Tag Archives: college admissions

What’s Next

9 Jan

Last Saturday night we ate dinner at a local restaurant, the kind where the tables are crowded against each another and guests cannot move their chairs without bumping into someone else’s chair.  In such tight quarters, it is hard not to overhear conversations so I heard one woman say, “Oh yes, she got into Villanova University.  Early action.”

My ears perked up right away, like a hound dog that has detected the scent of its quarry.  Her friend gushed her congratulations.

“Thank you.  Unfortunately she didn’t get into Columbia,” the first woman continued, to which her friend mumbled something I couldn’t hear.

I acted nonchalant, slicing my panko-crusted tilapia in a deliberate fashion as if I were loath to rush through the meal.  Hoping that I was being discreet, I turned my head a few degrees to look at their table.  They were a foursome, two middle-aged couples out on a double date.  One woman was a thin blonde with medium length hair that appeared freshly coiffed and styled.  Her friend was a brunette; both were dressed for a casual evening of dining in the suburbs.  They looked at me and I turned my head away.

Even though the college admissions rat race is over for us, I’m still fascinated by this topic because of all that it embodies about what is prized in our culture – competition, achievement, upward mobility, social status, opportunity, economic security, dreams for our children to do better (or, in this faltering economy, for them not to do worse.)  So I will continue to mine this subject for any nuggets of insight, wisdom, or humor.  Since the next several months will see my daughter finish high school and prepare to enter college, I will also write about being the mother bird that is getting ready to ease the baby bird out of the home nest.  So dear faithful readers, I hope you will stick around for the journey.

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The Postman Cometh

16 Dec

I heard her running down the hall, her slippered feet slapping against the wooden floor.

“Is the postman here?” I inquired.  But I already knew the answer.

She nodded, her face tense, and we both race to get the mail.  Stuck amongst my copy of Poets & Writers, our local newspaper and junk mail was a priority mail envelope with Barnard College’s return address.  This was it.

She tore open the envelope, took out a black folder with the name of the college printed in large, white letters on the front.  With nervous fingers, she opened the folder and her eyes anxiously scanned the letter:

“Congratulations!  On behalf of the Committee on Admissions, I am pleased to inform you that you have been admitted to the Barnard College Class of 2016.”   

Screams.  Hugs.  Jumping up and down.  Phone calls to family.  Phone calls to friends who have walked alongside us through this long process.  Email to guidance counselor.  Texts to friends.  No dinner.  Takeout night.  Facebook.  Accepting everyone’s good wishes.  Savoring the moment.

From the start she was attracted to Barnard.  In the middle of the campus tour in August of 2010, she leaned over to me and whispered, “I like this school.”  From then on, every college we visited was compared against Barnard.  She likes the small liberal arts atmosphere of a women’s college with access to Columbia University’s classes, professors, and resources.  The curriculum allows her flexibility to explore different disciplines without having to take required core courses.  The New York City location allows for plenty of opportunities for internships and volunteering.  Columbia University’s Chinese language courses are known to be rigorous and thorough.  For her, it made complete sense to apply early decision.

In case anyone is wondering, I plan to continue with this blog in the new year and write about the rest of the journey from acceptance to matriculation from the point of view of a parent.  I remain fascinated by college admissions and all things higher education, so I hope that you will continue to walk alongside me on this journey.

Thanks, and have a merry Christmas, a happy holiday, and a joyful new year.

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.

“I Just Don’t Feel It”

4 Jun

“I just don’t feel it,” said my daughter.

“What do you mean?  Why?” I asked.

She shrugged and didn’t say anything else.  We were discussing a university that we had visited and I eagerly wanted to know what she thought of it.  It was a big name ivy-clad university with a beautiful campus and it offered the types of programs she was looking for.  Notoriously difficult to get into, it would be a “reach” school, but I was hoping she wanted to “reach” for it.  She didn’t.

The lack of specificity in her response left me feeling frustrated.  Sometimes she could explain her reasons: “Too small,” “Too much of a pressure cooker,” or “It’s in the middle of nowhere.”  So I wanted her to give me a thoughtful reason but none was forthcoming.  I tried a different approach.

“You know, this can be one of your “reach” schools.  You need one or two “reach” schools on your list,” I reminded her.

No reaction.

When we started visiting colleges, I quickly discovered that our reactions to colleges could differ greatly.  Some college campuses that seemed perfectly fine to me held no appeal for her.  Sometimes she knew why she didn’t like a place but just as often she would say, “I don’t know,” followed by a noncommittal shrug that communicated nothing else other than her lack of enthusiasm.

I have been told that sometimes kids are just not able to explain why they don’t like a particular school.  The standard advice from guidance counselors and admissions officers alike is for parents to accede to the child’s feeling and move on.  A part of me acknowledges the wisdom of this advice but another part of me questions whether 17-year-olds can know what’s best for them.

So I find myself unable to shake off my frustration and every so often, I will ask her again albeit with different questions all with the purpose of drawing a reasoned response:  “So…why did you not like that college again?”  “Are you put off by the low admissions rate?”  Call me persistent but of course she is equally persistent in giving me the same answers.  You would think that I would have learned by now to let it go.

And perhaps one day I will.

Guest Blogger: Gigi Collins

25 Apr

If it’s April showers, it must be spring break when hordes of prospective students and their parents descend on universities and colleges on the obligatory “college tour.”  For those of you who have not done this yet, you might enjoy reading about my friend Gigi Collins‘ experience of taking her daughter on her first college trip.

Getting Energized

I have really enjoyed reading this blog about parenting a college bound teen and I have been thinking “Whew! I have a sophomore so I don’t have to freak out just yet.”  Until now.

