Jul 30, 2011

Virginia's Private Colleges Welcome Scores of Prospective Students

Despite record-breaking temperatures throughout the state, Virginia’s private colleges and universities welcomed scores of prospective applicants and their families during Private College Week.

“We’ve been very happy with the turnout,” said Faye Logan, Assistant Admissions Director at Virginia Union University. “An entire busload of students came down from Northern Virginia for private college week.”

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

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

  • An historically black university, Virginia Union University (VUU) was founded in 1865 and features a cluster of buildings resembling “little castles,” as one younger visitor enthusiastically remarked. This fall students interested in visual arts, theatre, and music will have the opportunity to pursue a newly reinstated Bachelor of Fine Arts major, which may lead to further opportunities for students to teach these disciplines in secondary schools. And for those curious about the strength of athletics, the VUU Division II football program is pleased to announce that one of their alums, David Mims, just signed with the Kansas City Chiefs.

  • Richmond University is thrilled to show-off the brand new Carole Weinstein International Center, which opened last fall and is located directly across the street from the Admissions Office. The University’s nearly 3000 undergrads choose among 3 schools: the School of Arts and Sciences, the Jepson School of Leadership Studies, and the Robins School of Business—the only fully accredited, “top-ranked” business school with a “liberal arts” tag. The campus is stunningly beautiful and worth a visit just to tour the grounds.

  • Marymount University is a hidden gem located in Arlington, Virginia—just over the Potomac and five subway stops or 6 miles from DC. During the last school year, Marymount opened an amazing new $50 million mixed-use facility housing an apartment-style residence hall, an academic building with state-of-the-art science and health science (nursing) laboratories, four levels of underground parking, and beautiful outdoor gathering spaces. To sweeten the deal, substantial scholarships are available for strong “B” students applying with high school averages starting at 2.8 or better.

Of course, there’s much more to tell about each these schools, as they truly represent the variety and depth of Virginia’s private college system.

Supported by such programs as the Virginia Tuition Assistance Grant (TAG) and the availability of merit and need-based financial aid, independent colleges offer quality education at an affordable cost.

And if public tuitions continue to rise by nearly 10 percent per year, they will become increasingly attractive options for local high school students.

Jul 29, 2011

Getting Ahead of the AP Curve

If you signed up for an Advanced Placement (AP) class and know it’s going to be freakin’ hard, why not take a little time to get ahead and prepare during the summer?

Why wait until midway through first quarter to hire an AP calculus tutor after you’ve flunked the first quiz and you’re totally stressed, when you could start working for an hour or two each week with the same tutor in the weeks before school starts? Get the book even.

The government thinks this is such a good idea that Uncle Sam invested thousands of dollars in Advanced Placement Incentive Grants, which may be used by school districts to run summer prep activities for both pre-advanced placement and advanced placement courses.

And a few local high schools have caught on and created inexpensive workshops such as the Wakefield Summer Bridge Program or the Oakton High School Summer Institute to help students make the transition to AP.

For college-bound high school students, AP-level coursework is hard to escape. In fact, colleges are shifting from using AP scores as de facto admissions criteria (yes they might just sneak a peek) to allowing these scores to be substituted for other standardized tests.

For example, NYU allows specific AP test scores to substitute for the SAT Reasoning Test and/or the two SAT Subject tests required for admission. Bryn Mawr, Colby, Colorado College, Hamilton, Middlebury and a growing number of other schools are taking similar steps by adopting “test flexible” policies using AP scores in place of SAT’s or ACT’s.

Short of taking a prep class or hiring a tutor this summer, consider borrowing textbooks and course reading packets from your high school or from another student who took the class last year. So what if it changes a little. Reading source material—any source material—is good for you. It even helps with college entrance exams.

And here’s a tip for those who can’t talk anyone into handing over reading lists or other AP materials: the College Board provides comprehensive course descriptions and syllabi online. Here are sample readings from one AP English Literature syllabus (students select two modern novels in Unit 9):

All the King’s Men, Angle of Repose, The Bluest Eye, Brave New World, Catch 22, Frankenstein, Grapes of Wrath, The Great Gatsby, The Handmaid’s Tale, The Kite Runner, Lord of the Flies, 1984, The Poisonwood Bible, A Prayer for Owen Meany, Snow Falling on Cedars, Their Eyes Were Watching God

Looks great to me! Then again, I was an English major in the last century.

OK, it’s your vacation and you want to unwind and relax. But if you can read ahead while still keeping your toes in the sand, why not do it?

Jul 27, 2011

More Test Prep Tips You Can Take to the Beach

Outside of general process questions, test prep is the most frequently voiced concern among parents of local college-bound high school students. When to begin? What company to use? What tests should be prepped? Are tutors worth the investment?

Although research suggests that most students experience only minimal gains as a result of test prep classes, even small improvements in scores can be worth the effort.

Fortunately, this effort doesn’t necessarily mean purchasing the most expensive package from the most prestigious company in town. There are other options, many of which can be explored during the summer months.

Consider these ideas and see where they might fit into time at the shore:

  • Sign-up for the ACT/SAT Question of the Day: Since we know you’re on the computer, why not take advantage of these free services and register. You can “passively” prep by simply answering the question that sweetly pops up on your screen every day. Check your answer and compare how you did versus the thousands of other high school students taking the quiz like vitamins every morning. Hint: Get mom and dad to do it too.

  • Work the Free Online Prep: Keeping in mind that the SAT and ACT are paper-and-pencil tests, you can derive some benefit from working with online test prep programs. Number2.com, INeedaPencil.com, and 4Tests.com offer sample tests and loads of test-taking tips (as do the College Board and the ACT).

