September 23, 2009
For students beginning to pen those college application essays, some good news appeared in today's Inside Higher Education: several competitive colleges are shortening length requirements for the essays they ask their applicants to submit. Along with the request for briefer essay responses, colleges are increasingly looking for informal and honest responses from students, welcome news to anyone who doesn't view formal writing as their greatest academic strength.
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has replaced a long-form essay (500 words) with several shorter and less formal essay responses of 200 words or less. The University of Pennsylvania has taken an opposite tack, combining two separate essay questions into one, but reducing the overall amount of writing students need to do for their application. Other schools that use the Common Application are also increasingly favoring shorter essay responses in their supplemental materials.
Whether universities ask for long essays or short ones, their admission officials seem to want similar things from applicants. Rather than a carefully crafted application meant to highlight an applicant's scholastic and extracurricular abilities, along with his or her impeccable grammar and excellent writing style, colleges are asking to actually get to know the student behind the application. A number of application questions adopt an informal tone to solicit a less stilted and more informative response, even using humor (or the closest thing to humor one can expect to find in college admissions). Some application questions go so far as to plead with the student to answer honestly and reveal some of their personality. This represents a change from what most students have been told to expect when it comes to college admissions, and it also represents a conscious move by admissions into a system that can less easily be gamed by students willing to invest in coaching.
After a months long college search filled with research, campus visits, and correspondence, students already have a lot invested in each application they complete. The intensity of the college application process often prompts students to stifle creativity and rely too heavily on outside help, in some cases employing college admissions consultants or intensive writing coaches (perhaps even ghostwriters) to help craft an application that reflects less what the student brings to the table than what those around the student understand colleges to want. By requiring more informal responses and fewer formal essays, colleges hope to circumvent this problem, while getting a better sense of whether each applicant is a fit for their institution, which is what the application process is supposed to determine in the first place.
October 8, 2009
From best dorm food to greatest contributions to the social good, regardless of the criteria you're using in your college search, there are likely lists available to help you find the best colleges to fit your needs. The latest college scorecard to emerge this college application season is the College Sustainability Report Card, an annual publication that grades public and private colleges and universities nationwide on eco-friendliness. For students who are passionate about the environment and want to attend a college that shares their concerns, this may be a useful list to check out.
The Report Card has been in existence since 2007, when it began grading the schools with the largest endowments on sustainability efforts. This year, it opened up its survey to other schools, promising to include any institution willing to pay $700 to offset the additional costs of research and reporting. The 2010 Report Card graded 332 schools, ranging from small private colleges to flagship state universities, with 26 schools earning the highest grade of A-. Over half of the schools surveyed earned a higher grade this year than last, despite budget cuts brought about by losses in endowments and state funding due to the recession.In addition to the overall grade, report cards for each institution also feature grades in the following categories: administration, climate change and energy, food and recycling, green building, student involvement, transportation, endowment transparency, investment priorities, and shareholder engagement. Some of these individual scores may be especially useful elements of the college search for students interested in becoming engaged in their campus communities and contributing to the greening of their colleges. Low scores can point to things students can help improve (such as implementing recycling programs on campus), and high scores in student involvement can indicate a community of like-minded individuals willing to collaborate to bring about change.
Beyond incorporating sustainability into the criteria you use in choosing a college, eco-minded students may also want to look into the opportunities for green scholarships available. These awards may point to additional ways to help the planet, and they can also help you pay for school at your green college of choice.
October 13, 2009
Most of you know what a college town looks like - a community dominated by the students, faculty and staff of the school that occupies the community there. While many students prefer to apply to the more insulated school environment that comes with a college town, others seek out educations in cities where there's more to the community than the college housed there. Something those students may not consider when filing their applications is whether that intended school has been a good neighbor or a stranger to that surrounding community.
A survey presented yesterday by Dr. Evan S. Dobelle, the president of Westfield State College, ranked 25 colleges based on just that. The survey, called "Saviors of Our Cities: A Survey of Best College and University Civic Partnerships", looked at schools' contributions to the towns and cities they're found in, and which had the best relationships with the residential and business communities in those locations. The top 25 schools were picked based on their positive impacts on their communities, including community service involvement. Another 100 schools were recognized on the survey's "Honor Roll" of friendly neighbors.
The best neighbors according to Dobelle's survey were the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Southern California, tied for number one. Neither Westfield nor the two other schools Dobelle was once president at - Trinity College and the University of Hawaii - made the list. Dobelle, a researcher specializing in public/private partnerships, collected his data by sending the survey he composed to schools across the country for distribution in their communities. Some schools were then contacted for on-campus visits or interviews. The University of Pennsylvania was chosen based on its work with schools in West Philadelphia; the University of Southern California got high marks for working on a program that revitalized businesses in Los Angeles.
