Apr 30, 2011

2011 College Recycling Champs Announced

The results are official! The 2011 college recycling champs have been announced by RecycleMania, and the universities of Maryland and Virginia came in first for their respective states. In DC, George Washington received similar honors.

UVa received the Gorilla Prize for the Commonwealth, with 653,880 pounds of total recycling collected during a 10-week period. The Cavaliers placed third among the ten competing schools in the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) and 12th among the 630 schools going for the national Gorilla Prize.

Coming in one notch above UVa both in the ACC and nationally, the University of Maryland collected 672,560 pounds of recyclables. And GW beat out competition within the District with 307,196 pounds.

“We did extremely well this year,” commented Nina Moris, UVa sustainability outreach coordinator for Facilities Management, “especially considering the number of schools participating has increased greatly since last year.”

RecycleMania was launched in 2001, as a friendly challenge between Ohio University and Miami University to increase recycling on their campuses. The contest has expanded rapidly in ten years’ time and now spans 49 states, DC, Canada, and the UK.

As part of the competition, campuses compete to see which institution can collect the largest amount of recyclables per capita, the largest amount of total recyclables, the least amount of trash per capita, or have the highest recycling rate.

This year, 91 million pounds of recyclables and organic materials were recovered, which according to RecycleManiacs prevented the release of nearly 270 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent. This reduction in greenhouse gases is equivalent to annual emissions from more than 52.8 million passenger cars or the electricity use of more than 32.7 million homes.

And this is important because college-bound high school students are increasingly making sustainability a priority in their school selections. Nearly 7 out of 10 of 8,200 students surveyed by the Princeton Review reported that a college’s commitment to the environment would influence their decision to apply or attend a particular school.

In DC, Georgetown came in first in the Grand Championship competition, while GW won both the Gorilla Prize and the Per Capital Classic. Catholic came in first for paper recycling; Georgetown recycled the most corrugated cardboard as well as bottles and cans; and American recycled the most food service organics at an impressive 15.06 lbs. per student.

Across the Potomac, Loyola University of Maryland earned the Grand Champion and Per Capita awards. Waste Minimization went to Hartford Community College, with Frostburg State University and Mount St. Mary’s University recycling the most paper and cardboard respectively.

And for the first time this year, RecycleManiacs added a national video competition, which was won by the University of Virginia with a touching love story.

More information and a complete list of winners (broken down by state and athletic conference), may be found on the RecycleMania website.

Apr 29, 2011

May Day—It’s Time to Decide!

Several years ago, the New York Times wrote about how officials at Allegheny College were surprised to receive a commitment letter from a high school senior enclosing an enrollment deposit of $500 made out to … Lawrence University.

Succumbing to hedge-your-bets syndrome, the young man hoped to purchase extra time by sending non-refundable deposits to two different institutions.

The schools conferred and decided to be merciful. Instead of revoking admission, they gave the boy 24 hours to decide between schools. And he did.

But colleges are not always so understanding. Acknowledging that decisions are tough, the admissions “system” settled on a May 1st “Candidates’ Reply Date,” supported by the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC).*

To put teeth in the rule, colleges have the right to revoke admissions for anyone not responding or anyone choosing to send multiple deposits. And sometimes they do.

Unfortunately, those with disposable cash who can’t bring themselves to decide, occasionally circumvent the system by sending more than one check. It’s not a huge amount of money for some—several hundred at most.

Thus instead of making this a truly costly decision—like submitting binding offers on a couple of houses—colleges have made the issue into more of a matter of ethics.

Parents, students, counselors, and anyone involved in the process are advised that it is unethical to engage in double-depositing. So the wealthy and unethical among us may weigh consequences and the likelihood of being caught before dropping more than one check in the mail.

While seemingly arbitrary, the May 1st deadline does make some sense. First, it’s a trade-off. The system agrees not to pressure you for a decision before that date, but expects you’ll be ready to commit unconditionally when it’s time. Yes, some colleges fudge this agreement by offering housing or other incentives to sign-up early, but most live by the arrangement.

And double-depositing clogs the system. As frustrating as waitlists may be, they exist for a reason. Once you give up a position at a college, the institution may offer it to someone else.

If you’re holding on to several reservations, the system gets backed up and beds potentially remain unfilled in the fall. At this point, ethics give way to very real business outcomes that result from the practice.

But really by May 1st, it’s time to move on. Waitlists and outstanding financial aid questions aside (these are the only grounds on which to ask for an extension), you’ve had months to think things over. Prolonging the decision-making process isn’t going to make the outcome better, only more stressful.

And by the way, guidance counselors are the final gatekeepers in the process. It’s unethical for them to send final transcripts to more than one college or university on your behalf.

“If a student double deposits, we usually hear about it from their school when two final transcripts are requested,” commented Dean J in her UVa Admission Blog. “Many guidance officers are quick to make sure we know that a student was not advised to double deposit by their high school.”

So congratulations on all you’ve accomplished, it’s almost May Day and time to decide!

*According to the NACAC Statement of Principles of Good Practice when May 1 falls on a Sunday or holiday, May2 becomes the recognized date.

Apr 27, 2011

The 49th National Junior Science & Humanities Symposium Opens in San Diego

“We need to teach our kids that it’s not just the winner of the Super Bowl who deserves to be celebrated,” said President Obama in his State of the Union address before the Congress, “but the winner of the science fair.”

It’s no secret that colleges and universities are upgrading their efforts to recruit strong STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) applicants to fill departments hungry for undergrads with research or other lab experience.

College-bound high school students would be wise to take the hint and redouble their efforts to explore this great route to college (and significant scholarship money) by investigating opportunities to showcase skills in these areas.

