Friday, March 28, 2014

Recycle Your College App Essay & Win $5000

Until today, I liked to joke that the college application essay was the most popular genre of writing in the country these days. As of two days ago, when this news came out, it's no longer a joke. 

Here's a notice about this contest, in which 12 essays will win the writers $5000 scholarships. Read on. Click on the link below that starts with "Extra Credit." And let me know if you win!

"Teenagers know: Of all the rituals that mark the final year of high school, there’s nothing more high-stakes, time-consuming and soul-searching than the college entrance essay.
All that work tends to disappear once it’s submitted to a university admissions office, but now a new contest is offering students the chance to have their essays read by best-selling authors and win $5,000.

"—a blogging platform for writers—is calling it “Extra Credit: A Scholarship Program Rewarding Excellent College Application Essays.” Motto: "Great stories are buried in that annual pile. We intend to find them."

"You can take part if you will be graduating from high school this spring and entering college in the fall. Your essay can be on any topic, but all entries must be unpublished, original pieces of work. The deadline to submit is May 19.

"The top 12 essays—as determined by how many users read and recommended the works—will be sent to a panel of judges, including Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Anna Quindlen and best-selling authors Wally Lamb, Kelly Corrigan, Jeff Kinney and Mary Roach.
Their top three picks will each receive a $5,000 college scholarship. For more information, visit"

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Big Day & Small Percentages for Ivy Admissions

This sobering article just posted on Bloomberg will put what is certain to be a lot of disappointment into perspective. The opening line - "It was a little easier to get into Harvard College this year" - is a bit of irony. Read on, and if you had your heart set on going to HYPCS (Harvard Yale etc.) and didn't get in, please, don't dwell on it. You've got lots of very good company. 

"It was a little easier to get into Harvard College this year.
"The school accepted 5.9 percent of applicants to its freshman class, a higher percentage than the 5.8 percent in 2013, Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Harvard said in a statement today.
"Students will still have to study hard to gain admittance to any of the eight schools that make up the Ivy League. Yale Universityreceived a record 30,932 applications and accepted only 6.3 percent of them, compared with 6.7 percent last year. When rounded, acceptance rates for Columbia University and Princeton University were unchanged from last year." READ MORE

Sunday, March 23, 2014

A College Mom Looks Back at a "No" from Perfect U.

This coming week, there will be thousands of yeses, nos and maybes from colleges around the country. There will be joy, tears, happiness, disappointment, maybe regret, maybe anger, and eventually decisions that need to be made. This mother wrote movingly about her son's "No" in the mail from several years ago, in the New York Times a few days ago. I think it's a valuable piece - with a happy ending. Here's the beginning. I encourage you to read the rest of it here.

"The envelope came on a Friday in March — the last day of the last week of a college acceptance season that had been dragging on since early admissions began in October.
"It figured that my child picked as his top school one of the few universities to still send out acceptances — and rejections — via snail mail. From any other institution, an ordinary No. 9 business envelope would look like an automatic “no.” But I’d done my homework, so I knew Perfect U.’s acceptance letters are a mere two sheets of paper. Rejections are one.
"This envelope was so flat, it seemed to contain nothing at all, like some last, cruel joke from an admissions department that had been indifferent from the start. I texted my firstborn, who was stuck on a bus in traffic, coming home from a school trip. “It’s here. Not gonna lie, looks thin. Should I open?”
"He texted back. “No. I will. Home soon.” READ MORE 

Wash Post Goes Inside GWU Admiss to Observe Decisions

Some of those waiting anxiously this week for admissions news - many thousands of high seniors all over the world - might be interested in this peek inside the Admissions Office at George Washington University given the Washington Post in February, and recently published in the paper. 

I encourage you to read the whole piece, but here's the upshot: "Everyone wants the formula for getting in. There is none." READ MORE  

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Video alert! The Key to Writing Yr College App Essays...

