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The Talk

2 Dec

In less than two weeks, D-Day looms for seniors who have applied early decision.  On or about December 15, colleges will send out their acceptance letters to these early applicants who have been waiting anxiously to hear about their fate since November.  Will the email or letter read, “Congratulations and welcome to the Class of 2016,” or will it read, “We regret to inform you…” My hands have turned cold with dread and nervousness just thinking about it.

By this time, some seniors have already heard from colleges, especially if they applied to schools with rolling admissions.  A few weeks ago, my daughter told me that on her way to class, she saw a girl jumping up and down and shrieking in the hallway, “I’m going to college!”   Some talented athletes have also closed the deal on their recruitment: a top cross-country runner is going to Duke University, and a gifted tennis player is heading to Williams College.  As word spreads about who has gotten in and to where, my daughter admitted that she couldn’t help but feel pinpricks of envy, all of which only seems to add to the heightened frenzy and stress of the season.

So she waits with impatience and trepidation for December 15 to arrive, wanting it to come quickly and not wanting it to come quickly.  I talked to her about what may happen that day.

“If it doesn’t work out, you know, if you don’t get in…”

I broke off, searching for the right balance of optimism and realism.  Her eyes locked on mine as she waited for me to continue.  I tried again.

“We all think the college that you applied to is a good fit and we’re hopeful that you can get in.  But you never know these days.  You don’t know who else is applying and what they’re like.  If they receive too many applications from Chinese-American girls who have lived in Ireland, play the flute and want to study Chinese…” I paused.  This was not going the way I envisioned.  I didn’t want to make her sound like everyone else.

The word “rejection” sticks in my throat and I have a hard time spitting it out.  “If it doesn’t work out,” I said, my words rushing out, “then it was not the right college for you for reasons that we’re not going to know now.  We have to trust and have faith that in God’s providence, you will end up at the right college.”

She nodded.  “Yeah, I know.  I’ve thought about that too, about what it will feel like if I don’t get in.  I’ll probably be really disappointed and sad.”

“Yeah,” I agreed, “we’ll all feel disappointed.  But you’ll have to find a way to push through it and send out your other applications.”

She nodded again and huffed out a breath filled with longing, “I really hope I get in.”

Me too.

Alma Mater: Not Penn State

14 Nov

Ok, the title of this post is a cheap shot.  I admit it.  When I attended the University of Pennsylvania in the 1980’s, there was a popular T-shirt on campus that read: “Not Penn State.”  Apparently people often got my alma mater confused with Penn State, much to our annoyance.  Back then many Penn students like myself had an inferiority complex, having been shut out of the Ivy League Big Three (Harvard, Princeton, Yale).  So for people to think that we attended Penn State felt like they were pouring salt on wound.

Those days are long gone.  In fact, I probably can’t get admitted today.  As for that “Not Penn State” T-shirt, I didn’t see any on my recent visit to campus.  Judging from the early decision statistics, many students now make Penn their first choice and half the entering class is filled through early decision.  It’s no wonder our high school guidance department advises students to apply early if they want to go to Penn.  In 2011, the overall admission rate was 12% but 26% of early applicants were admitted.  (It will be interesting to see whether Harvard and Princeton’s re-institution of early action will siphon off candidates from Penn’s early decision pool).

Penn also likes to admit children and grandchildren of alumni.  Whether you believe legacy preference is fair or not, Penn wants to attract legacy students.  It created the Alumni Council on Admissions to help alumni families determine whether Penn is the right college, and to advise legacy applicants how best to present themselves.  In early decision, 38% to 42% of legacy applicants are admitted.  But the legacy advantage only seems to matter in early decision and is less of a factor in regular decision.  Penn is a popular choice at our high school and each year over two-dozen seniors apply.  Penn usually accepts about half a dozen students, almost all through early decision.

