Friday, April 18, 2014

10 Tips for International College Applicants

Because of the wonders of Skype and Google Docs, I was able to work with students around the country and throughout the world this past year on their college essays and applications. My far-flung students, all applying to colleges and universities in the U.S., were living in Alaska, Hong Kong, Cairo, Warsaw, and Trinidad, and quite a few in the lower 48. (Even when I work with students in my living room, we are usually on our own laptops, looking over essays on Google Docs - but my love affair with Google Docs is another story.)

I recently had the good fortune to meet Josh Stephens, the Director of International Development at ArborBridge, an innovative test prep service that works with students in the U.S. and around the world. We just teamed up to put together an article on Huffington Post - an annotated list of 10 tips international students should consider as they approach college application season. They range from the practicalities of when you can take SATs abroad to cultivating a good attitude about the complex process to what books you can read to get your essay writing up to speed. TAKE A LOOK 

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Monday, April 14, 2014

Backstage at Stanford's Admissions Office

As everyone and her mother tries to crack the admissions codes of highly selective schools, this article from the Stanford Alumni magazine might be good reading. The short answer to the question: "It's complicated." Another way of putting it: "It's not entirely 'fair.'" But you probably already know that. 

Hat tip to Josh Stephens at Arborbridge (international standardized test prep/tutoring) for calling it to my attention. 

It's call "What it Takes" by Ivan Maisel. Here's a excerpt and the link to the full article: 

"THE GOAL OF THIS PIECE is to demystify college admissions at Stanford, because explaining nuclear physics is just too simple. Clarifying Middle East politics, solving the Riemann hypothesis, defining love—anyone can do that. Let's tackle a subject with some heft to it.
"As my late grandmother would say, "Oy."
Few topics invite more analysis, envy, code-breaking, speculation and hope than college admissions. Across the "United States, applications to elite universities have mushroomed. More than 35,000 students applied to Harvard last academic year, vying for 1,664 spots. Princeton handled 26,498 applications to fill a class of 1,291. At Stanford, applicants totaled 38,828, an all-time high; 2,210 were accepted, or slightly less than 1 in 17. In the coming years, the odds, like afternoon shadows on the Quad, will only lengthen.
"A generation ago, college admissions boiled down to a teenager, a pen-on-paper application and a 13-cent stamp. Oh, for the soothing presence of Dean Fred Hargadon, Stanford's own Lincoln, the towering presence who dispensed cracker-barrel wisdom and fat envelopes to the parents of the current legacy applicants." READ MORE 

Sunday, April 13, 2014

College Decisions Are In-But What About Financial Aid??

For many families, the hardest parts are over: students know where they've been admitted to college, and those without Early Decision commitments are now making up their minds. For many, that will be a challenge. But a more daunting challenge for many others will be financial. How will these bills be paid? What do financial aid packages look like? And ... why is each of them so different? The New York Times has an important article, accompanied now by many hundreds of reader comments, filled with even more information.  
The situation for many is confusing, expensive, and illogical. I'm afraid there are no easy answers and no sunny takeaways to share with you. Perhaps the most important is that financial aid packages include outright grants as well as loans. And you want to do the math here over four years, not just one. Taking out $10,000 in loans for each year leaves you with $40,000 in loans when you finish college. 

Information is power, and the more you have, the better decisions you and your family can make. If you're not sure what to make of it all, you have plenty of company. 

Here is a guide just put out by US News and World Reports about how to decipher an aid package. And here is an excerpt from the Times pieces. I encourage you to read both, and the Times' reader comments.  
"An array of policy analysts from think tanks to the White House say things should change. “It’s a ridiculously complicated system, if you can even call it a system, and a lot of people don’t get it,” said Sandy Baum, a research professor at George Washington University’s graduate education school, a senior fellow at the Urban Institute and a leading expert on college pricing. “If you put five aid offers from different colleges together, they’re all different, and it’s very, very difficult to compare. That problem could be solved.”
"In fact, consumers have more tools than ever to decipher college prices and financial aid. College websites are required by law to have net-price calculators, to help people estimate what they would really pay, rather than relying on inflated sticker prices. The government’s own College Navigator provides a range of information on each institution, including costs. And the Obama administration’s financial aid “shopping sheet” aims to let people make apples-to-apples comparisons among colleges, just by using consistent definitions.
"But the price calculators, potentially powerful instruments, vary in thoroughness, ease of use and even accuracy, and most colleges do not use the shopping sheet, which is voluntary. Not only could the tools be better, but many students and parents are unaware of them." READ MORE 

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Bard College's Bold New Essay Admissions Program

Just out in The New York Times, some of the results of Bard College's bold new program, to ditch the regular college application process and invite students to write four long essays from "a menu of 21 scholarly topics."

