or black and white. All kidding aside, the worksheet will give you a heads up on the questions asked—in the order they are asked—as well as on the kinds of documents you will need to have handy to complete the real deal in January. Note that changes for 2011-12 are minimal, so go ahead and work with the 2010-11 version until the new one is posted.

  5. Test Drive FAFSA4caster: While not exactly a crystal ball, this handy site will help you get an early estimate of your eligibility for federal student aid. You can test out different college options and compare the costs and benefits of each. If you haven’t really thought about the money yet, this is your opportunity for a reality check.

FAFSA will release access to a 2011-12 practice site some time in mid-December. This site will allow you to train on the FAFSA application and may be found at (the user name is “eddemo” and the password is “fafsatest”).

If you have questions concerning FAFSA, the process, or the website, don’t hesitate to contact the Federal Student Aid Information Center at 1-800-4FED-AID (1-800-433-3243). You can also contact the center by email at

Picture provided by Flickr:ellievanhoutte

Dec 13, 2010

PSAT Scores and Score Reports Are Now Available

My spies tell me that local high school sophomores and juniors who took the PSAT/NMSQT® in October should be receiving results any day now. According to the College Board, the tests have been scored, analyzed, and are already on the desks of guidance counselors throughout the metropolitan area.

And this is great news, because unlike most services provided by our friends in Princeton, the PSAT offers an amazing amount of FREE information and advice all packaged together in materials test-takers automatically receive. So whatever you do, don’t trash the packet!

If you’re worried about test results, keep in mind that the “P” in PSAT stands for “preliminary” not “predictive.” These scores cannot predict how well you will do in college, and they say even less about how good a student you are. They represent a single snapshot in time, and sometimes that picture is neither flattering nor accurate. So don’t focus on the scores alone.

Also, be aware that colleges do not use these scores in the admissions process. Unless you happen to score in the very highest percentile of test-takers in your state, the test results have no usefulness to anyone but you, and they will never be reported to colleges.

So what good is the PSAT? As a service to its customers, the College Board organization invested considerable time, thought, and money into developing a package of materials to go along with scores. And it’s all provided FREE of charge to test-takers only.

First, every student who takes the PSAT receives an actual copy of the test booklet along with a complete Score Report “Plus” containing the correct answer, your answer, and the level of difficulty for each question on the test. This information can help you pinpoint test-taking strengths and weaknesses, and you really should go over your results carefully.

As part of the Score Report Plus, you will also receive personalized feedback on academic skills and will be directed to two or three areas that might need improvement as suggested by your answers on the test. If you’re thinking about signing up for an SAT prep class, this information can be extremely helpful in determining what kind of program or intensity level would be best for you.

But the best part of the total PSAT deal is that all students who take the test receive total access to My College QuickStart, which includes an online version of your Score Report as well a study plan, hundreds of practice SAT questions, and other early college planning tools including a useful major and career match inventory.

To access My College QuickStart, simply open a College Board website account using the access code printed on your PSAT paper score report. You can find your access code at the bottom right of the report under "Next Steps." The code begins with a letter, is followed by 8 numbers, and ends with a letter.

But you can’t take advantage of any of these tools without the information contained on your score report. And last year, some area high schools were very slow to distribute the reports and waited until after winter break to get the information to students.

If your guidance office hasn't made any announcements concerning distribution of PSAT packets, consider asking for an appointment with your counselor to go over your scores and get that access code before the holidays. This way, you can begin to make decisions about test prep as well as take advantage of some of the college planning materials provided by the College Board.

For more information on the PSAT/NMSQT® or to learn more about My College Quickstart, visit the College Board website.

Dec 11, 2010

Stanford Early Admission Decisions Released Earlier than Expected

Stanford’s Restrictive Early Action applicants were unexpectedly sent their admission decisions yesterday afternoon at 3 pm (Pacific Time), several days ahead of schedule.

According to director of admission Bob Patterson, “The admission committee finalized its selection process earlier than anticipated and in an effort to quell anxiety among applicants, parents, counselors, and alumni, Dean Shaw made the executive decision to release decisions today, December 10.”