I must admit, I am not taken with most of the pet and kid videos that come across my Facebook page, but this one of a toddler conducting captivates me. This child is doing what she's moved to do, with no outside help, no seeking status, and no parental intervention. 

As rising high school juniors, and their parents, start gearing up for the whole College Application Essay Process/Nightmare, I like to think there is a useful message embedded in this kid video: get in touch with something authentic about yourself. In writing these essays, colleges want to know who you are and what you care about. What excites you, what makes you tick, and the experiences you've had that helped make you who you are. It all sounds very vague right now, and that's OK. But as you move through this process, the material will become clearer. 

In the meantime, enjoy this Musical Moment.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Harvard's Generous Financial Aid Program is 10-Years Old

In 2003, a Harvard official heard from a father in Texas, who said that sending his daughter to the University of Texas cost a third what a Harvard education costs - and that's why she was at UT. That encounter led Harvard to revolutionize its financial aid, be much more generous than it had ever been, and make it possible for students from all backgrounds to attend Harvard without amassing debt. Harvard's initiative led some other colleges to do the same, when they could afford it. Here are some highlights from that program, known at HFAI, described in the current Harvard Gazette

"Today, because of HFAI, 20 percent of student families pay nothing, a “zero parental contribution,” in the language of admissions. (In 2006, the payment cutoff went up to $60,000; in 2012, it was raised to $65,000.) About 70 percent of Harvard undergraduates receive some kind of need-based aid. Families earning between $60,000 and $80,000 qualify under HFAI for reduced parental contributions.
"Harvard’s financial aid program asks families earning up to $150,000 a year to pay from zero to 10 percent of their income for college expenses. (Families with incomes above that pay proportionately more.) “These are not rich people,” said Fitzsimmons of families even at the $150,000 mark. They may have more than one child in college at a time, or care for elderly grandparents, or face other financial pressures — “the struggles of real people.”
"To help ease concerns for middle-class families, home equity and retirement assets are left out of financial aid assessments at the College. No one is required to take out a loan.
"In the end, the average Harvard family receiving financial aid pays $12,000 a year for tuition, room, and board. Admissions officials calculate that 90 percent of American families would pay the same or less for a Harvard education as for a state school." READ MORE

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Behind the Scenes: Troubles in SAT-ville

The complex story of the College Board making substantial changes to the SAT, announced yesterday, will reverberate for many years to come. A wonderful piece in the upcoming Sunday New York Times, just posted on-line, contains vital and damning information about the uses and abuses of the SAT in admissions and in the US News and World Report rankings - which schools go to great lengths to inflate, using, among other devices, SAT scores.

Let's not forget that the College Board, though technically a "nonprofit," is a hugely profitable business. According to a 2011 Bloomberg article, the president of the College Board makes more than $1 million - more than the president of the Red Cross, and more than many university presidents. The organization itself takes in hundreds of millions in revenue, and spends a small fraction of that every year. 

It's worth reading the whole darn article. Here's a juicy excerpt:

"While more colleges are choosing to opt out of standardized testing, an estimated 80 percent of four-year colleges still require either SAT or A.C.T. scores, according to David Hawkins at Nacac, and admissions officers report feeling bound to the tests as a way to filter the overwhelming numbers of applicants. Robert Sternberg, a celebrated author and Cornell professor, told “Frontline” that when he was at Yale and reviewed admissions applications, the scores were hard to ignore. “I know that when I’m reading applications and as the night goes on and I’m reading more and more, it gets more and more tempting to count the SATs,” he said. “It’s easier than reading these long essays and teacher recommendations. It’s human nature.” On top of the pressures to winnow the applicants, the Nacac report cited the problems resulting from the use of SAT and A.C.T. scores by U.S. News & World Report to create its rankings, stating that the scores “were not a valid measure of institutional quality.” In addition, it criticized the use of the SAT and A.C.T. by bond-rating companies to help assess the financial health of a school as creating “undue pressure on admission offices to pursue increasingly high test scores.” READ MORE