Tag Archives: University of Virginia

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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11 College admissions resources to read now. (Perhaps, even, instead of Dr. StrangeCollege.)

Having gone through college applications with two high school students in the past three years, here’s what we’ve been doing these days:

  • Driving our high school sophomore to his homecoming date.
  • Tailgating and watching UVA defeat Kent State with our third-year UVA student (aka: junior) during his frat’s fall parents weekend.
  • Delivering cough drops and healthy snacks to our first-year UVA student (aka: freshman).
September sky above UVA's Scott Stadium

September sky above UVA’s Scott Stadium

Here’s what we’ve not been doing:

  • Paying much attention at all to college admissions deadlines and news.

We’re enjoying this hiatus. Even though Mod Squad Linc will take the PSAT next month and will start receiving college flyers and emails in January, there’ll be no college applications for him until the 2016-17 school year.

If you happened to subscribe to this blog looking for college admissions news for 2014-15, these sites may interest you:

Head Count: Admissions and enrollment news from The Chronicle of Higher Education. Most recent post:  Applicants to Bennington College can ‘curate’ their applications

True Admissions:  the blog from the College Admissions Book. Latest post by Christine VanDeVelde: De-stress the college application process.

Parents Countdown to College Coach:  Helping parents navigate the college maze. Suzanne Shaffer’s latest post:  The college major debate: 4 points to steer teens in the right direction.

The College Solution blog. Lynn O’Shaughnessy’s latest post:  Please apply so we can reject you!

The College Puzzle:  a college success blog. Latest post by Michael Kirst:  College competition for students may hurt low income students.

DIY College Rankings. Latest post by Michelle Kretzschmar:  Help finding Minnesota Colleges.

On the Fast Track to an Empty Nest, by friend and neighbor, Tara Mincer, who will have three students applying within four years. Lastest post: Getting your high school senior organized.

Prep and study help: Academic advice and study tips for the college-bound

Also, find admissions blogs at colleges of interest. I am most familiar with Notes from Peabody, written by UVADeanJ, who does an excellent job of providing clear information about the process and what the college needs. Look at colleges’ admissions websites for how they communicate.

A variety of posts on this blog from the past three years can still be helpful, and most are searchable by tags, from dealing with deadlines, to essays, financial aid, visits, and more. Please remember:

  1. Any post needs to be read with “As I understand it…” and “as of today” mentally tacked on.
  2. Almost any response to a college admissions question can [and should] begin with, “It depends…”

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The girl is going to college.

There came a day in mid April when I stopped our daughter, known here as Mod Squad Julie, on her way out the door and said, “You haven’t sent in your commitment yet, have you?” She shook her head and left.

A day or so later, Julie said, “Right. College. What is it exactly that I need to do?” I was distracted by work, she was starting a new internship. We let a few more days go by.

Julie may not know all the words to "The Good Old Song," but she's knows the choreography for the chant at the end.

Julie may not know all the words to UVa’s “The Good Old Song,” but she knows the choreography for the chant at the end. (Click to enlarge)

By the last week of April, Julie had chosen her college, attended the admitted students day, chatted (face to face) with future classmates, and chatted (via messages and texts) with many more, and found a roommate. She just hadn’t gotten around to passing on the news to the school.

The Lawn at night

The Lawn at night, via Cavalier Daily (click to enlarge)

One night last week, Julie logged on to the SIS, clicked the “Accept” button, and paid her deposit to the University of Virginia, which had offered her a place in its Echols Scholars Program.

Halloween, 1999

Halloween, 1999

Julie’s excited and her older brother Pete is thrilled that she will join him there; her younger brother Linc just surfaced from the spring high school musical, so I’m not sure he’s even paying attention yet.

She also registered for orientation this summer before turning back to the high school assignments at hand. Soon (read:  after AP exams), she will start digging through the course selections for the fall semester.

The girl’s got wings.

 

 

 

 

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On the SAT: there’ll be some changes made

The College Board announced the details of its long-awaited revisions to the SAT this week. You’ve probably seen reports on these big changes:

Data, College Board Illustration, NYTimes

Data, College Board
Illustration, NYTimes

  1. The essay section will be optional and scored separately, changing the scale back to 1600 from 2400 (implemented in 2005).
  2. The test will no longer penalize students for wrong answers (now, each wrong answer takes 0.25 points off the score).
  3. Vocabulary words will be those students are more likely to see in college than the current, more obscure list.
  4. The test will be offered on computers.
  5. The College Board also tried to address the income-bias of the SAT by making fee waivers more easily available and by partnering with the Khan Academy for test prep.