So how should you get started? One way is to see what other students across the country are doing in the way of scientific research.

This year, the 49th National Junior Science and Humanities Symposium (JSHS) is traveling to San Diego. Between April 29 and 30, a total of 96 students will present their research to panels of expert judges in a competition that could net them as much as $12,000 and an all-expense paid trip to London.

The JSHS program promotes original research and experimentation in the sciences, engineering and mathematics at the high school level by organizing a series of regional and national symposiums during the academic year at 48 universities located throughout the country and abroad. Literally thousands of students compete in categories including environmental science, life sciences, medicine & health/behavioral sciences, engineering, mathematics & computer sciences, and theoretical physics.

DC area students competing in the national JSHS event are representing Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, the Baltimore Polytechnic Institute, Yorktown High School, Montgomery Blair High School, the Academy of Science, and Poolesville High School. They’ve worked with mentors from Georgetown University, Johns Hopkins, NIH, the University of Maryland, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

And there is significant money at stake—both at the regional and national levels. Sponsors who support the regional competitions provide scholarships, cash awards, and other prizes in addition to the huge contributions from the Departments of the Army, Navy, and Air Force.

By the way, teachers can get in on the prizes as well. A $500 award goes each year to one teacher from each of the 48 regions, honoring his or her contributions to advancing student participation in research.

Learn more about how high school students can get involved in local Junior Science and Humanities Symposia by visiting the JSHS website. A complete roster of students participating in San Diego as well as a list of paper titles is also available on the site.

Apr 25, 2011

Colleges by the Numbers: the Common Data Set

If you've ever thought about tapping directly into the database used by publishers of those weighty college guides, I have some good news. It’s not that difficult if you know the secret.

And the secret is the Common Data Set.

Several years ago, the Common Data Set (CDS) was created as a way to satisfy the endless appetite for college statistics among such organizations as the College Board, US News and World Report, Peterson’s, and Wintergreen Orchard House.

The idea was to reduce duplication of effort and meet publishers’ needs by asking colleges to complete a single survey the results of which would be compiled into a shared data base.

So rather than answer a zillion questions from many different publishers and websites, schools now fill out a lengthy standardized form each year. Data is collected, which is then used for everything from college rankings to online college search tools.

The secret is that many colleges are kind enough to publish their surveys on their websites so anyone can have access to the information. And it’s a goldmine covering everything from admissions statistics to graduation rates.

Typically, you can find CDS responses by going to a college’s Institutional Research Office webpage or by using the website search function and entering “Common Data Set.” You can also Google “Common Data Set” and institution name. If the information is posted, it will appear as a link.

But not all schools post the CDS, so don’t be alarmed if after several attempts nothing comes up. A number of colleges simply don’t want the public to have easy access to what may be unflattering statistics or information they feel could be misinterpreted.

Begin your explorations into the Common Data Set, by checking out a few local college webpages:

Note that the most recent data should be from 2010-11, but some schools are slow to post.

Apr 24, 2011

Of Egg Hunts and Seder Dinners

With the spring holidays falling nearer to finals than midterms, many undergrads won’t be making it home this year for Passover or Easter.

So colleges are trying to pick up where mom, dad, and the Easter Bunny left off.

At the University of Kansas, students arriving on campus last week found hundreds of Easter eggs hidden on the lawns and among bushes. All contained two chocolate treats and a printed message from students in a “Positive Psychology” class.

The objective of the project was to determine how people rated their happiness upon discovering the chocolate pieces and their happiness upon giving the second piece to a friend as the egg’s message suggested. Results of an online survey are being compiled.

Locally, Georgetown University celebrates Passover with an interfaith Seder. Following the structure of a traditional Passover Seder, students learn about “the core traditions and values that transcend the Jewish faith and have had a distinct impact on other religions and cultures.”

The University of Richmond, in conjunction with the Virginia Association for Parents of Children with Visual Impairments (VAAPVI) is sponsoring an “audible” Easter egg hunt using electronics to transform plastic eggs into ones that beep giving children with visual impairments “an extraordinary opportunity to be ordinary!” (Postponed because of bad weather to April 30th)

And at the University of Maryland, the Jewish Student Union partnered with Maryland’s Greek community to host the “My Big Fat Greek Seder” at Ritchie Coliseum. The event promised free food, prizes, and a good time.

However you spend the holiday, enjoy!

Apr 22, 2011

Princeton Review Releases FREE ‘Guide to 311 Green Colleges’

Just in time for Earth Day, the Princeton Review has released the second annual edition of its FREE downloadable guidebook profiling environmentally responsible “green colleges.”

“The Princeton Review’s Guide to 311 Green Colleges” reports on 308 US colleges and universities and 3 in Canada demonstrating “notable commitments to sustainability in their academic offerings, campus infrastructure, activities and career preparation.”

Developed in collaboration with the US Green Building Council (USGBC), the 220-page book can be downloaded free of charge from the Princeton Review website.

In addition to detailed descriptions of environmental and sustainability initiatives, the guide provides statistics and facts on each school’s use of renewable energy sources, recycling and conservation programs, and the availability of environmental studies programs. For the uninitiated, a glossary of more than forty “green” terms and acronyms is also provided.

“College-bound students are increasingly interested in sustainability issues,” commented Robert Franek, Princeton Review’s senior vice president for publishing. “Among 8,200 college applicants who participated in our spring 2011 ‘College Hopes & Worries Survey,’ nearly 7 out of 10 (69%) told us that having information about a school’s commitment to the environment would influence their decision to apply to or attend the school.”

The Princeton Review chose the 311 schools based on a survey of hundreds of colleges (1200 were invited to participate) that asked about institutional sustainability-related policies, practices, and programs. Green Ratings were tallied for 703 institutions and all those receiving a score of 80 or above were included in the guide.

