Tag Archives: college access

Why Are You Going To College?

We spend years preparing our children to be competitive for college admission, but are we missing something else major? It seems the answer is “yes” – we are failing to prepare our children to persist and graduate from college.

It’s not new to those in the world of higher education, nonetheless, the sting doesn’t seem to subside each time I read something like is:

Although high school graduates are attending college in record numbers, four in 10 are not adequately prepared for the courseload that awaits them, and are thus forced into remedial classes when they start college. This fact contributes to a staggering number of students pursing a bachelor’s degree — 42 percent, according to the infographic — to drop out. This number is about 30 percent higher at the two-year or community college level.U.S. Graduation Rate, Unemployment Compared To Other Nations In Infographic

Those who have a vested interest talk about education all the time, we blog about it, advocate for better policies, programs and protocols, we watch documentaries, support innovative programs and yet the reality doesn’t seem to shift much from year to year. Though I’m intimately aware of the facts, as a college educated person, I, like many of my college-educated peers, sometimes forget the fact that not everyone goes to college.

In college-educated circles (or those presumed to be), one of the first questions is almost always, “where did you go to college” and in these same circles, people discus how a college degree is necessary in this global economy. But, are we the ones living in a bubble? I think sometimes, yes. There are plenty of jobs that need to be executed everyday that most college-educated people would never do, but certainly benefit from.

Truth be told (and this comes as no surprise), I do think the value of a college education can be transformative, but at the same time, I think it’s critically important for students to explore why a college education is important to them. Certainly many go to college “just because”, it’s not even a question, but others make a very deliberate decision to go and I wouldn’t be surprised if the latter group fights just a little harder to graduate because many weren’t always expected, allowed or able to go to college.

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Equity in College Access Is Important, Even To College Board

Take some time to read College Board pulls plug on summer SAT for gifted students. Applause to College Board for their decision.

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Love these images from the KnowHow2GO Campaign! This national initiative provides free, comprehensive guidance on preparing for and applying to college. A must-have resource for all college bound students.


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The Status Of Undocumented Students

The debate about undocumented students and college access continues. Take some time to read Colleges look at policies for illegal immigrants to learn more about what some schools are doing.

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If You Read Anything Today, Read This…

Take a break and read this inspiring story about a Columbia University janitor who earned his degree while working at the university. Education can sometimes exclude people and in the process make those of us with college degrees feel superior to those who haven’t had the opportunity. Remember anyone is capable of earning a degree if given the opportunity and support.

Gac Filipaj, Columbia University Custodian, Earns Degree After Working Way Through School

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Perception Rules

I recently spent some time exploring the U.S. News and World Report College Rankings to get to the bottom of what it all means. Controversy is no stranger to these elusive rankings that many take as the final word in college prestige. In fact, all the “alternative” rankings are probably a result of people dissatisfied with U.S. News’ methodology, but why the dissatisfaction?

I’m going to break it down so we can all understand the strengths and limitations of these rankings I think most of us take seriously despite common misgivings. This is what you need to know*:

1. Schools are first categorized by type, in a logical and fair way. National universities offer Bachelor, Master and Ph.D degrees and focus on faculty research. National liberal arts colleges focus on undergraduate education.

2. Schools are ranked on Academic Quality – this is where it gets tricky. As defined by U.S. News, academic quality encompasses peer assessment, faculty resources, student selectivity, financial resources, alumni giving and high school counselor ratings.

3. Perception of institutional quality has the most weight. Administrators at other institutions rate the schools and high school counselors also provide ratings.

4. Student retention is also important, as are faculty resources.

5. Student selectivity is a little less important than the aforementioned, but still relevant. What is this student selectivity? It’s applicants’ SAT scores, percentage of students ranked in the top decile of their high school classes and the specific college acceptance rates.

6. The three remaining factors – financial resources, graduation rate performance and alumni giving, together make up one quarter of the formula.

There are is one extremely important factor in their formula, student retention. High retention rates suggest a lot about the overall quality of an institution – it shows student satisfaction with the experience and presumably it demonstrates that college resources and support programs are effective and meeting the needs of its student body.