Want to know more?

Eric Hoover, reporting for the Chronicle of Higher Ed, in Plans for New SAT Spark Mixed Reviews, outlines the changes and provides reactions from a number of college and college-prep professionals:

Ms. Leopold [executive director of CollegeTracks, a Maryland group that works with low-income and first-generation students] was skeptical of other changes in the SAT. “They do not address the underlying access problem,” she wrote, “that the College Board’s member colleges rely on a test that has been demonstrated to systematically understate the abilities of low-income and underserved minority students.”

. . .

Jeff Rickey, vice president and dean of admissions and financial aid at St. Lawrence University, in New York, praised several of the coming changes in the SAT. “I applaud the College Board for tying the test better to what’s needed in college, the way they will provide readings across the curriculum other than just math and English, and also ask for analysis,” he said.

. . .

Mr. Roberts [dean of admissions at the University of Virginia] and his colleagues don’t even look at the SAT essays applicants write—just their scores on the writing portion of the exam. When the essay is no longer part of the SAT, he wondered how many colleges would require or recommend that students write one.

“Colleges will require it if they think it’s a useful tool,” he said. “But the College Board’s going to have to convince folks that this is something that will help us evaluate students and predict success.”

The Story Behind the SAT Overhaul, by Todd Balf, published in the New York Times magazine, provides extensive details about how and why the changes were made, as well as how David Coleman, president of College Board, worked with critics of the SAT to develop the revised version. Coleman was integral to the development of the Common Core, now implemented in more than forty states.

By the time he took over in October 2012, Coleman was well versed not just in Perelman’s critiques but also in a much wider array of complaints coming from all of the College Board’s constituencies: Teachers, students, parents, university presidents, college-admissions officers, high-school counselors. They all were unhappy with the test, and they all had valid reasons.

. . .

In redesigning the test, the College Board shifted its emphasis. It prioritized content, measuring each question against a set of specifications that reflect the kind of reading and math that students would encounter in college and their work lives.

Finally, Jon Boeckenstedt, associate vice president of enrollment management for policy and planning at DePaul University, writing on the SAT revisions in The College Board and the Catholic Church, first provides his feelings on college admission tests:

–Any test created by someone who never taught the material to the students tested is inherently lacking
–SAT and ACT do explain freshman performance, but since the tests and High School GPA covary so strongly, it simply duplicates the effect of GPA, but does not do it better.  As an incremental measure over and above High School GPA, the benefit is negligible at best.
–GPA–even compressed GPAs from 35,000 different high schools–explains more about freshman performance than the SAT or ACT (no one from either organization disputes this, by the way).
–Both tests do, in fact, measure a certain type of intelligence: Picking the “right” answer from four given. And the fact that the tests might get it right 40% of the time seems good enough for many. However, this is not necessarily the way students “do” college.  In life as well as in many classes, sometimes you don’t even get the question; when you do, oftentimes the answer fails to be described in a few words.
–The tests have a very high “false negative” and a very low “false positive” for whatever it is (and we can’t always even define what it is) they purport to measure.
–Insecure people who have high standardized test scores are often the ones touting the value of standardized tests
–Super-selective institutions like the tests, even though they know it doesn’t predict much of anything academic, because: a) high numbers equate with “smart” and equate with “high quality” and b) they don’t need to, nor do they want to, take any risk on students, and c) they one thing they do measure really well–wealth–is important to many of them colleges.  It also gives them a convenient excuse to enroll fewer poor students.

Head over to the post to see what he thinks about the changes. Spoiler alert:  It includes the Who playing “Won’t Get Fooled Again.”

We have two children who won’t have to take the SAT again, old or new. Our third child, Mod Squad Linc, will be taking the PSAT in the fall of 2014 and 2015, then taking the SAT for the first time in the spring of 2016… just in time to try out the new test.

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How close to home is too close?

How close is too close when it comes to choosing a college–for students and parents?

My husband drove our son, Mod Squad Pete—a second-year UVa student—back to college Sunday evening after Thanksgiving. The drive takes between ten and fifteen minutes, depending upon traffic. Meanwhile a Midwestern nephew drove a couple of hours back to his college in St. Louis, and our niece flew back to her college in Los Angeles from her home near Boston.

Screenshot of The Chronicle of Higher Education graph. Follow the link for the interactive graph.

Screenshot from The Chronicle of Higher Education. Follow the article link for an interactive graph.