Stanford made a similar announcement last spring when regular admissions decisions were released six days ahead of schedule.

And the news wasn’t good in most cases. “It hurts so much,” commented one applicant posting on the College Confidential discussion board. “Christmas break is not going to be fun.”

Another rejected student took a more philosophical approach, “…now I can cheer without regret for the VIRGINA TECH HOKIES (my parents’ alma mater) in the Orange Bowl.”

Stanford received 5950 restrictive early action applications for the class of 2015. This represents a 7 percent increase over the 5566 applications received last year. According to reports from the admission office, Stanford planned to accept 760 or about 13 percent of the early applicants.

Last year, Stanford’s overall acceptance rate dropped to 7.2 percent, the lowest in the country after Harvard.

While not binding, Stanford’s early action program prohibits applicants from applying early to other colleges and universities. Those accepted now are free to pursue other applications and compare results later in the application cycle. All final decisions are due by May 1, 2011.

The earlier-than-planned results should give students more time to digest the news and move on if necessary. Stanford may be among the first of the ‘big names’ to send this year’s early admissions decisions, but many other students have been quietly receiving responses from colleges with different forms of early application and/or rolling admissions. More are scheduled to arrive over the coming days and weeks.

Disappointment in the form of deferral or outright rejection always stings. The best antitode is simply to keep the process moving and resist the temptation to freeze in place. As a truck driver says to the character played by Sandra Bullock, in All About Steve, “If you miss a bus, I’m thinking maybe you weren’t meant to take it.”

Dec 10, 2010

Area Colleges Make Huge Gains in Graduation Rates

While Georgetown, UVa, and the College of William and Mary retain their positions among colleges with the top graduation rates in the country, many other area schools are making impressive gains in the percent of undergrads completing degrees within six years.

Admittedly, the six year figure is often startling to parents who thought they were signing up for four years only. And many colleges protest that the way in which numbers are reported doesn’t take into account transfers or students who take extended breaks and eventually return to college.

But it’s the statistic collected by the federal government and represents the "primary, publicly available metric that describes how well colleges are serving their students."

Based on widely-quoted figures from the US Department of Education, only 53 percent of the undergrads beginning their four-year degrees complete in six years. And that rate only increased by two percentage points from 2003 to 2008.

But many local colleges and universities are working hard to improve their individual numbers, and the results are evident. According to an analysis completed by the Chronicle of Higher Education, George Mason University gets the award for “most improved” graduation rate among public research institutions.

In 2002, only 49 percent of GMU’s students graduated in six years. By 2008, the number increased by 12 percentage points to 61 percent—the second highest increase in the nation in its category. The improved graduation rate goes along with an astonishing improvement in first year retention or the number of freshman returning for their sophomore year. Since 1999, GMU’s retention has improved from a little less than 76 percent to almost 85 percent in 2008.

Other area colleges experiencing significant improvements in graduation rates include:

For an even more comprehensive view of graduation rates over time (back to 1997), check out the College Results Online website, maintained by the Education Trust.

Dec 9, 2010

Learn What It Takes to be a CPA—Vote Your Favorite in the Clearly Pretty Awesome Competition

Who knew so many totally absurd jobs could come from the initials C-P-A? And who would have thought to ask?, a site dedicated to providing high school students with everything they need to know about careers as Certified Public Accountants, recently launched a contest inviting students with a creative approach to acronyms to submit entries in the Clearly Pretty Awesome Competition. To sweeten the deal, the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) offered a laptop plus $3,000, to be awarded on behalf of the winning student to their school.

And the CPA’s started rolling in. Curb Paint Applicator? Cheese Pastry Auctioneer? “The funnier and more unappealing, the better,” according to rules suggested on the website.

The best of the group were submitted to a panel of judges, no doubt CPA’s, who narrowed the entries to a list of finalists whose entries have been posted on Visitors to the site are encouraged to vote for their favorite or the one best answering the call for “the worst jobs around.”

As luck would have it, one finalist, Emily Levis, lives in Virginia Beach and attends the VA Beach Mathematics and Science Academy. Her entry, Computerized Piano Accompanist, has been holding solidly onto third place behind Coolest People Around (is that a job?) and Celebrity Paparazzi Antagonist.

