Georgia State Uses ‘AI’ to Reduce ‘Summer Melt’

Tech Advocate: “A matter that is related to admissions is the so-called “summer melt.” That happens when applicants that have been admitted to a university or college, don’t turn up to start their studies. Georgia State University in Atlanta has begun using an AI chatbot system called Pounce, to reduce these incidents.”

“During the summer of 2016, Georgia State created a list of more than 2000 questions and answers for freshmen. The questions pertain to issues like financial aid, courses, majors, housing, etc. In fact, many applicants don’t understand how admissions processes operate. The university then collaborated with the conversational AI-company AdmitHub to deliver those answers to students on text-based platforms they could access anytime via their smartphones.”

“By the time fall classes started, more than 200,000 questions by freshmen had been answered. The university credits the Pounce system for helping it to reduce the summer melt that year by 22%.”


FAFSA: Mind the Deadlines

US News: “For students seeking federal financial aid to pay for college, the deadline to submit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, is on June 30 each year. But to maximize their chances of getting aid, every prospective and current college student would ideally promptly submit the FAFSA shortly after the application opens on Oct. 1 of the school year before the aid will be used … This means that rising high school seniors who plan to begin college in 2020 should prepare to fill out the FAFSA starting this October … To be eligible for federal financial aid like work-study, student loans and the Pell Grant, as well as a range of other college and state need-based aid, students must submit the FAFSA.”

“In addition to keeping the federal deadline in mind, they must juggle multiple independent FAFSA deadlines unique to their college and state. The difference between filing early, on time and late can amount to thousands of dollars in funding to pay for college.”

“The U.S. Department of Education publishes a list of state deadlines for the FAFSA annually, and Shank says students should also check their college’s website to find deadlines for specific grants and scholarships, or contact their financial aid office if the submission deadline isn’t clearly stated.” The priority deadline for Connecticut is midnight, February 15th.


Georgetown Tour: What Rocks? Hoya Saxa!

We gamely followed Matt, our witty and vivacious Georgetown University tour guide, as he ascended what appeared to be a fire escape. Where were we going, and why? After our large group arrived on the rooftop, and continued along a fenced-in catwalk, the uneven, concrete tiles wobbling under our footsteps, the answer came clear. Matt perched himself precariously on a fence and with a wave of his arm proudly pointed out the many landmarks dotting our sweeping view: the Kennedy Center, the Washington Monument, Jefferson and Lincoln Memorials and the Pentagon, not to mention the notorious Watergate Hotel. The moment instantly captured Georgetown’s sense of time and place, specifically its history as a university whose founding coincided with that of America itself.

Georgetown is by no means the only university in the nation’s capital, but it is the oldest and most selective, as well as the oldest Catholic university in the nation. Matt carefully noted, however, that the school is neither inherently religious nor political. Its student body is less than 50% Catholic and a “God Squad” of campus chaplains actively serve a spectrum of faiths. In fact, the school was the nation’s first to be open to students of all beliefs. Moreover, even though Georgetown attracts a healthy dose of politicos, its students pursue business, science, theater, art and more, both in the classroom and the District beyond. He added that while DC may be thought of as a cut-throat culture, Georgetown is a kinder, gentler, collaborative place.

This echoed what we had heard earlier during a well-attended info session in a posh auditorium inside the school’s Intercultural Center. Georgetown sees itself as a trio of communities. The first is the campus itself, a compact 110-acre spread, fronted by Healy Hall, graced by large trees and a lush lawn, and bordered by a stone wall that, legend has it, figures into Georgetown’s official cheer, “Hoya Saxa.” Allegedly, when sporting events were held on the lawn, spectators would remove rocks from the wall and throw them in the direction of the visiting team. When met with objection, Georgetown students would yell, “hoya saxa,” which roughly translates into “what rocks?” Other origin stories abound, but that one, um, rocks.

Georgetown’s second community is set squarely within the upscale, 12-block, Georgetown neighborhood that surrounds it, home to shops, restaurants and a waterfront area offering lots to do just footsteps away. Community number three is the city of DC and all it has to offer. Getting there requires taking a shuttle bus to a metro station, and then a few minutes’ ride to the National Mall, Capitol Hill, and all other points of interest. (A fourth type of community, known as Living Learning Communities, or LLCs, allows students to reside with others of common background or interests, e.g., social activism, religion, sexual identity, foreign languages, and transfer students.)