  • Get SAT and ACT Booklets: Remember those little paperback booklets your guidance counselor tried to hand you every time you walked in the office? I’ve got a secret: they each contain a full-length sample test complete with answer grids. Some of us collect them so as to accumulate free full-length tests to use as practice exams. Stop by your local high school and get a booklet or two (if they still have them). And then, get up early one Saturday morning, assign a designated timer from among household members, and take a complete test. The truly dedicated will actually score the thing and go over results.

  • Use Official Study Guides: As much as I hate promoting these products, the Official SAT Study Guide and The Real ACT Prep Guide are the only ones to use. They contain official practice tests (saves the trouble of collecting old booklets) and lots of advice. Again, because college entrance exams involve sitting at a desk and working with a No. 2 pencil, don’t buy the computer software. Instead, take several published practice tests over the summer (see above).

  • Go High-tech: The good news is that you can work on test prep without looking too nerdy by downloading a few interactive “apps” for your mobile PDA. The flashcard vocabulary builders, especially those that allow you to enter new words like gFlash-Pro, are really effective. The device may set you back, but the software tends to be very inexpensive.

  • Read: If you don’t do anything else to prepare for the SAT or the ACT, make time to read over the summer. I don’t mean Teen Cosmo or Sports Illustrated. Try to get lists from reading-intensive history or literature classes. Contact your school or ask friends who already completed the classes you're taking next year. As a rule, reading ahead really helps. But if great works of literature don’t work for the beach, try magazines. Look for scientific journals or read popular culture articles in The New Yorker. Remember that magazines as well as books are available at your local library.

  • Write: I don’t care what you write, but write. And write in complete sentences. Paragraphs are good too. Just don’t limit your written communications to texting or IM-speak. These habits are actually harmful if you lose your “ear” for correct grammar and syntax. Start a blog, write grandma, bother your Congressperson, or begin drafting college essays—it really doesn’t matter. If you’re reading good books, enroll in an online literary group like the Big Read or Shelfari. Not only can you share ideas but your writing will improve, especially if you succumb to peer pressure and clean-up sentences or check spelling.

  • Listen: Check out iTunes University or National Public Radio for downloads and apps—basic or educational programming. You’d be surprised how much vocabulary and language usage you can absorb on the way to the beach or lying by the pool, especially if you take the time to note and look up words you hear and don’t understand. And do something totally radical like watch the History Channel and other learning or public broadcasting programs. It’s all grist for the mill!

  • Find a Buddy: Lots of your friends are going through test prep anxiety. Gather a few together and form a support group to take practice tests or otherwise kvetch about college admissions. The wise high school student learns the value of study groups early. They work as long as you don’t spend the entire time socializing.

So the good news is that there are ways to prepare for standardized tests and have fun. It may take a little self-discipline, but whatever.

Jul 25, 2011

Great Colleges to Work For in 2011

It doesn’t take a business degree to understand that organizations experiencing high levels of employee job satisfaction often produce superior results. If staff is disgruntled or the work climate impaired, you can bet on a diminished work product.

In the world of postsecondary education, the end user is the student. If teaching and administrative staff experience ongoing workplace issues, students are likely to sense problems. The worst case scenario is one in which these issues actually affect the quality of the education offered.

For this reason, the Chronicle of Higher Education’s fourth annual Great Colleges to Work For survey offers interesting insight into the overall happiness quotient of staff and administrators at some of the nation’s most recognizable postsecondary institutions.

To get a fuller understanding of workplace satisfaction, about 44,000 employees on 310 campuses were surveyed. In general, findings suggest that great academic workplaces “are filled with people who believe that their jobs are important to the college, that the institution is important to the community, and that the college gives them the freedom to do that job well.”

Even with tight budgets and an uncooperative economy, colleges that stood out seemed able to create a “culture of success” supporting faculty, professional staff, and administrators, 83 percent of whom agreed or strongly agreed with the statement, “This institution's culture is special—something you don’t just find anywhere.”

Approximately 20,000 of the college employees who responded to the survey were faculty members, about 15,000 were professional staff members, and 8,000 were administrators. As in previous years, the survey was based on an assessment used in 55 Best Places to Work programs, with a panel of higher-education experts customizing questions to reflect issues unique to colleges.

Survey responses helped form 12 Great College recognition categories. High ratings in those categories were considered core attributes of a great academic workplace, with 30 four-year and 12 two-year colleges earning places on a Great Colleges to Work For “Honor Roll.”

Locally, University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC), George Mason University, Old Dominion University, Regent University, and Washington and Lee University were cited as great colleges to work for. Only UMBC received a spot on the “Honor Roll,” earning recognition in 8 of 12 Great College categories.

For the complete report and a map showcasing the 111 Great Colleges, visit The Chronicle website (subscription may be required for some articles).

Jul 23, 2011

American University’s First 3-Year Undergraduate Degree gets off to a Fast Start

According to the Washington Post, three-year bachelor’s programs are experiencing only “middling success.” Although these ideas come and go, the current economic downturn makes the concept appealing to cost-conscious undergrads attracted to the notion of saving a year’s worth of tuition and entering the job market months before their peers even begin to look.

And with a fistful of Advanced Placement credits in hand, the feasibility of finishing up in three short years isn’t too remote.

With these advantages in mind, American University is joining at least 12 other colleges in launching the Global Scholars three-year BA this fall. It is the first of its kind at American and possibly the only official 3-year BA degree offered in the DC area.