When we visited the campus, it was on a beautiful early spring day.  The lovely weather brought the students outside in full force and they thronged Locust Walk, the main pedestrian thoroughfare through Penn’s campus.  Tables were set up along the Walk and students were loudly hawking tickets to dances, shows, and other campus happenings.  The atmosphere felt festive.  Maybe it was the bright sunshine but the buildings seemed spiffier than I remembered.  The Wharton undergraduate business school is housed in a new building, Huntsman Hall, named after its benefactor, Jon M. Huntsman, father of the Republican presidential candidate and former ambassador to China, Jon M. Huntsman, Jr.  The building inside is gorgeous, with polished wood interiors and state-of-the-art teaching equipment.  Thanks to its many successful alumni, the Wharton School has always received out-sized alumni donations.

Penn has four undergraduate colleges – liberal arts, business, engineering and nursing – and is the second largest Ivy League university.  Total enrollment numbers around 9,700 undergraduates.  An interdisciplinary approach to academics is highly encouraged, reflecting founder Benjamin Franklin’s belief in an education that is strong in the professions and the liberal arts.  So regardless of which college students are enrolled in, they may take classes in any of the four schools.  There are more opportunities than in my day to pursue dual degrees such as international studies and business, management and technology, nursing and health care management, life sciences and management, computers and cognitive science.  Some unusual majors that I remember from thirty years ago, like history and sociology of science or biological basis of behavior, are still being offered.

As a heavily pre-professional university, many of my classmates went on to pursue graduate degrees in business, law, and medicine.  I suspect that this has not changed.  It is a university that has only gotten better with time.

Ten Tips on Preparing College Applications

10 Nov

As my daughter works on her college applications this fall, we have already learned some important lessons.  Here’s hoping that some of these tips below will help other college applicants with their applications.

  1. Do not wait until the last minute to submit applications because as this October snowstorm has taught us, something may go wrong.  Give yourself some extra time.
  2. Start working on essays the summer before senior year, as soon as the Common Application becomes available, usually August 1.  Do not wait until the last minute (see #1 above).
  3. Make a list of each college with all the essays and supplements for each.  Sometimes the essays may overlap and you can revise one essay and use it for another college.  Be sure you are sending the right essays to the right schools (see #7 and #8 below).
  4. Create a file folder for each college that you will be applying to.  Each folder can have a cover sheet with all the information for that college, including deadlines, emails, phone numbers, codes, contacts, scores sent, transcript sent etc.  Brochures, copies of correspondences and filed applications should be put into the pertinent folder.
  5. When working on the computer, be sure to back up your work into a flash drive in case something happens to the computer.
  6. Print out and read your essays out loud to hear how it sounds.  Often times you can hear if a sentence or phrase is awkwardly worded.
  7. Print out a copy of the entire application and have someone proofread everything.
  8. Have another person proofread everything.
  9. If you submit an early decision or early action application, keep working on your regular decision applications so if in the unfortunate event that you are denied admission, the other applications are ready to go.  Do not wait until the last minute (see #1 above).
  10. Have faith that you will end up at the right college for you.

October Storm

7 Nov

The sound of buzzing chainsaws could be heard throughout our neighborhood this weekend.  The clean up after the freaky pre-Halloween storm has begun.  We lost power early Saturday afternoon as large, wet flakes descended from the skies and landed on trees that had yet to shed their leaves.  Unable to bear the additional weight, tree limbs and branches cracked, snapped and thudded to the ground.  This was repeated throughout the storm, a strangely jarring sound – snap, crack, thud.  I involuntarily winced each time I heard it.  Our backyard was littered with fallen limbs and leaves, some branches as thick as a grown man’s arm or thigh.

With the electricity out, there was no heat and the temperature in the house dipped below 50 degrees Fahrenheit or 10 degrees Celsius.  Based on what we saw with Hurricane Irene, I knew that it could be days before power would be restored.  Schools were closed Monday so my daughter and I packed up the laptop and college application materials and headed for the nearest open public library.  After navigating through road closures and detours, we got to the library and it was already swarming with folks seeking warmth and a place to charge cell phones.  We managed to find two empty seats next to each other and she began working on her college essays right away.

