Tag Archives: ACT

A Visit to Rutgers University

21 Jul

State universities often lack the aura of prestige that go with the Ivy League and comparable brand name schools.  Hence, many a high-achieving student sees them as safety schools.  But in this day and age, when economic times remain uncertain at best, state universities may offer a better bet over some lower tier private universities for its cost effectiveness and access to resources.

I came to this conclusion when my daughter and I took a tour of our home state university, Rutgers University in New Brunswick.  The university is so large that it spans five campuses and we had to take a bus tour of it.  During the school year, students use the Rutgers bus system – I was told it is the second largest bus system in the state – to get around.  According to one student admissions representative, she never had to wait more than five minutes for a bus.

The campuses are expansive, with lots of open green space, a lake, and even a golf course.  We saw signs of building activity everywhere and were told the construction is mostly for new dorms.  Housing is guaranteed for all freshmen but after that, it is based on a lottery system.

The student body is large, with over 30,000 undergraduates and 8,500 graduate students.  Because of its size, it can support many academic programs so there are over 100 majors across seven schools, including liberal arts, visual and performing arts, engineering, pharmacy, business, nursing, and environmental/biological sciences.  Apparently there are many opportunities for undergraduates to participate in research.

The cost of this education for in-state residents is half of what many private institutions charge: last year tuition and board came out to $23,466 for in-state residents.  Even for out-of-state residents and international students, it compares favorably at $35,222.  The Board of Governors just approved a tuition increase of 1.6% for next year and room and board will likely increase 3.3%.  It is still a bargain.

The admissions rate in 2010 for New Brunswick was 59%, making it an easier college to get into.  Lest one thinks that a higher acceptance rate translates into a less than stellar student body, 81% of freshmen at New Brunswick ranked in the top 25% of their graduating class.  This academic profile is similar to some private universities like Northeastern University or American University.

Other than the cost, Rutgers’ size dwarfs that of many private schools and its sheer size can be daunting, unless one is looking for a large school experience.  It has a football team and by all accounts, school spirit is feisty (this is New Jersey after all).  We passed the football stadium and it looks fairly new.  With such a large student body, students will have to take a pro-active approach to their education.  Faculty advisers are assigned to each student to help with academic planning and course and major selection but this is not a place where they will hold your hand through your four years.  But perhaps that more closely reflects real life.

Rutgers is known for its diverse student body, with students coming from all socio-economic backgrounds and ethnicities, the vast majority of whom are from New Jersey (92%).  In New Brunswick, whites constitute less than 50% of the student population.  In what must seem like a bitter ironic twist, the university launched Project Civility to promote civil discourse on campus at the same time that the Tyler Clementi tragedy was unfolding last September.  (Tyler Clementi was a young gay freshman who committed suicide after finding out that his roommate had secretly videotaped him having a tryst with another man.  The case is wending its way through the legal system.)

The application process is fairly straightforward.  Students apply online at the Rutgers website (no Common Application) and self report their grades.  There is an essay; the SAT or the ACT score is required.  No teacher recommendations are needed.

For those students who may not qualify for a lot of financial aid, going to Rutgers may make more sense than going to a higher priced, lower tier, private university.  Besides, I like knowing that my tax dollars are being put to good use.

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A Visit to Georgetown University

13 Apr

When we visited Georgetown University in February, a gentle sprinkling of snow dusted the grounds and buildings of this prestigious Catholic university, rendering an entrancing effect to its traditional campus of collegiate Gothic and Georgian redbrick.  Located in the tony Georgetown section of Washington, D.C. overlooking the Potomac River, this university has become one of the most selective schools in the country.  It seems to combine all the desirable elements of top-notch academics, a nationally ranked basketball team, and a location in the nation’s capitol.