According to Vice Provost for Undergraduate Studies Phyllis Peres, “AU anticipates the inauguration of this program and trusts that it will serve as a model of excellence in undergraduate education, particularly for the development of other 3-year bachelor programs.”

Initially designed to begin with 25 students, the Global Scholars program had a planned capacity for 50 students but has already accepted 58 deposits according to the Post. It is possibly one of the largest 3-year programs in the nation despite being limited to a single major.

Through a carefully planned sequencing of courses, students admitted to the first class will work toward a degree in international relations in three years with the opportunity to complete a BA/MA program in four. The program is structured so that undergrads will

  • take core requirements as a cohort;

  • have the opportunity to spend the summer abroad between their first and second years;

  • receive priority course registration;

  • receive strong support with career/internship placement; and

  • organize community service and activities outside of the classroom as a group.

The Global Scholars will spend their first year of study living together in a learning community housed within the residence halls. They will be offered special lecture series, community trips, and alumni mentorship programs.

And who are good candidates for the program? “Talented students who value rigor and scholarship and who want to immerse themselves quickly in addressing the world’s most pressing issues,” according to Sharon Alston, AU’s executive director of enrollment management.

Photo courtesy of American University.

Jul 22, 2011

Feed the Hungry and Improve Test Scores

(While I’m touring colleges this week, I’m repeating a few of my favorite articles)

The story is simple. A guy named John Breen came up with an idea for getting sponsors with deep pockets to contribute money toward feeding the hungry while simultaneously imparting a few good words on a vocabulary starved world. FreeRice.com was born and billions of grains of rice later, poor people in Myanmar, Bangladesh, and Uganda are being fed while kids in other parts of the world develop basic skills.

And it’s wicked fun. There’s no log-in, no personal information is collected, and you’re not bombarded with advertising. You simply decide now is a good time to work on vocabulary or on one of several subjects, and visit the site. Each time you choose a correct answer, you earn 10 grains of rice paid for by one of the sponsors listed at the foot of the page.

Without being too dramatic, it’s fair to say an Oakton High School student can invest an hour of time working on vocabulary and easily send enough rice across the world to feed a family for an entire day. What could be more rewarding?

Anyone prepping for college entrance exams knows that basic vocabulary is a key to bringing home top scores. FreeRice starts you out with easy words and automatically builds to a level on which the program feels you need work. Or you can manually set the vocabulary level.

College consultants testing the game agree that basic ACT/SAT vocabulary may be found on levels 30 and 40. Much higher levels begin to get into specialized vocabulary that while helpful isn’t necessary until you’ve mastered the basics.

But it’s not just vocabulary. The English grammar tests are well worth exploring, particularly if your Critical Reading or Writing scores were not has high as hoped. At levels 4 and 5, the game tests the kind of tricky grammar the College Board loves to use.

You can also work on vocabulary development in other languages. FreeRice has games in French, Spanish, Italian, and German. Or you can get ready for AP Art History, by taking the famous paintings quiz. Chemistry, geography, and very basic math round out the subject areas presented on the site.

To date, visitors to FreeRice.com have generated funding for over 91 billion grains of rice. The United Nations World Food Programme and Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society are partners along with dozens of sponsors.

For more information or to begin learning and earning, visit FreeRice and start filling the little wooden bowl.

Jul 20, 2011

How Grades, Classes and other Application Elements Translate into Dollars

It’s one thing for colleges to tell you that grades matter. But it’s much more compelling when they tell you exactly how much they matter by placing a dollar value on specific grades and classes.

In fact, it’s really quite startling—even for the most experienced college admissions junkies among us.

So when Jonathan Burdick, dean of admission and financial aid at the University of Rochester (UR), posted an analysis of how the mythical “average” admitted student earned scholarship dollars, the precision of the computation was compelling and very much worth sharing.

Keeping in mind that UR doesn’t use a final scholarship “formula” and that every year is different in terms of assigned dollars, here are the “steps that mattered for earning merit scholarships in the UR Class of 2015”:

  1. Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate courses. At UR, merit awards increased by $400, on average, per AP or IB course taken by an applicant.

  2. Grades. Every “A” grade translated to approximately $62 in merit aid. Grades other than “A” reduced eligibility.

  3. Test scores. For every additional 10 points higher on the SAT, UR awarded $115 more in merit aid. Or for each 1 point higher ACT composite, student received $425. In other words, “a student with three 750’s on the SAT on average received $1,725 more in scholarship than a student with three 700’s.

  4. FAFSA. Regardless of need, simply completing the FAFSA pushed up merit aid an average of $1,700. Completing both the FAFSA and CSS PROFILE brought in an average of $2,500 more in merit aid.

  5. Income. Merit awards went up by one cent for every $4.00 less in family income.

  6. Recognition. Winners of local high school awards received on average $300 more in merit aid.

  7. Personal appeals. Admitted students who had “serious conversations” with admissions and financial aid counselors earned $3,000 average difference in merit aid.

  8. Interview. Even before admission, students who scheduled a “recommended” admissions interview earned on average $250 more in merit aid.

  9. Timeliness. Students completing all parts of their admission application on time—including midyear requests—earned on average $00 more in merit than those who did not.

  10. Out-of-State Bonus. Out-of-state students received on average about $2,000 more in merit aid. This was balanced by about $2,400 extra in need-based aid awarded to New Yorkers.

  11. Age. Older students received more merit aid than younger students by about 82 cents per day.

  12. Recommendations. Applicants with very strong letters of recommendation rating an “excellent” from readers earned an additional $1,800 more in merit aid.

