August 28, 2009
High school students now have more proof that it's as hard to get into college as they think it is. A study released this week titled "Playing the Admissions Game: Student Reactions to Increasing College Competition" looked at the record number of students applying to the country's top colleges and the decrease in admission rates at those schools.
Not surprisingly, the "most pronounced increases in competition" were in the Northeast - New Jersey, Rhode Island, District of Columbia, Connecticut, Massachusetts and New York - where the most prestigious schools are located. The number of applicants accepted there fell by about 25 percent between 1986 and 2003. But competition has also increased everywhere else. Between 1972 and 2004, there was a 9 percent decrease in admission rates to four-year colleges.
The study, done by scholars from Harvard University and the University of Michigan for the National Bureau of Economic Research, looked at potential reasons for the numbers. Students have become more competitive on their own, taking more AP classes and upper-level math courses, and the sheer number of applicants for the same number of slots at colleges has contributed to the frenzy.
So is this good or bad?
The study suggests that students are getting more stressed than anything else. Among those applying to the most selective colleges, more students are doing homework for 10 hours or more per week. But the majority are spending less time on homework than studying for and taking standardized tests. More students are taking both the ACT and SAT, multiple times. (The results of the latest batch of SAT-takers shows a drop in two points, according to the College Board.) Students are also applying to more colleges than ever before, perhaps a reflection of more schools using common online applications and the pressure to get into the most competitive schools.
One good trend coming out of the data and contributing to a more competitive applicant pool is the higher number of female applicants in recent years compared to the 1970s when the study's research pool began, an article by Inside Higher Ed says. Overall, it seems intense competition is here to stay, and it may do well for high school students to look beyond the most competitive colleges and make decisions based on whether a school has the programs they're interested in pursuing instead.
September 10, 2009
A new book is shedding light on graduation rates at state colleges, and also causing a stir with its findings and recommendations. The book, Crossing the Finish Line: Completing College at America's Public Universities, was written by William G. Bowen, a former president of Princeton University, Michael S. McPherson, a former president of Macalester College, and Matthew M. Chingos, a graduate student at Harvard University. It shows many of the nation's top public schools are coming up short when it comes to graduating students in four years, especially low-income and minority students.
The book analyzes the four-year and six-year graduation rates of students at 21 flagship universities and 47 four-year public universities in Maryland, North Carolina, Ohio, and Virginia. Among the findings, the authors reveal that flagship universities, typically the most competitive and prestigious in their state university systems, graduate only 49 percent of their students in four years, with other state colleges having even less success. The six-year graduation rates for both sets of schools are better, but vary widely based on several factors discussed in the book.
Disparities by common demographic factors, namely race and socioeconomic status, were found in the research for the book, and were most pronounced among male students. However, the most striking differences come in terms of schools' selectivity. Some of these disparities include:
These results have many questioning the effectiveness of academic scholarships and other merit-based aid, especially in light of the University of Texas at Austin's recent decision to stop sponsoring the National Merit Scholarship Program. More so, though, they have experts, including the book's authors, wondering what is causing this disparity in graduation rates.
Price plays a huge role for students of low socioeconomic status, pushing them to attend the least expensive (and often least selective) schools or to opt out of four-year colleges entirely. Rising costs also could play a role in dropout rates among poorer students, so the availability of financial aid for all four years is crucial to graduation.
One of the biggest problems identified in the book is a phenomenon dubbed "under-matching." Highly qualified students are aiming low in the college application process, attending less selective schools with lower graduation rates when they could easily be accepted to and graduate from more selective schools with higher graduation rates. Students most likely to under-match are low socioeconomic status students whose parents did not attend or did not graduate from college. The higher a student's income and parents' level of education, the less likely the student is to under-match.
Based on this information, the authors suggest that schools focus their efforts on encouraging students to graduate in four years and to remain in school until they graduate. Keeping tuition low is a part of this, as are readjusting requirements to make graduating in four years more doable and, above all else, making it clear that students are expected to graduate in four years.
Graduation rates are gaining attention from other corners, as well. Washington Monthly included graduation rates in their recently released college rankings, and another study published this summer by the American Enterprise Institute compared graduation rates at colleges.The Education Department is also doing its part to make information on graduation rates available to students who complete the FAFSA on the Web.
