Ranking the Return on Your College Investment

The New York Times: “Earnings data are finding their way into a proliferating number of mainstream college rankings, shifting the competitive landscape of American higher education in often surprising ways. This fall, The Wall Street Journal and Times Higher Education … introduced their first college rankings. Forty percent of their result is measures of ‘outcomes’ — earnings, graduation rate and loan repayment rate.”

“Last year The Economist released its first college rankings, and it relies even more heavily on earnings data … The Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce has issued another set of rankings, adjusting the College Scorecard salary rankings first for choice of major … and yet another ranking that assesses students’ expected earnings, given their characteristics when they entered college, to the actual outcome … Both Forbes and Money magazines, in their rankings, incorporate PayScale data on earnings.”

“It should go without saying that the value of an education should never be reduced to purely monetary terms.” Phil Baty of Times Higher Education comments: “The success of a college graduate should not be measured purely in terms of the salaries they earn. There’s more to life than a high salary. This is why we’ve also put an emphasis on how much the student is intellectually engaged, stimulated and stretched by their college education.”

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Keys to a Good College Experience

Quartz: “Analyzing data from a study of more than two dozen institutions, sociologists Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa conclude that many students ‘enter college with attitudes, norms, values, and behaviors that are often at odds with academic commitment.’ And many universities reinforce these beliefs by building lavish amenities and marketing themselves as something akin to a resort with a curriculum.”

“Real learning—that is, learning that makes a significant and lasting change in what a person knows or can do—emerges from what the student, not the professor, does … Instead, meaningful learning emerges from a proactive conception of knowledge, where the student’s goal is to experiment with new and unexpected ways of using what he or she is learning in different settings. This requires students to see themselves as the central actors in the drama of learning.”

“The relationships students form in college also have a profound influence on their experiences, shaping not only who they spend time with but how they will spend their time … scholars have found that students who interact frequently with peers who are different in significant ways (racially, ethnically, religiously, socioeconomically, and so on) show more intellectual and social growth in college than those who don’t … Decades of research have demonstrated that students who study together learn more, and more deeply.”

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Campus Tours As ‘Working Vacations’

The New York Times: “Fall is largely celebrated as college football season, but for high school upperclassmen and their families, it’s also college touring season … Here are a few ways to make your college research a vacation, too … given the expense, it is useful to look at the trips, at least in part, as vacations.”

“Some start with spring break trips. High season for college visits follows, during summer vacation. But campuses then are relatively empty … an argument for visits between September and May … Most visits begin with a 60- to 90-minute information session led by an admissions officer. It is invariably chock-full of facts, figures and tips, requiring full concentration. Following that is the relatively breezy campus tour, usually led by a current student adept at walking backward while pointing out the library, cafeterias, dorms and some version of the campus icon that gets painted as a student prank.”

“Campuses are often the cultural focus of college towns, with worthwhile attractions including the music conservatory at Oberlin College in Ohio and the art and natural history museums at Yale. St. Olaf College in Minnesota and Davidson College in North Carolina are among the many that have hiking trails … As with any family trip, it’s not where you go, but whom you’re with. College trips offer concentrated time with your child, when available time is increasingly rare.”

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Georgetown: Slavery Descendants Given ‘Legacy’

NPR: “Georgetown University will be offering an admissions edge to descendants of enslaved people sold to fund the school … Jesuit priests connected to the private Catholic university sold 272 enslaved people in 1838, to pay off the university’s massive debts. The men, women and children were sold to plantations in Louisiana; the university received the equivalent of $3.3 million, securing its survival.”

Georgetown will treat “the descendants of those enslaved people the same way it treats legacy students, applicants whose family members attended Georgetown … The working group had also recommended that Georgetown explore the feasibility of offering financial assistance for those students as well.”

“Additionally, the school will be renaming two buildings — formerly named after the two university presidents who made the arrangements to sell slaves to fund the school … One will become Isaac Hall, after one of the enslaved men who was sold in 1838, and another Anne Marie Becraft Hall, after a black educator and nun … Georgetown will also establish a memorial to the people whose enslavement funded and built the school, offer a mass of reconciliation and work to promote scholarship in the field of racial justice, it says.”

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Admissions Officers Offer Essay Advice

The Washington Post asked dozens of college admissions officers for insights into what they like to see in essays. Here are a few choice quotes:

“I look for beautiful, clear writing that comes to life on the essay page and offers insight into the character and personality of the student.”

“If you’re a serious person, write your essay with a serious voice. If you’re a funny person, be funny. If you’re not a funny person, your college essay might not be the best place to try on that funny writer voice for the first time.”

“We want to enroll students who will contribute to the life of the campus, so we are eager to see how you have contributed to your high-school community or the community in which you live.”

“It is a pet peeve when we see an anomaly in grades and the student never addresses this. Tell us what happened and how you turned it around.”

“You can’t fake it during the admission process. If you do, you’ll end up at a college or university that’s a poor fit.”

“Some of my most memorable offers of admission have gone to students who like to color outside the lines.”

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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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