Although colleges are listed alphabetically and not by rank, the Princeton Review salutes 18 schools with Green Ratings of 99 on its “Green Honor Roll.” Of the 23 local colleges and universities presented in the guide, only the University of Maryland—College Park earned this distinction.

For more information or to download a copy of the “Guide to 311 Green Colleges,” visit the Princeton Review website.

Tech Hikes In-state Tuition and Fees by 9.6%

For area high school students planning to head toward Blacksburg in the fall, the prospect of a tuition increase over last year probably isn’t too much of a surprise.

The magnitude of the increase, however, may be.

This week, the Virginia Tech Board of Visitors Executive Committee set tuition for the 2011-12 academic year, and the news isn’t good.

Tuition and mandatory fees for in-state undergrads will be $10,509, an increase of $920. Tuition and fees for out-of-state students will be $24,480, an increase of $1,263 or 5.4 percent. Average room and board will cost $6,856—up 9 percent from $6,290.

And to add insult to injury, the parking fee for resident students will increase from $189 to $225. Commuter and graduate students will see their fee go from $189 to $198.

Total average costs for a Virginia undergrad living on campus with a meal plan will be $17,365. Out-of-state undergraduates will pay $31,336.

In a press release that looks very similar to those issued by both the College of William & Mary and the University of Virginia, Tech President Charles Steger blames deceases in state and federal funding for the need to boost revenue through tuition increases.

“The university will lose an additional $16 million in state funding, partially offset by $3 million in new funding for Fiscal Year 11-12,” said Steger. “Further the university will no longer receive $21 million in federal stimulus funding that was designated to temporarily plug the hole created by state funding cuts.”

At the same time tuition, fees, and room and board are going up, Tech plans to boost need-based financial aid by $1.3 million to $13.1 million for next year. The university’s Funds for the Future program and Presidential Scholarship Initiative, along with the Horizons Program will continue to assist students with financial need.

Virginia Tech’s total financial aid, including state and federal loans and grants, institutional support, and work study grants is expected to exceed $370 million.

Dollarwise, Tech’s increases are very much in line with those of UVa and William & Mary, which raised in-state tuition by $948 and $944 respectively.

Photo courtesy of Flickr.

Apr 20, 2011

The Common Application Shares Changes for Next Year

The folks at the Common Application (CA) recently posted a sneak preview of next year’s application form, which will be used by 460 member institutions including many local colleges and universities such as American, Howard, George Washington, Catholic, Johns Hopkins, William & Mary, UVa, Mary Washington, Towson, Christopher Newport, the University of Richmond, and Saint Mary’s College of Maryland.

Not much has changed that the average applicant will notice—the color scheme and order of questions starting with the easy stuff like name and address and working up to the dreaded personal statement are all pretty much the same.

There are, however, a few adjustments and subtle changes that those of us in the business of advising high school students are making note of.

First, and possibly most important, the Common Application’s essay instructions will specify a length: 250 to 500 words. For the past few years, only a minimum was stated and applicants were free to upload documents that only the most dedicated of readers could possibly get through. It wasn’t all that unusual for overly anxious students to drone on for up to 1000 words or more in an attempt to impress admissions offices with erudite prose. It didn’t work, and CA member institutions begged for mercy.

We are told that the word length is a suggestion—one that students should take seriously. But it’s not enforceable as the document will remain an upload.

Interestingly, the word limit for the short answer question on extracurricular activities or work experience has been eliminated. According to the Common Application, “We’re moving away from the 150 word limit since it’s not something we can enforce online.” Instead, the online version will specify a 1000 “character” limit, and students will once again need to carefully craft responses to avoid truncation.

Sensitive to criticism about difficulties completing the Extracurricular & Work Experience section of the form, the Common Application reduced the number of “activity” spaces from 12 to 10 and increased the amount of room allowed for “positions held, honors won, letters earned, or employer.”

While this will also ease the truncation problem, the shortened section may pose an issue for students with longer activities lists. Presumably a good resume uploaded in the section set aside for “circumstances or qualifications not reflected in the application” will be the solution.

Responding to applicants who parsed out a more limited meaning to instructions concerning disciplinary history, the Common Application has revised its language to read, “These [disciplinary] actions could include but are not limited to, probation, suspension, removal, dismissal, or expulsion from the institution.” Unfortunately this question changes each year, as applicants devise ever more creative workarounds to the truth.

For students opting to go the Early Decision (ED) route, the Common Application will again include a required early-decision agreement for the over 100 member institutions offering the ED option. To reduce confusion over conflicting rules governing the agreement, the Common Application will now require signatures from students, counselors, and parents/guardians—no exceptions.

The 2011-12 Common Application also contains new questions about marital status, children, and military status that are targeted to colleges enrolling more nontraditional students and veterans. In addition, the question concerning language proficiency was revised to provide an opportunity to list multiple languages as well as indicate level of competency.

And finally, to address the expanding needs of smartphone users, the Common Application promises a new mobile website for account access on the go. Details are to come.

The new Common Application will go on line August 1, 2011. Until then, students are encouraged to use the preview version—complete with highlighted changes—to familiarize themselves with the application.

Apr 18, 2011

UVa and William & Mary Announce Tuition Increases for 2011-12

Responding to continued reductions in state support for higher education and the loss of federal stimulus funding, the University of Virginia and the College of William & Mary announced increases in tuition for the 2011-12 academic year.

At UVa, in-state undergraduates will see an increase in tuition of fees amounting to 8.9 percent, or $948, bringing the total to $11,576. Out-of-state undergrads will also see an 8.9 percent increase, bringing the annual total of tuition and required fees to $36,570.