  13. Major. On average, the more frequent the major interest, the lower the merit award. The average student received about $1.89 less every time someone else was admitted citing the same major interest.

Jul 18, 2011

Virginia’s Private Colleges roll out the Red Carpet

Virginia’s private colleges are putting the final touches on plans to host hundreds of college-bound high school students for Virginia Private College Week, beginning Monday, July 25 and running through Saturday, July 30. With most events scheduled for 9:00 am and 2:00 pm each weekday and some 9 am Saturday sessions, true road warriors can visit up to 11 of the 25 participating private colleges and universities.

And there’s a special incentive. Students visiting three or more colleges during the week will receive three FREE application fee waivers. That means no application fees for up to three Virginia private colleges of choice—not just those visited. Sweet!

According to the Council of Independent Colleges in Virginia (CICV), Virginia's private colleges differ from big-name state schools because of emphasis on smaller classes and the personal attention students receive from faculty. “Our students are engaged in the classroom, involved on campus, mentored by their professors, and prepared for a career or graduate school.”

In addition to the educational benefits of a private college, the CICV wants to remind parents that Virginia 529 college savings plans can be used at any of Virginia’s private institutions. And then there’s the Virginia Tuition Assistance Grant (TAG), which essentially translates into free money for any Virginia resident attending one of the Commonwealth’s private colleges as a full time student.

Although one of the first, Virginia Private College Week is not the only state-wide program of organized private college tours. Kansas, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, (August 1-5), Indiana (July 25-29), and Kentucky (July 18-22) are among the other state groups offering students the opportunity to tour private colleges during a special week set aside to welcome families on college road trips.

For a list of Virginia's participating schools and the schedule of events, check the Private College Week web page or visit the CICV website.

See you on tour!

Jul 16, 2011

Social Media Play an Increasing Role in the College Search Process

When it comes to choosing a college, social media are playing an increasingly important role in facilitating connections between institutions and students.

Earlier this year, Maguire Associates, a consulting firm used by educational institutions and scholarship-search website FastWeb surveyed over 21,000 high school seniors to determine the most important factors influencing college enrollment decisions.

Not surprisingly, students consider social media or networking sites “most important” for getting news and announcements about upcoming events and activities, including those posted by colleges and universities.

For these institutions, student use of networking sites suggests the need for a “compelling social media presence,” particularly on Facebook and YouTube.

When asked how such a presence affects interest in applying for admission, 22 percent of the students reported being influenced by something they saw on a social network or other online resource. In fact, over half recall:

• Using a web service to explore their “fit” with colleges and universities (59%)
• Watching a YouTube video created by a school (57%)
• Searching for scholarships using social media or networking sites (56%)
• Reading posts about a school on a social networking site (53%), and
• Reading student blogs or other posts on a college or university website (51%)

Fewer, but still significant proportions of students became fans of or friended a college or university on a social networking site (44%) or chatted online with students enrolled at a particular school (39%).

Most importantly for admissions gurus, nearly a quarter of the seniors surveyed (22%) admit “they more strongly considered applying to a college because of a recommendation read on a social media site.”

And colleges are responding by upgrading their web presence through the use of Facebook “fan” pages, creative videos, and blogs produced by students, faculty and administrators.

For example, students interested in keeping up with admissions at local colleges and universities can choose from an impressive menu of social media offerings including Dean J’s UVa Admissions Blog or a host of promotional videos posted on YouTube by GMU, GW, or the University of MarylandFear the Turtle!

They can be Facebook fans of American University or the Johns Hopkins Blue Jays. Or they can follow Georgetown University on Twitter.

All this goes to support earlier findings from similar studies including one from the UMass Dartmouth Center for Marketing Research titled, “Social Media and College Admissions,” which found that higher education continues to beat business in the adoption of social media tools.

And they’re getting a head start on engaging a whole generation of loyal fans.

Jul 15, 2011

Joining Forces to Find ‘Green’ Campuses

In a project designed to streamline efforts to assess campus sustainability programs, the Green Report Card will collaborate with three other like-minded organizations to produce common sustainability survey language.

For the first time, the Princeton Review, Sierra Magazine, the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education, and the Green Report Card are working together to encourage broader college participation in sustainability surveys with an emphasis on reducing time commitment and duplication of effort at the campus level.

While the Princeton Review produces the Green Honor Roll and Sierra Magazine lists the country’s “Coolest Schools,” the Green Report Card maintains an entire website devoted to comprehensive assessments of campus operations and endowment practices within nine separate categories.

In addition, the Report Card provides detailed school profiles and grades for 322 institutions and keeps track of trends in various green indicators.

This year, only eight schools earned the highest grade of “A” in the College Sustainability Report Card:

  • Brown University

  • Dickinson College

  • Luther College

  • Oberlin College

  • Pomona College

  • University of Minnesota—Twin Cities

  • University of Wisconsin—Madison

  • Yale University

Locally, only the University of Maryland earned distinction as one of 52 schools designated as Overall College Sustainability Leaders.

Maryland was also the only local college listed on Princeton Review’s Green Honor Roll, while Georgetown University was the only local school to be listed among Sierra’s 100 “Coolest Schools.”

Presumably the sustainability data collection project will work similar to the Common Data Set (CDS) initiative used by the College Board, Peterson’s, and US News & World Report to gather data on general student participation in higher education.

Having a separate survey dedicated to “green” issues reflects growing concern among high school students about college commitment to the environment and sustainability as factors influencing decisions to apply or attend particular schools.

