Colleges Abandon Standard Test Essay

Washington Post: “One by one, major schools this year are dropping their requirements for prospective students to submit an essay score from the national testing services. Princeton and Stanford universities last week became the latest to end the mandate, following Dartmouth College and Harvard and Yale universities. Those schools are dropping the requirement because they wanted to ensure that the extra cost of essay testing did not drive applicants away. Others have resisted requiring the essays because they doubted the exercise revealed much.”

“Fewer than 25 schools now require the essay scores, according to some tallies, including nine in the University of California system. Brown University, as of Friday, was the lone holdout in the Ivy League … A longtime skeptic of the timed-writing exercises, Charles Deacon of Georgetown said he never considers the essay scores when reading applications. ‘Just didn’t make any difference to us,’ he said.”

“But Janet Rapelye, Princeton’s dean of admission , said she finds the scores helpful and sometimes reads the essay that yielded the score (colleges can view them) when she wants to know more about an applicant. ‘It’s actually a very good test,’ she said. But the university dropped the requirement, she said, out of concern that testing costs or logistical issues would deter some students from applying.”

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Survivor Maryland

The Washington Post: “It’s ‘Survivor Maryland,’ the wildest, realest reality show you’ve never heard of: a low-budget, junior-varsity take on the popular CBS competition show “Survivor.” Instead of being marooned for several weeks on an island, the players undergo challenges and tribal turmoil during an entire semester at the University of Maryland … The craze began with Austin Trupp, 25, a “Survivor” superfan who started watching the show as a Rockville high schooler with a passion for strategy games and social politics.”

“Trupp started putting the show together the summer after his freshman year. He recruited a cast of 21 hypercompetitive friends and filmed through the fall of 2012, quickly settling on a formula reminiscent of the original — contestants split into tribes that compete in “challenges” testing their teamwork, resourcefulness and athletic ability, with players gradually eliminated via ‘tribal council’ votes. The winner is the last person standing, selected by a jury of eliminated contestants … Six years and five seasons later, ‘Survivor Maryland’ is notorious. Some of its episodes on YouTube have more than 15,000 views. It’s amassed an avid following that includes former showrunners and contestants from the CBS show.”

“More than a dozen spinoffs have replicated Trupp’s concept at other colleges, including Ohio State University, the University of Virginia and the University of Michigan. They vary in form and length, and certainly in following, but they’re all trying to replicate the ‘Survivor Maryland’ magic.

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How Legacy Gives A Leg Up

The Wall Street Journal: “At the University of Notre Dame, the University of Virginia and Georgetown University, the admission rate for legacies is about double the rate for the overall applicant pool, according to data from the schools. At Princeton University, legacies are admitted at four times the general rate, or roughly 30% compared with about 7% overall over the past five years, the school says.”

“Legacy applicants at Harvard University were five times as likely to be admitted as non-legacies, according to an analysis of admissions data from 2010 through 2015. The numbers—33.6% for legacies and 5.9% for those without parental ties—were submitted in a June court filing for a case claiming Asian students are being discriminated against in the name of greater diversity at the school.”

“Advocates for considering legacy status argue that favoring the children—and, in some cases, grandchildren—of graduates helps maintain an engaged and generous alumni base and lets students serve as ambassadors to new campus arrivals … Critics say giving legacy applicants any preferential treatment undermines diversity initiatives, especially for schools that aren’t growing … A handful of elite schools, including the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and California Institute of Technology, don’t consider legacy status in admissions.”

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Grade Inflation: Summa Cum Saturated?

The Wall Street Journal: “Nearly half of students who graduated from Lehigh University, Princeton University and the University of Southern California this year did so with cum laude, magna cum laude or summa cum laude honors, or their equivalents. At Harvard and Johns Hopkins, more got the designations than didn’t … Honors designations have become close to the norm at many top schools, according to a Wall Street Journal review of the criteria for earning honors and the percentage of the senior class that got the designation at schools in the top 50 of the WSJ/Times Higher Education ranking.”

“Most elite schools cap the share of the graduating class that can receive academic honors. But the caps vary widely, from 25% at Columbia University to up to 60% at Harvard.Harvard’s number hit 91% in 2001, as highlighted at the time in a Boston Globe article about generous honors policies. Soon after, the school revised its selection process. Northwestern University expanded its pool of eligible seniors to 25% from 16% in 2010, citing concern that students were losing out on graduate-school admissions because they were competing against peers at more magnanimous colleges. Now, the top 5% of the class graduates summa cum laude, the next 8% magna and the next 12% cum laude.”

“Anna Del Castillo said she was ‘filled with pride and joy,’ on learning that she would graduate from Tufts University magna cum laude. At the ceremony in May, the 22-year-old international relations major says, she was surprised by just how many other names were followed by Latin designations—not to mention three levels of thesis honors” … Rather than diminish her own achievement, Ms. Del Castillo said her immediate response during the ceremony was, ‘Wow, I go to school with brilliant people’.”

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Seinfeld Style: The Essay About ‘Nothing’

Bates: Darryl Uy, an admissions officer at Bates College, suggests a ‘Seinfeldian’ approach to writing your college essay. He explains: “It could be about nothing but a few moments in your ordinary life that I can’t find anywhere else in your application. If you could take me into your life for 5 minutes, I think that is a successful essay.”

He adds: “Try to find a topic that resonates with you and your experiences so your personality and voice can shine through … If you’re not funny in real life, don’t try to be funny in your essay. That rarely works.”

Katie Moran Madden, a Bates alum and admissions expert, says the essay should reflect both your personal attributes and what you value. “All of us are trying to shape a community. And we try not to create a community of people with similar talents, interests, perspectives … make the essay about you. It doesn’t have to be exciting. It doesn’t have to move us.”

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American Wonk: Cool Cat on Campus

The Washington Post: “Who knows what the black and white cat was thinking when it arrived on American University’s campus … Whatever the case, this cat — known as Wonk Cat, or the Wonk Cat, if you prefer — has settled in at American, in Northwest Washington. It has become a film star, and it is the subject of tweets from the university’s president. It has a special cat dorm room, set up near a campus building. Here at American, Wonk Cat has found a home.”

“For Stephanie DeStefano, American’s grounds operations manager, this tale of a tail began in the fall, when she noticed piles of cat food in planting beds on campus.” She comments: “It wasn’t long before I had the pleasure of meeting Wonk Cat, who the students had already adopted and named. I have no idea where she came from. Or, actually, if it’s a she or a he.”

“Wonk Cat is not the only cat on American’s campus. A second feline was relocated to the grounds during the winter. That transfer cat, Max, is not exactly pals with Wonk Cat yet, but perhaps we should give this more time … American is not the only animal-friendly campus. Websites for Texas A&M University and the University of West Florida mention cats.” Alice Bershtein, a rising junior at American, comments: “College is a very stressful experience and kind of makes you feel alone. There’s something about animal companionship that is so soothing and reaffirming. I feel like the Wonk Cat kind of serves that purpose.”

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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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