In addition to tuition increases, the average increase in UVa meal plan rates will be 3.7 percent and in housing 4.5 percent over last year.

Across the state, the total cost for William & Mary in-state undergrads, including tuition, fees, room, and board, will rise by 5.5 percent to $22,024, for the 2011-12 academic year. In-state tuition and fees alone will go up by 7.7 percent or $944 to $13,132. Out-of-state students will see an overall increase of 5.7 percent to $44,854.

“The budget adopted by the Board of Visitors today, including increases in tuition and fees, reflects the need to close the gap created by recent budget cuts by the Commonwealth and the elimination of federal stimulus funds,” said College of William & Mary Rector Henry C. Wolf. “Our budget for the 2011-12 academic year is designed to protect the quality of William & Mary’s extraordinary academic program.”

In a press release discussing the need for tuition increases, UVa points out that in-state tuition remains in the mid-range when compared to public and private “peer” groups compiled by the State Council for Higher Education in Virginia (SCHEV).

“The average public college tuition for the current academic year—2010-11—is $9693. The average private school tuition is $39,498, while the overall average of college tuition across the country is $22,979.”

Among its peers, UVa’s tuition was “less than Washington University at St. Louis, Duke University, Cornell University, Emory University, University of Michigan, and University of California at Berkeley, but more than the universities of Maryland, Arizona, North Carolina and Florida.”

In 2010-11, the Commonwealth of Virginia contributed $8,470 per in-state student attending the University of Virginia. For next year, the contribution is expected to drop below $8,000.

By contrast, the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, receives $24,000 per in-state student, and the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, $17,600.

In other tuition news, students at the University of Virginia—Wise will see in-state tuition and fees increase by 7.3 percent, while out-of-state students will pay an additional 5 percent or $1,020 more. In-state students at James Madison University will be paying an additional 5.76 percent in total on-campus costs. Old Dominion University (ODU) will raise tuition and fees by 5.7 percent for in-state students and 6.3 percent for those coming from out-of-state. And the Longwood Board of Visitors deferred action on tuition and fees until the Board meeting scheduled for May 14.

Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

Apr 16, 2011

Decoding the Financial Aid Letter—Part II

As a service to families trying to make sense of financial aid awards, Mark Kantrowitz, publisher of Fastweb.com has authored a six-page Quick Reference Guide to Evaluating Financial Aid Award Letters, which he is making available as a FREE download available on the Finaid website.

Intended to help students and parents understand and compare financial award letters, the guide includes a summary of problems and pitfalls with financial aid award letters, a list of questions to ask college financial aid administrators, and a glossary of common terms.

The guide also contains links to a couple of handy tools designed to help decode and parse out meaning from financial aid letters. For example, the Award Comparison Tool formats data you provided into a chart designed to facilitate a comparison between financial aid packages. The Advanced Award Letter Comparison Tool takes this one step further and factors in college characteristics along with the financial aspects of the aid packages.

In addition, the guide makes clear distinctions between direct costs (required) and indirect costs (discretionary) of attendance and gently outlines tips for keeping the indirect costs under control. It warns that financial aid letters provide information for just one year and suggests that the cost of attendance will almost certainly increase each year—up to 20 to 25 percent higher by the senior year in college.

The Quick Reference Guide to Evaluating Financial Aid Award Letters is a tremendous resource. And it’s FREE!

For more information or to download the guide, go to the Finaid.com website.

Apr 15, 2011

Decoding the Financial Aid Letter

I guarantee that more than one parent will be spending the next couple of weeks puzzling over financial aid award letters from colleges to which their child was accepted. And it won’t be easy.

Intentional or not, financial aid letters are confusing, poorly written, and sometimes just plain deceptive.

A year ago, I wrote a column introducing financial aid “decoders” posted by both US News & World Report (USNWR) and FinancialAidLetter.com. Using real letters from colleges in different regions of the country, experts parsed out meaning and graded each for clarity and content.

Responding to a financial aid letter from Northeastern University, USNWR graders noted that total costs were underestimated and no indication was given as to whether or not awards were “renewable.” Similarly, the letter from Allegheny College underestimated total costs and provided confusing information relative to the need to repay loans while in school.

Closer to home, American University was also called on the carpet for underestimating total Cost of Attendance by about $1600. On the plus side, readers praised American for informing students that they have the option of declining an offered loan.

In all fairness, the letters used are several years old. They are nonetheless illustrative of the kinds of problems families are bound to encounter when trying to compare offers. And even the experts are confused.

In an interview with USNWR’s Zach Miners, noted financial aid guru Mark Kantrowitz suggests that many financial aid award letters are not entirely upfront about costs and “apples-to-apples” comparisons among institutions may be complicated by omissions in information provided.

“Schools might not be listing the same set of costs,” Kantrowitz suggested. “Some might just be listing tuition and fees; others might be listing the total cost of attendance, which includes room and board, books, transportation costs, and miscellaneous expenses.”

You’d think there would be some uniformity here or at least the oversight organizations involved in the allocation and administration of financial aid might demand it.

It would be nice to believe that financial aid administrators operate in their own little worlds of dollars and cents, and they don’t intentionally obfuscate the value of awards.

Luckily, most are willing to answer questions and if you have some, don’t hesitate to call or email a college’s financial aid office. It’s better to get the explanations now and not be surprised later.

Apr 13, 2011

The Common Application Adds 48 New Colleges and Universities

The Common Application (CA) is announcing the addition of 48 new member colleges and universities effective July 1, 2011, bringing the total number of institutions accepting the association’s standardized application forms to 460.

Locally, Howard University, Christopher Newport University, Salisbury University, Saint Mary’s College of Maryland, and Towson University will be joining the CA team for the 2011-12 application cycle.