Additional information on the Green Report Card, the Green Honor Roll, and the Sierra Magazine list of “Coolest Schools” may be found on their respective websites.

Jul 13, 2011

More Ways to ‘Demonstrate Interest’ in a College

You’re not likely to ask a complete stranger to the prom. Why? Because a complete stranger probably won’t accept your invitation.

You’re much likelier to ask someone to the dance if you know the person a little and have an idea they might be a teeny bit interested in you.

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

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

In fact, the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) found that 76 percent of colleges assigned “interest” at least some importance in the admissions process. Interest outranked counselor recommendations, interviews, and extracurricular activities, and was just behind teacher recommendations and personal essays.

And according to many admissions deans, expect to be sitting on a wait list if you don’t take the time to visit a campus located within 3 to 4 hours driving time of home. For local students, this means expect to see colleges as far north as New York and Connecticut and as far south as North or South Carolina.

But whether you visit or not, it’s vitally important that you come out of the shadows and introduce yourself.

Here are ideas you can use to demonstrate the kind of interest colleges like to see:

  1. Visits. Again, there is no better way to try a college on for “fit” than actually visiting the campus. Take a tour, go to the information session, participate in a recruitment event, and definitely accept offers to meet one-on-one with an admissions representative. Colleges understand if distances make visits impossible, but if you’re within a reasonable distance of campus, don’t neglect to see it for yourself.

  2. Information requests. Register interest by requesting information and getting on mailing lists. Not only will you receive glossy print materials and cheery emails, but you also are likely to get invitations to campus or local events. Warning: some colleges take communications to the extreme and the load of mail can be overwhelming.

  3. Research. Colleges create view books, spend thousands of dollars maintaining websites, and engage in forms of social media because they want to educate applicants and their families. Ignoring these information sources hardly demonstrates interest. Before touring a campus or meeting with an admissions representative, take time to see what the college says about itself in print and on the web.

  4. Local events. Because of budget constraints, colleges are increasingly traveling in groups. For example, Georgetown travels with Duke, Penn, Harvard, and Stanford, and UVA travels with Princeton and Harvard. Schedules are on listed on admissions web pages. If an event or reception is scheduled within reasonable distance of home, try to attend and have a conversation with the representative for your area. And make every effort to attend college presentations at your school. Your guidance office or college/career center will post dates and times well in advance of these visits, so mark your calendar and follow school rules governing attendance.

  5. College fairs. Fairs are typically scheduled in the spring and fall. NACAC and the Colleges That Change Lives organize some of the most visible fairs, but many local campuses and high schools also schedule events. Although often hectic, fairs can provide an opportunity to get face time with admissions staff.

  6. Social networking. Admissions offices are increasingly using social media tools like Facebook, Twitter and blogs to communicate with students and consider them vital to their recruitment efforts. Engaging colleges through the use of these media is a great way to demonstrate interest, but keep in mind that it’s a two-way street and your personal pages may be subject to admissions scrutiny.

  7. Interviews. “Recommended” or “required”—if given the chance, schedule an interview. They can be informational or evaluative. Either way, interviews offer you an opportunity to learn more while expressing your interest in the specific programs and opportunities offered by the college of your choice.

  8. Early applications. Taking care to differentiate between binding Early Decision (ED) and nonbinding Early Action (EA) programs, students who apply early imply higher-than-average interest in a college. If your high school record supports an early application and you’re organized enough to meet deadlines, consider the advantages of taking the early route.

  9. Essays. Here’s a secret: colleges really care about the specific supplemental essay questions they append to shared application forms. Take the time to show knowledge of the college by tailoring your responses based on details of programs and campus life you’ve gleaned from visits, written materials, or interacting on the social network. The more specific, the better even if it means creating alternative application forms with different personal statements.

  10. Correspondence. It’s not always easy to differentiate between the college spam you receive and genuine inquiries from interested admissions staff. Err on the side of courtesy and respond to those appearing to anticipate a response. Or if you have a question, initiate correspondence—preferably with someone you’ve met in admissions or the representative from your area. Again, be brief and to the point. And do check spelling and syntax.

  11. Thanks. If you’ve had the opportunity to meet with an admissions staff person, take the time to follow-up with a brief thank-you note. Get a business card or look up the address and send a short email or hand-written note.

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

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

Jul 11, 2011

National Competitions Translate into Great Experience and Big Money for STEM Students

This summer, thousands of high school students across the country are getting hands-on research experience in programs sponsored by a variety of government, academic, and nonprofit organizations.

Local students may be found working in George Mason’s Aspiring Scientists Summer Internship Program or in one of the two Science & Engineering Apprenticeship Programs (SEAP’s) sponsored by George Washington University, the Department of the Army and the Department of the Navy. They may also be found at NASA or one of several summer programs offered by the National Institutes of Health.

These internships provide incomparable opportunities to gain knowledge in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields. Students meet and interact with scientists, learn lab skills, conduct research, and possibly publish or patent findings.

“I am hopeful this experience will help me focus in on what I want to pursue in college and beyond,” said Alexa Corso, a rising senior from Oakton High School working at the GMU Krasnow Institute. “It’s wonderful to be able to do scientific research during the summer when I don’t have to balance the competing demands of school.”

Some student researchers will be given the opportunity to present their work at poster sessions or similar scientific forums where they will gain self-confidence, hone writing skills, and potentially earn credentials important to colleges and universities as well as future employers.

