Taking a Gap Year May Be Beneficial

Business Insider: For those concerned that a gap year will in some way damage someone’s academic record, don’t be. Gap year students are actually more likely to finish college in four years than those who go to college right after high school. They also tend to focus better in college and have higher GPAs … Students who take a gap year are seen as “more mature, more self-reliant and independent” than peers who don’t — all qualities employers find appealing in job candidates.”

“Something magical happens when you travel as a young adult. You use your language skills to connect and communicate, not to pass a test. You make new international friends on trains and buses. Your beliefs are challenged in hostel courtyards. You learn about culture by being in it, not reading about it in a book.”

“According to the Journal of Educational Psychology, gap year students showed increased ‘adaptive behavior’ in college, including planning, task management, and persistence. Why? Because they had to actually plan, execute tasks, and persist. These are things that last beyond college, and are arguably more important than any coursework ever could be.”

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Payback Time: Colleges That Change The World

“The Princeton Review recently published ‘Colleges That Pay You Back: 2016 Edition,’ which includes a list of the top schools in America for making an impact. Princeton Review based the ranking on student ratings and responses to survey questions covering community-service opportunities at their schools, student government, sustainability efforts, and on-campus student engagement. They also took into account PayScale.com’s percentage of alumni from each school that reported having high job meaning.”

To access a list of the top 25 schools, click here.

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Colleges Must Navigate Sea of Changes

Slate: “In the coming year, we will see changes in standardized testing, use of prior-prior year tax information in applying for financial aid, elimination of colleges’ access to the selected institution list on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, and the likely expansion of Simplified Needs Testing resulting from Medicaid expansion. These and other factors like demographic shifts, ability to pay, and public support for higher education represent unprecedented changes to the world of college admissions.”

“The wealthiest and most selective will continue on their tried and true paths, and open-access institutions will serve out their missions in the way they always have. But most colleges are working desperately to navigate the changes in a way that is not harmful to them and genuinely benefits students, especially those with the greatest need.”

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The Many Benefits of ‘Study Abroad’

The Atlantic: “A couple of years ago, the nonprofit Institute of International Education launched a campaign called Generation Study Abroad to double the number of U.S. students who spend time in foreign countries each year to 600,000 over five years. Right now, only around 10 percent of American college students study abroad. While people of color make up about 40 percent of each graduating class, they comprise just a quarter of those who go abroad. The numbers are especially low for black and Latino students. So hundreds of schools across the country … are focusing on reaching out specifically to students of color.”

“Where study abroad has traditionally been viewed as a year-long immersive experience, universities are expanding short-term opportunities for students who don’t have the money or time to go away for longer. These days, more than 60 percent of students who go abroad do either a summer program or a trip during the school year that is less than eight weeks. Around a third spend a semester abroad, and just 3 percent go for an entire school year.”

“Wagaye Johannes, the project director of Generation Study Abroad, said students see cost as the biggest barrier, even though some study abroad programs are less expensive than staying at their home universities … Culture is another, sometimes tricker, topic … Sometimes the pushback comes from families who are fearful of their children going someplace unfamiliar.”

“There is evidence that studying abroad has measurable benefits. A study prepared for the European Commission found that students who went abroad had lower unemployment rates after graduation. A report by the University System of Georgia found that graduation rates were higher for students who had been abroad, especially for low-income and minority students. Other studies have indicated that students come back more culturally aware … not only do individual scholars stand to benefit, but so does the nation’s ability to interact with other countries in an increasingly global economy.”

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Navigating The ‘Admissions Funnel’

The Wall Street Journal: “Enrollment managers call it the admissions funnel. At the top is a huge pool of prospects. At the bottom is the handful of students who enroll. And in between are inquiries, applications and admissions. The funnel isn’t new, but several developments in recent years have made it more difficult to hit the enrollment target … To help compensate for the uncertainty, schools assemble large pools of prospects by buying the names of high-school students from the organizations that administer the SAT and ACT college-admissions exams, as well as other vendors who solicit contact information from prospective college students.”

“If students don’t respond to unsolicited contacts—often in the form of mailings that may include a prepaid postcard to request additional information—they will be dropped from a college’s list of prospects … Students who respond, or initiate contact with a school on their own, filter down to the next level of the admissions funnel, the pool of inquiries, which include students who have demonstrated an interest in the school—a more desirable group than the cold leads … Meanwhile, thanks to common applications and ‘snap apps,’ colleges and universities receive more submissions than ever. Common applications allow students to submit the same application to multiple schools. Snap apps go several steps further.”

“Having lots of applicants allows schools to appear more selective when they admit students, which may help improve their rankings on best-college lists, but for enrollment managers, it’s all about conversion rates: The number of prospects that convert to applications, the number of applications that convert to admissions, and the number of admissions that convert to enrollment.”

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Swarthmore: Academic Life in a Plant Kingdom

The Washington Post: “It is no accident that many of the nation’s top universities hold their graduation ceremonies this month outdoors, in the designed landscape. Perhaps no other institution has embraced this ideal more than Swarthmore College, the small liberal arts college 10 miles southwest of Philadelphia … Created in 1929, the Scott Arboretum grants Swarthmore’s 1,500 students an academic life immersed in the plant kingdom.”

“Covering about 300 acres, it fuses three key elements: an arboretum of old and rare trees, a series of designed gardens around and among the college buildings, and a group of major plant collections that include magnolias, flowering cherries, hydrangeas and tree peonies. Add to that an adjoining 220-acre native hardwood forest — Crum Woods — and you reach the idea that if any place can take young and curious minds out of the digital universe and back into the physical world, it is here.”

