Tag Archives: Common Application

Asian: To Check or Not To Check

7 Dec

When I read Jesse Washington’s revealing article “New Asian Strategy: Don’t Check ‘Asian,'” I found myself nodding with a sense of recognition.  He writes that many Asian American college applicants, especially those from mixed heritages, are declining to identify themselves as Asian on their applications for fear of being discriminated against.  In the story he interviews some applicants who chose not to check off the Asian box because of a pervasive belief among Asian Americans that they are not being evaluated individually but against each other.  Studies have shown that Asian Americans need higher test scores than applicants of other ethnicities to gain admission to the top colleges.

For those reasons, I advised my daughter not to check off her race on the Common Application, especially since it was optional.  Her last name is not obviously Asian-sounding either; she wrote about getting in touch with her Chinese heritage in her personal essay so it’s moot.  And when she goes on interviews, her ethnicity becomes immediately obvious.  But my motivation is the same as that of some of the candidates interviewed for the article.

My husband, who is also of Chinese descent, said that he did not check off “Asian” either when he was applying to colleges because he did not want to be evaluated against other Asian Americans.  He declined to check any boxes.

I suspect that when colleges select their class, it is a nuanced exercise.  I once heard a talk given by the dean of college admissions of an elite midwestern university, who spoke to parents at our high school about how top colleges put together a class.  Because there are many more eligible candidates than there are spaces, a college has to do the hard job of paring down the final list of acceptances.  He gave an example: if there were too many football captains in the pool, they would cut a percentage of football captains and put them on the wait list.  The same holds true if there were too many pianists, violinists, tennis players, or those from one region of the country and so on.  He didn’t say it but it’s not hard to imagine a college needing to cut back on the number of qualified Asian applicants to maintain the college’s vision of racial balance and diversity on campus.  As one interviewee in the article puts it: “…a lot of Asians, they have perfect SATs, perfect GPAs, … so it’s hard to let them all in.”

I’m interested in hearing from readers: what would you advise your child to do?


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.

Calm Before the Storm

31 Aug

August is supposed to be a quiet month, the calm, if you will, before the frenetic storm of September and a new school year.  It’s when families go on vacations, relax, and enjoy the last of the fine weather.  What with earthquakes, hurricanes, and visiting colleges, it’s been a busy time and I have not posted in a while.  I hope that those of you who found yourselves in Irene’s path this weekend are safe and that things will be back to normal soon for you.

Around here we have resigned ourselves to the start of school next week.  Every time I mention the new school year, my daughter groans, “Nooooo!”  She has started looking at the Common Application, which has been online since August 1.  She’s also making up her college list and checking it twice, figuring out what needs to be sent to which colleges.  I can see already that it is going to be a lot of work and finding a way to keep everything organized will be crucial.  In addition to the Common App essays, many colleges have a supplement that will usually include additional essays particular to that college.  When she last checked, many of her colleges have not made their supplements available yet.

I imagine that her classmates and other college-bound seniors around the country are doing the same, getting down to the actual process of applying, gathering information, composing essays, and putting it together.  She worries about people asking her where she will be applying, making assumptions about her choices, and her feeling pressure.  Much as I want her to ignore what other people think, I know these fears are real to her.  So we discussed how to handle questions and she has decided that she will not discuss her choices with anyone, be they her friends, her parents’ friends, or casual acquaintances (you’d be surprised how many people have asked about her college choices, from oral surgeons to random strangers in cable cars in Pittsburgh.  No, really.)  I do feel regret that she can’t share her experiences with her friends because they can help each other get through this.  But maybe that’s expecting too much from teenagers.

As for me, I am approaching the new year with some trepidation.  But I hope that my fears will turn out to be like hurricane Earl.  Remember Earl from last year?  At its peak a category 4 storm, by the time it reached up the mid-Atlantic coast, it had veered out to sea, taking its destructive power with it.

We did a lot of praying before and during Irene; we’ll be doing a lot of praying the next few months.

It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year

28 Jul

It’s late July and I’ve already seen my first back-to-school ad on TV.  I’m reminded of one of the more memorable ads for back-to-school sales, featuring a father gleefully pushing a shopping cart through an office supply store while singing “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year.”  Meanwhile, his school-age children look on with glum faces, dragging their feet after him.  It’s clever and seems to strike a chord with many parents, at least until the tune begins to drive you insane.

I’m enjoying the summer too much to wish for back to school but time tyrannically presses on.  In a few more days – August 1 to be precise – the Common Application for 2011 will be released online, signaling the official start of a new college application year for the Class of 2016.  It’s not an occasion that most Americans will observe or note except for the 1.5 million or so rising seniors and their parents.  This will be it, the moment when seniors can take to their computers and begin to fill out their college applications.  This is when they present the best of themselves from the last three years to colleges in the hopes of gaining admission.  Out of this long and arduous process, we pray that they will all end up at the right schools for them.

After a year of writing this blog, I can hardly believe that we have arrived at this point.  Last year this event was a distant destination along life’s highway, seemingly far, far away.  We were focused on getting through the rigorous demands of junior year – I remember telling my daughter to take one day at a time, one step at a time.  But the proverbial journey of a thousand miles that began with the first day of freshman year high school has now arrived at signpost mile 800.

The last 200 miles will be a push.  We still have some schools to visit this summer and a couple to re-visit this fall; there are essays to write, grades to keep up, and interviews to prepare for.  A lot still needs to be done before we can all sing, “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” this December.

But how I look forward to singing it, loud and off-key.

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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