And many students will also be able to turn their summer experiences into competitive science projects and vie for hundreds of thousands in scholarship dollars offered annually by organizations supporting the goals of STEM education:

  1. Siemens Competition in Math, Science, and Technology. Since 1998, the Siemens Foundation, now in partnership with the College Board, has provided young scientists with opportunities to win scholarships ranging up to $100,000 for original research in team and individual categories. Registration is now open for the 2011 competition and the deadline for entries is October 3, 2011.

  2. Intel Science Talent Search. Intel STS invite the nation’s best and brightest young scientists to present original research to nationally recognized professional scientists. Open only to high school seniors, 40 finalists are selected to come to Washington DC and compete for the top award of $100,000. This year’s competition will open on July 15, 2011.

  3. National Junior Science and Humanities Symposium. Individual students compete for scholarships and recognition by presenting the results of their original research before a panel of judges and an audience of their peers. Regional scholarships as well as seven national top awards of up to $12,000 and an all-expense paid trip to London are among the prizes available.

  4. Davidson Fellows. This scholarship annually awards up to $50,000 to students, 18 and under, who have completed a “significant” piece of work in one of seven categories including Mathematics, Science, Literature, Music, Technology, Philosophy, and Outside the Box. The 2012 application requirements have already been posted and are due by February 1, 2012.

  5. Intel International Science and Engineering Fair. The Intel ISEF is the world’s largest international pre-college science competition, providing an annual forum for over 1,500 high school students from countries all over the world who compete for over $4 million in awards.

  6. International BioGENEius Challenge. This competition is designed to recognize outstanding research in biotechnology. Finalists showcase their talent and research before a prestigious panel of expert biotech judges and have the opportunity to win up to $7,500 in cash awards.

  7. Google Science Fair. Conducted entirely online, this competition invites young scientists from all over the world to compete for up to $50,000 in scholarships as well as a trip to the Galapagos Islands sponsored by National Geographic. A $10,000 “Peoples Choice” scholarship is also awarded to one finalist chosen through an online voting process. Students may compete individually or in teams. This year’s competition will wind to a close in July.

  8. DuPont Challenge. This competition is designed for science students at least 13 years of age who can craft an original 700 to 1000 word science-related essay. Students are judged on their ideas, as well as on writing style, organization, style and creativity, as well as voice. Essays are due in January.

The opportunities are amazing for high school students willing to trade time at the pool for time in a lab!

Jul 9, 2011

‘Test-Optional’ Programs to Continue at Salisbury and American

Following a growing trend in college admissions, Salisbury and American universities will continue to emphasize the role of holistic review over that of standardized testing by sticking with "test-optional" policies originally implemented as pilot programs.

The University System of Maryland Board of Regents recently approved Salisbury University’s continuation of its test-optional program for freshman applicants. The decision follows a five-year pilot study of the program which is targeted to “high achieving” students.

“I like to think of it as a program that rewards strong work ethic, as our research shows that the students admitted through the policy both out-perform and out-retain what their scores would suggest,” said Aaron Basko, SU’s director of admissions. “In particular, we noted the course completion rates for test-optional students were consistently higher than their peers.”

Salisbury’s five-year study of the test-optional program yielded a number of interesting results involving key indicators of student success beyond academic performance.

“The pilot study has shown that test-optional students perform as well as their classmates and that the graduation rates of test-optional students are actually slightly higher,” commented SU President Janet Dudley-Eshbach. “The program has also contributed to greater economic diversity among our incoming students.”

Salisbury applicants who have earned a cumulative weighted grade point average of 3.5 or higher on a 4.0 scale may choose whether or not to submit standardized test results. Applicants choosing not to submit scores must provide a personal statement to support individual achievements and/or experiences that may not be evident from a review of official high school transcripts.

The announcement from Salisbury follows a similar decision from American University, which also decided to continue its test-optional pilot program for coming year. In its third year, the AU test-optional policy places admissions emphases on student fit and performance in the classroom.

Students within the US who do not wish to submit standardized test scores as part of their application to AU may do so provided that they complete all and submit all application materials by the November 1 test-optional deadline. This goes for Early Decision (ED) as well as regular decision applicants.

Other colleges dropping SAT/ACT admissions testing requirements in recent months include Bryant University, DePaul, Virginia Wesleyan College, the Sage Colleges, Eugene Lang, Manhattanville, Moravian, and Wagner. Colorado College adopted a test-flexible process, which allows applicants to substitute a mix of scores from other tests including Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate exams, for the ACT/SAT.

Fair Test, a nonprofit organization dedicated to a reduction in the role of standardized testing in college admissions, maintains the complete and growing list of test-optional colleges and universities on their website.

Jul 8, 2011

Colleges with Top Programs in Video Game Design

High school students interested in turning a video game hobby into a career might be interested in the latest ranking of video game design programs produced by the Princeton Review in conjunction with GamePro Media.

Reported in the recent edition in GamePro Magazine, the “Top Schools for Video Game Design Study for 2011” features 30 schools divided equally into undergraduate and graduate programs receiving high rankings based on a survey of 150 institutions offering relevant coursework and/or degrees in the US or Canada.

The top schools were chosen based on criteria covering the quality of curriculum, faculty, facilities, and infrastructure. The Princeton Review also factored in data collected on scholarships, financial aid, and career opportunities.

Formerly consigned to a far corner of the computer science department, game design has emerged has a highly respectable, multi-disciplinary course of study. And schools hoping to get in on the growing market for designers are building glitzy new facilities tricked out with cutting edge technology and equipment.

“There are now more colleges and universities than ever focusing on game development, and graduate school has become a viable option for game design,” said Marci Hughes, president of GamePro Media.