Other schools that ranked in the top 25 on Dobelle's list included Tulane University, Portland State University, and the University of Dayton. His specific criteria included real dollars invested, a quantifiable increase in positive recognition of the institution and the length of involvement with the community, among others. Dobelle first came up with the survey in 2006. As colleges are obviously closely linked to their communities in college towns, those schools weren't considered in the survey in favor of looking at urban universities' relationships with their towns and cities.
So what do you think? Should the "good neighbor" factor be included in a student's college search? Do you attend a particularly neighborly institution? Let us know your thoughts.
October 15, 2009
Still trying to choose a college, or perhaps a college major? Now, more than ever, quality job prospects are likely to figure into that decision. Work opportunities that come with a generous salary and great potential for growth, yet allow you to have the quality of life you want are the holy grail of employment and it's understandable to want to tailor your college goals towards obtaining such a job. To help make your decision a little easier, Money Magazine and PayScale.com put together a list of 50 lines of work that come with all of the features mentioned above, entitled Best Jobs in America.
CNNMoney.com has the results online already, with the print version appearing in the November issue of Money. The full top 50 are listed in order (along with another 50 high-ranking jobs), with detailed descriptions available for the top ten, and additional lists of top paying, most job growth, and best quality of life also posted online. This year's top ten are Systems Engineer, Physician Assistant, College Professor, Nurse Practitioner, Information Technology Project Manager, Certified Public Accountant, Physical Therapist, Network Security Consultant, Intelligence Analyst, and Sales Director. The top ten best jobs primarily consist of careers that may appeal to students pursuing medical or technology degrees, but students with virtually any academic interest are likely to find something in the list appealing.
To arrive at their selections, Money and PayScale started with career fields in which the Bureau of Labor Statistics anticipates growth 10% or more over the next decade and that require a college degree. They focused on jobs with median pay above $65,000 for workers with 2-7 years of experience and more than 10,000 positions nationwide and weeded out jobs that did poorly during the recession to arrive at a list of top 100 jobs. To arrive at the top 50 and top 10, data from a survey asking 35,000 workers to rate their jobs on quality of life (flexibility, stress, personal satisfaction, etc.) was used, along with data on current employment, long-term growth, pay, security, and projected openings. Finally, industry experts were interviewed to determine top 10.
Top jobs require different levels of training and candidates face different levels of competition. Many require additional training beyond a bachelor's degree, ranging from one-year certification programs to PhD and possibly post-doctoral experience. These top jobs are also not entry-level positions, so workers starting out in these industries may not see high pay or low stress immediately. So don't get discouraged if the career you want to pursue isn't on this list. Ultimately, the best job for you will be one you like to do and are able to do well. That's also good advice for choosing a college major.
October 16, 2009
I went to a flagship university. Almost everyone I knew came from a city or town I had heard of, because most were there for the same reasons I was - that home state tuition. Those few I met who came from neighboring states or even from as far away as one of the coasts were few and far between. Tuition was significantly higher for those students, making it difficult for many to justify private school costs at a public institution. Still, the school drew some semblance of an out-of-state population because of its research centers and reputation in certain fields of study.
An Inside Higher Education article today explores a tactic being used by flagship universities across the country to boost budgets and work toward replenishing nest eggs that had dwindled during a difficult economy. More and more state schools plan on working harder to increase out-of-state enrollment.
The University of Massachusetts at Amherst is hoping for a 15 percent boost in undergraduates outside of Massachusetts over the next decade. Rutgers University, where about 10 percent of the student population comes from outside New Jersey, wants to see its out-of-state numbers around 25 percent instead. In New York, the state's comptroller actually issued a report on the millions of dollars in lost revenue because of the State University of New York's low out-of-state enrollment numbers. The article points out that at state schools like the University of Vermont where out-of-state students outnumber in-state students, the demand for an in-state education is much lower.
So how will these schools lure more students from out-of-state, and get them to pay higher tuition costs? The first step is opening up more slots to out-of-state students. The president at the University of Colorado hopes the state lifts the cap on non-resident enrollment. And states like the University of California at Berkeley, a prestigious school that even Californian students must prove their academic worth to attend, will surely have less trouble finding out-of-state recruits based on reputation alone than lesser-known state institutions. Some state schools are looking into new merit-based scholarship programs targeting out-of-state students, but wouldn't that defeat the purpose of bringing more money into the school? The article suggests building relationships with out-of-state high schools, working alumni networks and even reaching out to top, non-resident students, to boost their out-of-state numbers.
Going to school in-state is still a good option to consider if you're worried about the cost of college. You can still be far enough away from your parents while enjoying home state tuition. Many state schools also reward students in other ways, including scholarships and grants for local freshmen, especially if you're pursuing a high-need field of study and plan on remaining in that state post-graduation. Conduct a college search on our site based on your own criteria to find the place that best fits your needs and has the qualities you find most important.