As info sessions go, Georgetown’s was relatively heavy on the school’s history and prime location as compared to its academics, which was surprising given its stellar academic reputation. As we waited for the session to begin we were entertained by a steady stream of Georgetown fun facts: it accepted the first international student in 1792; its blue and gray colors were adopted to promote post-Civil War healing; its Mask & Bauble theater troupe is the nation’s oldest; and so forth. Of course, we did hear about Georgetown’s four undergraduate schools: arts & sciences; nursing; foreign services; and business. We learned that while it is not difficult to transfer between schools, it is not possible to double major across them. Pre-med is offered not as a major but as a concentration that can be combined with any other major, even something ostensibly unrelated, like, say, history.

Pursuing a major and a double minor, meanwhile, seems to be a popular way for students to weave diverse interests into an interdisciplinary program. The classical Jesuit “whole person” philosophy is emphasized, as is the commitment to connecting one’s education with public service, and a larger purpose. Banners extolling university values, such as “contemplation in action” and “community in diversity” hang from lampposts along walkways across the main campus.

We were shown exterior photos of the impressive-looking science and business buildings during the info session, but were not taken inside those or any other facilities during our tour, save an abbreviated jaunt through the beautifully ornate, neo-Medieval Healy Hall, Georgetown’s flagship. A photo of the spectacular Gaston Hall auditorium was shared, but nothing more. Some schools can’t wait to show off what’s behind their curtains, while others are strangely modest about their assets. Maybe there’s a good reason for this, but if there is, we haven’t yet heard it.

Georgetown does look pretty darn good, if only from the outside. Especially memorable is the Dahlgren Quad, named for the Dahlgren Chapel, for which there is a 5-7 year waiting list if you want it for a wedding. It is also framed by the Old North Building, the oldest structure on campus, and from the top step of which some 14 U.S. presidents have appeared or spoken, starting with George Washington, including Abraham Lincoln, and most recently, Barack Obama.

Healy Hall and its famous clock tower further define the quad. Mischievous students periodically have “stolen” the handles and sent them to famous people as an invitation to speak at the university; Bill Clinton, a Georgetown alum, reportedly autographed the handles and Pope Francis purportedly blessed them. The university actively discourages this particular tradition.

With its near-ivy level of selectivity (an approximately 14% admit rate), getting accepted into Georgetown is certainly a challenge. In addition to grades, rigor and board scores, Georgetown “strongly recommends” submitting at least three SAT subject-matter tests. This may be waived if such tests are not available to the student. It does not offer a binding “early decision” option, but does allow a restricted “early action” opportunity. However, those applying to it may not apply “early decision” to any other schools. Both “early action” and “regular decision” applicants are notified on May 1st. Georgetown has its own application and does not use either the Common or Coalition app, however it requires essentially the same essays and information as the Common app.

As our 90-minute tour wrapped up, Matt perched himself, once again precariously, atop a narrow brick wall, with the school’s Jesuit graveyard in the background (“a cute campus addition,” he quipped). As is often the case with campus tours, he concluded with his reasons for choosing Georgetown: the size (7,500 undergraduates); the location (DC & Georgetown); and the people (the alumni network which he said had been incredibly responsive to his requests for career and other guidance). “Georgetown is not just an education,” he said, “ it also forms you as a person and a global citizen.”


Are HS College Credits a Good Investment?

Market Watch: “With college costs and student debt rising, policy makers and education leaders have touted the potential of giving high-school students the opportunity to take college courses to curb the amount of time and money they spend on their journey to a degree. But even as the programs have exploded — in some cases explicitly advertised as an antidote to our nation’s college-affordability problem — there’s limited evidence on how the college credits students earn in high school are applied toward their college degrees and whether they wind up saving the students money.”

“The bulk of colleges — 92% of public and 80% of private schools — say they have a policy of accepting college credits that students earn in high school, according to a 2016 survey from the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers. But in practice, whether an individual course is accepted depends on a number of factors, the survey found. Those include the type of institution where the credits were earned, whether the receiving college offered an equivalent course and the location where the student took the course (in a high school or college classroom).”

“In other words, even in states where public colleges are required to accept the college credits students earn in high school, those credits don’t necessarily save a student from taking the required courses to complete their college degree. In order for a student to maximize college credits earned in high school, the credits need to apply to their specific degree program, but it’s often the case that these credits transfer, but don’t actually apply towards a student’s degree. The variation in credit-transfer policies often means that the onus is on families to figure out how to best maximize the college-credit students earn in high school.”


