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Fairness in College Admissions

by Alexis Mattera

Accepted, rejected, deferred and waitlisted are all responses students can receive when tearing open a decision envelope or clicking on an admissions-related email. Some are obviously more favorable than others but are the practices that lead to these decisions as fair as they can be?

In its latest State of College Admission report, the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) highlights the impact of wait lists in the college admissions process. Data reveal 48 percent of institutions surveyed used wait lists in fall 2010 – up from 39 percent the previous year – but of the students who elected to remain on the lists, colleges admitted just 28 percent of wait-listed students, a figure six percentage points lower than 2009. “Colleges are leaning more heavily, and perhaps more ‘craftily,’ on the wait lists, which may be tipping the balance in ways that students and counselors are finding objectionable,” said NACAC’s public policy and research director David A. Hawkins.

There are multiple culprits contributing to admissions committees’ rationales – application inflation and yield predictability complications are both cited – but in terms of fairness, not all schools are leaving would-be students in admissions limbo as, on average, four-year institutions accept 65.5 percent of all applicants. It’s the report’s predictions that are most concerning: Prolonged economic decline and uncertainty could make it more difficult for all parties “to adhere to fair practices” in the admissions process.


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The Fight Against Federal Student Aid Fraud

by Alexis Mattera

Firefighters. Police. Ghostbusters. Your mom. There are certain people you instinctively contact when you need assistance and the same holds true for the federal government. When the Department of Education noticed there was something strange in the neighborhood regarding federal student aid, they knew just who to call.

Less than a month after releasing a report detailing how organized fraud rings were exploiting distance education programs, the ED contacted colleges across the country urging them to develop additional ways of identifying threats to federal funding. Schools were encouraged to combat potential fraud rings by monitoring groups of students using the same IP or email addresses to apply and participate in online programs, paying closer attention to students living outside the schools' normal coverage areas and delaying the disbursement of federal funds or releasing said funds in multiple disbursements. In addition to the steps colleges are taking internally, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said the department will be working with Congress and schools "to ensure we have all the tools we need to prevent criminal elements from defrauding federal student aid dollars."

Do you think colleges are doing enough to prevent federal student aid fraud?


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UC System Changes Admissions Requirements, Confuses Applicants

by Alexis Mattera

Thinking about applying to one of the University of California’s 10 campuses as a freshman for the 2012-2013 school year? If so, read the admissions requirements carefully, lest a change intended to ease your college-related stress levels send them sky high instead.

As standardized tests go, all UC campuses call for freshman applicants to submit scores from the SAT and ACT but have eliminated supplemental SAT subject exams from the list of admissions requirements. Though many students are breathing sighs of relief that they do not have to prepare for, take and afford another exam, others are still signing up for the subject tests in droves because they think it will boost their chances for admission. UC officials say students who do not take the tests will not be penalized but those who do and score well will be viewed in the same positive light as someone, say, with a leadership role in a school club would be. This explanation – plus the fact that specific programs like engineering and science do recommend subject tests – has left students and counselors understandably confused.

You can read more reactions from both sides here but as the November 30th application deadline draws closer, we have to wonder where our readers stand. If your dream school did not require you to take supplemental exams, would you follow the rules or still take the exams and hope doing so would give you a leg up on your competition and why?


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Tuition at Cooper Union?

November 1, 2011

Tuition at Cooper Union?

by Alexis Mattera

If you’re a prospective college student considering a career in engineering, architecture or art, Cooper Union is probably on your radar. Not only is the school among the most selective in the nation but the tuition – zero – has been the best deal in higher ed for more than a century...or it was.

Cooper Union President Jamshed Bharucha recently announced that the weak economy has prompted the school to reevaluate its scholarship policy and possibly begin charging tuition for the first time since 1902. Bharucha stressed that lower-income students and many middle-income ones would continue to attend for free and that none of the 900 current undergraduates would be charged but the mere mention of tuition for degree-seeking students marks a serious cultural shift for the institution: Though a final decision has yet to be made, alumni are furious – “It’s a contradiction to everything we’ve learned about Cooper. It’s the last opportunity for free education on that level in the entire country,” said graphic designer, New York magazine co-founder and Cooper Union graduate Milton Glaser – and students are planning to walk out of classes in protest tomorrow.

Bharucha did say that implementing tuition would be a last resort but what do you think of his announcement and its corresponding reaction? What avenues should be explored to preserve free tuition and are there any ways students and alumni can support or contribute to the cause? Lastly, does a potential tuition bill have you reconsidering applying to Cooper Union?


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Early Decision and Early Action Deadlines Extended

by Alexis Mattera

So you took the standardized tests, filled out the application, wrote the essay and secured the appropriate transcripts and letters of recommendation well in advance in order to apply to your first-choice school early. Nice work – it’s just too bad Mother Nature had other plans.

The late October storm that hit the Northeast knocked out electricity, Internet access and, for some students, hopes of getting their early decision and early action applications submitted on time. Thankfully, many institutions have extended these deadlines beyond the traditional November 1st cutoff and NACAC has posted those schools, administrative contacts and new early application dates on its website. Though most are in the Northeast, schools located as far west as California, Oregon and Arizona and as far south as Texas, Tennessee and Kentucky have joined the cause to ensure all interested students have time to apply.

NACAC does note that the list may not be comprehensive and is inviting colleges and universities to update their application dates if they have changed. Conversely, students should contact the schools they are interested in applying to for any admissions updates. Good luck, everyone!