The public still has one more day to vote on the Clearly Pretty Awesome Competition webpage. And while you’re at it, take a look at the materials and wealth of information offered by the AICPA on the StartHereGoPlaces website. There’s even a free magazine you can have delivered electronically or to your door, in which you can learn about scholarships and colleges with strong programs in accounting.

College Planning Advisor? That’s too easy.

Dec 8, 2010

Keeping the Process Alive after You’ve Submitted Your College Applications

If you're still waiting to push the “submit” button on the last of your college applications, stop reading now. You need to put 100 percent of your effort on the “here and now” and complete the job—preferably before the holidays.

But if you’re in the enviable position of having finished all your applications, here are a few next steps that will help keep the process moving:

  1. Check in with teachers who agreed to write letters of recommendation on your behalf to confirm they have been submitted. A hand-written thank you note might help underscore how much you appreciate the support.

  2. Make sure your standardized test scores have been sent from the appropriate testing agency to the colleges requiring scores.

  3. If you submitted applications electronically, review your “receipts” and confirm that the application, supplement(s), and payment were all sent. These are separate processes, and you are responsible for their completion.

  4. Check with your guidance counselor and/or the school transcript clerk to make sure that transcripts and secondary school reports have been submitted. Again, a nice thank-you note would certainly be appreciated by all involved.

  5. If you applied early to a school requiring a CSS PROFILE for financial aid consideration, verify that your parents have completed and sent all required information.

  6. Double check that materials necessary for merit scholarships have been completed and sent.

  7. Regularly review email and telephone messages. You may get requests for interviews or for follow-up information to which you should promptly respond.

  8. If you have been provided with a special log-in to check the status of your application, do so. And do it frequently. This is the best way to know if all elements of your application have been received.

  9. Consider updating colleges on important information like outstanding senior year grades or any new memberships, awards, and accomplishments occurring after you submitted your application. This is a one-time opening. Don’t abuse the privilege by sending daily updates.

  10. Begin thinking about federal financial aid. If you haven’t already, get your PIN number on the FAFSA website. You won’t be able to apply until after January 1st, but it’s good to have a head start on the process.

  11. Follow-up with the admissions office if you are concerned about the status of your application or if something seems amiss. Don’t call for a little insider information—you won’t get an admissions decision over the phone.

  12. And most importantly, keep focused on your school work. Declining grades will hurt if you are deferred from early admission or wait listed later in the game. And improved grades may qualify you for additional financial support or at least give you an argument for larger merit-based aid.

If feasible, you might consider revisiting top colleges on your list. See a basketball game, go to an exhibit, attend a performance, have lunch, or even take another tour. Now that the paperwork is complete, a second look may help clarify your thinking and signal to colleges your strong interest.

And stay connected. Colleges are investing heavily in online media and like to think students are benefitting from all the effort. Facebook, Twitter, and staff or student blogs will help you keep in touch as your application wends its way through the process.

Dec 6, 2010

College-Level Foreign Language Study Slowly Changes Focus

Once upon a time, French was the language of diplomacy. It was the language of philosophers and intellectuals, and high-achieving high school students were not-so-gently steered in the direction of signing up for French classes if they wanted to go to the ‘best’ colleges.

But times are changing, and French is slowly dropping off the college map along with German, Latin, and Russian. According to the New York Times, universities across the country are looking closely at foreign language majors and eliminating a few options.

This fall, the State University of New York at Albany announced that it would stop letting new students major in French, Italian, Russian, and the classics. Louisiana State University is phasing out majors in German and Latin, as well as basic instruction in Portuguese, Russian, Swahili, and Japanese.

The University of Maine’s president, Robert A. Kennedy, recommended suspending undergraduate degree programs in Latin and German, while at Winona State University in Minnesota, a moratorium has been placed on new majors in French and German. And at the University of Nevada, Reno, students can no longer declare majors in German Studies or minors in Italian.

Locally, George Washington’s Columbian College of Arts and Sciences will no longer require any foreign language to graduate, although students may use language courses to help fulfill broader humanities requirements.

