Everyday Experiences & Great College Essays

Quartz: Students don’t need to curate “the perfect experience to use for the all-important college essay … drab summer jobs can help kids see the world through a new lens.” Richard Weissbourd, a lecturer and researcher at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education, comments: “You see how hard people work, how rude and unthinking people can be to them. It’s a real lesson in how to treat people.”

“Weissbourd said summer should be about balance. ‘It’s often good to think of them having a range of experiences: downtime, service, work. It’s an opportunity for a kid to have exposure to something they won’t at any other time in their life.’ Out of that might come something authentically college-essay-worthy.”

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Female Scientists Thrive @ Harvey Mudd

Quartz: “Harvey Mudd College, in Claremont, California, has been an outlier in producing female programmers for a decade. This year, for the first time, more women than men graduated with a degree in computer science. Nationally, about 16% of undergraduate computer-science majors are women. At Harvey Mudd, that figure is 55%.”

“It has done it by removing obstacles that have typically barred women—including at the faculty level. The school emphasizes teaching over research, hiring and rewarding professors on the basis of their classroom performance … And it places women in leadership positions throughout the school.”

“The school … redesigned its introductory course, required for all first-year students, to emphasize practical uses for programming and team based-projects, and switched from the Java programming language to Python, which more closely mimics the way humans communicate … To make everyone feel at ease, professors urge know-it-all students who always have their hand in the air to talk during office hours, instead of in class.”

“As a result of the changes, women who take the introductory course are more likely to leave with a positive impression of programming, and often sign up for the second class in the sequence. Many go on to internships or research projects in the field after their first year, and by then, they’re hooked.”

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SAT ‘Subject’ Tests Fall Out of Favor

Boston Globe: “In the past year, Amherst College, Dartmouth College, and Williams College all have dropped the SAT subject test requirement, taking a lead from Columbia University, which announced the new policy this spring. Duke University and Vassar College also no longer require the tests, often called SAT II.”

“The shift occurs amid a larger discussion in higher education about the value of standardized testing in admissions. Some colleges, especially less-selective private schools but also such public colleges as UMass Lowell and Salem State, have made the main SAT and ACT tests optional.”

“Although the tests are no longer required at many schools, they are still optional and in many cases recommended, a nuance many college admissions specialists said means students should still take them if they expect to score well … schools like MIT find them useful and have no plans to drop the requirement. MIT officials see the exams as an equalizer, a way to consistently measure students from different high schools. Harvard officials said the same thing.”

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Have No Fear of Freshman Year!

The New York Times: “Regardless of their credentials, many freshmen doubt that they have the necessary brainpower or social adeptness to succeed in college … If they flunk an exam, or a professor doesn’t call on them, their fears about whether they belong may well be confirmed. The cycle of doubt becomes self-reinforcing, and students are more likely to drop out … The good news is that this dismal script can be rewritten. Several recent research projects show that, with the right nudge, students can acquire ways of thinking that helps them thrive.”

“In a large-scale experiment at an unnamed school … incoming freshmen read upperclassmen’s accounts of how they navigated the shoals of university life. The accounts explained that, while the upperclassmen initially felt snubbed by their classmates and intimidated by their professors, their lives started turning around when they reached out to their instructors and began to make friends.”

“Other freshmen were introduced to research online showing that intelligence isn’t a static trait or the luck of the genetic draw, but can grow through hard work … All students had ‘an initial doubt about whether they would fit in,’ the researchers point out. What changed in the experiment was that, as freshmen, the participants were more likely to be drawn into campus life, seek out academic help and live on campus.”

“Undergraduates will be more engaged and fewer will drop out if universities adopt this two-pronged approach, giving students essential psychological tools and making their success an institutional priority.”

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College Students: Drinkers But Not Smokers?

The Washington Post: “The United States’ full-time college students are more likely to be heavy drinkers than young adults who aren’t enrolled in college, according to a new federal report. But they’re no more likely to experiment with other drugs, including marijuana, than other people their age. And college students are far less likely to smoke cigarettes than other young adults.”

“But looming behind all this is one inescapable fact: Today’s teens and young adults are living much, much healthier lives than most of us did when we were their age. Among other things, they are more likely to wear seat belts, less likely to have sex (unprotected or otherwise), less likely to get in fights, and less likely to try just about every type of illegal drug, according to CDC data.”

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‘Must-Have’ Dorm Room Accessory

Tyler Lauletta: “It is very easy to sleep through college, and in order to power through all-nighters and rally for your 8 a.m. lectures, coffee will be a necessity for many. This thought brings me to what I believe to be the most important kitchen item any college student can bring with them: a quality French press.”

“In addition to making yourself better coffee, if you decide to invest in a press that can make 3-4 servings in a single brew, your designation as dorm-room barista can be a great way to make friends and foster relationships in your new environment. There are a lot of rough Sunday mornings throughout the first year of college, and on these brutal mornings, coffee served by a friendly face is a godsend.”

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The Journey: How To Go To College

The Washington Post: “The truth is that most new undergraduates are woefully unprepared for the realities of college. The college search that has consumed many of them for the past year — and in some cases, for more than a year — focused largely on where to go to college, not how they should go to college … Even the best freshmen orientation programs often fail to provide students with an adequate road map for navigating the sometimes-treacherous path to graduation.”

“For undergraduates to get off to a good start, there are four critical things they need to do to be sure they eventually make it across the stage at commencement: 1. Engage with faculty … One easy way for students to build a one-on-one relationship with a professor who teaches sometimes hundreds of students in a semester is during office hours. 2. Start early with hands-on experiences … Students can no longer wait for the summer before their senior year to line up their first internship. That now needs to happen during the summer after their freshman year.”

“3. Explore the course catalog … Students should take courses that challenge them to work hard … present them with opportunities to learn from the best professors, and give them a broad foundation across multiple subjects, not just the one within their major. 4. Network with peers. Some of the most important learning that happens in college comes from peers, so students want to be surrounded by people who give them different perspectives on life and careers.”

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Super Seniors: The Six-Year Plan

The Wall Street Journal: “Low graduation rates hurt a school’s reputation, and staying enrolled for extra years adds to the tab for students. So dozens of schools and statewide systems are trying to cut back on the number of ‘super seniors’ milling about campus.”

“Schools have embraced marketing gimmicks like ‘Class of ’17’ bumper stickers to rally students around their graduation year. But they also are changing how they price a semester to make it easier to stay on pace to graduate, notifying students eligible to graduate that they should do so soon, and altering the classes offered in a given term to help students take the courses they need.”

“Nationally, four in 10 students who entered college for the first time as full-time freshmen in 2008 graduated within four years. The six-year rate hovers around 60% … Meanwhile, students who are ready to move on can struggle to get credit for how far they have come. With more than one-third of students now attending multiple institutions during their college careers, convoluted credit-transfer policies continue to slow the timeline to graduation.”

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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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