Tag Archives: Admissions

College Affirmative Action

Higher education affirmative action is in the news again. It’s not all that surprising that in recent years people are more comfortable discussing its merits. It has been (almost exactly) fifty years since Ole Miss first integrated and fifty years is a long time. It’s enough time for people to forget and it’s enough time for generations to come of age free of the first hand effect of segregation. Add to that a shift in our collective attitude about college being for everyone; and it’s no doubt the subject of parity crops up. The continued need and efficacy of affirmative action is often discussed in academic circles. Lately, it is also often played out in the courts and media.

The lawsuits (or protests) that bubble up often have to do with a perceived lack of fairness. Thwarted students compare their own applications and numbers (i.e., test scores, grades, rankings) against those who were admitted. The would-be (white) students compare their own larger (or equal) numbers to that of a non-white student and feels there has been discrimination. All issues of affirmative action aside, that understanding of the admission process is deeply flawed.

Straightforward scorekeeping is the determinate in plenty of endeavors. When you play sport, or lose weight; numbers are all that matter. But most of life’s external accomplishments are much more subjective than a numbers game. The skyrocketed costs, four-star amenities, and assumption that college is for every high school graduate, has created a sense of a transactional relationship. There are thousands of four-year colleges/universities in this country. Before a student applies he/she has presumably poured over websites and determined; “Yes, I’d be a good fit.” The student knows the requirements for admission, knows the average SAT/ACT scores and class rankings, and knows they fit the bill. Rejection stings, and many struggle with trying to get past the hurt. Parents and children will rattle off admitted high school classmate’s rankings, and GPAs in their struggle to understand the rejection. Resentments and overall icky behavior often ensues. No one wants to be told; “Thanks but no thanks” particularly when the rejected was set to pony up (potentially) over six-figures for the privilege of acceptance.

But what these parents and their children might not realize is that those numbers are simply how one gets to be considered. Creating an incoming class involves much more than comparing numbers. The goal of creating a class is generally two-fold; the students should be able to succeed and the students should be able to add to their classmates’ educational experience. “Succeeding” can mean many things and varies according to schools and programs. What a student can add to the experience is dependent upon the historic nature of the school, the location, the discipline, and many other elements.

Whether our country is in need of creating equal opportunity for all based on ethnicity and race is a subject for another day. When we do engage in that conversation we should think long and hard about economic class and first generation students when we talk about equal opportunity. But until then let’s be crystal clear about college admissions. It is not simply a numbers game; (hint: that’s why there are essay components and pages of extracurricular activities on the application.)

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Posted by on October 10, 2012 in Education


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Grand Old Ivy

Families around the country are (hopefully) beginning to wade through college acceptance letters.  The conversations are getting a bit strained, and perhaps a few bedroom doors have been slammed.  For the teen, deciding on a college feels excruciatingly personal, and one that her/his parents should really not influence.  For the parent (who may be footing the bill) the decision feels as important (if not more) than any 17/18 year old is equipped to tackle.  If we open our windows and listen very carefully we can probably hear strains of; “Fine! Then I won’t go to college at all.”  “Don’t think you’re going to live here (we’ve promised your room to your 30 year old brother.)”  Okay, you probably didn’t hear that last part, but it was implied.

A million years ago, the school selection ritual was a bit easier.  High school students applied to less than a handful of schools.  What they could afford dictated where they applied.  Schools differed in their disciplines and robustness of research, but not on their housing and dining and extra-curricular activities.  Support services (of any kind) were few and far between.  Parents often never even saw the school of choice until graduation.  It was a different time.  Today there are so many choices and so many people involved in the decision.

Complicated aid packages, unlimited special interest programs (i.e., public service, study abroad, merit scholars, etc.) luxurious living accommodations, and multiple support services are just some of the changes that parents may not recognize.  These same parents are expected to visit the school (before enrollment) and sit through Q&A designed just for them.  They are expected to deliver their child to school and stay for days for an orientation designed just for them.  No sooner do they get home and gas up the minivan, than they are expected back on campus for “Family Weekend” (previously known as “Parents Day.”)  And that’s just the first two months of freshman year.  For better or worse (and who are we kidding?) parents are also attending the college their child chooses.  Just walk through any campus bookstore (or online store.)  There is as much apparel and paraphernalia for parents as there is for students.

