Tag Archives: The New York Times

Two notes on colleges, from way, way, behind the front lines

This blog is currently on hiatus. I have a demanding day job, and our family is enjoying a welcome two-year respite between application years. (Quick personal update on our pseudonymous students: Mod Squad Pete is in his fourth year at U.Va., M.S. Julie is in her second year at U.Va., and M.S. Linc is a high school junior.)

However. Every now and then I see something I want to share and today is one of those days.Screen Shot 2015-09-13 at 1.24.41 PM

Something current. In today’s New York Times Frank Bruni wrote How to Measure a College’s Value. I encourage you to read the column, which includes this result from an ongoing research project:

What else augurs well for success after college? Graduates fared better if, during college, they did any one of these: developed a relationship with a mentor; took on a project that lasted a semester or more; did a job or internship directly connected to their chosen field; or became deeply involved in a campus organization or activity (as opposed to minimally involved in a range of things).

Bruni’s conclusion could be my mantra:

What college gives you hinges almost entirely on what you give it.

Something older. Also from the NYT, here’s a November 2014 Q&A from the Social Qs advice column, written by Philip Galanes:

Admissions Gantlet

Our son is in the throes of college applications. Well-meaning family and friends ask us where he is applying. But no matter how comprehensive a list we give them, they invariably say: “Yale? What a terrible place. Don’t let him apply there.” Or: “Why not Duke?” Our son’s list was developed in consultation with his school counselors, who know his interests and scores, and we all feel good about it. Still, people are very strident and opinionated. How can we respond politely? Sonja, San Francisco

Nearly everyone (including me) supports the idea of personal autonomy — right up to the moment when the other guy is about to do something we wouldn’t. It’s a world of busybodies, Sonja. Surely this can’t be your first encounter with us? Still, college admissions are a sensitive area for many families, especially the competitive and lovers of status. (Again, pretty much all of us, no?)

The next time someone butts into your son’s college plans, just say: “What an interesting perspective. We’ll be sure to let Jake’s college adviser know.” No further words required — except maybe “plastics.” (Note to readers under 40: watch “The Graduate.”)

For any parents and students new to this game, consider carefully whose process this is and who should hear about the details. Many parents I know have had experiences similar to Sonja’s.

If you’re not comfortable just saying, “plastics,” try this from the first season of Gotham. In response to an unwelcome recommendation from James Gordon, the mayor said, “Thank you, my friend. Valuable input. Most refreshing.”

Good luck to all the students and families on the front lines this year.

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Wednesday Weekly Reader: 5 Stories.

News from the college search / admissions / finance front.

1.  Each day this week, Jacques Steinberg‘s NYT education blog, The Choice, is featuring questions from HS students and their parents answered by the authors of College Admission: From Application to Acceptance, Step by Step. Great Q&A so far, with more to come.

The Choice has lined up the authors of a new book — which bills itself as “the ultimate user’s manual” for college applicants, and loosely follows, as its model, the “What to Expect When You’re Expecting” series — to field questions about what high school seniors and juniors (and their parents) should be doing now on the college admissions front.

2.  How financially-literate are college freshman? How do they react when they are target-marketed by their own college and their own peers? See this article from the NYT about the marketing partnerships colleges are embracing (UNC busing new students to shopping parties at Target) and the ones that surprise them (American Eagle Outfitters-paid students helping new students on move-in day).

The lines aren’t always clear. U.N.C. officials, for example, say they don’t currently have a clear handle on how many students work as brand ambassadors — but it could be several hundred or more. “I don’t think we have a good grip on it,” Mr. Crisp says. “We are going to need to get a good grip on it.”

He is blunt about the fact that student-to-student marketing has only recently come to the school’s attention. Asked how U.N.C. is handling it, he acknowledges, “Honestly, not very well.”

The challenge, he says, is to balance potential student employment opportunities against practices that could manipulate undergraduates or dilute the U.N.C. experience.

3.  USA Today’s College blog offers five steps for figuring out your college application list.

In addition to winnowing down the list, wise high schoolers must divide their application choices into three categories: reach (a category that includes schools whose admission standards are a bit higher than the student’s record, but a place where they would be thrilled to attend), match (schools where the standards are nearly perfectly aligned with the student’s academic record and where they would be happy as a student) and safety (less-competitive institutions where, if applications to the other two categories fail to produce an admission, a student is pretty much guaranteed to be accepted and will feel at home).

4.  Here’s a piece from GOOD on why textbooks are so expensive, noting students protested in 1939 when textbook prices rose to $3, and providing a look at the textbook publishing business model.

Ultimately what frustrates Weil about the debate over the cost of textbooks is that government  officials complain in public about the issue, but then they’ll turn around and vote for or authorize cuts to higher education.“At the end of the day,” he says, “how disingenuous are these folks when they say they’re concerned about students and debt?”

5.  Finally, here’s a reward for sticking around. Just when I found myself fed up with whatever college or college-business related stories I was reading last weekend, I chanced upon this long, provocative, thoughtful piece by Mark Edmundson:  Who Are You and What Are You Doing Here? Edmundson, an English Professor at UVa, takes on the purpose of a college education:

So, if you want an education, the odds aren’t with you: The professors are off doing what they call their own work; the other students, who’ve doped out the way the place runs, are busy leaving the professors alone and getting themselves in position for bright and shining futures; the student-services people are trying to keep everyone content, offering plenty of entertainment and building another state-of-the-art workout facility every few months. The development office is already scanning you for future donations. The primary function of Yale University, it’s recently been said, is to create prosperous alumni so as to enrich Yale University.

But then again,

Education is about finding out what form of work for you is close to being play—work you do so easily that it restores you as you go. Randall Jarrell once said that if he were a rich man, he would pay money to teach poetry to students. (I would, too, for what it’s worth.) In saying that, he (like my father) hinted in the direction of a profound and true theory of learning.

Thanks, prof, for reminding me of what we hope our students may find for themselves — not the doping out the way the place runs, but finding a life’s work that is such a passion it’s close to being play.

What have you been reading? Any comments, please add them below.

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