This spring, as a sophomore, my daughter had to sign up for her junior year classes.  Oh, the stress and tears!  She was told “you must take x number of AP classes to even think about applying to the good schools.”  Next came the alphabet soup of standardized tests: PSAT/NMSQT, SAT, ACT, SAT II, AP.  Last came the advice on writing a killer application essay, to include unique community service credits, extraordinary extracurriculars, and oh, don’t forget, a summer job or two.  I’m only the parent and I could feel a migraine coming on.  But I could see that my daughter was anxious too.  She met with her advisor three times to hammer out her two-year AP class plan and she has already lined up her summer job.

So what did I do?  I decided that we’d go visit some colleges on her spring break.  Yes, you are probably thinking I need my head examined.  I thought so too…until we went on the visits.

I used the excuse of visiting a friend in the Philadelphia suburbs and we picked two colleges “on the way” to “stop by and have a look see.”  Of course, my daughter gave me her best teenage glare and stated that I was ruining her spring break.  She wanted to relax and not think about colleges.

Our first stop was the University of Pennsylvania.  We wanted to see an Ivy League school and a city campus.  We were expecting buildings and streets but were pleasantly surprised to find that Penn has a real campus, with enclosed quads and pedestrian-only walkways.  My daughter was impressed with the beautiful architecture and the collegiate feel.  Our tour guide was a junior at the business school and he was approachable and smart.  We attended the information session where an admissions officer gave an awesome presentation about Penn history, curriculum, as well as the admissions process.  She actually had a calming influence on my daughter as she spoke frankly about what Penn was looking for – top grades, essays that show your personality, and future leadership ability.  She said that the SAT/ACT scores were not as important in the big picture so not to stress over the test or re-take them unnecessarily.

I could see my daughter visibly relax.  She leaned over and whispered to me, “I think college is going to be exciting.”  Whoa, did I hear that right?  Maybe we’ll get through the college search still talking to each other.  I was feeling like I did something right as a parent of a teenager.  Sweet.

At Penn, my daughter saw that a big university with all its amenities like grants for special studies or international opportunities could still have a small intimate college feel.  Yes, she did buy a Penn t-shirt.

Next stop was Villanova University, private Catholic university in the Philadelphia suburbs.  We had high expectations since we thought a mid-sized college with a “real campus” would be a better fit.  My daughter first noticed that the students seemed younger and more casual than at Penn.  An excitable admissions officer ran the information session and he tried to lighten the mood with banter but we felt that he was trying too hard to sell us on Villanova.  Our enthusiastic tour guide was a freshman from Hawaii and he showed us around the impressive campus.  My daughter really liked the engineering building with the exposed beams and ductwork.  She got to see a lecture hall and the labs in the science building.  Most of the students at Villanova come from the Tri-State and New England area, making the college more of a regional school.

Before our college trip, my daughter seemed stressed and unenthusiastic about looking at colleges.  After our trip, she had a big smile on her face and she is now very motivated to look for the best college fit for her.  Ah, relief…until we start filling out the applications!

For Hire: Private College Consultants

17 Feb

Since my daughter’s sophomore year, we’ve been receiving mailings from various private college admissions consultants, offering to help us apply to colleges.  Some have specific angles and pitches, like maximizing financial aid and scholarships.  They take on clients as young as sophomores and assist with class, extracurricular and summer activity selections, advice on which standardized tests to take, recommendations on private tutors, compiling a list of colleges to apply to, helping with essays, interviews, and staying on top of the process.

Thirty years ago, retaining a private college admissions consultant was unheard of, at least in my middle-class public school circle.  My immigrant parents were not as involved in my college search as we are with our daughter’s although my father did review my essay.  I was a good student so it was expected that I would aim for the Ivies with a smattering of state schools as back-ups.  There was no thought given to considerations such as, the right fit, my learning style, my strengths.  I was brought up to be flexible, to adjust to changing circumstances, so the expectation was that I would learn to adjust to whatever college I ended up at.

Times have changed dramatically and now parents in well-heeled communities hire college consultants to help navigate the increasingly murky and competitive waters of college admissions.  With rising numbers of applications, declining rates of admission and overloaded guidance counselors, a cottage industry of college consultants has sprung up, with names that are any combination of the words College, Admissions, Service, Counseling, Planning, Solutions, Advisors and variations thereof.  Even my blog shares a similar name to a college consulting service in California.

My unscientific, very informal research indicates that fees for services range from expensive to more expensive.  In our area, some charge a flat rate starting at $1200 and up for comprehensive services, and $175 an hour and above for a la carte services.  Many offer free teaser workshops in the evenings to attract potential clients.

Predictably, these consultants are somewhat controversial in college admissions circles.  Jeffrey Brenzel, dean of undergraduate admissions at Yale was quoted in a Businessweek article in 2007: “I believe that most of the funds expended on independent counselors are simply wasted…we do not believe they have much, if any, effect on who we accept.”  Some believe it turns college admissions into an arms race benefitting the wealthy who are willing to spend to give their children every advantage.

So should you hire a college consultant?  (Full disclosure: I have friends who do this for a living and I do want to keep them as friends.)  Like all personal decisions, it depends on individual circumstances and finances.  Many, many families do very well without any assistance from consultants.  Nevertheless there are parents who credit college consultants for getting their family through an arduous and stressful process.  Especially if the parent and child are at loggerheads with each other, it may be useful to bring in an outside third party to defuse tensions and move the process forward.  Sometimes it’s easier for children to listen to and follow the same advice given by someone else.  In our geographical area, hiring college consultants appears to be popular.

So long as applications continue to climb, admission rates continue to fall and the college admissions process is perceived as random and opaque, private college consultants will have their work cut out for them.

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.

 

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