Adding to this dramatic change in the landscape is that many students are attending college who might not have fifty years ago.  As a group, freshman are not as self sufficient or mature as they once were, but there are also many freshman with specific qualities that need to be addressed and supported.  Students with; learning disabilities, physical disabilities, emotional disabilities, chronic diseases, and eating and substance abuse issues, may have stayed closer to home in the past.  Many colleges have invested in a multitude of support services, but there will always still be reason for concern.  Sending a child away to an institution with new academic and social demands and little behavioral oversight, can be a treacherous formula.  Parents of these students have every reason to be very involved in every step of the college process.

So once the tempers subside, and everyone comes out of their respective rooms, it’s time for rational decision making (caution: charts might be involved.) Might I suggest a framework for the discussion:

  • What are the student’s interests/goals
    • Rate the school as to its ability to successfully deliver the student to the next step (i.e., medical school, engineering job, stage and screen)
  • What are the financial needs (include traveling to and from home and any and all fees for supplemental programs)
    • Rate the school separately as to their contribution and the student/parent contribution (e.g., “A” for grants “A” for loans, but “F” for no work-study program)
  • What are the support/living needs the student has
    • Rate the schools accordingly

An attractive, and perhaps color-coded chart should result.  Of course this analysis is only relevant if plenty of homework is done.  Hhmmm, who amongst those sitting around the dining room table, is well versed in homework?  The student should have done as much (if not hopefully much more) legwork before this discussion can occur.  Yes, it is all quite confusing and complicated, and even the most well executed chart is no guarantee.  And yes, this is all very expensive and important, but there is no race.  Leaves of absence, transfers, community colleges and the like exist for a reason.  We learn from experience and from our mistakes, but making informed decisions, makes the learning much more profitable.


Posted by on March 18, 2012 in Education


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School Spirits

Education Secretary Arne Duncan has publicly broached the subject of higher education costs.  This could be a moment to remember.  If done thoughtfully and strategically, it could change the landscape of our country.  The skyrocketing debt being incurred by students is no secret.  However, those saddled with the debt are only one part of the problem.

There are countless high school students who could/would not even consider such amounts of debt.  They may no even know it is an option, albeit a questionable option.  Currently the admissions and bursar process for most institutions of higher education are not designed to assist lower income families.  Yes, a lot of noise is made about “need blind” admissions, and generous aid packages, but there are loopholes and hurdles.  For every college application there is a fee.  Most high school seniors are encouraged to apply to an average of six schools.  That can be a lot of fee money, yet to receive a waiver a family has to be practically at the national poverty level.  $500 or so is a lot of money to a family of four making $42,000.  And that’s just the beginning.  Visiting colleges to determine the best fit?  That costs money.  Food, housing, books, fees?  Often aid packages do not cover those expenses.  Traveling home for holidays and random school breaks?  Not all that possible on a limited income.  Did you know that when colleges/universities are “closed” for these breaks, their dining plan is often closed as well, leaving students of limited means to fend for themselves?  Taken as a whole, these specifics add up to, “you need not apply.”  At least to my sensibilities.

Demanding colleges/universities lower tuition is fine.  But we could do far more to change things dramatically.  The federal government, a major contributor to higher education (in the form of research grants and projects) is in a position to demand changes.  I am specifically interested in what could be done to protect the consumer.

There is far too much mystique about the admissions process and higher education in general.  It is time to look behind the curtain.  I have outlined many considerable cost savings measures in my previous post Educated Consumers.  In addition we need to share with high school students the actual dollars and cents of higher education.  Not all majors are equal and nor are all degrees.  Not all schools are legitimate are worth what they’re charging.  Colleges and universities should not be allowed to be anything but transparent.  Every cost needs to be listed (in one place!)  Every school knows their job placement outcomes and income levels of alumni (of every major)  This information needs to be shared with potential students.  Truisms such as “we can’t force you to live on campus, we just prefer you do” need to be stated.  Let’s eliminate some of the smoke and mirrors.  Minors are the consumers of higher education and they need more protection than we are currently offering.  The government, for better or worse, is in a position to do just that.  Remember, before the F.D.A., snake oil was available on practically every corner.