October 20, 2009
Most high school seniors are now entering the last leg of their college search and selecting the colleges to which they plan to apply. Many are already beginning the college application process, especially if they plan to meet rapidly approaching early decision or early action deadlines at their top choice colleges. For students looking for a last bit of data with which to game the college admissions system, the National Association for College Admission Counseling has just released their annual State of College Admission report. Included below are some highlights.
Competition: The report shows that, on the whole, while most colleges and universities aren't terribly selective, they appear to be becoming slightly more selective on average as they deal with larger numbers of students applying for admission. Between 2001 and 2007, the average acceptance rate at colleges and universities surveyed declined from 71.3 percent to 66.8 percent. Colleges largely seem to be expanding enrollment to meet increasing applications, though, with the growth in applications (24 percent) only slightly outpacing the growth in enrollment (20 percent) between 2002 and 2006.
The number of applications colleges received continued to grow in 2008, with approximately three out of four colleges reporting an increase in applications over the previous year. Students also appear to be applying to more colleges on the whole, with the number of students submitting 7 or more applications growing from 19 percent in 2007 to 22 percent in 2008. This growth in applications, especially multiple applications, has resulted in a decrease in yield (the percentage of admitted students who ultimately enroll) by about 4 percentage points. However, a student's odds of getting admitted off the wait list remain largely unchanged, hovering around 1 in 3 for 2008.
Selection Process: Also included in the survey were questions about the criteria college admission counselors considered most important when reviewing college applications. The following criteria were given "considerable importance" (the highest level of importance in the survey) by college counselors:
The Take Away: While there's a lot of attention given to schools that are more selective, the majority of colleges admit most students who apply. While more students are kicking the college application process into overdrive and applying to seven or more schools, these students still make up a minority of the college-going crowd. Additionally, while applications are increasing everywhere, the pace at which early applications are increasing at early-action and early-decision schools seems to be slowing.
Overall, the admission process is only as frantic as you make it. However, if you are applying to a lot of highly selective schools and the 1-in-3 chance of getting off the wait list if you wind up on it scares you, make sure you're putting your all into your applications. Get going on those application essays early and make sure to leave time for feedback and revision. Also, you'll want to approach your counselor for any letters of recommendation early--another item noted in the NACAC report was an increased workload for college counselors nationwide.
October 27, 2009
It may not be more difficult to get into the college of your choice these days. In fact, at least half of the nation's colleges are actually less competitive than they were over the last 50 years, according to an expansive research project published by the National Bureau of Economic Research.
The effort, conducted by Caroline M. Hoxby, an economist at Stanford University, shows that only a small number of private colleges have become more competitive over the last several decades, and that a more substantial number are actually less competitive. The study looked at data from 1955 through today and focused on information on SAT scores rather than the anecdotal evidence we've come to accept on whether it's tougher to get into college. Hoxby claims that students' choices about where they go to college today are based more on the specific characteristics of that college, such as the study body or the resources available to them at a particular school, rather than its location and distance from home. That means some schools saw more applications - often smaller, private schools - while others - often larger, public institutions - have seen a decrease in applicants.
It also means students are spending more to go to college, or requiring more financial aid to do so, since they're going out of state for their educations. An article in Inside Higher Education today suggests that the typical student shouldn't be concerned about rising admissions selectivity, but rather another finding of the study - falling standards of achievement. Students are less prepared than ever to go to college, despite much attention on getting high school students thinking about higher education earlier and earlier.
So how do you explain recent data from reputable organizations like the National Association for College Admission Counseling that show declining acceptance rates at four-year colleges? Hoxby says her data looks at the big picture, which shows that traditionally selective private schools have and will remain selective as more students leave their hometowns for more elite institutions. But most students shouldn't focus on the idea that college is impossible to get into. Simply put, it isn't - according to this round of data, of course.
Check out our college search tool to find schools that fit your specific interests, whether you're hoping to attend school in a particular state or look for colleges with the programming you're interested in.
November 2, 2009
Think getting admitted to the local public university is just a numbers game? Think again. State colleges are increasingly adopting a holistic approach to college admissions, especially at more selective flagship institutions. While applicants with high GPA's and standardized test scores are still likely to easily gain admittance, students more towards the middle of the pack may want to be aware of this growing trend in enrollment.
The holistic approach means that colleges are aiming to consider the whole applicant, not just his or her grades and test scores, in the admissions process. This information often includes such things as the student's background, the type of school he or she attended, and the student's employment and extracurricular activities. Participation in athletics, volunteering and community service, or school clubs could all work to a student's advantage under a holistic approach.