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Smile...You’re on Camera: WGU Uses Webcams to Monitor Online Test Takers

by Alexis Mattera

For students seeking more flexibility in their college schedules, online classes are often an excellent alternative. Coursework can be done from anywhere with an Internet connection but when it comes to test taking, how do instructors know the person answering the questions is doing so honestly? Western Governors University has come up with a solution: Say cheese!

Up until a few years ago, WGU online students had to take their exams at one of the school’s 6,000 on-site assessment centers. This proved to be a burden for the majority of the student body – the average student is 36 years old, has a family and takes a full course load while working full-time – so WGU began allowing students to take exams off-site if monitored by webcams. The cameras show the student, his or her computer screen, their hands and profile and a 180-degree view of the room to ensure the student isn’t obtaining information from another source during the test. And just in case something goes awry, there is support available to assist with any technical issues.

While some students still opt to take their exams on-site, most have adopted the program with open arms: There are 30,000 WGU webcams in use and about 80 percent of the 10,000 exams per month are taken via webcam. Do you think WGU’s webcam program is beneficial to busy students as well as the school’s reputation? If given the option, would you smile for the camera or take your tests on-site?


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University of Charleston Slashes Tuition

by Alexis Mattera

Between announcements of Cooper Union possibly charging tuition and the average student debt topping $25,000, news about the cost of college haven’t been too positive as of late. But lo, the University of Charleston has broken the bad news cycle: The West Virginia school has announced it will reduce tuition by 22 percent for all new students and provide additional aid for continuing students.

UC has guaranteed that no undergraduate student will pay more than $19,500 for tuition in the fall of 2012. This will be the base price for freshmen and transfer students while the figure returning students will see is $25,500 with a promise of at least $6,000 in university aid. The tuition reduction is part of a broad system redesign which the University of Charleston hopes will allow greater innovation and cost-effectiveness without compromising the quality of its education. According to a release on UC's website, these changes include “a five-year plan that emphasizes fast-track learning, achieving athletic prominence, championing innovation and expanding access.”

In a time where every dollar makes a difference, did the University of Charleston just move up on your college wish list?


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A Little Loan Goes a Long Way

November 29, 2011

A Little Loan Goes a Long Way

by Alexis Mattera

In recent years, college students have become more cautious about taking out loans to pay for school. There are multiple reasons for this – horror stories from friends or siblings, limited job prospects after graduation and high interest rates have all been cited – and while it’s an admirable goal to graduatefrom college debt-free, educators think this approach could actually hinder students from getting degrees.

According to a recent Associated Press article, students are attempting to limit borrowing by working longer hours, taking fewer credits (and often not enrolling full-time), living at home and attending less selective institutions. While educators are impressed with this level of fiscal responsibility, they are quick to point out that each action above is a risk factor that makes college students less likely to graduate. Borrowing could prevent this, said Deborah Santiago, co-founder and vice president of Excelencia in Education. "If you can take out a little bit of loan you're more likely to complete. If you can go to a more selective institution that gives you more resources and support, you're more likely to complete." How much more likely? Federal data analyzed by Excelencia and the Institute for Higher Education Policy (IHEP) in 2008 shows roughly 86 percent of students who borrow for college are able to attend full-time compared to 70 percent of students who don't borrow and roughly 60 percent of full-time students receive a bachelor's degree within eight years compared to 25 percent of part-time students.

What can be done to facilitate this message? Educators believe students need to better understand financial aid, the difference between types of loans, debt management and the returns on various degrees and majors. In addition to searching for scholarships and grants, is borrowing part of your financial aid plan and does this information make you more or less likely to take out a loan?


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Students Alter Online Identities During Admissions Season

by Alexis Mattera

Students applying to college have a lot on their plates. There are applications and essays to complete, campus visits to schedule and FAFSAs to navigate of course but college hopefuls are taking an additional step to up their admissions chances by participating in serious social media scrub downs.

With admissions officers looking beyond traditional application materials to select their students – the latest survey from Kaplan Test Prep found that 24 percent had visited applicants’ Facebook pages while 20 percent used Google searches – college applicants are creating alternate identities to disguise less-than-savory photos or comments on a number of social media sites. "Ask any senior in high school what his or her Facebook name is and you will find that they have morphed their FB identity into something slightly peculiar and mysterious that only their ‘friends’ can figure out," says Naomi Steinberg, owner of Apply Yourself Educational Consulting. And though students’ original online identities often reappear after admissions decisions have been made, Steinberg says the trend of social media expurgation will continue into the next phase of students’ lives as well, like when they begin applying for jobs.

College applicants, do you plan to tweak your social media persona as soon as your applications go out? Current college students, do you think online editing played a role in your acceptance?


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Dual Enrollment Program Doubled in Chicago

by Alexis Mattera

There’s a lot of preparation that goes into making the transition from high school to college. While some students figure this out after they set foot on campus and are overwhelmed by a litany of new responsibilities, others begin laying the groundwork even before they apply. In Chicago, public school students will have more opportunities to pursue the latter route thanks to a change in the dual enrollment plan.

Yesterday, Chicago City Colleges announced its dual enrollment program will double as of the spring semester, giving up to 2,100 qualifying Chicago Public School juniors and seniors the ability to take free college classes at seven schools – Richard J. Daley College, Kennedy-King College, Malcolm X College, Olive-Harvey College, Truman College, Harold Washington College and Wilbur Wright College. This is excellent news not only for students who have exhausted the course offerings at their high schools but also for cash-strapped students – roughly 85 percent of all CPS students come from low-income families – aiming to earn college credit while keeping their expenses in check.

CPS students, will you be taking advantage of the expanded dual enrollment program? Other public school students, is there a program like this in place in your city?


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