Posted by on November 30, 2011 in Education


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With envelopes, size matters

Acceptance/Rejection: How to Make Sense of it all (and not take it too personally)

It is that magical time of year (for some,) the time of college application completion, and for a select few, the arrival of Early Acceptance letters.   There has never been a time (historically) in which more people were involved in a single applicant’s road to higher education.    While there is still an absurd inequality in K-12 and higher education opportunities in this country, there are few middle class teenagers  who are left to navigate the road to baccalaureate success alone.   We will not argue the merits of this phenomenon in and of itself, but acknowledge that having an audience alters the experience somewhat.
So (with the whole world watching) how does the average 17 year-old both process what it means to be “accepted” and “rejected” but also determine what next steps are best for them?
For some, the decision is a clear cut monetary one.  Which college offers the best financial package (through tuition, grant, scholarship, three-year options, work-study, etc.)  For some, the decision has been made for them by receiving only one acceptance letter (you’d be surprised how many people only apply to one school!)  But for most, the decision is a little more complicated and one adolescents might feel ill-equipped to make.
In my estimation, this may be the one decision that 17 year-olds are actually BEST equipped to make.  Our role as (caring) adults is to guide them through the process without influencing their decision.  The following steps might be helpful in that process:

  • “I’ve been rejected!”  No, actually it is your application that has been rejected, not you.  Being accepted or rejected from a college is not personal.  How could it be?  These people don’t know you!  Have you ever made a collage?  You know, those hodge-podge displays of imagery?  Well, all the photos do not make the cut.  That isn’t because they’re not great photos, but because in creating a collage you need to create (your) perfect artistic balance.  Well, college admissions officers do the same thing.  They are not pitting one student against another, they are creating their vision of a perfect collage of an incoming class.  The fact that you did or didn’t make the cut is not personal.
  • “I didn’t get into my first choice!”  You’re allowed to brood for a bit.  But not too long.  This whole thing is a process, you must remember that.  There is no one perfect choice.  There are millions of choices along the way that lead to wondrous possibilities.  So it’s now time to review your acceptance letters and pick your new first choice.
  • The Prestige Pressure.  There’s no escaping it, is there?  You know where your friends (and enemies) are going.  The college/university brands are being bandied about like designer labels.  Does the most famous school mean it is the best choice for you?  Maybe.  Maybe not.
  • “There are too many factors!”  You’re right, there are.  Get used to it.  No one’s life was ever made worse for too many options.  Choice is a privilege. Not helpful?  Okay, let’s eliminate the things that don’t matter:
    • My boy/girlfriend is going to school X.  (Go ask your parent’s friends and see if anyone who chose a school based on dating is now pleased with that decision)
    • The school has an awesome climbing wall.  (Unless you plan to study physical education, you may be making the wrong choice)
    • The school is close/far from home.  (The only time this should matter is if someone needs support.  If there are family members or you who need the support of home, by all means make this choice to stay close, all others are just being silly)
    • The school has an awesome ‘fill in the blank’ team. (Unless you are an athlete being scouted for said team, don’t be ridiculous)
  • Things that do matter:
    • What is the R.O.I. (return on investment) of the school.  This can be determined by calculating the following:
      • How strong is the department/major of my choice?
      • What are the research opportunities for undergraduates?
      • What is the alumni network like?
      • What is the career placement services?
      • Is there enough diversity (whatever that means to you) for me to expand my experience?
    • Is this a party school.  (Wasn’t expecting that, huh?)
      • Are there the right non-academic options for me (religious, artistic, athletic, Greek system, etc.)
    • How do I feel on campus
      • If you haven’t already, you must go and visit.  There is simply no substitute, virtual or otherwise.
    • Is it the right size for me
      • If you are considering a university, is the college of your choice the right size?  Are there internal transfer options?
      • If you are considering a college, does it feel just slightly too large (which is good?)

In the end, there is no one better equipped to make this choice.  It is important to remember that it is just that, a choice.  You can always change your mind (that’s why transfers were invented.)Wih

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Posted by on August 20, 2011 in Education


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