No Place Like Home: College & Personal Growth

“For previous generations, college was a decisive break from parental supervision; guidance and support needed to come from peers and from within,” write A. Douglas Stone and Mary Schwab-Stone in The New York Times. “In the past two decades, however, continued family contact and dependence, thanks to cellphones, email and social media, has increased significantly — some parents go so far as to help with coursework.”

Stone is a physics professor at Yale and Schwab-Stone a retired psychiatrist at the Yale Child Study Center. “Instead of promoting the idea of college as a transition from the shelter of the family to adult autonomy and responsibility,” they write, “universities like Yale have given in to the implicit notion that they should provide the equivalent of the home environment … But college is a different kind of community than a family, and its primary job is education of the student and adaptation to independent community living.”

They conclude: “Every college discussion about community values, social climate and behavior should also include recognition of the developmental importance of student autonomy and self-regulation, of the necessary tension between safety and self-discovery.”

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A Prestige Diploma May Not Yield a Bigger Salary

The Wall Street Journal: “Diplomas from prestigious schools boost future earnings only in certain fields, while in other fields they simply don’t make a difference. Specifically, for business and other liberal-arts majors, the prestige of the school has a major impact on future earnings expectations. But for fields like science, technology, education and math, it largely doesn’t matter whether students go to a prestigious, expensive school or a low-priced one—expected earnings turn out the same. So, families may be wasting money by chasing an expensive diploma in those fields.”

“For potential employers, the skills students learn in these fields appear to trump prestige—possibly because curriculums are relatively standardized and there’s a commonly accepted body of knowledge students must absorb. So, a student may not need to attend the best possible school to ensure a good salary after graduation.”

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Open Syllabus: Which Books Will You Read in College?

Quartz: “The leaders of tomorrow will be well versed in dead philosophers, according to a new database of college syllabi. The Open Syllabus Project, a collection of over 1 million curricula from English-language colleges and universities over the past 15 years, released its data on Friday (Jan. 22). Plato, Hobbes, Machiavelli, and Aristotle overwhelmingly dominate lists in the US, particularly at the top schools.”

“See the texts taught at 10 of the top US colleges and how often they appeared over the last 15 years here.”

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U.S. Colleges Attract $40 Billion in Gifts

“U.S. colleges and universities raised a record $40.31 billion last year, buoyed by megagifts to Stanford University, Harvard University and other wealthy institutions,” The Wall Street Journal reports. “The top 10 fundraising recipients accounted for 18% of gifts in the latest year, or $7.27 billion, up from 17.5% the preceding year and 16.1% a decade earlier, said Ann E. Kaplan, who directs the survey.”

“The richest schools are encouraging an arms race among donors as they seek funds to build sprawling health-care and academic complexes or to launch interdisciplinary programs. Successful alumni donors are eager to preserve their legacies by backing institutes that take on pressing challenges like global poverty and climate change.”

“Stanford led the pack with a record $1.63 billion raised in its fiscal year ended Aug. 31, followed by Harvard, which brought in $1.05 billion in its fiscal year ended June 30.”

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What Your Major Might Say About You

The Atlantic: “According to a new meta-analysis, there are significant personality differences between students in different academic majors. For the review paper, Anna Vedel, a psychologist from Aarhus University in Denmark, analyzed 12 studies examining the correlation between personality traits and college majors. Eleven of them found significant differences between majors. The review examined the so-called “Big Five” traits: neuroticism, extraversion, openness to experience, agreeableness, and conscientiousness.”

“Arts and humanities majors, Vedel found, are in the unenviable position of being anxious, but not very organized. They were less conscientious than students in fields like science, law, or engineering. They also tended to score higher on neuroticism … Economics and business students rated consistently lower in neuroticism than other groups. Along with law students, business and economics students were also less agreeable than students in the other majors. Economics, law, political-science, and medicine students were more extroverted than students in the arts, humanities, and the sciences.”

“Vedel writes that she hopes her findings can help college counselors guide students into the best majors for their personalities. That, she thinks, might help reduce drop-out rates.”

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Turning The Tide: Reforming The Admissions Process

In this morning’s New York Times, Frank Bruni writes about Turning The Tide, a report by administrators from Yale, MIT and the University of Michigan. The report details recommended changes to the college admissions process intended to relieve some of the stress it places on students.

Mr. Bruni writes: “Focused on certain markers and metrics, the admissions process warps the values of students drawn into a competitive frenzy. It jeopardizes their mental health. And it fails to include — and identify the potential in — enough kids from less privileged backgrounds.”

“The report recommends less emphasis on standardized test scores, which largely correlate with family income … It asks colleges to send a clear message that admissions officers won’t be impressed by more than a few Advanced Placement courses. Poorer high schools aren’t as likely to offer A.P. courses, and a heavy load of them is often cited as a culprit in sleep deprivation, anxiety and depression among students at richer schools.”

“The report also suggests that colleges discourage manic résumé padding by accepting information on a sharply limited number of extracurricular activities; that they better use essays and references to figure out which students’ community-service projects are heartfelt and which are merely window dressing; and that they give full due to the family obligations and part-time work that some underprivileged kids take on.”

“Colleges are … realizing that many kids admitted into top schools are emotional wrecks or slavish adherents to soulless scripts that forbid the exploration of genuine passions. And they’re acknowledging the extent to which the admissions process has contributed to this.”

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New Study: Your Social-Media Footprint Matters

Business Wire: A survey of “nearly 400 college admissions officers across the United States finds that the percentage of admissions officers who visit applicants’ social media pages to learn more about them has hit a record high of 40% — quadruple the percentage who did so in 2008 … For context, out of those who do so, 89% say they do so “rarely” while only 11% say they do so “often”. And the percentage of admissions officers who say they have Googled an applicant to learn more about them has remained relatively stable over the past two years, at 29%.”

In some cases, the admissions officers visit because the applicants suggested it as a way to learn more about their interests and talents. The officers might also be looking to verify awards, or investigate a candidate’s criminal or disciplinary history. Students seeking scholarships may come under special scrutiny, as well. Sometimes, the visit is triggered by an anonymous tip, perhaps submitted by a rival applicant.

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Will Harvard Become Tuition-Free?

The New York Times: A “slate of candidates running for the Board of Overseers at Harvard” thinks the university “should stop charging tuition to undergraduates.” They see a tuition-free Harvard as an alternative to affirmative action, arguing “that if Harvard were free, more highly qualified students from all backgrounds would apply, and the university would no longer have trouble balancing its class for racial or ethnic diversity.”

Asian-Americans, in particular, are thought to be “short-changed” in the admissions process. In fact, a pending federal lawsuit accuses “the university of discriminating against Asian-Americans in admissions. Harvard has denied the allegations.” Both the lawsuit and the slate of candidates are seeking “disclosure of data showing how the university’s freshman class is selected each year.”

Harvard spokesman Jeff Neal says a tuition-free Harvard is not going to happen, however. “There is a common misconception that endowments, including Harvard’s, can be accessed like bank accounts, used for anything at any time as long as funds are available … In reality, Harvard’s flexibility in spending from the endowment is limited by the fact that it must be maintained in perpetuity and that it is largely restricted by the explicit wishes of those who contributed the endowed funds.”

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