The most recent information available from the National Center for Education Statistics confirms why colleges are being forced to make hard decisions when it comes to funding language majors. There just aren’t too many.

In 2009, GW graduated 26 Spanish majors, 7 French majors, one each in Chinese, German and Japanese, and no majors in Russian or Italian. American graduated 3 French, 3 Spanish, and 2 German majors. UVa graduated 30 French majors, 1 German major, and 73 Spanish majors. And the College of William and Mary had 3 French, 5 German, and 12 Spanish majors.

On the other hand, traditional language powerhouse Georgetown graduated 14 Arabic, 22 French, 9 Chinese, 6 German, 2 Japanese, 4 Russian, 20 Spanish, and 5 Italian majors. And the University of Maryland—College Park had 18 French, 13 Chinese, 11 German, 24 Japanese, 10 Russian, 66 Spanish, and 3 Italian majors.

At other area schools, language majors were negligible or not to be found.

Yet, the Modern Language Association will soon release a report showing that overall enrollments in college language courses are actually at their highest level since 1960.

Why? Because of apparent interest in more “practical” languages like Arabic and Spanish. And as China assumes a greater role in world affairs, more college programs are being offered in Mandarin—generously funded by the Chinese government.

“…if we’re going to remain economically competitive and provide the skill and manpower for government, I think we need more Americans to learn Chinese or Hindi or Farsi or Portuguese or Korean or Arabic,” commented Richard N. Haass, the president of the Council on Foreign Relations in a speech to the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages in which he questioned the prominence of European language instruction.

But secondary school systems have been slow to recognize this change and largely continue to offer advanced programs in languages being phased out at the college level. Ironically, just as the College Board reinstates Advanced Placement Italian, colleges forced to make tough budget decisions are doing away with Italian language options.

The takeaway from this story is that if you’re considering a foreign language major, look very closely at what individual departments on your college list offer and how many students they graduate each year in foreign languages or culture. Not only will this tell you something about college “fit,” but it may also suggest the likelihood that the major will be around for the long haul.

Dec 4, 2010

UVa President Proposes Adding 1,400 Undergrads over Next 4 Years

At the November Board of Visitors meeting, University of Virginia President Teresa Sullivan addressed likely requests for increased enrollment from the Governor’s Commission on Higher Education by proposing to add 1,400 undergraduate and 100 graduate students over the next four to five years.

“As we make our own plans in anticipation of the commission’s recommendations, we are operating on a few assumptions,” Sullivan said. “We assume the board will not condone this growth without assurances that we have adequate housing, dining, recreation spaces, need-based financial aid, and faculty and staff to serve the new students and protect the undergraduate experience.”

In response to the proposal, one student remarked, “Adding 1400 undergraduates in four or five years seems awfully quick to me. There is a general lack of parking and space as it is now.”

During the past decade, UVa’s enrollment has grown relatively slowly. Over a 10-year period ending in 2013, plans were in place to add 1,500 students to the undergraduate student body.

For the 2010-11 academic year, UVa has 14,297 undergraduate and 6,598 graduate students

Under President Sullivan’s proposal the current rate of growth would increase substantially and additional tuition could be used to help offset reductions in per student funding from the state. Off the record, UVa officials have noted that increasing the number of undergrads should help ward off huge tuition increases that might otherwise be in store for UVa students in future years.

UVa’s executive vice president and chief operating officer, Leonard W. Sandridge, argues that UVa can handle the additional students. Residence halls built in the 1960’s are being renovated and replaced. The Observatory Hill dining hall has already been expanded, and the dining area of Newcomb Hall is scheduled for renovation. Some new offices on the South Lawn will expand the university’s facilities for faculty and staff.

We feel very comfortable that we would be able to accommodate [President Sullivan’s proposed rate of growth],” Sandridge commented.

In October, the commission released a preliminary list of major recommendations for changes in Virginia’s public colleges and universities. These include enrolling more Virginians, granting more STEM degrees, enhancing research collaboration among state institutions, and improving utilization of technology in teaching.