That morning, my daughter ventured into her first college class in elementary Chinese.  Georgetown offers prospective students opportunities to sit in on classes, a list of which can be found on its website.  As we waited for her to get out of class, I eavesdropped on two students sitting next to us.  They were discussing the on-going turmoil in the Middle East, Afghanistan, and American policy.  The earnestness of their conversation sparked a memory of listening to similar discussions thirty years ago at college: the on-going turmoil in the Middle East (Iran-Iraq war), Afghanistan (the Soviet invasion), and American policy.  Plus ça change…

Unfortunately, my daughter could not get a good feel for the Chinese class because it was too easy.  The professor conducted the class in Chinese and according to my daughter, she was funny and made jokes.  But since my daughter was the only one who understood the professor, she was the only one who laughed at the jokes.  Later, the professor said that she should have sat in on a third year class instead.  The professor also questioned whether my daughter should pursue a Chinese major because she already knew a lot of Chinese.  This confused and discouraged my daughter and I wished I had been present to ask follow up questions.  But we were trying to let her approach professors on her own.

Afterwards we met up with a friend’s daughter who attends Georgetown.  She brought us to a popular Georgetown hangout, The Tombs, for lunch.  Bright and articulate, Amy is a senior majoring in Russian with a minor in Chinese.  Over hamburgers and pasta, Amy shared the highs and lows of her Georgetown experiences with us.  She told my daughter not to worry about what the Chinese professor said because when she came to Georgetown, she had had a few years of Russian language instruction already.  She was able to take graduate level courses in Russian as well as advanced language courses in Chinese.  Overall she praised Georgetown’s language programs where class sizes are capped and everyone quickly gets to know one another.  Because of its location, she has taken advantage of internships in the Washington D.C. area and has received a job offer.  Georgetown was the right choice for her.

She warns though that the medium sized university of 6,400 undergraduates can be bureaucratic and because of the expensive tuition – about $39,768 for the 2010-2011 academic year – it attracts students mostly from upper middle-income families.  Room and board costs average $13,000 or more.  Because the University’s endowment is smaller than similarly ranked universities, it is less able to offer generous financial aid than its peers.

The university is better known for its international relations, language, business, and government and political science programs than its science and math programs.  A new science building is scheduled to open in 2012.  There are four undergraduate schools: arts and sciences, foreign service, business, and nursing and public health.  Each school has core curriculum requirements and in arts and sciences this amounts to taking English, theology, and philosophy courses.  In addition, the university offers early admission into its law and medical schools for qualified Georgetown undergraduates, an attractive option for pre-med and pre-law students.

As one of the highly selective colleges in the country, Georgetown admitted less than 18% of applicants this year.  It has a non-binding early action program but according to an admissions officer, the admission rate for early action is the same as regular decision.  The University requires either the SAT I reasoning test or the ACT test (writing portion optional) and three SAT II subject tests.

Check back for photos.

Testing 1, 2, 3

18 Mar

Last Saturday morning the alarm on my cell phone chirped brightly at 6:15 a.m.  With a muttered oath and groan, I stuck my arm out from under the warm cocoon of my blankets to turn it off.  Five minutes later, it chirped again announcing that my snooze time was up.  Time to make the donuts.  Like Fred the baker from the 1980s Dunkin Donuts commercial, I stumbled into the bathroom, shuffling in my slippers.  In my pre-dawn haze, I wondered how swimming or ice skating parents do it every day, waking up at 4 a.m. to take their children to practice.

It was SAT exam day and it seemed like my daughter’s entire junior year class was taking it.  After weeks of test preparation and tutoring, this was it.  I made my daughter a hot breakfast of scrambled eggs and toast and packed some snacks and water.  By 7:30 I dropped her off at the test site and watched as she and other students disappeared into the school building.

Taking the SAT is a rite of passage for American teenagers applying to college.  Most colleges require submission of either the SAT I Reasoning test or ACT scores, although a growing number of colleges are now standardized test-optional.  According to the National Center for Fair & Open Testing’s website, there are over 830 colleges that no longer use the SAT or ACT to admit substantial numbers of first year college students.  The list includes highly selective schools like Bates College, Bowdoin College, Mount Holyoke College, and Smith College.  These colleges have evidently determined that standardized tests are no longer a good predictor of college academic success.

