Tag Archives: college admission

Montclair State University – Public Option Part I

30 Nov

Monkey Mama is willing to risk an onslaught of vituperation from the Tea Party movement when she avers that the United States of America owes a great deal of its success to its early commitment to public education.  Montclair State University (MSU) began life as a “normal school,” in 1908, dedicated to training teachers.

Today MSU is a full fledged university located on 252 acres in Essex County, New Jersey, 14 miles west of New York City.  Those miles may be traversed aboard New Jersey Transit directly into New York Penn Station.  The original architects balked at the ivy-clad traditions of other northeastern colleges and opted in favor of whitewashed, Spanish Mission-style buildings.  Some newer buildings, including University Hall and the Student Recreation Center, mimic the older architecture, and even the imposing Alexander Kasser Theater, host to many concerts and performances by world-class artists, attempts to meld the Mission motifs with its modern design elements.

Although traditional pedagogical training is still prominent within the university, there are undergraduate colleges of Humanities and Social Sciences, Science and Mathematics, Business, the Arts, and Education and Human Services.  MSU is in the process of remodeling several dormitories and constructing a new residence hall.  The main campus is small and students can easily walk around.  There are many dining options, including a traditional-style diner with 24-hour service during the school year.  Tuition and fees for New Jersey residents in 2011-2012 is $10,646 with room rates ranging from $6,802 for a triple in the irresistibly-named Frank Sinatra Hall, to $10,140 for a single.  Meal plan options range from several hundred dollars to about $4,000.

Monkey Mama and Son had arranged for a personal meeting with a representative of the theater department following our campus tour.  She showed us the main theater, “black box,” and rehearsal spaces, and shared some insights regarding the audition and application process.  MSU’s overall acceptance rate is about 50%, with roughly one-third of its accepted students enrolling.  The average composite SAT score for admitted students is 1500 out of 2400, and the average unweighted G.P.A. was listed as 3.2.

The acting B.F.A. program, on the other hand, only accepts 14 to 16 students each year, and is considered highly desirable.  MSU holds some auditions on campus and also participates in the regional Unified Auditions.  The Unified Auditions give the university an opportunity to view a wider pool of the most talented candidates but as a state-funded college, it is not able to offer generous financial aid packages to out-of-state applicants, thus giving an advantage to private conservatories.

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.

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.


Alumni College Interviews

12 Nov

Many colleges will conduct admission interviews over the new few months.  Some of these interviews will take place at the school while others will be conducted by alumni in the student’s area.  My friend, Susan Warner, who interviews high school applicants for her alma mater, has kindly agreed to answer some questions regarding college admission interviews.  I hope you will find it useful.

1.  How long have you been interviewing and why do you do alumni interviews?

I graduated from The Johns Hopkins University in 1990 and I have conducted alumni interviews the majority of the twenty years since graduation.

Alumni interviewing is personally rewarding on many fronts.  I enjoy meeting young people applying to college; overall, the applicants are impressive and interesting.  Certainly in the last ten years or so, the applicants have “taken it up a notch” in terms of what they have accomplished during their high school experience.  I often find that I learn new information that enriches my sphere of knowledge.  Also, I believe it is important to volunteer and give back to the University and conducting alumni interviews is a great way to show my appreciation for the superb education I received at Johns Hopkins.

2.  What kinds of questions do you ask?

Each interview takes on a life of its own but there are baseline questions I ask every interviewee and then there are other questions that naturally arise from the applicant’s answers.  I ask about the student’s high school experience.  What was challenging about high school?  Was there anything unique about his or her high school experience?  In addition to academics, I want to find out what the student does when he or she is not in school.  I want to know about school based and non-school based extracurricular activities, volunteer and community activities, and how they spend their spare time.  What is the student passionate about?

Also, I want to determine their level of interest in Johns Hopkins.  I always ask whether the student has visited the University or other colleges that are serious possibilities.  What do they think they want to major in at Hopkins?  In addition, I ask about special awards or recognition the student may have received.

I do not ask about test scores or GPA.

Usually, I end by asking the student if there is anything else he or she would like me to know and if he or she has any more questions.

3.  Is there anything you are looking for?

Each applicant is a unique individual.  I am looking for the “real” part of the student–what truly defines the person.  Does his or her extracurricular activities show longevity, commitment and leadership?  Are there challenges the student has overcome?  Does the student really want to go to Johns Hopkins or is he or she applying there because of other reasons, such as parents wanting the student to apply here?