President Sullivan made a number of recommendations to the commission that she believes supports the commission’s goals. For example, she proposed increasing enrollment of in-state students, particularly those pursuing STEM majors, and suggested greater use of technology-enhanced instruction to reach a greater number of students.

Some board members expressed deep concern about the harm that could be done by increasing enrollment without adequate financial support from the state.

University Rector John O. Wayne pointed out that most state legislators did not attend UVa and may not value the University’s status as a flagship institution. He warned of possible consequences of growth without adequate resources, “We will slowly decline. None of us wants that.”

Picture provided by Wikipedia.

Dec 3, 2010

Practical Essay Tips from Professor Zinn

Over the past decade, Professor Wilkins-O’Riley Zinn, of Southern Oregon University, has been collecting data about common errors her students make in their writing. An associate professor in the Department of Education, Dr. Zinn suffers mightily from what she sees as a fundamental lack of training in basic writing skills among undergrads.

According to Dr. Zinn, sometimes the errors are simple—“spelling and punctuation and other mechanical glitches that can be corrected by editing and minimal rewriting.” The difficult ones are content-related. “If a writer doesn’t have anything to say, there’s not much that can be done to improve her or his writing.”

After consultation with Professor Zinn, I have permission to use her list of writing “challenges” as they relate to college essays. These tips were originally published in her blog, Zinnfull and have been substantially edited.

Proofreading. This takes time. Do not rely on on-screen reading. I always read my writing aloud, and I catch many errors I would have missed otherwise.

Unnecessary words and phrases. These are things that sound good, but are meaningless like “I believe that I think” or “in my opinion, I am sure that I know” or, you get the picture. When you make a statement in your [essay], you can make it without these qualifiers.

Impoverished vocabulary. Do not rely on the thesaurus feature of your computer. It may suggest words that are not correct in the context of your writing. Work on improving your vocabulary and making sure you understand the full meaning of words you use. Awesome, cool, amazing, and similar overused words meant to be compelling modifiers are not.

• Lack of thoughtfulness. Gaps in reasoning and a “whatever” attitude waste a reader’s time. When it is clear that you hope to create a blizzard of words that hides your lack of information, most readers will not be fooled. Vague generalities are sometime used to mask a lack of thought and/or research.

• Repetitiveness. When a writer says the same thing over and over, it appears that she or he doesn’t have much to say.

• Spellcheck and Grammar checker reliance. [These] do not always give correct advice. Have a friend or relative or other trusted person read your work.

• Colloquialisms, slang, and other choices related to audience. Learn to “code switch” and understand that the kind of writing that’s appropriate when texting friends isn’t appropriate for other contexts. This includes using the ampersand (&), as well as other abbreviations and acronyms (OMG, tht ws 1 awsum lectur!). In addition, etc. (etcetera, meaning “and other things” or “and so forth”) while handy for abbreviated thoughts should be avoided in formal writing–finish your thought instead.

• Parallel construction. “I like swimming, biking, and reading.” NOT, “I like swimming, biking, and to read.”

• Subject-verb agreement. The men go. The man goes.

• Unclear reference. Be sure the reader can tell to what or to whom your pronouns refer.

• Sentence variety. Check the beginnings of sentences, and be sure that there are not too many that begin the same way (although sometimes you may do this deliberately for effect). Also, watch overuse of pet phrases or words.

• Semi-colon and colon use. I rarely see these used correctly. Be sure you know what you’re doing. Commas? Often reading aloud will help you see where to pause with a punctuation mark.

• Paragraphing. Question your writing if it is one long paragraph.

• Introductions, conclusions, transitions, clear purpose. These things are necessary.

• Absolutes. Think carefully about the use of words like never, always, and everyone. When you use an absolute, you may send the reader off on a mindchase for exceptions. Consider using words like some, many, almost, and other qualifiers that indicate that your awareness of other possibilities.

• Other things that make me tired. Careless misuse of there/their/they’re, to/two/too, it’s/its, and all the others from lists I’m pretty sure were taught in elementary school.