September 11, 2009
Unless you're lucky enough to happen across an extremely obscure and unusual scholarship with only one or two qualified applicants, you are going to have to face some competition to receive a scholarship award. In the case of essay scholarships that are easy to enter or that come with a substantial award, you may be facing quite a lot of competition. In fact, with many scholarship competitions, you may be up against so much competition that there's no guarantee a reviewer will even have time to completely read and digest each scholarship essay submitted. This makes your essay's introduction vitally important.
The first sentence of your scholarship application is your first, best and possibly only chance to capture your reader's attention. To have the best chance at winning scholarships, you need to know how to start your essay off right. The following are some tips to help you craft an eye-catching introduction that gets your foot in the door and gets your application the attention it deserves.
Put it in your own words. While starting with a quote is a common technique in speaking and some writing, it may not work best in a scholarship application essay. Leading with a quote shows the reviewer that you know how to read, but it doesn't tell much else about you or your ideas. Use your own words to begin, and if a quote supports or enhances your argument, consider bringing it in later in the essay.
Avoid clichés and tired phrases. One of your essay's goals should be to distinguish you from the competition, and it won't do this if it rehashes the same overused expressions that everyone else employs. Keep in mind that the scholarship reviewer will be reading hundreds or even thousands of applications. What seems clever or cute the first time doesn't seem that way after the 50th or 100th iteration. A good rule to follow is that if a phrase belongs on a bumper sticker or in an e-mail from your mom, it likely does not belong in your scholarship essay.
Establish a personal connection. If your experience gives you a unique perspective on the essay's topic, show your reader this. Most people are suckers for personal anecdotes, provided the stories are interesting and well-told. Make sure the story you tell fits these criteria and actually enriches your essay and contributes to your overall message. Don't get melodramatic and don't bog down your introduction in an overly long, detailed or irrelevant narrative, but if you've got a good story to tell to frame your essay, use it.
Say something new. Are you arguing something that falls well outside the typical series of canned responses? Consider leading with your thesis, or at least some of the information or realizations that guided your essay towards its thesis. There's no better way to stand out from a pile of fairly standard responses than to have something fresh and thought-provoking to contribute with your scholarship application.
With a solid introduction and a thoughtful and well-written response, you'll be well on your way to writing a scholarship-worthy essay.
September 25, 2009
The Common Application, which allows students to fill out one form and send it to participating schools, has been around for a while. A competitor, the Universal College Application, came out with a similar form in 2007 that attempted to draw more public schools into the mix. (The Common Application is used by nearly 400 private and public colleges, and includes additional requirements specific to schools that include elements such as essays and recommendation letters with their applications.) This week, another competitor has come into the fold, with claims that this new application will be even more accessible to public institutions and students intimidated by the college application process.
The SuperAPP, which will be offered by the online high school transcript delivery system ConnectEDU thanks to their recent acquisition of college applications company CollegeZapps, aims to take the common application a step further. The new form will not only allow applicants to fill out several forms at once, but will include software to point students to sections of college applications specific to each school. Colleges that use the SuperAPP would also not be required to ask for supplemental materials, as in the case of the Common Application, increasing the pool of potential schools who use the new form. At first, the SuperAPP will be most accessible to high school students already using the company's online high school transcript network. The announcement from ConnectEDU was made at the National Association for College Admission Counseling Conference (NACAC) in Baltimore Thursday.
The point of all common forms is to simplify the application process. The SuperAPP's developers claim the original Common Application is not as easy for students to fill out as it suggests, since students are still asked to send in additional paperwork once they're done with the basic form. In an Inside Higher Ed article today, the Common Application's defenders say its requirements prevent an open admissions policy, and that the company's mission isn't profit but a system that emphasizes judging applicants based on the whole package, which often includes outside recommendations and personal statements. In response to an increase in applications per student, some schools using the Common Application have made their essay requirements more lax, allowing for shorter responses in their supplemental materials.
No matter where you apply, whether you'll be asked to fill out a common online form or come up with an entirely unique application package for each college you're applying to, make sure you keep yourself organized so that you don't miss any deadlines or make an easy mistake. Make a list of everything you'll need to send to each school, as missing any elements could send you directly to the rejection pile. For more information on college requirements, start off with a college search to start narrowing down your choices and determining what you'll need to do for each application.
