College Application Process: 5 Lessons Learned

The Washington Post: “Katie Miller recently graduated from Walter Johnson High School in Bethesda, Md., and is very relieved to be finished with the painful process of applying to colleges.” Here are some of the lessons she learned along the way:

“1. Be prepared for disappointment. Nothing truly readies you for the feeling of defeat that comes with opening a letter of denial.”

“2. Accept that aspects of this arduous process will simply be inexplicable … While some websites claim they can tell students which elements of the application different schools value, maybe it depends on factors as arbitrary as who sits down to read the essay.”

“3. Even when you think you have done everything right, you’ve probably gotten something wrong … Overlooking wrongly labeled classes and failing to double-check them with my counselor put me at a disadvantage … You will never get full disclosure from a university admissions office, but by calling and asking why I was denied, I learned that my mistakes led the office of undergraduate admissions to believe that I had dropped AP and honors-level courses.”

“4. There is a time and place for modesty and the college application process is not it … Especially today, as colleges’ standards continue to raise, it’s vital to take advantage of all accomplishments, because there are probably a thousand other kids with the same ones.”

“5. Give serious consideration to all the schools on your list, because your final choice may surprise you … I have realized that the college experience has less to do with the school name, location and reputation, and more to do with what you accomplish there.”

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Amazon Prime Loans: Read The Fine Print

The Washington Post: “Wells Fargo is offering Amazon.com customers discounted interest rates on private student loans, creating a partnership with the online retail giant at a time when private lenders are fighting for market share.”

“Amazon Prime Student subscribers who apply for any of the bank’s education loan products are eligible to have their interest rate lowered by half a percentage point. Wells will take off an additional quarter of a percentage point for borrowers who enroll in an automatic monthly loan repayment plan. Interest rates on Wells undergraduate loans for four-year colleges range from 5.94 percent to nearly 11 percent on a fixed-rate loan and 3.39 percent to 9.03 percent on a variable-rate loan. Students who enlist a parent or grandparent on the loan can get lower rates because co-signers are obligated to repay the debt if the borrower does not.”

“As it stands, interest rates on federal student loans are at an all-time low. Undergraduate students can expect to pay 3.76 percent in interest on new Stafford loans for the 2016-2017 academic year, while graduate students will be charged 5.31 percent interest. Government loans are only offered at fixed rates and students don’t need co-signers with stellar credit to qualify for the lowest rate. What’s more, federal student loan borrowers can take advantage of the government’s income-driven repayment plans that cap monthly payments to a percentage of their earnings. There is nothing comparable in the private market.”

Pauline Abernathy, vice president of the Institute for College Access & Success (TICAS), comments: “Amazon and Wells Fargo are trumpeting a discount while burying the sky-high rates on these private loans and without noting that they lack the consumer protections and flexible repayment options that come with federal student loans. It is a cynical attempt to dupe current students who are eligible for federal students loans with a record-low 3.76 percent fixed interest rate into taking out costly private loans with variable interest rates currently as high as 13.74 percent.”

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Does High School Prep For College?

Brookings: “There is a troubling hidden pattern behind success stories of high school graduation: though the percent of students earning a diploma is at an all-time high (82 percent), college completion rates continue to stagnate at best, exacerbated by a throng of college-bound students ill-prepared for advanced courses.”

“While there are certainly many economic and cultural factors in long-term dropout rates, we argue that an overlooked hurdle to solving the problem is short-sighted measurement: education leaders too often judge high school success by high school metrics, not whether students end up with the knowledge and perseverance to attain a degree.”

“It is not that high school students are not learning. Rather, it is more likely they often learn the wrong things, do not sufficiently focus on the critical thinking commonly needed in college, or simply forget much of what they learned.”

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Happy ‘Lap’ Year: The 5-Year College Career

Money: “About a quarter of parents each year face the daunting prospect of paying for an extra year (or two, or three) of college, according to student loan lender Sallie Mae’s latest survey. The situation comes up so often that financial planner Allan Katz … has all his clients save for five years of tuition instead of four … Even that kind of preparation does not stop many parents from panicking when their child gets to junior year without enough credits to get a degree in four years.”

Financial planner Hank Mulvihill … takes it even further. He tells clients to expect to pay $50,000 a year for six years … During his 25 years as a planner, Mulvihill has seen the chips fall every which way. One family recently faced an extra year of tuition at a private university but simply did not have another $65,000. So the student had to transfer to an in-state public school to finish her studies.”

“Fear of going overtime in college has prompted some parents to push their children to stack up credits in high school so they can graduate college either early or on time … These are lessons that Frost Gordon will take to heart when her younger son applies to colleges next year. ‘I’m going to be more conscious about my spending now and plan for a fifth year,’ she said. ‘And I’m going to ask on the tours how many kids are getting an undergrad degree in four years’.”

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When The Applicant is an Introvert

NBC News: “With space to fill out to boast about leadership roles, clubs, and other extracurricular activities, college applications may seem like they favor extroverted students.But experts say you don’t have to be the type of person who thrives in group settings to have a solid application. There are many ways for introverted high school students to stand out.” Laura Sefton of Rhodes College comments: “Introverts really have the opportunity to shine in the admission process, since they often know themselves extremely well.”

“Being introspective can be particularly useful when it comes to the college essay.” Seth Allen of Pomona College comments: “Introverted applicants can showcase their deep or divergent thinking through the essays, helping to three-dimension themselves and pique the interest of their readers.”

“When assessing what kind of impact students could make in their campus classrooms, Allen said, introverts are at no disadvantage … because introverts get their energy from solitary pursuits, they often bring a perspective to the class that expands beyond the syllabus. That can help on a college application, too, when introverts are competing with team captains, debate heads, and student government presidents for an admissions spot.”