Distance was just one of many factors involved in their college choices. Our nephew looked at a number of pre-engineering programs and selected a college that offered him a chance to play baseball, a President’s scholarship, and proximity for easy home visits. Our niece only applied to film schools—she’s majoring in production—and all but one were in California, prime location for access to the movie and television industry. At 3,000 miles from home, she’s one of the consistent twelve to fifteen percent of students who travel more than 500 miles for college. (See the graph accompanying Libby Sander’s Ties to Home in The Chronicle of Higher Education.)

When Pete was in high school, we spent a couple of years expecting him to go to college 700 miles away. As it turned out, he chose a college seven miles away. Many students in our area either dream of attending UVa or want to avoid attending a college so close to home. Our son was in the latter group, yet changed his mind over the span of his senior year. Pete now will attest to what local UVa students had said to him:  there’s an entirely different and new world to explore on grounds, and it feels much further away from home than it is.

Making it work. When considering being that close to home, much depends upon the student-parent relationship (like most everything related to college).

Some parents have a hard time letting go. As Bella English wrote recently for the Boston Globe, in ‘Snowplow parents’ overly involved in college students’ lives,

In one extreme case of parental over-involvement, a college senior in December 2012 won a protective order against her parents for stalking and harassing her. Aubrey Ireland, 21, told a Cincinnati judge that her parents often drove 600 miles from their Kansas home to the College-Conservatory of Music at the University of Cincinnati, unannounced, to meet with college officials, and falsely accused her of promiscuity, drug use, and mental problems.

Other parents–most I suspect–have raised their children with an eye toward both the increased freedom and responsibilities the students gain when leaving home.

Jennifer Conlin captured a sense of appropriate limits, writing for The New York Times, in When college is close to home, what are the boundaries?

“It was hard at first because I wanted Laura to immerse herself completely on campus, but I also wanted her to come home for family birthdays,” Ms. Wirth-Johnson said.
Leslie Gardner, who lives in Brooklyn and whose daughter, Rebecca Glanzer, is a sophomore at Columbia University, echoed the same sentiment.
“I worried that it would be too easy for me to access her,” she said. “But I also worried that she might access me too much.”
Both mothers said they waited patiently the first few weeks of college for their daughters to reach out to them.

Up to each family. Navigating a comfortable path for visits and phone calls is up to each family to figure out. We said something like this to Pete:  We won’t show up without calling first. We won’t bug you to come home often, but we’ll let you know what’s going on here, and we will want to hear what’s going on in your life.

We’ve enjoyed the benefits of his being nearby. We get to attend performances by his student jazz ensemble. We’ve had opportunities to meet and host his friends. Pete dropped by unexpectedly on a fall Sunday; he had to drive past our house on the way to set up an event at a local vineyard. Naturally, we don’t care if he shows up without calling first.

We don’t know where our daughter, M.S. Julie, will be next year. Near or far, we want her to establish independence and then share her stories with us as we watch her grow. We won’t hover, or smooth the path for our college students; we’ll just be right here when they need us.

This post appeared in slightly different form on True Admissions, the blog of College Admission: From Application To Acceptance.

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Q&A: Our daughter’s a freshman. Should we be concerned about her grades?

A friend and parent of a high school freshman just asked:QandA block

Q.  You know our daughter; she’s very interested in athletics, and not so much in academics. She does okay, but I’m wondering:  should we be concerned about her grades this year?

A.  Ahhh. That’s a question each family has to answer for itself, since the level of concern that one might have (I won’t take on “should”) depends upon so many factors, such as:

  • How much time does she spend on schoolwork compared to her peers?
  • How stressed does she get now about her schoolwork?
  • How do her grades compare to what you think she’s capable of achieving?
  • What sort of colleges do you hope she could attend?

Then you might consider this, which seems obvious now, but we still had to learn by going through it with our first child:

While we talk about the elements of the student’s high school record–course selections, grade point average (GPA), and extracurriculars–that go into a college application, the application process is timed so we’re really talking about a high school record of the first three years.

"The Freshman"

“The Freshman”

Most seniors submit their applications anywhere from mid-October for an early admission application to the end of December for a regular admission application. The transcript will, in most cases, indicate course selections and a GPA through the end of junior year. The student’s extracurriculars could include the first part of senior year, but any opportunity to demonstrate strong areas of interest and leadership would require taking action in earlier years.

Guidance counselors will try to help students understand the importance of their grades and increased rigor in course selections from year to year.