November 11, 2009
Scholarships.com has a guest blog on CampusCompare today on the start of the scholarship application season, in honor of November being National Scholarship Month. Whether you’re just beginning to apply early decision to colleges on your list or are already on the campus of your choice, November is the perfect time to begin seeking out and applying for scholarships for the following year.
To read more and to check out the site, visit http://www.campuscompare.com. CampusCompare is a free website that helps college-bound students find the right school for them by offering free college search tools, like information on 15 categories of college life for over 3,000 colleges, and college admissions advice.
December 17, 2009
The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights has chosen 19 schools across the country that it will investigate for instances of gender bias in the admissions process. The schools were chosen based on their proximity to Washington, D.C., with an eye toward making sure the list was a mix of the different kinds of liberal arts public and private four-year institutions.
The commission began its inquiry into whether colleges were being more selective when considering female applicants in November. Why is this happening now? Female enrollment has grown steadily over the years, with about 58 percent of bachelor's degrees being awarded to women, and there has been some concern that men have been given some admissions preference over women as the number of female applicants continues to rise.
The issue has been made even more controversial due to its link to Title IX, the federal law that prohibits gender discrimination at educational institutions that receive federal funding. The law has been most often applied to athletics, as it mandates that men and women are equally represented on sports teams at these institutions. Advocates for female athletes have grown concerned over the inquisition, as it could raise questions about Title IX and whether the legislation is even still needed because the number of women in higher education has grown so significantly.
Perhaps the real question, however, is why the number of men enrolling in college has decreased. A focus on liberal arts colleges in this investigation could point to the fact that fewer men are interested in liberal arts educations, preferring instead technical or research universities or institutions that have proven backgrounds in male-dominated fields like engineering. Regardless, the results of the investigation should at least answer some questions as to whether gender bias is as prevalent as the commission believes, if women are being treated unfairly, and if there need to be changes made on the federal level regarding legislation to prevent inappropriate admissions practices.
The schools receiving subpoenas include the following: Georgetown University, Howard University, Johns Hopkins University, Lincoln University of Pennsylvania, Shepherd University, Virginia Union University, Gettysburg College, Goldey-Beacom College, Goucher College, Messiah College, Washington Colleges, Catholic University of America, Loyola College in Maryland, Shippensburg University of Pennsylvania, York College of Pennsylvania, the University of Delaware, the University of Maryland-Baltimore County, the University of Maryland-Eastern Shore, and the University of Richmond. All of the schools were chosen based on their location and how representative they would be in the sample with the exception of the University of Richmond, which has been criticized extensively for reports of gender bias in its admissions policies.
April 29, 2010
For some of you, next fall will be a fresh start on a new campus, whether you’re transferring from a community college to complete a bachelor’s degree, or whether you were unhappy at your four-year university and needed a change of scenery. You’re not alone. The transfer experience is a reality for about one-third of all students who go to college, according to a report issued this week by the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) on the transfer admissions process.
The study, which used data from the 2006 NACAC’s annual Admission Trends Survey and pieces of a dissertation project from Michigan State University, looked at not only the number of college students who transfer schools but what transfer students can expect to be judged on when they apply to new schools, an important piece of information for students worried about how their applications will be perceived by admissions officials. Overall, about 64 percent of all transfer applicants are admitted to their intended colleges; about 69 percent of all first-time applicants are admitted.
According to the study, your academic achievements from high school become much less important than what you’ve done so far at the college you’re currently at. (Both public and private institutions overwhelmingly agreed on this point, according to the study.) College-level GPAs were ranked as the most important thing schools look at when they receive applications from potential transfer students. Grades in transferable courses are also ranked high in terms of what college officials look for. Private colleges are much more likely than public institutions to pay attention to things personal essays, recommendations and interviews. Larger, public institutions viewed the following more positively than private colleges: having 60 or more hours of transferable credit, being more than 25 years old, and planning to enroll part-time.
As far as what else admissions officials considered fairly important on a transfer applicant’s file, the results were a mixed bag:
June 23, 2010
An obvious increase in the number of students who submitted plagiarized essays as part of their applications to Pennsylvania State University’s business school this year has forced the college to go public about their use of plagiarism detection software.