“Sometimes, the gardens function as an outdoor classroom — exquisitely at the Science Center, where the outer wall of one building doubles as a chalkboard … Two gardens move front and center for this weekend’s commencement … The first is the Dean Bond Rose Garden … This Sunday, by tradition, approximately 350 graduating seniors will go to the garden, select a rose and have it pinned to their gown. They will then proceed to the commencement ceremony itself, which occurs in the Scott Outdoor Amphitheater … The tradition of commencement in this space is so strong that it is held rain or shine.”

John Beardsley, the director of garden and landscape studies at Harvard comments: “Clearly a campus is not necessary to learning — you can learn online — but you learn something else in a shared landscape space, which is about creating a sense of belonging.”

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42: Tuition-Free School in Silicon Valley

Business Insider: A radical French technology school funded by $100 million from billionaire entrepreneur Xavier Niel is coming to Silicon Valley, and has plans to grow to 10,000 students in the next five years. The tuition-free college alternative is primarily focused on teaching coding and entrepreneurial thinking, and is called “42,” a nod to the book “Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy,” where 42 is the answer to “life, the universe and everything.”

“42 doesn’t require a high-school diploma or give a traditional certificate at the end. The students, ages 18 to 30, get accepted into 42 through a logic-focused entrance exam (no coding experience is required) … There are no teachers. Students work in groups of two to five on computer programming challenges … There is no tuition. Niel has provided $100 million to launch the new nonprofit school in the US.”

“Since its launch in France, 42 has received more than 200,000 applications, and taught over 2,500 students. “

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Summertime Advice: Preparing To Leave The Nest

The Washington Post: “Here are a few tips on how to slow down the emotional merry-go-round” of the summer before your child leaves for college: “Try to schedule some fun activities that the whole family can enjoy … one-on-one time with your child doing something they love … Allow your children plenty of time to be with friends … They may not want to share their fears with you, but will probably be comfortable commiserating with their compatriots who are starting off on their own adventures.”

“Shop till you drop — together … one of the best bonding experiences of the summer will be shopping with your child for the dorm. Listen to your children and take in their preferences, without censure … Sit down with your children and plan the move-in day together so everyone knows what to expect. Cover every detail, including your exit time.”

“When that long awaited and dreaded day finally arrives on your calendar, you’ll want to be on your A-game — prepared, rested and ready to go with the flow. Stay organized, have snacks and bring tissues. Resolve to hold it together so you can be there for your kid. One more tip: Leave the dorm-room door open when unpacking so he can meet his neighbors.”

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Shady Grove: The Future of Higher Ed?

The Washington Post: The Universities at Shady Grove “is a program unlike any other, with nine state universities converging at the Rockville, Md., campus, part of an effort that began 16 years ago to reduce college costs, produce an educated workforce and encourage college completion among populations that traditionally struggle to get their ­degrees.”

Shady Grove offers a way for community college students to transfer into undergraduate programs at nine of the 12 schools in the University System of Maryland, including the University of Maryland Eastern Shore, Bowie State, Towson and the state flagship in College Park … Each school has its own office on campus and individual banners raised high above the quad … All classes are held in Rockville and taught by professors from the partner schools, so a student seeking a bachelor’s degree in social work from the University of Maryland Baltimore County can earn the degree without ever setting foot in ­Catonsville.”

“Students pay the tuition their home school charges, but they spend less on fees tied to facilities, parking and athletics. By spending two years at Montgomery College before heading to Shady Grove, students can save an average of $8,000 on tuition and fees … Students must get accepted to one of the partner schools, but once they’re in, they have a better chance of graduating through Shady Grove than if they had transferred directly to the school. The program has a 75 percent graduation rate for transfer students, the highest in Maryland’s university system and higher than the 58 percent national average.”

“It’s a very innovative model,” said Barmak Nassirian, director of federal relations and policy analysis for the American Association of State Colleges and Universities. “You have a public institution responding to market conditions in a way that expands access.”

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Top 10 Tips for Your Time at College

Vox: Christopher Blattman, an associate professor at Columbia University, offers 10 “suggestions to help make the most of college.” Here are a few of his ideas:

“Don’t wait until you finish law or medical school to discover you hate working in your specialty. Try early and often. Test out different careers in the summer — researcher, journalist, medical assistant, nonprofit worker, congressional aide, and so on … For anyone interested in law, public policy, business, economics, medicine — or really any profession — I suggest at least two semesters of statistics, if not more. Data is a bigger and bigger part of the work in these fields, and statistics is the language you need to learn to understand it.”

“In my experience, you learn more from great teachers than from great syllabuses … pick eight or nine classes based on the syllabus, go to them all, and then keep the four or five classes with the most engaging professors … Languages are hugely important. And you should learn another (or many others) besides English. But I think they’re better learned in immersion, during your summers or before and after college … Take writing seriously. You will use it no matter your career.”

“Use a summer or a school year to live abroad, ideally a place completely different from home, where you’ll come to know local people (and not just the expatriate community) … An independent research project can be the perfect capstone to your college years. Sadly, I often see theses that weren’t worth the students’ investment of time and energy. Some people’s time would be better spent acquiring technical skills.”

“At the end of each year of college, you should look back at your thoughts and opinions 12 months before and find them quaint. If not, you probably didn’t read or explore or work hard enough.”

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