Locally, both American University and George Mason offer well-regarded video game design courses and programs. In fact, when the video game design degree was added to GMU’s growing list of programs, enrollment was 500 percent higher than expected.

In addition, video game programs at Old Dominion, University of Maryland Baltimore County, and Lynchburg College have been considered among the best in the country.

But anyone determined to explore Princeton Review’s top programs will have to travel out of the immediate area—the nearest school on the list is Drexel University in Philadelphia.

According to Princeton Review and GamePro, the top 10 undergraduate schools for video game design study in 2011 are:

  1. University of Southern California

  2. University of Utah

  3. DigiPen Institute of Technology, WA

  4. The Art Institute of Vancouver

  5. Michigan State University

  6. Worcester Polytechnic Institute, MA

  7. Drexel University, PA

  8. Champlain College, VT

  9. Rochester Institute of Technology, NY

  10. Becker College, MA

Honorable mention goes to Georgia Tech, North Carolina State University, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Savannah College of Art and Design, and Shawnee State University.

More information and a list of the top graduate programs in video game design is provided on the Princeton Review website.

Jul 6, 2011

UVa’s Admissions ‘Dean J’ Wins Designer Wedding Gown

It appears that congratulations are in order for UVa’s Dean J—Jeannine Lalonde, recent winner of the first annual Jorge Manuel couture wedding gown contest.

Although nary a word appeared on the widely-read Notes from Peabody Admissions Blog, Dean J won this year’s “Upon A Star” contest and will receive a one-of-a-kind Jorge Manuel gown for upcoming nuptials scheduled for June of 2012—shortly after UVa closes the books on the 2011-12 application cycle.

According to the Jorge Manuel weddings blog, The Upon A Star contest was launched by Manuel in honor of his late grandmother Etelvina, who “dreamed of opening a bridal atelier.” Named for the designer’s current collection, Nebula, the contest attracted 252 brides hoping to win a stunning gown valued at many thousands of dollars.

To enter the contest, Dean J was required to submit a personal statement (essay) and complete a multi-question application form. Sound familiar?

Her essay touched on plans for the future, introduced the geography and history of Charlottesville, and linked her dreams to the form and fit of the gown designed specifically for the contest.

“Maybe we all have a brush with the fairy tales when we find love,” wrote Dean J in response to a prompt requiring individual contestants to consider what “love means to you and why this dress would make your wedding all that sweeter!”

Competing brides had a very limited time to respond to contest requirements, and entries were received from “all over the U.S. A list of “likely” favorites was contacted via email and a select group of five finalists emerged from the competition.

From among these finalists, one lucky winner was selected who “stood out from the rest.” And that bride was our very own Dean J, who was feted at an event hosted by Maddison Row in Charleston, South Carolina.

In addition to the Notes from Peabody blog, Dean J also writes about interior design, do-it-yourself projects and entertaining. She is the UVa representative for northern Virginia and is a familiar face at many local high schools.

And most importantly, she will be on the front lines of UVa admissions decisions for the coming year—between fittings for her new gown.

Congratulations Dean J! We can’t wait to see the pictures.

Jul 4, 2011

Happy Birthday!

It’s the 4th of July.

For many local families, the holiday means a trip to the beach, a picnic in a park, or a backyard barbeque with friends and neighbors.

And for almost everyone, it means a day off and a celebration—with or without fireworks.

But this Independence Day, consider celebrating America’s birthday another way.

Express your gratitude for this great country by actively participating in a program of community service—give back by volunteering time, money, knowledge or expertise.

Here are some ideas:

  • Search for a volunteer opportunity using the search engines found on VolunteerMatch or http://www.serve.gov/

  • Explore ways to support those who support you—military families

  • Provide simple services for shut-ins—be a companion, run errands, walk the dog

  • Create a team of friends and neighbors to prepare your community for natural disaster

  • Form a group of like-minded citizens and adopt a highway or a street

  • Collect donations for a local nonprofit or church

  • Bake a batch of cookies to take to a nearby homeless shelter

  • Or simply go out of your way to do something nice for a friend, a neighbor, or even a total stranger

Have a safe and Happy Fourth of July!

Jul 2, 2011

FREE Money for Virginia Residents

Who turns down an offer of free money? It doesn’t sound possible, yet surprisingly few Virginians are aware of the Tuition Assistance Grant (VTAG) program for residents of the Commonwealth attending in-state private nonprofit colleges and universities.

Neither merit- nor need-based, VTAG is a little gift from the state legislature designed to bring down tuition rates for Virginia residents attending private institutions and level the playing field a little with the relatively inexpensive public system. Under the terms of the program, students do NOT have to

  • Pay the money back

  • Demonstrate financial need

  • File any kind of financial statement

The exact amount of each academic year’s award is determined by both the amount appropriated by the Virginia General Assembly and the total number of eligible applicants. Until all the numbers are added up, the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV) only provides an estimated dollar value for applicant planning purposes.

This year’s undergraduate grant totaled $2,600 for the academic year. Over four years, this translates to $10,400—free money, no strings attached!

Note that graduate students enrolled in eligible degree programs also qualify for tuition assistance grants, which for the 2010-11 academic year amounted to $1,150.

Application forms are available to download on the SCHEV website. In order to receive the maximum award, a student must submit a completed application to the institution’s financial aid office by July 31st of the award year. Applications submitted after July 31st but no later than December 1st, will be considered for an award only if funds are available.