In my posts I often compare the way things are with the way things were, if only because I’m at an age where I can.  Thirty years ago, everyone I knew took the SAT and dispensed with the ACT, which was more popular with students in the south and Midwest.  Thirty years ago, there was only one SAT; now there’s the SAT I Reasoning test, and myriad SAT II Subject Tests from biology to U.S. history.  The good news is, because colleges today will accept either the SAT I or ACT, students can pick the test that will better highlight their abilities.

Neither test is easy and the consensus is that the ACT tests knowledge while the SAT I tests aptitude.  There are other major differences:

  • The ACT does not penalize wrong answers while the SAT deducts one-quarter point per wrong answer.  So guess away on the ACT.
  • The ACT math section tests up to trigonometry while the SAT I tests up to geometry and algebra 2.
  • The ACT includes a science reasoning section that the SAT I does not have.

Lots of articles have been written about which test may be better for your child and here are two that summarize the issues succinctly: one by NPR and one in the New York Times.  Both were written in 2007 but the information is still relevant.  To help figure out which test is more suitable, students can do free practice tests on the Internet (see the College Board and ACT websites).

To complicate matters – and what’s not complicated in college admissions? – many colleges require SAT I scores along with at least two SAT II subject tests in lieu of the ACT test with writing alone (e.g., Swarthmore College).  This means that a student will need to take at least three SAT tests.  But then there are schools, like Carnegie Mellon University, that require applicants who submit their ACT scores to also submit two SAT II subject test scores.  So always double-check each college’s testing requirements.

All of this is a lot to think about and keep straight.  What’s more, students can take the tests more than once and many colleges say that they will consider the higher scores.  And there are different testing strategies to consider: picking one test and taking it more than once, taking both tests and submitting the better score, and variations thereof.  However way you look at it, it amounts to a lot of testing and test preparation in junior year.

Test-optional colleges, anyone?

 

Helicopter Parent

5 Jan

Recently I had occasion to wonder, “Am I turning into a helicopter parent?”  Defined as an overprotective, overbearing parent who “hovers” over her child, taking care of (or control over) her child’s life whether the child wants or needs it, helicopter parents have gotten a bad rap in the press lately and are being blamed for raising a generation of children unprepared for life’s setbacks.

When I first heard this term, I was so aghast at the concept, I vowed never to become one.  But being part of a generation used to scheduling play dates and making sure that our little ones are exposed to every sporting, musical or artistically life-enhancing activity imaginable, I’m figuring out the boundaries when it comes to college admissions.

This issue confronted me when it came to registering for the SAT and ACT tests.  My daughter recently decided that she was going to take the standardized tests in spring.  In the back of my mind, I kept meaning to remind her to register for the tests.  Alas, my addled middle-aged brain kept forgetting.  Finally, when a friend urged me to sign up early to avoid being shut out at the test site, I went online to register without waiting for her.

I thought, I’ll just go into the website, select a test venue and pay for it – it’ll be simple.  Instead, the website took me through a litany of questions about my daughter’s college preferences, the majors she is interested in, her current subjects in high school, her GPA, her extracurricular activities and so on.  Many of the questions I could answer but as I continued clicking through – the questions seemed endless – I grew steadily uneasy.  Hmm, perhaps she should answer these questions?  Judging from the wording, the website evidently assumes that the student is filling out the questionnaire.  But then in a mixed message twist, the website expects payment by credit card; few teens I know own credit cards.

Little did I know that registering for the SAT and ACT would become a metaphor for setting boundaries between parent and child in applying for colleges.  Since we’ve embarked on my daughter’s college search, I have needed to remind myself that she is the one going to college, especially when I’ve spent too many bleary-eyed hours reading college guidebooks or trolling college websites.  I’m not the only neurotic parent.  Kelly Dunham wrote a helpful checklist of do’s and don’ts for parents and students during the application process (New York Times, December 15, 2010).

Much as I’m invested in helping my daughter find the right college and getting in, I don’t want to drive her college search.  So I hesitate, uncertain about what to do next.  The webpage stares back at me, its blinking cursor oblivious to the tug-of-war in my head.  I look for a way to skip ahead and go directly to payment; luckily the website lets me do that.  After successfully registering her, I make a mental note to talk to my daughter about going back and filling out the questionnaire herself.

She’s going to college, not me.

 

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