According to the Common Application, one-third of the new members are public institutions including two new flagships: University of Kentucky and University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. In addition, the association will welcome two new states (46 total, plus DC), four new international universities (6 total), and one new large private university—University of Southern California.

Membership in the association is open to undergraduate colleges and universities that are accredited by a regional accrediting association and are nonprofit members in good standing of the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC). All members must agree to promote college access by evaluating students using a “holistic” selection process.

Other local Common Application members include American, George Washington, Catholic, Johns Hopkins, Goucher, Hood, Loyola University of Maryland, Stevenson, the College of William and Mary, Mary Washington, UMBC, St. John’s of Maryland (and New Mexico), UVa, the University of Richmond, Randolph-Macon, and Virginia Wesleyan.

The newest Common Application members:

  1. Caldwell College (NJ)

  2. Carroll University (WI)

  3. Castleton State College*

  4. Centenary College

  5. Christian Brothers University

  6. Christopher Newport University*

  7. Cogswell Polytechnical College

  8. DeSales University

  9. Drury University

  10. Eastern Connecticut State University*

  11. Flagler College

  12. Franklin College Switzerland

  13. Goshen College

  14. Howard University

  15. John Cabot University

  16. John F. Kennedy University

  17. Lipscomb University

  18. Long Isand University Brooklyn Campus

  19. Lyndon State College*

  20. Ramapo College of New Jersey*

  21. Rhode Island College*

  22. Rockhurst University

  23. Saint Leo University

  24. Saint Martin's University

  25. Salisbury University*

  26. Samford University

  27. Seton Hill University

  28. Sierra Nevada College

  29. St. Joseph's College - Brooklyn Campus 30.

  30. St. Joseph's College - Long Island Campus

  31. St. Mary's College of Maryland*

  32. SUNY College at Old Westbury*

  33. SUNY Institute of Technology*

  34. The American University of Paris

  35. The College of Saint Rose

  36. Towson University*

  37. University of Evansville

  38. University of Hartford

  39. University of Kentucky*

  40. University of Michigan - Flint*

  41. University of New Orleans*

  42. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill*

  43. University of North Carolina at Wilmington*

  44. University of Southern California

  45. University of St Andrews*

  46. University of the Sciences in Philadelphia

  47. Wartburg College

  48. Wheeling Jesuit University

*Public Institutions

The New ‘Business’ of College Admissions

In recent remarks before an audience of independent and school-based counselors, Christopher Hooker-Haring, Muhlenberg’s outspoken dean of admission and financial aid, reflected on trends he sees emerging in the ‘business’ of college admissions.

“It’s not just a numbers game anymore,” said Hooker-Haring. “Increasingly colleges feel nobody is ‘owed’ admissions.”

Hooker-Haring suggests that admissions offices are now forced to make decisions that pit interests of students against interests of institutions, as colleges struggle to deal with demographic and economic realities in a battle for survival and institutional health.

What does this mean? Counselors, students, and parents are having a harder time navigating the system and predicting outcomes.

To help counselors in their advice to families, Hooker-Haring outlined some of the forces driving admissions offices and offered suggestions on how to come to terms with them:

Demonstrated Interest

In a crowded, competitive marketplace, “interest counts.” Unlike a generation ago, students are likely to be applying to 8 to 10 colleges, and admissions offices are having a hard time discriminating among those who have sincere interest in attending their institutions and those who are submitting applications because it's easy.

As a result, they are taking note of the extent to which students make an effort to establish contact or get to know their schools. Taking the time to register and visit a campus, if within a reasonable distance, is very important and definitely figures into admissions decisions. And, “If the admission office doesn’t know that the student has been on campus, the visit doesn’t count.”

Early Admission

The reemergence of early admission programs—specifically Early Decision (ED)—at highly selective institutions is part of movement toward minimizing institutional risk and controlling the admissions marketplace. At an increasing number of colleges, students have “about double” the chance of admission if they apply under ED.

And colleges that formerly backed the goals of the Education Conservancy are quietly making changes in admissions policies that are more supportive of institutional need to control outcomes than student need for a less pressured process.

The “Hook”

Colleges want to see what students can bring to the campus to make it a more “interesting, vibrant” place. With continued growth in the overall applicant pool—particularly at the middle—to move from qualified to selected, students increasingly need to demonstrate a particular passion or skill. This can be anything from involvement in community service or sports to a specific talent in music or art.

Hooker-Haring routinely tells high school juniors, “If you don’t have a passion, you have about six months to get one.”

Institutional Health

A divide is opening between colleges that are financially healthy and those that are not. Students need to be aware there is a possibility that the “college” experience available today may not be there four years from now.

This means families must be prepared to become better consumers and ask hard questions like, “Have there been any layoffs in the past 3 to 4 years” or “Has the college recently dropped any sports or academic programs.” Hooker-Haring points out quality of maintenance and upkeep might be symptoms of financial instability.

But most important is the ability of the college to guarantee the “integrity” of financial aid. Students should know what’s going to happen to their financial aid packages over four years before signing on to a program that could very well diminish or go away.


As the courtship between students and colleges becomes more complicated, it’s important to keep in mind that institutional “fit” works in two directions.

While the goal should be for the college to “fit” the student, it’s clear that colleges are increasingly concerned that students also “fit” their needs in the way of responsiveness, willingness to commit early, potential contributions to campus life, and possible ability to pay.

Apr 11, 2011

How ‘Yield’ Figures into the Admissions Equation

Congratulations to the thousands of college-bound high school students currently in the enviable position of sorting through admissions offers. You are now officially in the ‘driver’s seat.’

Yes, you worked hard in high school carefully crafting portfolios boasting of challenging courses, good grades, and significant accomplishments. You volunteered in your community, participated in school activities, and revealed true leadership potential.

