Unlocking The Mysteries of The Essay

The New York Times: “Documents showing that Harvard rated Asian-American applicants lower on personality traits than applicants of other races raise questions about how college admissions officers evaluate intangible criteria. What constitutes ‘likability’ or ‘courage?’ How do they know someone is ‘widely respected?’ … Most schools look at grade point averages and standardized test scores and may also review letters of recommendation, college essays and extracurricular activities. Colleges that do consider personal qualities are highly variable in the traits they look at and how they are ranked. Nor are they interested in disclosing their criteria.”

“In a study of 10 unidentified schools commissioned by the College Board, traits included ’emotional intelligence,’ ‘self-efficacy’ and ‘creativity’. Leadership, education experts said, is perhaps the most obvious and the most common trait colleges consider in applicants … Colleges don’t like to talk about this much, and officials don’t like to be pinned down. In general, they say they look for traits that reflect the college’s values or that make a student a ‘good fit’ for the institution.”

“Admissions officers say they look for a ‘hook’ in an applicant’s file that may lift the student into consideration, but just what that is hard to define … similar objections have been raised about the emphasis traditionally placed on standardized tests, which many experts believe fail to measure the potential of minority and low-income students. Earlier this week, the University of Chicago became the first elite research university in the country to drop the requirement that applicants submit ACT or SAT scores, instead announcing a program inviting students to submit a two-minute video introduction — where they can perhaps convey their likability.”

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Bates: A Curriculum for ‘Purposeful Work’

Quartz: Clayton Spencer “has been head of Bates, a small college in Lewiston, Maine, founded by abolitionists, since 2012. Since she arrived, she’s made it a priority to embed the idea of ‘purposeful work’—broadly defined as work that both has personal meaning and societal relevance—into as many aspects of college life as possible. While she is romantic about the liberal arts mandate, she understands the importance of finding practical applications for what students learn in school.”

“During a five-week ‘short term’ in May, Bates offers practitioner-taught courses: One digital marketing course was taught by a digital marketing consultant, while a dancer educated students on the business concerns involved in pursuing a career in the arts. Students can also shadow workers in various fields for a day (many of them Bates alumni) and funding from the school is available for internships in fields that don’t pay, such as non-profits and the arts. Importantly, purposeful work seeks to give students who don’t have networks the skills and the experience to build them.”

Spencer comments: “The source of personal happiness and fulfillment has to be around meaning, and not the psychology of happiness. You find meaning by thinking and acting in the world in a way that aligns with your talents and interests and brings you joy, and makes a social contribution of some kind.”

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Harvard Acceptance Rate Hits New Low

The Wall Street Journal: “Harvard hit a new low this year—in terms of its acceptance rate. The university admitted 4.6% of applicants, or 1,962 students for the class set to begin this fall. Last year, it admitted 5.2% of applicants … Many of the applicants looked perfect on paper. At Princeton, more than 14,200 of the 35,370 applicants had a 4.0 grade point average. Brown boasted that 96% of its admitted students are in the top 10% of their high school classes, while at Dartmouth that rate hit 97%.”

“The elite schools are also eager to note that they are becoming less elitist, with generous financial-aid packages to lure diverse candidates: Cornell accepted more than 700 first-generation college students, and more than 20% of Harvard’s admitted students and 23% of Princeton’s are eligible for federal Pell grants, which are aimed at low-income students.”

The acceptance rates released Wednesday combine figures from the early-admission rounds, in which applicants generally learn their fates in December, and the regular-decision round. Broken down, those rates are often quite lopsided. At Harvard, 14.5% of early-action applicants were accepted for the coming class, compared with about 2.8% of regular-round candidates … Despite the fervor around Ivy League admissions, the vast majority of college students actually go to a college where nearly everyone gets in, and many less prestigious institutions are struggling to fill their classes.”

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Students Gain More Than Knowledge at College

Pacific Standard: “A debate has emerged in recent years over whether a college education is really worth the expense and effort. After all, it is argued, emotional intelligence is a better predictor of success than academic learning. And universities don’t teach those skills, do they? Well, it turns out they do. That’s the takeaway from new Australian research, which finds a university education has a positive impact on two key personality traits—extroversion and agreeableness.”

The study, published in the journal Oxford Economic Papers, tracked 575 Australian adolescents over eight years. Their level of each of the “big five” personality traits—openness to experience, conscientiousness, extroversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism—was measured in surveys taken just after they finished high school, and again four and eight years later. Thirty-three percent of participants ended up attending a university, and the researchers found that, after controlling for a variety of factors that could influence personality development—including gender, health, and socioeconomic status—the experience made a significant difference.”

“None of this implies there is only one way to develop the personality traits that will serve you well for life. But it does suggest a university is a great place to pick them up. And who knows?—you might even learn a few things in the process.”

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College Admissions Create Social-Media Moments

The Wall Street Journal: “Admissions officers are traveling hundreds of miles with a live animal to inform high-school seniors they have been accepted to a college—and to urge them to enroll. It’s not just the star athletes or scholarship winners who get the treatment. It is pretty much anyone, a tactic driven by competition to snag the declining number of college-bound high-school students. One of the hardest working college salesmen is Trip, a 6-year-old English bulldog with doleful, dark eyes. His predecessors are retired … When he travels to meet prospective students, his job is mostly to look fetching as he poses on porches, living-room rugs and in front of fireplaces. He gives paw-shakes, or ‘high-fives’ when the acceptance is announced. So far this year, the bulldog has visited about 50 accepted students.”

