St. John’s College: ‘Old School’ is New Again

Quartz: “Consider St. John’s College, America’s third-oldest institution of higher education, founded in 1696. With fewer than 700 students between two campuses in Annapolis and Santa Fe, St. John’s is a bit under the radar. But it’s emerged as one of the most distinctive colleges in the country by maintaining a strict focus on the classics of the Western canon … a big part of that distinction is due to a strict adherence to its own curated curriculum and teaching methods, know simply as “the Program” implemented back in 1937.”

“Four years of literature, language, philosophy, political science and economy, and math. Three years of laboratory science, and two of music. That’s it. No contemporary social studies. No accounting. No computer classes. No distinct majors or minors … Another unique feature of St. John’s is a resistance to placing texts in a political, social or historic context for discussion. Context is viewed as ideology, something that St. John’s believes distorts true education and the ability to form one’s own opinion. This is crucial to the school’s philosophy; by freeing texts from context, St. John’s claims it frees students’ minds to ponder the multiple possibilities and meanings that are actually in the text.”

“Clearly St. John’s is not for everyone. First, you need to be a voracious reader to cover the Program texts at a brisk pace. You also need the capacity for and love of writing because St. John’s requires a lot of it. It helps to feel comfortable speaking in public, since so much of St. John’s learning occurs out loud around a table with your classmates and tutors … In recent years, Forbes ranked the Santa Fe campus as the “Most Rigorous” in the US (with Annapolis ranked eighth, odd given the same Program), way ahead of the big Ivies like Harvard (17th), Princeton (20th), Yale (23rd), and Stanford (25th). The school’s tutors are often cited as among the best teachers in the country.”


When Harvard Rescinds Admissions

The Harvard Crimson: “Harvard College rescinded admissions offers to at least ten prospective members of the Class of 2021 after the students traded sexually explicit memes and messages that sometimes targeted minority groups in a private Facebook group chat … In the group, students sent each other memes and other images mocking sexual assault, the Holocaust, and the deaths of children, according to screenshots of the chat obtained by The Crimson.”

“After discovering the existence and contents of the chat, Harvard administrators revoked admissions offers to at least ten participants in mid-April, according to several members of the group. University officials have previously said that Harvard’s decision to rescind a student’s offer is final.”

“This incident marks the second time in two years that Harvard has dealt with a situation where incoming freshmen exchanged offensive messages online. Last spring, some admitted members of the Class of 2020 traded jokes about race and mocked feminists in an unofficial class GroupMe chat … But administrators chose not to discipline members of the Class of 2020 who authored the messages.”


Essay Advice: Fortune Favors the Bold

Business Insider: Ross Galloway “decided to answer Harvard Business School’s (HBS) sole essay question in the voice of an ESPN anchor on SportsCenter.” He explains: “The prompt was: ‘Introduce yourself to your section mates,'” so I wrote my essay as if it was the script. I tried to create this picture for readers.”

His lead-in:

*Turns on SportsCenter theme music from his phone.*

“Hello and welcome to SportsCenter! On today’s special edition of our program we will be providing you the top 3 highlights of Ross Galloway’s life.”

“He had some doubts about this approach, especially as he received some advice to stick to a more traditional response to the question. But he wanted to remain authentic to himself … That bet paid off. Galloway finished his first year at HBS in May.” Says Ross: “Fortune favors the bold.”


‘Menus of Change’ Transform Campus Cafeterias

Business Insider: “An unlikely group of scientists, chefs, and academics is banding together to transform the eating habits of college students. Known as the Menus of Change University Research Collaborative, cofounded last year by Stanford University and the Culinary Institute of America, the alliance aims to ditch the unhealthy, unsustainable foods commonly served in dining halls in favor of tasty, more plant-based offerings.”

“So far, more than 40 colleges and universities across the country, including Harvard, Kansas State, University of Southern California, and University of Montana, have signed up for the mission. By the end of this summer, they have pledged to reduce their purchases of red meat by 10%, increase fruits and vegetables by 10%, and serve 10% more plant-based protein dishes. In addition, these schools are actively utilizing their kitchens and dining halls as living laboratories, experimenting with recipes and other strategies to get students to make better, more sustainable choices.”

“Northeastern, which feeds 20,000 people a day … is already consuming 25% more produce, twice the whole grains, 30% less sodium, and 10% less soda. The Boston-based university is also tackling food waste. Starting this fall, dining halls will no longer feature trays … At Rutgers University, chefs are tackling vegetarian options and processed foods. The school recently stopped outsourcing its chicken fingers, turkey, and roast beef, preferring instead to make these items fresh in its own kitchens. Processed vegan nuggets, for instance, have been replaced with tastier cauliflower nuggets in sauce. Bread is also baked on site instead of purchased in bags from outside vendors.”


Some Schools Are Still Dangling Dollars

The New York Times: “In the minds of parents and teenagers going through the college application process, May 1 is a magic date. At that point, you’ve sent in a deposit, bought a sticker for your car window and posted your choice on social media. This year, however, scores of teenagers had something unexpected happen next: During the first week in May, they received text messages or emails from schools that had accepted them but had not heard back. The messages all hinted at a particular question: Might a larger discount prompt you to come here after all?”

“The upheaval that comes with reopening the college decision is rough on teenagers as well as their parents, who would have to revisit difficult financial choices and conversations all over again. Suddenly, a first-choice school may be almost within reach but still not quite affordable. The injection of money into a discussion thought to be over makes an emotional situation even more fraught … Now that applicants, even in wealthier families, know how much of a stretch college might be, it can weigh them down with guilt.”