You spent years making your case for admission. Now colleges have exactly one month to make a case why you ought to accept them.

And you should enjoy every minute.

Between now and May 1, colleges will work hard to earn your business. There will be invitations to ‘admit weekends’ and local events designed to get you signed on the dotted line. You will receive emails, brochures, pleading letters in the mail, and phone calls from enthusiastic admissions offices or current undergrads who are deliriously happy with their experience.

If you were lucky enough to be accepted at Stanford, you may even get a call from a famous Nobel Laureate, who routinely lends a hand to the admissions office this time of year.

And a few really special students will get offers of free trips and will be flown in for a total VIP weekend chocked full of parties, concerts, and all varieties of entertainment solely directed at winning them over.

Why would colleges go to so much effort? The answer lies in the almighty “yield”—the percentage of students who ultimatey accept offers of admission.

It works this way: colleges typically send out many more letters of admission than they expect to be accepted. Those with historically lower yields send out more letters than those with established attractiveness like Harvard, which has an annual yield hovering around 76 percent.

Yield is important because it is a proxy for popularity—the higher the yield, the more popular the school. This popularity contest feeds certain rankings like USNWR which makes yield a fairly significant factor in its computations.

Colleges try very hard to precisely peg yield because it makes life a whole lot easier. Too high a yield and dorms get overcrowded. Too low and the waitlist may get drained or seats might be empty in the incoming class.

Careers ride on yield, and admissions offices don’t want to mess it up. Beyond a popularity measure, yield is a clear indication of admission office skill in predicting numbers and match between institution and the individual student.

USNWR uses its access to Common Data Set information to generate lists of college yields ranked from highest to lowest. Interestingly, it is one ranking not totally dominated by the Ivy League.

The following is a summary of the highest yields posted by liberal arts colleges and universities using the most recent data available:

  • US Naval Academy: 85.5% ↑ from the previous year

  • US Military Academy: 77% ↓

  • Brigham Young University—Provo: 76.9% ↓

  • Harvard University: 76.5% ↑

  • Berea College: 76% ↑

  • Principia College: 71.6% ↑

  • Thomas Aquinas College: 70.8% ↑

  • Stanford University: 69.8% ↓

  • Georgia Southern University: 68.7% ↑

  • University of Nebraska—Lincoln: 67.1% ↓

  • Atlantic Union College: 66.9% ↑

  • University of Alaska—Fairbanks: 66.9% ↑

  • Yale University: 66.8% ↓

  • Idaho State University: 66.7% ↑

  • University of North Dakota: 66.3% ↑

  • MIT: 64% ↓

  • Yeshiva University: 63.8% ↓

  • University of Pennsylvania: 61.3% ↓

  • University of Wisconsin—Parkside: 61.3%↑

  • University of Memphis: 60.5% ↑

Local colleges and universities have mixed results:

  • Virginia Military Institute: 51.2% ↑

  • University of Virginia: 48% (no change)

  • Georgetown University: 42.2% ↓

  • Washington & Lee University: 40% ↓

  • Old Dominion University: 38.7% (n/a)

  • UMBC: 36.8% (n/a)

  • Virginia Commonwealth University: 36.4% (n/a)

  • Virginia Tech: 36% ↓

  • George Washington University: 35.5% ↑

  • University of Maryland—College Park: 35.4% ↓

  • St. Mary’s College of Maryland: 35.3% ↑

  • College of William and Mary: 34.4% ↓

  • Howard University: 32.1% ↑

  • Johns Hopkins University: 31.3% ↑

  • George Mason University: 30.6%

  • American University: 19.3% ↑

Apr 9, 2011

Area Universities among Those Producing the Most Interns

According to a survey conducted by US News & World Report (USNWR), three area universities are among those with the highest percentage of 2009 graduates who worked as interns at some point during their undergraduate careers.

Based on a survey of 1,700 colleges and universities, USNWR found that on average 36.8 percent of 2009 graduates took part in an internship while in school. Of the 692 “national universities” providing data to USNWR, American University (81%), George Washington University (68%), and Johns Hopkins (66%) ranked in the top 10 as having the highest percentages of grads with internship credentials.

In today’s competitive job market, it’s not always enough to have top grades to get the job. Employers are increasingly looking for hands-on experience to support academics.

And colleges are responding by encouraging students in all majors to spend time interning. In fact, many are beginning to make it a requirement for graduation.

“These internships give these students an edge that they would not have otherwise,” said Patricia Comer, president of Longwood University, in an interview with USNWR. “It always amazes me that higher education didn’t think of this before. For me it’s a no-brainier. If you’re going to position your students well, you’ve got to give them this exposure before they graduate.”

At American University, most students intern locally at institutions such as the World Bank, National Institutes of Health, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, or the Smithsonian Institution. But there also exists a “global network of opportunities” where students may also find exciting internships at places like the Associated Press in Thailand or the Global Conscience Initiative in Cameroon.

Across town, GW’s National Security Internship Program is a great example of how academics and practical experience can be tied together to produce amazing opportunities through the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Department of Homeland Security. Created through a partnership with the Classics and Semantics program in GW’s Columbian Department of Homeland Security, the internship is designed to provide students the skills necessary to serve the country focusing on matters related to the Middle East.

Internship programs are not without controversy, and colleges have recently been called to task for displacing paid workers with unpaid students. The Department of Labor was concerned enough to publish new Federal Guidelines on Internships.