Hofstra Tour: Monkey Puzzles & Other Surprises

One would get the wrong idea if the aging, high-rise residential halls visible from a bordering turnpike were one’s first impression of Hofstra University. This would be doubly problematic if it were raining and 45 degrees on what should be a glorious Spring day. So many students form fast, hard, negative opinions based on such cursory glances, especially when the surrounding area looks a lot like … Hempstead, Long Island.

This is why taking the time to tour colleges is so important. Pass through its gates, and Hofstra’s transformation is remarkable. What appears from the outside to be a gritty, urban neighborhood is in reality a 240-acre campus that is home to an honest-to-goodness National Arboretum and enough exotic greenery to fill perhaps a dozen or more so-called “green campuses.” Venture inside its buildings and you will find an art gallery, state-of-the-art television studio, full-fledged trading floor, a near-scale replica of Shakespeare’s Globe Theater and a towering library with a top-floor view of the Manhattan skyline, a mere 25 miles away.

Hofstra certainly knows what it has, and is eager to show it off. Dispensing with the usual jam-packed info session, Hofstra limited its dog-and-pony show to just 10 minutes, opting to let the campus itself do the talking. In a rare move, our hosting admissions counselor joined us on the student-led tour. One of the first stops was the Guthart Cultural Center Theater, which you might recall as the site of the 2008, 2012 and 2016 U.S. presidential debates. If not, there’s a shrine commemorating it. Next stop was the Mack Student Center, the hub of student life, with food court, book store, bank, and probably because it is Long Island, a hair and nail salon.

Unlike certain other schools, which are reluctant to let you see what’s inside their buildings and behind their curtains, Hofstra can’t wait to walk you through its empire, in particular the science and brand, spanking new business building. The Zarb Business School is so new that it actually smells new. In addition to a 34-terminal trading floor, it has a really cool entrepreneurial center, with 3D printers, drones, a recording studio and garage door walls that open up to encourage collaboration. A career center sits directly across the way from Zarb.

The science building has all the labs and such like, of course. The stairwells were memorable because one features renderings of icons of science, like Darwin, and the other various sea creatures, such as horseshoe crabs. The simple, black and white, stencil-style images are courtesy of the school’s art department, a reminder that arts connect with sciences.

Hofstra is fairly young as American universities go, dating back only to 1935. Built on the former estate of lumber mogul William Hofstra, it originally was an outpost of New York University. This changed at its first commencement, when the school’s 83 students were given a choice to have diplomas from Hofstra or NYU. They overwhelmingly chose Hofstra, and “pride” has been the school’s signature value ever since (although the current slogan is “pride & purpose.”) “Pride” doubles as a reference to the lion on the school’s official crest, as well.

The nearly overwhelming greenery on campus is of course rooted in its past as a rich man’s backyard. Most memorable is the thorny Monkey Puzzle tree (google it; it is weird and fascinating).

As we strolled through one building or another, monitors promoted a baseball game versus The College of William & Mary, a reminder that opposites attract. Sports is important at Hofstra; after all, it is located across the street from Nassau Coliseum, and its own Shuart Stadium is the home of the New York Lizards, a professional lacrosse team. Students are treated to two free tickets to all home games. At one time Hofstra’s stadium was the training camp for the New York Jets. It fields 17 teams of its own, including just about everything you can think of except football. Perhaps inspired by U Chicago, it built a medical school where its stadium used to be.

We didn’t see the entire campus, which is split by the Hempstead Turnpike and bridged by overhead, enclosed walkways. Basically, the North side is the residential area, including the athletic fields, and the South is where classes happen. Hofstra likes to refer to nearby New York City as its “satellite campus,” and it does afford students with ample opportunities to enjoy everything the Big Apple has to offer. While touring the campus’ award-winning radio station and tricked-out television studio, our guide noted that the major networks in NYC are a major source of internships for Hofstra undergrads.

Oh, and Jones Beach is just a half-hour down the road.


Don’t Forget to Look at Graduation Rates

MarketWatch: “Too few students … realize the importance of high graduation rates as a factor in selecting a college. Having a high graduation rate is an indication that an institution has supports in place to help students succeed. Support can mean anything from having sufficient financial aid and scholarships to ensure students can afford to finish their degree to offering enough sections of required courses so that students aren’t shut out of classes they need to graduate. Sometimes it means they have robust academic advising and mentorship programs, or provide housing and transportation options, or child care. Often, it’s a combination of these things and more.”