"Helen Chen, a senior at a small public high school in San Francisco, is the kind of student who tries teachers’ patience.
“Honestly, in class when I’m not interested in something, because I understand it already, I kind of just stop paying attention,” she said.
"She is more than smart enough to handle the material — she did great on her SATs — but instead of listening to the day’s lessons, she sometimes follows her own curiosity, reading about philosophy, art history and other subjects her school does not offer.
"Behavior like that earned her a D in English class. It also made her a perfect candidate for the experiment that Bard College conductedthis year. In addition to the standard application, which emphasizes measures like grade point average, test scores, extracurricular activities and teacher recommendations, Bard for the first timeinvited prospective freshmen to dispense with all the preamble, and just write four long essays chosen from a menu of 21 scholarly topics. Very scholarly topics, like Immanuel Kant’s response to Benjamin Constant, absurdist Russian literature, prion disorders and artificial intelligence." READ MORE

The Elite Numbers Game~More College Applications Than Ever This Year

The New York Times just posted an article that paints a troubling picture of this year's applications and admissions numbers - more applicants are applying for the same number of spaces than ever, with Stanford's 5% admission rate leading the pack. Who gets in and who doesn't?

"Admissions directors at these institutions say that most of the students they turn down are such strong candidates that many are indistinguishable from those who get in."

The article includes numbers for ULCA as well as several Ivies, suggesting higher levels of competition for spaces across the spectrum of universities and students. There is nothing simple in these equations. There are many forces at work that drive up these numbers and drive down the percentages, from the recruiting done by many colleges and universities - enticing students to apply who don't have a chance of getting in - to the increasing numbers of wealthy foreign students applying and being accepted, in part because they do not need financial aid, to the ease of applying to many schools through the Common Application.

Universities engage in marketing. The schools present themselves as meritocracies, or we want to believe they are, but given the impressive qualifications of so many of the students, and the other factors that go into admission decisions, including athletic ability and legacy admits, merit is only one consideration.

Rather than try to summarize the article, I urge you to read it - and to read some of the top reader comments, which add many more dimensions to this complex story.

Here is an excerpt:

"Enrollment at American colleges is sliding, but competition for spots at top universities is more cutthroat and anxiety-inducing than ever. In the just-completed admissions season, Stanford University accepted only 5 percent of applicants, a new low among the most prestigious schools, with the odds nearly as bad at its elite rivals.
"Deluged by more applications than ever, the most selective colleges are, inevitably, rejecting a vast majority, including legions of students they once would have accepted. Admissions directors at these institutions say that most of the students they turn down are such strong candidates that many are indistinguishable from those who get in." READ MORE

Friday, April 4, 2014

Intellectual Curiosity, Kwasi Enin, and the College App Essay

I've been mulling over Kwasi Enin's Ivy League grand slam for the last few days, reading his college application essay, and reading public comments about him. I collected my thoughts in this new Huffington Post article, "Teachable Moments: Kwasi Enin and the College Application Essay." Here is an excerpt.

"There are simply not enough places at these few schools for all the students with perfect grades and perfect scores. Which brings me to Kwasi's essay, what it reveals about him, and what it reveals about what top schools seem to be looking for.
"It is necessary to have good grades and high SATs for admission, and often a lot of AP courses, and extra curricular activities in abundance -- but in 2014, it is no longer sufficient for these schools. But you might be asking, what else is there that a high school student has to show? How about these? Intellectual curiosity. The ability -- the hunger -- to translate the lessons of one subject to other subjects. A craving for knowledge.
"Intellectual curiosity -- a phrase I rarely hear from anyone these days -- is different from 'academic achievement.' I don't think it's a quality you can fake. And based on Kwasi Enin's essay, he has it in abundance." READ MORE 

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Kwasi Enin's Common App Essay--Draft #4

You have no doubt read or heard about Kwasi Enin, the Long Island high school senior who was admitted to 8 Ivy League schools.

Somehow the cagey New York Post got a hold of draft #4 of his Common Application essay, which you can read here. The Post bills the essay as one of the elements, along with top grades and good scores, "it takes to get into all eight Ivy League colleges," but a word of caution for anyone who is looking backwards at his/her own essay, or looking forward, anticipating applying to college soon: Nearly all top schools require a good number of additional essays and short answers to questions for their applications, beyond the Common Application essay. And schools look at the totality of a student's profile, once they get beyond their grades, scores, and the kinds of courses (AP, IB, etc.) they have taken.

As far as essays, among Stanford's 3 or 4 assignments is to write a letter to your prospective roommate. Princeton often asks applicants to reflect on a quotation, and some schools ask for a list of the books you've read, in and out of school, for the past year. And many schools, far beyond the Ivies, ask for additional essays and answers as well. Colorado College asks students to design a course for the 3-week winter semester. And the University of Chicago is famous for its off-beat questions.