By the way, there are a zillion essay books on the market. Some are better than others. College Admissions Essays for Dummies expands on many of the points made by Professor Zinn and provides concrete tips for getting your essay off the ground. Robert Cronk’s recently published book, Concise Advice: Jump-Starting Your College Admissions Essay suggests a clever cinematic model for “showing” and not “telling” your story. I also like Jan Rooker’s description of “authentic voice” in Nail Your College Essay. And Harry Bauld’s On Writing the College Application Essay is an “industry” classic.

Dec 2, 2010

Which Colleges Require SAT Subject Tests?

If you’re confused about which colleges require or recommend SAT Subject Tests, you may want to check out a wonderful webpage created and maintained by the Compass Educational Group (Compass Prep) of California. Similar information may also be found on the College Board, Common Application, or Universal College Application websites, but going any of these routes generally involves clicking through numerous webpages and may be limited to a specific subset of “member” institutions. The beauty of the Compass Prep table is that all the schools requiring, recommending or considering SAT Subject Tests are contained on one easy-to-understand chart.

Of the thousands of colleges and universities located across the country, only about 100 use SAT Subject Tests in their admissions decisions. As of this year, no colleges in the US require three. Georgetown, Johns Hopkins, and Northwestern recommend three, which in admissions-speak usually translates into requires.

According to Compass, about forty colleges and universities require two Subject Tests, but a large portion of those will allow students to substitute the ACT with writing. Fewer than seventy other institutions either recommend or simply consider Subject Tests in their admissions processes. And Compass Prep lists them all along with solid explanations of how schools are likely to interpret or use the scores requested.

Compass Prep is quick to warn that no list can “replace the nuances of a school’s specific policy.” Students are directed to school websites or admissions offices for the most accurate (and up-to-date) information. Used properly, however, this handy reference tool can save students considerable time and aggravation.

This Saturday marks the last SAT test date for 2010. If you missed the deadline for December SAT registration, you may be able to test standby. This means going to a test center on test day with a completed registration form and payment. For more information, visit the College Board website.

Dec 1, 2010

JSHS Competitions Offer Big Scholarships for Student Researchers

Each fall, regional program directors for the Junior Science and Humanities Symposia (JSHS) put out calls for high school research papers. One of several prestigious national competitions, the JSHS offers unique opportunities for students to present original research to panels of expert judges and potentially win college scholarships amounting to thousands of dollars.

Unlike more familiar competitions sponsored by Intel and Siemens, JSHS departs from a traditional science fair format and employs a process more similar to that used for scientific or academic conferences and publications. Students are asked to submit abstracts for consideration at a regional level. If accepted, the research is then presented at a conference or symposium.

JSHS regional and national symposia are held during the academic year and typically reach over 12,000 high school students throughout the US, Puerto Rico, and the Department of Defense Schools of Europe and the Pacific Rim. Each of 48 university-held regional symposia invites participation from secondary schools within their region.

The DC area is covered by three separate regions and includes symposia held at James Madison University, Georgetown University, and Morgan State University. It’s a complicated arrangement, but students have a fair amount of flexibility about where to submit abstracts and are not limited by residency.

Although the DC deadline for submission has passed for this year, Virginia and Maryland are still accepting abstracts. DC students in high schools not already participating at Georgetown may still be eligible for consideration by Virginia or Maryland.

The competition requires an original research project on a topic in one of six general categories including:
  • Environmental science including earth and space science

  • Engineering

  • Physical sciences including chemistry, physics and astronomy

  • Life sciences

  • Medicine and health; behavioral and social sciences

  • Mathematics and computer science

Work may be part of a class project, a summer research project, or a science fair entry.

And the rewards are huge. Regional finalists receive scholarships, an expense-paid trip to the National JSHS, which is in San Diego this year, and an opportunity to compete for additional scholarships up to $12,000. Six big winners at the national event win expense-paid trips to the London International Youth Science Forum.

Originated in 1958 as part of a greater effort to focus attention on the sciences and scientific research, the Junior Science and Humanities Symposia Program is sponsored by the US Departments Army, Navy, and Air Force. In addition to the financial incentives, students who participate get to interact with practicing researchers and potentially have their work published.

For more information and participation guidelines, visit the JSHS website. Links to regional competitions and application materials may be found on the contacts page.