“Students who enroll in schools with lower graduation rates have often opted out of applying to institutions with higher rates of student success and miss out on these support systems. Many assume the most selective institutions are not an option because of the sticker price. Others don’t think to compare graduation rates when looking into colleges or universities with higher acceptance rates.”

“There have been attempts to make information like graduation rates more readily available to students by the federal government, including College Navigator and the Obama administration’s College ScoreCard, which was just expanded to include, among other things, more transparency around graduation rates … It’s this kind of data that can empower students to select institutions that have the best track record for ensuring that students receive a college degree with limited debt.”


Financial Aid: What Goes On, Really?

Of all the most frequently asked questions about college admissions, financial aid probably comes up most often. Inquiries typically start with the basics, such as “what is the difference between merit and need-based aid?” The quick answer is that merit aid, or scholarships, are dollars donated by people who are either very wealthy or very dead and are designed to entice students from the top tier of the applicant pool, regardless of financial need. Need-based aid generally refers to the government grants and loans allocated through FAFSA, as well as other sources, that are determined by the student’s ability to pay.

Financial-aid questions quickly escalate to murkier turf where definitive answers are scarce. One question we hear on almost a daily basis is whether applying early decision effectively closes the door on getting any merit aid. The answer would seem obvious, since why would a school throw money at a student who is legally bound to attend, scholarship or not? However, the real answer depends on which school you ask. We heard an unexpected perspective at a roundtable discussion among four vice presidents of enrollment during the recent IECA conference in Chicago.

Without naming names, some schools say that, contrary to popular belief, early-decision students are indeed sometimes awarded scholarships. The reasoning is that if a school were to gain a reputation for denying early-decision students merit aid, it would depress the number of quality applicants and the school would miss out on some really great kids. This does make some sense, although a healthy dose of skepticism is also understandable. It’s not so much that these schools are making false claims as it is that the policy almost certainly varies from school to school. So, if merit aid is a consideration, it would be worth researching a school’s position on merit aid before submitting an early-decision application.

A somewhat related question is whether students who are not declaring an intention to apply for need-based financial aid are unlikely to be awarded merit scholarships. Why give money to students who don’t need it? Once again, the intuitive answer may not be correct. One of the enrollment VPs said that providing scholarships to wealthy students actually makes more need-based money available to those less well-off.

Part of the reason is that tuition increases each year, but the scholarship award does not, and overall revenues rise accordingly. So, in a way, these students help support revenue growth. In addition, similar to the early-decision scenario, schools may view the potential scholarship as an incentive to apply even to students who don’t need the money. After all, scholarships are an honor, and not necessarily just about the money. Awarding merit aid makes a student feel wanted, which is a big deal. Once again, some schools are also wary of doing anything that might discourage high-quality applicants.

All of this is to say that navigating the financial aspects of a college application is complicated, and it is best to research, ask questions, and never assume anything. That much you can take to the bank.


21 Fun Facts About 12 Colleges

At the 2019 IECA Spring conference, a collection of colleges was invited to explain themselves, lightning-round style, in five minutes or fewer. Here is some of what we remember about what each of them said.

Brandeis is not a Jewish college, but it is Jew-ish. It is non-sectarian and 50% of its student body is of other backgrounds. Franklin & Marshall is located in “hip, artsy” Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Kirkwood Community College in Kirkwood, Iowa, attracts students from 38 states. Tuition is $6,400 a year, and on-campus housing another $5,500. It has a 5-star hotel on campus. Lawrence University in Appleton, Wisconsin may sound “not very big” but it has three campuses and a conservatory.

Lynn University in Boca Raton, Florida, posts all assignments via an iPad app. Oberlin College in Oberlin, Ohio, was the first to go co-ed and admit students of color. It teaches students how to think, not what to think, and embraces smallness.

Ohio Wesleyan is only 20 miles from Columbus. RIT, in Rochester New York, is career-oriented and is one of a handful of schools offering a co-op program. Sometimes it snows. University of British Columbia also has a co-op program and all students get a three-year work permit upon graduation. Buses are free because … Canada. University of Pittsburgh is actually three miles from downtown but is still an urban campus. Known for sciences, it guarantees undergraduates admission to graduate programs. Ursinus College is near Philadelphia, has an organic farm and 75 outdoor sculptures.