Beyond this, the value of the other factors as it relates to academic quality is debatable. Peer assessment of any sort is risky business, as it’s neither objective nor based on actual experience at an institution. Certainly there is value to hearing the opinions of well-respected leaders in academia, but should their opinions factor into something as influential as U.S. News rankings? Maybe.

The same is true for the assessments by counselors. Having worked directly with hundreds of public school counselors, I can say with very little reservation, it’s unlikely they can fairly assess many of our nation’s top, but lesser known schools. This is not because of any deficiency, but simply because most don’t have the time to research or money to visit schools like Kalamazoo College or Knox College, extraordinary institutions whose rankings don’t make them as desirable as other institutions, yet their programs and student testimonials are some of the best out there. Thus, how can high school counselors rank schools they don’t know? They can’t. I’m sure there is a balancing measure, but I’m not sure several “not applicable, I don’t know this school” votes balance out all the “we love this school” votes more well known schools undoubtedly receive. And, many public school counselors are asked to do so many things with so little time already – advise and write hundreds of recommendations for students they don’t know, deal with truancy and registrar issues and then to ask them to do one more thing they may or may not have the time and expertise to execute seems unfair to them.

It’s ironic actually, that perception even plays such a concrete role in the U.S. New rankings, as it’s people’s perceptions of schools that are often the road block to the best college matches and potentially fulfilling experiences. “My friend said this” or “My mom wants that” or “I heard that” or “I read in” are all perceptions we create, not based on our experiences, but based on the experiences of others. Isn’t is fascinating how quick we are to trust others’ opinions about the quality of colleges?

My conclusion? Well, unfortunately, it’s not particularly enlightening, other than to empower college-bound students (and parents) to create their own opinions, not perceptions, based on their own experiences. What’s important to you? If it’s studying a foreign language to eventually become an interpreter or an international ambassador, look at that college, Kalamazoo, I mentioned earlier. Don’t automatically set your sights on Columbia just because everyone says it’s a good match or you have a chance of being admitted. Consider all factors, even rankings (all of the rankings out there) and use them within reason, but don’t let them determine your destiny.

* You can check out U.S. News’ own breakdown here.

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How Do You Get In With 70,000 Other Applicants In The Pool?

UCLA recently notified applicants of their admission status: admit, wait-list or reject. For a school that consistently receives more applications than any other in the country (this year, they were said to receive between 72,000-74,000), it’s anyone’s guess who the ideal UCLA candidate is. The UC system at large requires all candidates to have a minimum 3.0 GPA to be considered and a UCLA admissions officer once told me the vast majority of viable UCLA candidates had close to a 4.0 or higher GPA. Thus, when you eliminate those candidates whose grades and test scores are too low for UCLA consideration, what you’re left with are thousands upon thousands upon thousands of applicants who, in theory, are all worthy of admission.

So, what’s an admissions team to do? Contrary to some rumors, real people do read applications, even at large schools like UCLA, which underlines the value of the college essay (personal statement). Paired with a healthy variety and depth of extra curricular accomplishments, one student can easily stand out from the next. Then add “fit”, in other words is a student an intellectual, academic and social match for the college and it’s personality, and you have one more potential way to stand out. Finally, since a real person is interpreting an application, the final ingredient is completely subjective and simple, does the reader like your application and essay? Can she connect with it? Does she get a good sense of who you are? Did you have typos?

Within the group of students we worked with this year we saw a variety of outcomes for UCLA and at face value, it’s difficult to say why some were admitted and others not. All sported strong grades, curriculum and test scores, as well as impressive extra curricular accomplishments, and their essays were well-written. But, when we take a closer look, what’s consistent between those who were admitted are two things: 1) Their essays were authentically them and readers could probably “hear” the students literally telling their stories as they read. Their writing was dynamic and the reflection was honest, the students expressed vulnerability followed by uncovering of layers leading to a greater awareness. Their stories were neither sob stories nor stories of tragedy, but rather stories of identity development, but from different angles. 2) They had at least one extra curricular interest UCLA can nurture because of the strength of programs with components specific to UCLA.

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