Each interviewee is a potential future student and I want to ask questions to determine if the interviewee is the type of student who will thrive at Johns Hopkins.

4. What does the university do with the interview information?

I take extensive notes during the interview and then fill out an evaluation that is sent electronically to the University.  The results of the interview are taken into account when the student is evaluated for admission.  There is a numerical rating scale for several questions and then a substantial narrative section.

5.  Do you have any advice for prospective applicants?

Yes!  Do practice interviews at home.  Have someone ask you typical interview questions.  Think about and then talk out answers to more subjective questions.  How will you answer if an interviewer asks you what your five closest friends would say about you?

Visit the colleges and universities that are serious contenders.  I know it is very expensive and time consuming to visit many different places, but I highly recommend visiting to get a feel of the campus and the surrounding environs.  I strongly suggest the student asking questions of themselves while they are visiting a school – can I see myself here?  Is this the right size for me?  Am I comfortable with the campus, the students, the distance from home?  What are the alternative majors offered if I decide to change majors?  Do I feel comfortable being in a big city or small town?

Be prompt about responding to a phone call or email to schedule an interview.  I know students are busy, but I find it bothersome to have to wait too long to get a response from a student I have contacted for an interview.  Also, send a thank-you note.  It is so easy to email a thank-you and many students neglect to do so.  I appreciate receiving a thank-you note and an email one is fine.

Come prepared for your interview.  Know about the school where you are applying.  Show up on time or a few minutes early.  Be neat and clean.  Elaborate on your answers.  Don’t give a several word answer and wait expectantly for the next question.  If you have done something that sets you apart from other candidates, tell me because I want to know.  You are in a competitive market for getting into college and you need to make your case for admission.


28 Oct

Dave Marcus’ essay in the New York Times last week (“A Father’s Acceptance: His Son Won’t Be Following His Ivy Footsteps”) moved me deeply because he aptly articulated some of my struggles as a parent of a college-bound teen.

In looking at colleges, I talk to my daughter about the importance of finding the “right fit.”  I talk about how we should focus on schools that offer the academic programs that she wants, in the type of environment that she will be happy, instead of choosing a school for its prestigious name.  I tell her that she doesn’t need to attend an Ivy League school to get a superb education.  All this advice is consistent with what guidance counselors and admissions officers tell students.  So why is it that I feel like I’m trying to convince myself?

In my head I know that she need not go to a brand name school to be successful – however success is defined, a subject for another post – but in my heart, like Mr. Marcus, I fantasize about how great it would be if she were to attend ____ University.  My head and my heart are antipodes apart, seemingly irreconcilable.  So it is from this place of schizophrenia that I parent.

In our well-manicured suburban community in northern New Jersey, so many residents are accomplished, successful professionals and captains of industry.  They push their children as hard as they push themselves to achieve and achievement is often equated with getting into a brand name college, defined as an Ivy League or comparable school (Stanford, Duke, Amherst, Williams, etc.).  Based on where our local high school’s graduates have gotten into college in previous years, the results of such pressure have been impressive.  Many children have been able to fulfill their parents’ expectations, and maybe their own too.

All of this is not without consequences, of course, chief of which is an inordinate amount of stress and pressure on the children.  In addition to parental pressure, there is strong peer pressure to do well, to get into AP classes, to compete for leadership roles in extracurricular activities, to get top grades.

My heart aches for my daughter as she encounters such pressure.  She gets little sleep, is tired most of the time, toils endlessly over homework, stresses over exams, and is pressed for time.  There’s little time to relax; she is even reluctant to miss school when she’s not feeling well.  Seeing all this, I try to keep my own desires and expectations in check, to not put additional pressure on her.  But in moments of truthful clarity, I know that like the other parents in my town, I am just as enamored of the brand name colleges and by the package that comes with them – the prestige, the bragging rights, the status, the validation of one’s parenting abilities.

Judging from the response Mr. Marcus received to his piece, there are a lot of people who wrestle with similar issues.  In writing about this, I am trying to be honest about my own struggles between my conflicting head and heart in the hopes that I can do right by my daughter.  Already I feel that a burden has been lifted, a loosening up of strong emotions, and that in itself is a good sign.


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