As if high school seniors needed more stress, this snowstorm occurred a few days before many early action and early decision applications were due.  The power outage set back my daughter’s plans to work on her essays that weekend, causing her much stress and anxiety.  With more than three million people affected by the storm, I wondered whether colleges were going to move the deadline.  Sure enough, when my daughter logged onto the Common Application website, there was this note:

“The Common Application Board of Directors has asked all member colleges with imminent deadlines to be sensitive to the adverse conditions affecting schools and students in the northeast.”

It was up to individual colleges to decide whether to extend deadlines.  Some colleges moved their deadlines by one day (Yale University) and some as long as two weeks (Loyola University Maryland and Drew University).

Although there is no competitive advantage to submitting an application well ahead of a deadline, there is something to be said about not waiting until the very last moment to submit.  All kinds of weird things can happen, like this bizarre snowstorm or technical difficulties.  Nobody needs that extra stress and agitation, certainly not parents (speaking for myself).

The next day, a kind friend offered to have our family stay at her place until our power was restored.  We took her up on her gracious offer and this gave my daughter the ability and fast Internet connection to continue working on her application.  There are few things more blessed in life than to have such good friends.  And electricity and heat.

The George Washington University – a trip report

24 Mar

The big, brightly lit hall was packed with prospective students and their parents and there were no more seats left since we had arrived late to the information session.  But the staff at George Washington University (GWU) kindly brought in chairs to accommodate us and other latecomers.  An admissions officer and a student were up front, already deep into their presentation about the university.

GWU is a stone’s throw away from the corridors of power in Washington, D.C. and its very location attracts students who are interested in all things political, regardless of what they are studying.  And there is a wide range of undergraduate academic programs to choose from, starting with the largest undergraduate school, liberal arts, to business to engineering to international affairs to media and public affairs to public health.  One student’s experience was that no matter the class subject, the conversation topic inevitably turns to a discussion of politics.  This can take some getting used to, if one is more apolitical.  The university also prides itself in hiring professors who have had work experience in government, industry, and international affairs and because of its location, attracts an impressive roster of guest speakers.

The main campus is located in Foggy Bottom, about four blocks from the White House.   GWU’s 9,500 undergraduates are spread between the Foggy Bottom campus and the Mount Vernon campus, acquired twelve years ago and located a few miles away.  Shuttles run regularly between the two campuses on a 24-hour basis.

The Foggy Bottom campus consists of buildings spread out over several city blocks and there is no discernible campus to speak of other than signs that identify the buildings as belonging to the university.  The buildings are modern looking structures and blend into the cityscape.  As such it is very urban and this will likely appeal to some students and not others.  Although we did not see Mount Vernon, word is that it more resembles a traditional campus with green spaces, trees, quads, and is set in a quiet suburban-like area.  Our tour guide told us the appeal of having both types of campuses was what attracted him to GWU.  In addition, the university is planning on erecting a brand new science building in the next few years as the existing science facilities are aging.

GWU offers a lot of flexibility in their academic programs.  Students can major and minor across undergraduate schools, double major across schools and even switch schools.  They also offer an honors program and combined bachelor/graduate degree programs.  In the thirty years since I applied to college, GWU has risen significantly in rankings and become more competitive.  Last year the admission rate was 31% and this year, the number of GWU’s early decision applicants swelled 18.5%, attesting to the university’s ever-increasing popularity.  This is not your grandfather’s GWU.

Like any big university, the bureaucracy can be frustrating, according to a former GWU parent.  It is not cheap either, with tuition costing $42,860 a year and room and board adding another $10,120.  GWU offers a fixed tuition plan where students pay the same tuition for four years.  Ten to fifteen percent of the students receive merit aid.

In a few days I’ll post some photos of the university.

 

Guest Blogger: Jessica Iannetta

31 Jan

Every so often I will invite someone to post a guest blog for a different perspective.  Today I ask Ms. Jessica Iannetta, a graduating senior from a local public high school, to share some of her thoughts about college admissions, a process that she has just undergone.  I think you will enjoy what she has to say.