Participating institutions include:

  1. Appalachian School of Law

  2. Averett University

  3. Bluefield College

  4. Bridgewater College

  5. Christendom College

  6. Eastern Mennonite University

  7. Edward Via Virginia College of Osteopathic Medicine

  8. Emory & Henry College

  9. Ferrum College

  10. George Washington University (VA campus only)

  11. Hampden-Sydney College

  12. Hampton University

  13. Hollins University

  14. Institute for the Psychological Sciences

  15. Jefferson College of Health Sciences

  16. Liberty University

  17. Lynchburg College

  18. Mary Baldwin College

  19. Marymount University

  20. Randolph College

  21. Randolph-Macon College

  22. Regent University

  23. Roanoke College

  24. Saint Paul's College

  25. Shenandoah University

  26. Southern Virginia University

  27. Sweet Briar College

  28. University of Richmond

  29. Virginia Intermont College

  30. Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine

  31. Virginia Union University

  32. Virginia Wesleyan College

  33. Washington & Lee University

For more information about the Virginia Tuition Assistance Grant, contact the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia, Financial Aid Department, at 804.225.2632 or visit the SCHEV website and click on Financial Aid.

Jul 1, 2011

2011 AP Scores are NOW Available

In case you have an extreme need to know, Advanced Placement (AP) scores are NOW available. For a measly $8, you can hear all your 2011 exam scores by using the automated Scores by Phone service.

The line is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week at 1-888-308-0013 (toll free in the US, US territories, and Canada). You will need to have your AP number (found in the Student Pack), social security number, date of birth, and a credit card.

Hey, it’s a bargain relative to some of the other charges you can rack up with the College Board.

But if you can wait, scores will arrive in your mailbox some time in the next couple of weeks. Reports will also be sent to the college or university designated on your answer sheet (for graduates only) and to your high school. Each report is cumulative and includes scores for all the AP exams you have ever taken, unless you requested that one or more scores be withheld or canceled.

Although most score reports are sent by mid-July, some take longer to process because of problems with identification information or test administration. Contact Score Reporting Services if you haven’t received scores by September 1.

And what do the scores mean? AP exams are graded on a scale of 1 to 5:

  • 5: Extremely well qualified to receive college credit or advanced placement

  • 4: Well qualified to receive college credit or advanced placement

  • 3: Qualified to receive college credit or advanced placement

  • 2: Possibly qualified to receive college credit or advanced placement

  • 1: No recommendation to receive college credit or advanced placement

The five-point scale can also be thought of in terms of letter grades with 5 equating to an “A” and 1—well, you get the picture.

And what are they worth? The awarding of credit and placement status is determined by individual colleges or universities. You can check directly with the school or on the College Board website to research this information. In most cases, a student who scores a 4 or 5 will receive college credit. In rare cases, a school may require a 5, and almost no colleges will accept a score of 2. In fact, the most selective schools will not accept a 3 for credit.

For example, George Mason University will accept a 4 or 5 for credit in specified courses, but will go as low as a 3 for languages, Music Theory, Human Geography, and Computer Science. Georgetown University will award no credit for any score below a 4.

AP exam scores may also be used to meet standardized test requirements in the admissions processes of several colleges. Fair Test keeps track of this evolving trend on its Test Score Optional List and includes Bryn Mawr, Colby, Colorado College, Hamilton, Middlebury, and NYU among those colleges and universities allowing AP’s to be submitted in place of ACT/SAT scores.

So you can call or wait—your choice. It doesn’t make a bit of difference.

Get FastWeb’s FREE ‘Reference Guide’ on Choosing College Loans

The numbers are breathtaking. Freshmen at George Washington University will be asked to pay $44,103 this fall for tuition alone. And at Georgetown, undergrads will be looking at tuition amounting to just under $41,000. Add fees, room and board, and other miscellaneous expenses and you’re looking at a total cost of well over $200,000 for four years of postsecondary education at either of these schools.

Even with generous financial aid packages, most families are hard pressed to come up with that kind of money without considering the possibility of an educational loan. And borrowing can be a complicated process requiring research as well as an understanding of what loans actually cost.

For example, can you quickly compute the total amount paid back (including principal and interest) for a $10,000 loan with a 10-year term at 10% interest? Choose one of the following:

A. $11,000
B. $15,858
C. $18,100
D. $20,000
E. $32,479
F. None of the Above

If you and your calculator are having a hard time coming up with an answer, you’re not alone. That’s why the financial aid gurus at FastWeb and FinAid collaborated on the Quick Reference Guide on Choosing a Student or Parent Loan, which provides every detail related to borrowing for college including the sad truth of how debt accumulates over time.

Written with the understanding that smarter borrowing can help reduce debt burden, the Guide outlines ten practical student loan tips covering everything from FAFSA completion to income tax deductions. A glossary of frequently-used terms along with a list of student loan resources bring first-time borrowers up to speed on what they need to know to make educated decisions about college loans.

In addition, the Guide offers basic information and advice on interest capitalization, loan amortization, variable interest rates, the impact of increases in interest rates on monthly loan payments, and a discussion on the risks associated with borrowing too much money. Descriptions are provided for every kind of parent and/or student loan imaginable including federal Perkins Loans, federal Stafford Loans, federal PLUS Loans, private student loans, home equity loans and lines of credit, credit card debt, and borrowing from retirement plans.

Parents or anyone interested in issues related to borrowing for college are welcome to print copies of the Guide or use it as an online reference. And if you’re the parent of a college-bound high school student it’s never too early to start researching how you’re going to finance those bills.

By the way, the correct answer is B. $15,858, or more than half again what was borrowed. Sobering.