“There were 224,000 fewer undergraduates enrolled in colleges and universities in 2017 than in 2016. That decline is part of a larger drop which is forcing enrollment departments to get creative to keep up the flow of applications, acceptances and tuition checks. At many schools the numbers are heading in the wrong direction … Several schools surprise students with in-person announcements. The goal isn’t just to convince the few who get the special treatment, but to capture the student reaction and feature it on social media to induce their friends to apply.”

Kirk Brennan, the director of admission at the University of Southern California … said USC started the surprise visits about five years ago, but he is considering stopping them.” He explains: “It sort of feels like it’s more for us than the kids,” he said. “Some are embarrassed, they don’t know how to react. They feel awkward, maybe they’re more interested in another school.”

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The 8-Minute Application Review

The Wall Street Journal: “As application numbers surge, admissions officers at some elite colleges say they don’t have time to read an entire file. Instead, staffers from more schools—including the Georgia Institute of Technology, Rice University and Bucknell University in Pennsylvania—now divvy up individual applications. One person might review transcripts, test scores and counselor recommendations, while the other handles extracurricular activities and essays.”

“They read through their portions simultaneously, discuss their impressions about a candidate’s qualifications, flag some for admission or rejection, and move on. While their decision isn’t always final, in many cases theirs are the last eyes to look at the application itself. The entire process can take less than eight minutes.”

“Admissions directors say it is better for staffers than spending solitary months reading essays, transcripts and recommendation letters. They also say it helps train new readers and minimizes bias by forcing readers to defend why they think a candidate is qualified or not, and as a result they’re more confident in the decisions the new committees are making … Readers at Bucknell, which gets more than 10,000 applications, used to take 12 to 15 minutes to review each application. Now a team of two is done in six to eight minutes.” A Bucknell admissions officer says that still adds up to 16 “person minutes.”

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How Hogwarts Inspires New Campus Buildings

Los Angeles Times: “Expensive dormitories, in particular, have begun to exhibit an incurious … nostalgia, with Yale and USC, among other schools, leaning hard on the kind of Gothic Revival excess that first became popular a full century ago … one key source of this renewed interest in the Gothic Revival is — cue the John Williams score — Hogwarts, the boarding school for wizards that stands at the heart of the book series by J.K. Rowling.”

“Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, the first book in the series, was published in 1997. The film version of that novel appeared in 2001. This year’s crop of college freshmen was born between those two cultural milestones, which means a huge number grew up reading the Potter books or watching the movies or both. Many of them have an expectation (or perhaps a hope) that going off to college means going off to a campus that resembles the Hollywood version of Hogwarts, full of peaked roofs, gargoyles, stone floors, stained glass and huge dining halls warmed by multiple fireplaces.”

At both Yale and USC, “the Hogwarts feel is strongest, by far, in the dining halls, giant rooms with long wooden tables, peaked ceilings and stained glass. It feels almost as if you’ve wandered onto a set for one of the Potter movies, filmed at Alnwick Castle in Northumberland and Gloucester Cathedral, among many other locations.”

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Early Ivy Admission Rates Decline

class-of-2022-early-admission-rates

Business Insider: “Another year of early acceptance notifications, another year where the acceptance rates declined. Almost all eight schools in the competitive Ivy League reported declines in acceptance rates, meaning it’s the hardest year on record to get into the colleges. Columbia and Cornell Universities did not publicly release early-admission figures.”

“Despite getting more difficult, the rates are actually higher than acceptance rates during regular admission in the spring. For comparison, Harvard’s acceptance rate released for regular decision last spring, the lowest in the Ivy League, was 5.2% for the class of 2021. Cornell, which has the highest in the Ivy League, was 12.5%.”

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Unlocking The Mysteries of Admissions

The New York Times: “It’s a widespread misconception that applicants have an automatic right to be admitted to the school of their choice if they have higher grades or test scores than other candidates. It’s not that grades and test scores don’t matter — they nearly always do — but colleges aren’t obligated to choose the students who are deemed most likely to earn high college grades or graduate … Instead, what counts in admissions depends on the mission of the institution — and that can vary a great deal from school to school.”

“Mission statements don’t necessarily make it easier for students to understand the nuts and bolts of admissions, but they are absolutely vital. A school’s admissions policy must flow from its mission. But by and large, colleges aren’t doing a good enough job explaining to applicants how admissions choices stem from their policy. While most colleges list some of the factors they consider in admission — such as leadership and involvement in extracurricular activities — they need to go further to explain how applicant characteristics are assessed and weighted.”

“How could admissions offices be more open about how they choose? They could start by publishing vignettes to illustrate how admissions decisions are made, spell out why certain kinds of applicant profiles do or don’t make the grade, and describe how they identify talented students who fall short in terms of grades or test scores. Descriptions of the kinds of complex deliberations conducted by real admissions committees would be enlightening to both applicants and their families.”

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Bard Unlocks the ‘Microcollege’

The Wall Street Journal: “The maximum-security inmates who beat a Harvard College team in a debate two years ago put a national spotlight on the prisoners’ ambitious college program, the Bard Prison Initiative. Now Bard College is launching a new satellite in another site that bucks tradition: the Brooklyn Public Library in Prospect Heights.”

“The ‘microcollege’ will be free for students, and aims to attract talented low-income applicants who haven’t sought degrees due to the pricetag or personal hardships. The experiment aims to find ways to make college possible for people who are often discouraged, excluded or underestimated … The new microcollege is modeled on the prison program: Bard faculty will teach small seminars leading to a two-year associates degree in liberal arts, with the hope that students will go on to get bachelors degrees elsewhere.”

“Applicants won’t submit transcripts or test scores. Instead, they will have interviews and write essays at the library. The state Board of Regents has accredited the program, which will be funded by a $450,000 grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and Pell grants.”

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