An article in Inside Higher Ed today described how admissions officials at the college discovered they may have a problem, and how bold students have been getting when it comes to turning in essays lifted from Internet sites and elsewhere. Essay answers on the topic of “principled leadership” as part of the college’s M.B.A. program application led admissions officials to discover at least 30 essays that “borrowed” from outside sources without the proper attribution. According to the article, a number of students plagiarized the same article on the term, lifted from a business school association’s newsletter.
In the article, the school’s admissions director says students have surprisingly only gotten worse at plagiarizing. One year, she said she looked over an application that included an essay lifted in its entirety from another source. The applicant didn’t even change fonts before sending in their essay.
According to Inside Higher Ed, a number of schools across the country already use software to detect plagiarism when evaluating students’ college applications. (The article mentions that it’s typically used by graduate and professional schools that often have multiple essay requirements.) But Penn State is the first to be so vocal about it. Faking one’s way into college has been a popular topic lately, thanks to the efforts of former Ivy League student Adam Wheeler, who faked his way into Harvard University and was able to nearly transfer to Stanford University before his deception was finally discovered.
Plagiarism software is more commonly used in the classroom by professors and instructors on high school and college campuses. Being found out typically means at least a failing grade on an assignment, and depending on the school’s policy, may mean expulsion as well. So, there’s only one way to avoid getting yourself into trouble. Don’t do it, even if you’re struggling in an essay-heavy course. Don’t try buying term papers online, either, as that won’t keep you from being detected by the software. (You didn’t think you were the first one to use that paper, did you?) If you’re concerned about attributions or references, talk to your instructor about properly citing sources. And if you need help on where to start with your application essay, check out our tips on how to do so.
July 15, 2010
American University has expanded its “test-optional” application policy, giving all students who apply to the school before Nov. 1 the option of choosing whether or not to submit their ACT or SAT scores as part of their applications. The college had up to this point only allowed early-decision candidates to opt out of providing standardized test scores.
Although the early-decision deadline is later—Nov. 15—being accepted by a college early typically means you need to decide right then and there whether you’ll accept admission to that college or go elsewhere. Opening up the policy to even those regular decision students will give more students the power to decide what they’d like to include in their applications to the school. Those students who do take advantage of the policy and submit their applications early won’t necessarily hear back about whether they’ve been accepted to the school early; they’ll be notified by the regular April 1 deadline.
According to an article yesterday in The Chronicle of Higher Education, a good number of even the early-decision candidates chose not to submit their standardized test scores last fall. Of the 538 early-decision applicants the school received, which in itself was an increase of about 33 percent over the previous year, 191 did not submit test scores, according to The Chronicle. While administrators said it takes longer to review applications that don’t include the test scores, giving students who may not do as well on their standardized tests but who excel elsewhere an opportunity for admission is worth it. Admissions officials now pay more attention to the kinds of courses students took, including AP classes and other college-level work.
Standardized testing has been criticized for years, with the National Association for College Admission Counseling going so far as to say the practice should end altogether in favor of a more holistic application process. American University isn’t the only college to go test-optional in recent years, either. Saint Michael’s College in Vermont no longer requires that potential new students submit SAT scores as part of their application process. The school reasons that some students are better test-takers than others, and that there are other ways to evaluate applicants instead. Students there may still choose to submit either their ACT or SAT scores if they feel it will help their applications.
October 19, 2010
After hours at the computer, you add the last punctuation to your admissions essay with great flourish. You scan the document for any red or green squiggles and, noting nary a mark, you hit the send button. But before you can pump your fists in victory, you notice something out of the corner of your eye. Is it? It CAN’T be. But it is: You wrote that being “excepted” to Ivy U. has been a lifelong dream of yours. Well, that dream just became a nightmare.
The NYT’s The Choice blog has been running an excellent series of posts this month as the college application process kicks into high gear. One of the most valuable pieces thus far is today’s about proofreading. The author, Dave Marcus, spoke to members from a variety of admissions staffs and they all have seen their fair share of application snafus. The main culprit? Students’ dependence on technology. Here are some of the most memorable misses:
The moral of the story? Technology is helpful, but not magical. Instead of immediately taking Word’s suggestions, print copies of your application and essay and review the hard copies with a real or metaphorical red pen in hand; giving it to a friend or parent to review is beneficial, too, as a fresh set of eyes can catch something you as the writer missed. A few typos won’t necessarily kill your chances of acceptance but its inn sane to think you’re spell check is all ways write.
Yep, I’ll be here all week.
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