How schools collect this additional information about applicants varies, but it's likely to mean a longer and more complicated college application process. For many schools, this has meant adding sections to the application or asking for more, longer, or less formal application essays. For others, it could involve looking more closely at letters of recommendation or beginning to ask for them when they hadn't previously. College admission officials are also contacting high school counselors to ask questions about applicants that may not have been answered by their college application.
There are some significant benefits to this process. Students who have taken a less traditional path through high school may find their applications considered more favorably. Another upside of colleges looking more closely at the whole student comes with the question of "fit." Applicants admitted to institutions with a more holistic approach may find themselves happier at the college they ultimately attend, as their interests and their institution's focus may match more closely than if they'd been admitted based solely on the results of a formula.
If you are applying to a state college or a private college this year, you may want to take a holistic approach to your application, treating each section as if it's going to be read with a critical eye. Students who have little to show for their high school experience other than decent grades and test scores could potentially find themselves turned down by their top choice schools, but students who can demonstrate the full depth of their value could see big returns.
November 3, 2009
More private colleges than ever before are charging $50,000 a year or more in tuition and other fees, according to an analysis of College Board data done by the Chronicle of Higher Education. Last year, only five colleges charged $50,000 a year or more for tuition, fees, room, and board. This year, 58 did.
Most students receive some merit- or need-based scholarship or grant money to help cover some of those costs, but according to the Chronicle, the average scholarship and grant amounts at the highest priced schools was around $13,000 a year, leaving students and their families to fend for themselves when it comes to looking for outside scholarships, grants and student loans. Despite those staggering numbers, many of the most expensive schools haven't suffered in terms of declining enrollment, and have expansion and economic recovery plans in the works where the additional funding will come in handy.
Bucknell University, where tuition, fees, room, and board totaled about $50,300 this year, a 22-percent jump over the last six years, plans to hire more faculty and increase aid. And that school wasn't even in the top five most expensive colleges. Those honors go to Sarah Lawrence College ($55,788), Landmark College ($53,900), Georgetown University ($52,161), New York University ($51,993), and George Washington University ($51,775), in that order.
At the same time, many private colleges and universities are predicting a decrease in revenue and net tuition despite increasing enrollment rates and increasing tuition costs. The Moody's report "New Tuition Challenges at Many U.S. Private Universities" surveyed 100 private schools and found that nearly 30 percent experienced drops in net revenue and fees for the 2010 fiscal year. This suggests those schools are offering more in terms of financial aid. An article in Inside Higher Education today says some schools may have tried to compensate for a weak economy and projections of low enrollment levels (which for many private colleges turned out not to be the case) with more financial aid offered to incoming students. Most of the public institutions surveyed, however, expect increases in revenue, according to Moody's.
So what does this mean for private schools? The Chronicle suggests not much. Enrollments so far have supported high tuition rates (and rising median salaries among presidents at private colleges), and a ceiling hasn't yet been set. Does this suggest that students could be seeing $60,000 in annual costs to attend many of the top private institutions? Possibly. But that would mean financial aid would need to keep up alongside those rising costs. What do you think? How much is too much? If you're facing sticker shock, be sure to evaluate all of your options. If you're set on a school, look outside that college for financial aid assistance. Conduct a free scholarship search to see awards you may qualify for that could make a dent in your cost of attendance, and do your research with a college search so that you know exactly what you could be paying at that dream school.
November 10, 2009
The National Survey of Student Engagement is an annual survey given to undergraduate students at colleges and universities nationwide for the last ten years. Participation has grown from 140 schools in its 1999 pilot program to 643 colleges this year. Nearly 1,400 schools have participated at least once, with many opting to participate every other year, rather than every year. The survey attempts to measure what students get out of their college experiences and to track whether students are becoming more involved in college life over time. The categories NSSE measures schools in are level of academic challenge, active and collaborative learning, student-faculty interaction, enriching educational experiences, and supportive campus environment. The NSSE also features questions on special issues each year, and this year the focus was on transfer students. The survey tracks trends from year-to-year, and also categorizes results as "promising" or "disappointing." While the results of NSSE are largely seen as beneficial to campus administrators and to national policy-makers, students can get a lot out of it, too. It gives students a rough idea of what most schools are doing, providing them some context in which to compare their colleges of choice as they're conducting their college search. As the New York Times education blog The Choice points out, the questions asked by NSSE may be questions you want to ask on campus visits. Also, the factors linked with college success and more enjoyable college experiences may be things you want to make a point to seek out while attending college. Noteworthy results:
NSSE results are available online for free from Indiana University. There's a lot of information to sort through, but there are tools to help, both on the NSSE website and others. In 2007, schools began sharing their NSSE results with USA Today, which publishes and tracks the data in a more user-friendly format. Over 400 schools chose to list their results this way in 2009, making comparisons easier for students and parents.
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