Nevertheless, the top 10 “national universities” producing the most interns are:

  • University of Pennsylvania (90%)

  • Colorado School of Mines (84%)

  • American University (81%)

  • Seton Hall University (76%)

  • Duke University (75%)

  • Fordham University (75%)

  • University of Pittsburgh (72%)

  • George Washington University (68%)

  • Johns Hopkins University (66%)

  • Florida Institute of Technology (65%)

Apr 8, 2011

Science and Service Plus Medicine and Mentoring Equals S2M2

To support student interest in science and public service, the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences (USUHS) has put together an intensive week-long program targeted to college-bound high school students who are considering going into medicine.

Held at the USUHS facility in Bethesda, Maryland, the S2M2 program is scheduled for the week of August 8th and is open to students entering grades 10 through 12. During the week, opportunities will be provided to tour labs, work on a research project, observe surgery and other medical procedures, as well as shadow a physician or other health care professional.

Navy Captain Margaret Calloway, associate dean for recruitment at the USUHS Hebert School of Medicine, believes the S2M2 program is an important tool for the university in recruiting future students. “These students are building a foundation for their future in research and medicine, while also getting valuable exposure to military medicine,” commented Captain Calloway in The Journal.

Applicants must complete and submit an application package which includes a one-page essay explaining why they want to enter health sciences/medical profession and how the program will support that goal. A letter of recommendation from a high school science teacher or guidance counselor is also required. All materials are due by April 30, 2011.

Participants will be selected on the basis of scholastic achievement, interest in science and medicine, leadership skills, and involvement in community service.

“The S2M2 Program is open to all high school students from any location,” said LaRhonda Baker, an assistant in the Office of Recruitment and Admissions. “All participants are responsible for their own accommodations and travel to and from USUHS.”

This could be a great opportunity for students interested in exploring health care professions or areas in which the federal government supports medical education. For more information or to print out a downloadable version of the S2M2 application, visit the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences website.

Apr 6, 2011

Global Youth Service Day Offers Opportunities to Get Involved

Don’t be fooled by the name. Global Youth Service Day (GYSD) isn’t just a single day. If you’re already involved, you know it’s a huge international project culminating April 15-17. And if you’re not involved, you should be!

GYSD is an annual global event during which youth in all corners of the world participate in community-based projects centered on improving health, education, human service, human rights, and the environment. Over the course of 23 years, GYSD has reached more than 100 countries on six continents.

And this year, it’s coming to Fairfax County through Volunteer Fairfax in partnership with Youth Service America, on April 16th. For novices or old hands at volunteering, GYSD offers opportunities to create projects or hop onto ones already sponsored by area organizations and nonprofits.

Local events include everything from tree preservation and habitat restoration in several parks to cleaning eyeglasses for recycling to charities that will provide them to needy people around the world. Volunteers are invited to support a walk for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society in the “heart” of DC or to help with the organizational details of the Wolf Trap Run for the Arts.

Details and sign-up sheets for the Volunteer Fairfax GYSD program are available online. You can even register new projects if your organization is set up to host a GYSD event.

By the way, if you’re thinking about more long-term involvement and you have an idea for next year, check out the GYSD website. You’ll find step-by-step instructions for planning a project and getting it off the ground.

Volunteering is not only good for the heart, but it can be the start of a lifetime habit of helping others. Not only do colleges want to see you involved, but you also learn by doing—job readiness skills, vocational awareness, and empathy for others. Start small and support a project. Next year, lead one.

Apr 4, 2011

Moravian College Goes Test-Optional

Moravian College announced today that applicants for the 2012 freshman class will not be required to submit ACT or SAT scores to be considered for admission.

The nation’s sixth oldest college joins a growing number of colleges and universities electing to make standardized tests optional for all applicants.

“We considered a number of different options,” said Brion J. Morro, associate director of admissions, in a meeting with college counselors touring with the Lehigh Valley Association of Independent Colleges (LVAIC). “In the end, we decided to keep it simple and just remove the requirement altogether.”

Although scores will not be required for admission to any of Moravian’s undergraduate programs, including nursing, students wishing to compete for the Comenius or Comenius Medallion Scholarships will need to provide results from either the ACT or the SAT. The Founders and Trustee Scholarships, however, will not require score submission.

Applicants to Moravian will be asked to submit a writing sample which can be in the form of an essay response to an application question or a graded paper. For applicants not submitting scores, a personal interview will be required (changed 4-13-11 based on a press release from Moravian College).

More information on the admissions process for next year will be provided in the coming weeks. In the meantime, a list of well over 830 test-optional colleges and universities may be found on the Fair Test website.

The Truth about Wait Lists

Hope springs eternal among college applicants. That’s why there are waitlists.

And colleges are unapologetic about using the hopes of waitlisted students to further their objectives, which center on filling freshman classes with the best and brightest high school students.

But let’s be honest. In the hands of the average admissions office, the waitlist is little more than a tool used to shape a freshman class profile that is balanced between males and females, is geographically and racially diverse, meets legislated in-state requirements, fills the needs of obscure departments or sports teams, and still covers some part of the college operating budget.

Schools that advertise “needs blind” admissions sometimes quietly convert to “needs aware” when it comes to plucking a few lucky students from the list. Consequently, most bets are off for financial aid if you come through the waitlist.

There’s usually no ranking, no money, and really little hope. And sometimes, the list is hardly more than a PR scam to keep upset parents, alums, and other interested parties at arm’s length. Waitlisted is an uncomfortable place to be. If you’ve been accepted or rejected, at least your status is clear. But waitlisted is fuzzy. And if you really care about the specific college or university, the offer of a position on a college waitlist amounts to a very insecure lifeline.

Here are the facts. Most students never get off the list—very few waitlisted students are eventually invited to the dance. In some cases, especially at more selective colleges, no students get off the list.