“For a portion of the applicant pool, May 1 has not been the date for some time. Many colleges maintain wait lists … And for all the attention families devote to the most competitive institutions, plenty more have space available through summer and invite qualified students to apply. The National Association for College Admission Counseling, or Nacac, publishes a list each year, and this year’s lineup includes household names like Arizona State and Penn State.”


How Algorithms Are Changing Admissions

The Atlantic: “While few colleges follow the same admissions playbook, they are all taking their cues from the invisible array of algorithms that recommend music on Spotify, movies on Netflix, and books on Amazon. While colleges say the data help to target their marketing efforts, the new methods also explain why students with similar similar academic backgrounds now get varying degrees of outreach from colleges.”

Jeff Goff of Saint Louis University comments: “We needed to focus on finding students who would be a good fit. So when we looked at the demographics of the previous class, we wanted to not only look at the students who chose to enroll at the institution, but those who ended up succeeding and were satisfied. We wanted to know if we could replicate those students.”

“Since the university began to rely heavily on Big Data to drive its recruitment strategy, it has … enrolled five of the six largest freshmen classes in the university’s history. What’s more, the campus has increased its four-year graduation rate to 71 percent—up from 62 percent in 2010.”


The Ivies Become Even More Selective

The Wall Street Journal: “Some of America’s most exclusive colleges have become even more exclusive. The eight members of the Ivy League on Thursday evening released details of which lucky young adults were selected to join their first-year classes come fall, and with just one exception they received more applications than the prior year. As most didn’t increase their class sizes, acceptance rates declined.”

“Harvard University topped the exclusivity chart with a 5.2% acceptance rate, as the school offered spots to 2,056 of a record 39,506 applicants. Columbia, Princeton, Brown, the University of Pennsylvania and Cornell also boasted their largest freshman applicant pools in history, and acceptance rates dropped to 5.8%, 6.1%, 8.3%, 9.2% and 12.5%, respectively. Dartmouth College was the only Ivy to see a decline in applications … it accepted slightly fewer students, so the admit rate declined to 10.4% from 10.5%.”

“Despite the ballooning application numbers and dwindling chances of being accepted, many admissions officials say they’re getting less elitist in at least some regards. For example, Harvard noted that about 15.1% of the students it admitted would be first-generation college students after a concerted effort to appeal to more such students whose parents didn’t attend college. At Princeton, that share was 18.9%, also amid a push to expand its student body’s socioeconomic diversity.”


Rejection & The Art of Disappointment

The Wall Street Journal: “Claudia Vulliamy, of London, had several rounds of interviews and an overnight stay at Oxford University, where she wanted to study classics. While hopeful, she prepared herself for bad news, but was ‘quite disappointed’ when the letter from Oxford arrived saying she didn’t make it. She texted her mother, Louisa Saunders. When Ms. Saunders arrived home, she said Claudia was ‘relatively chipper.’ She had taken the Oxford letter and cut out key phrases— ‘after careful consideration’ … ‘sorry not to have better news’ … ‘not been possible to offer you a place’ … ‘no longer under consideration’—and incorporated them into a painting.”

“Claudia wasn’t going to show it to anyone else, but when her mother reacted so positively, she decided to share it with friends on Facebook … Friends, who likewise received rejection letters, were cheered, says Claudia … Her mother tweeted it, saying: ‘Yesterday, my daughter learned that she hadn’t got into Oxford. By the time I got in from work, she’d made this from her rejection letter.’ It was retweeted about 52,000 times.”


When Followers are Leaders

Susan Cain: “If college admissions offices show us whom and what we value, then we seem to think that the ideal society is composed of Type A’s. This is perhaps unsurprising, even if these examples come from highly competitive institutions. It’s part of the American DNA to celebrate those who rise above the crowd … So now we have high school students vying to be president of as many clubs as they can. It’s no longer enough to be a member of the student council; now you have to run the school.”

“But many students I’ve spoken with read ‘leadership skills’ as a code for authority and dominance and define leaders as those who ‘can order other people around.’ And according to one prominent Ivy League professor, those students aren’t wrong; leadership, as defined by the admissions process, too often ‘seems to be restricted to political or business power.’ She says admissions officers fail to define leadership as ‘making advances in solving mathematical problems’ or ‘being the best poet of the century’.”

“Perhaps the biggest disservice done by the outsize glorification of ‘leadership skills’ is to the practice of leadership itself — it hollows it out, it empties it of meaning. It attracts those who are motivated by the spotlight rather than by the ideas and people they serve. It teaches students to be a leader for the sake of being in charge, rather than in the name of a cause or idea they care about deeply.”


The ‘Moneyballing’ of College Admissions

The New York Times: “Nearly all colleges … make use of two metrics to gauge student quality: cumulative high school grade point average and composite score on the ACT … But research has shown that these metrics are imperfect: They are less predictive of student success than alternative measures that are equally simple to calculate and whose use would lead to a better incoming class.”

“Consider grade point average. Students whose overall G.P.A. is a result of doing better later in high school … are much more likely to succeed in college than students with the same overall G.P.A. who did better early in high school … A paper in The Journal of Public Economics … shows that an additional G.P.A. point in 11th grade makes a student 16 percentage points more likely to graduate from college, whereas an additional G.P.A. point in ninth grade makes a student only five percentage points more likely to graduate from college.”

“Something similar is true of ACT composite scores … college admissions offices are giving equal weight to each of the four subtests. But in a 2013 paper … (provides) evidence that the math and English subject tests are far more predictive of college success than the reading and science tests … Colleges may also be reluctant to adopt these more predictive metrics because popular college rankings … use the old metrics in their calculations. Admissions officers may also lack the proper incentives or feedback … Whether or not a student does well in college is not something you can typically determine until a few years after the admissions decision, and thus admissions officers may not feel that they are blamed or rewarded for student success”