 

I’m the oldest kid in my family, which means that I’m the guinea pig.  I do everything first, figure out where all the pitfalls are, and then watch as my younger brother benefits from my mistakes.  The college process was no different.  After months of research and countless sleepless nights, I made the decision to apply Early Decision to Syracuse University’s S. I. Newhouse School of Public Communications and was accepted in December.  I learned many things during this process that don’t show up in college guidebooks, so I’d like to help out all my fellow guinea pigs by passing on some things I’ve learned through my experience.

1. There is more than one best-fit college for everyone.

There’s a lot of talk about finding the best-fit college, but it implies that there is only one best-fit college for each person.  When I started looking at colleges, I knew I wanted to major in journalism.  In the end, I had two top choices.  Other than the fact that they both had excellent journalism programs, they couldn’t be more different.  Elon University is a 5,000-student school located in sunny Elon, North Carolina.  Syracuse University is a 14,000-student school located in snowy Syracuse, New York.  Although I ultimately chose Syracuse because it was closer to home and had a more rigorous program, I firmly believe I would have been happy at either school.  There is more than one perfect college for everyone.

2. Apply early action for your own peace of mind.

Although the November deadlines associated with Early Action can be stressful, it’s worth it in the end.  If you apply early action, it’s non-binding and you find out much earlier than regular decision.  This is a good thing because the college application process has a way of turning calm, rational people into raving lunatics.  As others around you get into college, the pressure will magnify and suddenly you’ll begin wondering whether you’re going to get into college at all.  Even if the school is not necessarily your top choice, applying early action will give you peace of mind that you’ll be going somewhere next year and makes senior year much less stressful.

3. “You become a college applicant the day you enter high school.”*

This applies especially to freshmen and sophomores.  Everything you do in high school will go on your future college application so don’t wait until junior year to start thinking about it.  The classes you choose and the grades you get your first two years in high school will play a big role in determining which colleges you can get into it.  Don’t take off your first two years only to regret it when it comes time to apply to your first choice college.

*In the interest of full disclosure, the above quotation comes from Peter Van Buskirk, the mastermind behind the college admissions website The Admission Game.  The website is helpful but I especially recommend going to hear one of his talks in person.

4. Don’t jump off a bridge.

The old saying “If everyone else jumped off a bridge, would you do it too?” certainly applies to the college admissions process.  Just because all your friends applied to Ivy Leagues or to one certain school or have submitted 15 applications doesn’t mean you have to as well.  The application process can get very competitive and it’s important to remember that what’s right for your best friend or your sibling may not be right for you.  Resist the temptation to jump off the bridge with everyone else.

 

Some Links to Interesting Articles

16 Dec

Just a short post today – the holiday busyness is ratcheting up.  Recently I read a couple of articles in the New York Times that gave me much food – the no calorie type, perfect for this time of year – for thought, and I trust that readers may also find intriguing.

The first article “Parents Embrace Documentary on Pressures of School” by Trip Gabriel published on December 8 concerns a documentary about school pressures that has been making the rounds through various school districts in private screenings.  The documentary called “Race to Nowhere,” was created by Ms. Abeles, a mother and novice filmmaker, and shows how the demands of homework and sports and high expectations combine to exert enormous pressure on teens, so much so that some of them become physically ill.  The article describes the reaction of parents and school officials to the film and much of what is discussed resonated with me.  It might be a film worth bringing to your local school district.

The second article “The Case for Early Decision” by Dr. Robert Massa of Lafayette College, and published on December 13, seeks to set straight some media misperceptions about early decision.  According to him, no college will hold a student to an early decision commitment if the family determines that a financial aid package is insufficient.  He confirms that the chances of being admitted through early decision are better because colleges want the most qualified students.  He also writes that it’s easier to get financial aid during early decision because colleges have not depleted their financial aid budgets yet.  His article is worth reading if only to get a different perspective on early admission.

 

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