It can be hard, though, for a freshman or sophomore to take this as seriously as the parents might (or as the parents might want her to).

I wrote recently about a UVa admissions counselor visiting our high school. (See Straight talk from a UVa admissions counselor:  everything’s important.) After that session, one of the attending parents complained at length to the guidance counselors that they didn’t require all students to come listen to the admissions counselor. The counselors responded that none of the information was different from that they shared with students when planning course selections every year. The parent insisted that students would pay more attention to the UVa representative than they would to the high school counselors and, certainly, to their own parents.

That may well be. I have no idea what works in other households; I barely know what works with our own teens. When we were trying to get their attention–talking about courses, grades, or extracurriculars–we tended to (and still do) talk about doing the best they could to keep as many options available to them as possible, whether that’s access to college or an internship or a job.

Good luck!

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Straight talk from a UVa admissions officer: everything’s important.

English: The Rotunda, the central historic str...

The Rotunda, the central historic structure on the campus of The University of Virginia (Photo: Wikipedia)

A couple of weeks ago our high school offered a college planning night. One of the most popular sessions featured an admissions officer from the University of Virginia. We live near UVa and a lot of families are interested in the school.*

Ms. Admissions introduced herself as a neighbor; her children live in our district and will attend our high school. She also identifies more with the parent now than with the student when reading applications. That sympathetic stance–she’s one of us–helped shape her explanations of UVa’s perspective into something that sounded gentler than it will be for thousands of students. In 2012-2013 28,984 students applied, and 8,691 received offers of admission.

From my notes:

Selective admissions. The process is not about determining who is qualified and who is not, and letting in the qualified. That’s not the way it works. Selective admissions means we have more qualified applicants than we can admit. Who amongst the qualified applicants will we let into our university.

Every app is read by at least two; if I pulled up records from this high school last year, some of them will have been read by eight reviewers.

We look at the record. Where are you from? Did your parents go to college? Then I look at the transcript:  it is and always will be the most important part of the application.

When we look at the transcript, it will be with the school profile pulled up next to it, general info about the school. I look at what courses are available to the student. It’s not just about the grades, it’s about the rigor. It’s about the student taking what we consider the most rigorous courses.

Junior year is a very important year. If there’s a year to push that is it. It’s the last year for which I will see the full transcript for the year before the decision. The courses and grades matter probably more than any other year.

When I look at the transcript, I am looking for a trend. By junior year we want to see you hitting your stride. We’re going to take a close look at your courses and your grades. We want students at UVa who will really embrace the rigor of the academic opportunities.

One errant grade, we can overlook. If it becomes consistent, that will be a bit more of a problem.

We want to see a continued trend in academic work. We don’t want to see you step back from rigor.

On class rank, we consider whatever the school provides. We evaluate what we are given and the student is not penalized for what the school provides. We’re seeing less and less class rank nationally, a real trend. At strong high performing schools, the rank can be misleading. A student can be getting all As on top classes, and be ranked 125th class rank.

Grades and program are the most important thing. Transcript is king.

Qualitative measures are also important: Very rarely do people ask what type of student are we looking for. Character, integrity, honor, passionate, intellectuals, interested in community service, friendly, funny. Personal qualities matter.

Letters of recommendation give me a sense of the qualitative aspects. Teacher recs are a very underrated part of the process. Who taught the class where you showed the most growth, depth of thought, contributed the most, helped other students who were struggling?

Extra-curriculars are important in the same way. I’m looking for impact and contribution. If it’s not evident what you contributed, tell us. Write a phrase about what you did:  Coordinated, contributed, initiated — that’s what matters. It’s not about the laundry list of activities in which you’ve been moderately involved. It’s about the activities in which you were really involved, in which you made a difference.

The essay is also a really important aspect. Probably a little more so at UVa. We all read the essay. This is the chance for the student to have a captive audience with your admissions counselor. It’s one of my favorite aspects.

We will also look at test scores. The test is important, but never as important as the transcript. What you do every day in school is always more important than one test one morning, but the scores will be noticed.

Well, then. What isn’t important to a selective school?

Our household is in the midst of application season, with essays in flux, test scores being submitted, and early applications in the works. So what if it’s also homecoming week. Hope all is going smoothly for the seniors (and their families) out there! And for the juniors:  remember, yours is a very important year.

* I write about UVa a lot because of the proximity; UVa Dean J, through Twitter and Notes from Peabody, provides great information on the admission schedules and processes; and our oldest child, Mod Squad Pete, is a second year student there.

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