Check out statistics published by some local colleges and universities for last year:

University of Virginia
Waitlisted: ~1700*
Admission offers: ~240 (420 the previous year)

College of William & Mary
Waitlisted: 3654/1446 accepted waitlist
Admission offers: 242 (17 the previous year)

George Mason University
Waitlisted: 1317/657 accepted waitlist
Admission offers: 109 (103 the previous year)

University of Mary Washington
Waitlisted: 444/165 accepted waitlist
Admission offers: 165

Virginia Commonwealth University
Waitlisted: 895
Admission offers: 77 (34 the previous year)

University of Richmond
Waitlisted: 2938/984 accepted waitlist
Admission offers: 74 (11 the previous year)

American University*
Waitlisted: 1138/201 accepted waitlist
Admission offers: 0

George Washington University
Waitlisted: 642
Admission offers: 20

Johns Hopkins University*
Waitlisted: 3667/3006 accepted waitlist
Admission offers: 1

Goucher College
Waitlisted: 175/108 accepted waitlist
Admission offers: 21

Waitlisted: 497
Admission offers: 334 (112 the previous year)

James Madison University
Waitlisted: 2000/1200 accepted waitlist
Admission offers: 450 (498 the previous year)

Towson University
Waitlisted: 2074
Admission offers: 183 (376 the previous year)

*2010-2011 CDS figures have not yet been provided.

As you can see, the numbers vary by year depending on how accurately the admissions office pegged its “yield” or how desperate the need to control the composition of the freshman class. For a college with openings after May 1st, the pool of waitlisted students is something like a candy jar from which colleges can pick and choose depending on needs and wants.

Being waitlisted can be more frustrating than simply being rejected. A candidate who is denied admission to his or her first choice school is free to accept other offers. S/he can move on with his or her life. But a waitlisted candidate who really wants to attend a particular school is stuck in limbo.

Sure there are steps you can take to try to get off the list, but there is an emotional cost which must be weighed against the slim possibility of winning the waitlist lottery. Is it worth it?

Maybe, but not usually.

Apr 2, 2011

How to Save Significant Money through College Partnerships

College-bound students worried about the cost of an undergraduate education or those not quite ready to make a four-year commitment may want to consider the opportunities available through transfer partnerships between two- and four-year colleges.

Otherwise known as “articulation agreements,” these contracts between institutions are frequently overlooked or even misunderstood by students considering postsecondary options.

But it’s not really all that difficult to understand. An articulation agreement is a formal arrangement to transfer a defined set of academic credits between the academic programs of one institution (usually a two-year community college) to programs within a college or campus of a four-year institution.

Many of these agreements come with guaranteed admissions provisions enabling students to make smooth transitions between programs and eventually earn bachelors’ degrees.

In other words, with careful planning and solid counseling support, a student an enter a community college, complete certain specified requirements, and then automatically transfer to a four-year degree-granting program from which he or she may ultimately graduate.

For example, a student earning an associate’s degree at Northern Virginia Community College (NOVA) who has followed specific guidelines may have guaranteed admission to any of the following:

Montgomery College also has many exciting articulation agreements with Maryland universities and colleges, including the University of Maryland—College Park, Towson University, UMBC, Frostburg State University, and Salisbury University. More information on these programs is available at the ARTSYS website.

These are actually pretty sweet deals that can save thousands of dollars. Regardless of the route taken, the student comes out with the same credential—only cheaper!

For the news behind the news, check out the College Explorations Facebook page!

Apr 1, 2011

April Fools’ Day Alive and Well on College Campuses

Yesterday, the Washington Post seriously addressed the issue of not-so-serious fake stories published in honor of April Fools’ Day by college newspapers. Profane, mean, and sometimes a little libelous, campus satire evidently isn’t quite dead yet.

But unfortunately, it’s a tradition with only a few holdouts daring to incur college administration wrath or risk offending readers and ending up in court.

Locally, GW’s Hatchet continues to publish an annual "spoof" edition. This year’s issue featured a headline story blaming the university president’s aggressive fist-pumping for damaging dorm ceiling tiles.

At the College of William & Mary, college president Taylor Reveley announced a new five-year plan for the school to reignite name recognition “through national controversy. The article was accompanied by a not-too-flattering picture of the president.

NYU’s Washington Square News is reporting that President John Saxton will be replacing Bill Clinton as the 2011 commencement speaker with pop sensation Rebecca Black (see video). The ceremony will be moved from Yankee Stadium to T.G.I. Friday’s.

The Maroon reports that the University of Chicago experienced its lowest acceptance rate yet. Of 21,669 applicants, only 35 or 0.16 percent were offered admission to the Class of 2015. And Rebecca Black was chosen over Justin Bieber and Kanye West to headline the annual Summer Breeze concert. “Black has really been a voice for our generation the past two weeks,” said undergraduate Arnold Wills.

YES! Weekly announced that the High Point City Council is disbanding, after “a lengthy and convincing PowerPoint presentation,” and the municipal government will be turned over to High Point university president Nido Qubein.

According to the Technique (“the south’s liveliest college newspaper”), Georgia Tech will be holding mandatory Saturday school sessions to make up for days canceled during the semester due to snow and ice. Students are also asked to choose between Charlie Sheen and Rebecca Black for commencement speaker. Now that could be awkward.

At the University of Georgia, a raging controversy erupted over an extra $200 charged to undergrads as an “institutional” fee. “There is no separate budgeting for the institutional fee,” said UGA senior associate vice president for finance and administration. It’s a fee without a specific purpose.

And the University of Maryland Diamondback joined the fun by reporting on a campus fundraising event during which university president Wallace Loh donned a red Speedo to wash cars as part of a plan to “cope with decreased state funding.”

Note that some of these links may be really slow to upload as news of the newspaper pranks spread across various campuses.