“What’s important, Allen said, is that introverts not try to make themselves seem like everyone else applying and instead ‘play to the strengths, interests, or talents that their introverted tendencies have gifted them’.”

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Is College Food a Function of Financial Aid?

Inside Higher Ed: Tipping Point author “Malcolm Gladwell says a trade-off exists between high-quality campus dining and admitting low-income students … Letting students make do with mediocre food would enable colleges to admit more low-income students and provide them with the aid and support they need to succeed, he maintains.”

“In his new podcast series, Revisionist History, he makes this point by contrasting Bowdoin College, which is regularly cited by campus guides for outstanding food, with Vassar College, where students tell him the food is mediocre. Both are elite liberal arts colleges, with highly competitive admissions, respected faculty members and beautiful campuses. But Vassar enrolls a much larger share of low-income students than Bowdoin, and Gladwell blames the gourmet food Bowdoin students enjoy.”

“While many agree that colleges can and should do much more than they are doing now to increase the admission of low-income students, many question whether Gladwell’s focus on dining makes sense.” Bowdoin responds that it “is among the very small number of colleges that are need blind on admissions, meet full need and never use loans in any part of an aid package.” In addition: “No funds from the endowment or other revenue sources pay for dining, the college says.”

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Should College Lectures Be Banned?

The Atlantic: “Getting rid of the college lecture entirely is the mission of a broad group of educators. Educators and administrators alike argue that active learning yields superior results to the lecture … Concerns about the lecture derive from anecdotal impressions as well as research data, including one meta analysis of 225 studies looking at the effectiveness of traditional lectures versus active learning in undergraduate STEM courses. That analysis indicated that lecturing increased failure rates by 55 percent; active learning—meaning teaching methods that are more interactive than traditional lectures—resulted in better grades and a 36 percent drop in class failure rates.”

“Still, although proponents of the movement to move away from the lecture cite data on its ineffectiveness, the debate has failed to take into account the fact that academics are rarely, if ever, formally trained in public speaking.”

“Christopher Martin, an astrophysicist at the California Institute of Technology who has been teaching for nearly 30 years, would never give up the lecture format.” He comments: “A lecturer can take students on an intellectual journey at the speed of thought. It is a performance and the ideal is to excite and inspire, create something out of nothing in front of the students’ eyes, a form of magic.”

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Thinking Outside the ‘Ivy League’ Box

Quartz: “Well-heeled universities tout the benefits their name will give graduates: namely strong alumni networks, star faculty, and a résumé boost. But you needn’t attend an Ivy to reap those rewards. In fact, lower tier school alumni networks are arguably stronger, because fellow alumni recognize that you didn’t necessarily have an easy path to follow. They might be more willing to offer career help, because your less illustrious school denotes that, like them, you are also full of hustle and tenacity.”

“The Washington Post reported on a recent study by Princeton economists in which college graduates who applied to the most selective schools in the 12th grade were compared to those who applied to slightly less selective schools. They found that students with more potential earned more as adults, and the reverse held true as well, no matter where they went to school. Likewise, star faculty are not always found where you’d expect. Big name schools are not necessarily the best places for professors; plus, many professors split teaching time between multiple colleges and/or universities.”

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Five Unusual (Very Small) Colleges

Go Local Prov: “Located in the high desert of California, Deep Springs College is home to just 26 students … The college runs a cattle herd and an alfalfa hay farming operation … Tuition, room, and board are not charged, but students work at least 20 hours a week on the ranch or in positions related to the college and community.”

“St. John’s College boasts two campuses in equally stunning settings: Santa Fe and Annapolis. Each location enrolls about 450 students. Textbooks, lectures, and examinations are shunned, in favor of a series of manuals and classroom discussions.”

“Set amidst the beauty of Maine, College of the Atlantic has just 350 students. The school’s curriculum is based on human ecology … COA students are often knee deep in experiential learning and the frigid Maine waters during their classes. The intention is for students to explore ideas from different disciplines and to construct their own understanding of human ecology.”

“Located in Vermont, Marlboro College is home to a group of 300 eclectic students … The mission of the school is to produce clear thinkers and writers. Students create their own curricula with the oversight of a professor and are given the freedom to study just about any topic.”

“Olin College of Engineering in Massachusetts … was founded in 2002 and has just 350 students … it now rivals MIT and CalTech in the engineering rankings … Olin students race robotic sailing teams, travel to West Africa to help empower women entrepreneurs and design gadgets that allow seniors to get out of their cars more easily … All accepted students are granted a scholarship that covers half of their tuition for four years, which makes it among the most affordable, top-rated technical institutions in the U.S.”

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Admissions Gap: The Gender Factor

Charlotte Observer: “Over the last decade women have comprised 57% of the four-year college students in the country … Naturally, the relative scarcity of qualified male applicants gives them a leg-up in admissions at many schools … Among the elite institutions offering men a significant edge are George Washington, Tufts, and William & Mary, where gentlemen enjoy a stunning 14 point advantage over young women. Vassar features admit rates for men that are nearly twice that of female applicants. Many other highly selective institutions offer a more modest advantage to men including Brown, Pomona, Vanderbilt, and Middlebury.”

“Generally speaking, gender-based advantages typically on occur at smaller liberal arts schools. Larger school … tend to hold the same, more statistically-based admissions standards across gender lines … Not surprisingly, many of the schools that favor female applicants have ‘Tech’ in their name; Worcester Polytechnic Institute, Georgia Tech, and Caltech all have a much higher acceptance rate for young women. MIT’s acceptance rate for women is double that of male applicants.”

“Other top schools without the official ‘Tech’ designation that grant favor to female applicants include Babson College, Carnegie Mellon, and Harvey Mudd.”

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