Goucher Redefines Liberal Arts

Washington Post: “At Goucher College, students no longer need to take a broad range of introductory classes outside their major to graduate. For non-science majors, Introduction to Biology has been replaced by Disease and Discrimination, a course that crosses disciplines to explore the inequalities in access to health care. Introduction to Philosophy was dropped for Society in the Age of Intelligent Machines. Math has become Integrative Data Analytics. Responding to a growing national debate over the relevance of a traditional liberal arts education, Goucher and other small, private liberal arts colleges … have adjusted course offerings, lowered tuition, added graduate classes that lead to employment and developed other strategies to attract students.”

“The long-held academic requirements to take a broad range of courses in a variety of disciplines have been replaced with multidisciplinary courses called ‘complex problem explorations.’ Instead of introductory classes, students take courses that might be taught by a biology professor but use a variety of disciplines to look at a contemporary issue …Because employers seek workers who can operate in teams, the college requires students to work collaboratively at times.”

“St. John’s College in Annapolis, a tiny institution with two campuses, wasn’t going to change its curriculum, which is dedicated to teaching the classics. So it took another bold approach, dropping its tuition from $52,000 a year to $35,000 … St. John’s leadership believes that small colleges can no longer rely on tuition dollars to keep them afloat. Instead, colleges will have to rely on philanthropy … St. John’s has used its tuition drop to launch a capital campaign that has so far raised $200 million toward its goal of $300 million. A year after cutting tuition costs, applications are up 13 percent and the percentage of admitted students who are committed to attending has risen as well.”


IECA 2019: Where College Consultants Confer

When about 1,500 people who do roughly the same thing for a living get together, the effect is both stimulating and surreal. We knew only a handful of the college admissions consultants in attendance at the 2019 IECA Spring Conference in Chicago, but instantly felt at home in a community that is remarkable for its collaborative spirit and willingness to share. This might come as a surprise to those who think of the college process as cut-throat, but not to anyone who truly understands that getting into a great school is not a zero-sum game, and only the tiniest fraction is angling to get into the most elite colleges and universities.

For everyone else, a cornucopia of some 3,000 institutions of higher learning await, more than just a few of which would be a great place for anyone.

Most of our three days was spent in any number of breakout sessions, where college consultants geek-out on subjects only they could love, or loathe. Sure, there was the inevitable banter about the college admissions scandal, but not too much because it isn’t relevant to our mission to help hard-working students become the best versions of themselves. Some sessions held general appeal, such as one on the admissions essay and another on understanding financial aid. Others were strictly for insiders, like dissecting the relationship between independent and school counselors, or how to manage and grow a college consulting business.

Sandwiched in between were tabletop exhibits from a range of exhibitors with products and services meant to support the college admissions process, as well as prep schools and colleges eager to work with counselors to help them identify ideal prospective students.

Two real highlights were speeches by Robert Zimmer, president of the University of Chicago, and Arne Duncan, a former U.S. Secretary of Education.

Zimmer’s message centered on mission and values, with his key point being that while values don’t change, how they manifest themselves can. He spoke about critical thinking, originality, and impact on society, stressing the imperative to argue, challenge assumptions, test ideas and embrace complexity. Such values, rooted in free expression, should not change, and yet on too many college campuses today, Zimmer said, the pressure is on to limit speech.

On the flipside, fulfilling a mission can require change, as is apparent when it comes to ensuring diversity within the academic community, racially, economically, and globally. Doing so requires changing financial aid requirements and initiating programs to attract students from different backgrounds. Finally, Zimmer talked about connecting academics to the real world, by developing careers programs, summer internships, bridging the gaps between intellectual pursuits, solving complex challenges and making a difference.

Arne Duncan emphasized the same connection between college and careers, calling it a both/and situation, not and/or. He also offered a vision that would expand the traditional K-12 model into a pre-K-14 construct, noting the value of starting earlier. Moreover, while a high school diploma is critical (there are zero jobs for dropouts, he said), Duncan argued that completing 12th grade is no longer sufficient to meet the needs of jobs today and tomorrow, which will go where the knowledge workers are.

Duncan called it “mind blowing” that college costs hundreds of thousands of dollars, adding: “College is not a scarce resource.” He also said it was more important what you do when you’re there than the name of the university. A school’s reputation, he continued, should be based on how many students it includes, not how many it keeps out. “It’s no badge of honor to say you can’t come through our doors.”

He was met with a sustained standing ovation.