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College Acceptance in 500 Words

Common App Sets Essay Word Limit, Counselors Voice Concerns

June 10, 2011

College Acceptance in 500 Words

by Alexis Mattera

The college application essay has long been the place where students with mediocre grades, lackluster standardized test scores and nonexistent extracurricular activities have displayed their above-average writing skills and possibly turned admissions tides in their favor. College hopefuls will still be able to achieve this feat next year but with far fewer literary devices.

Officials for the Common Application have announced they’ve set a new word limit for its essay section. For the 2011-2012 application cycle, students will choose from one of five prompts – for example, "Describe a character in fiction, a historical figure, or a creative work (as in art, music, science, etc.) that has had an influence on you, and explain that influence." – and have 250 to 500 words to respond AND effectively sell themselves to college admissions officers at 415 colleges and universities. Some guidance counselors have complained about the limit, saying students will not have enough space display their writing abilities; in truth, the new parameters are plenty wide if students have received sufficient writing instruction in high school.

I believe brevity is a virtue but know this truncated word count will be shocking to college applicants. What do you think of the Common App’s announcement? Are you up for the challenge or has the change deterred from using the application entirely?

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Escape from In-State Through the National Student Exchange Program

June 14, 2011

Escape from In-State Through the National Student Exchange Program

by Shari Williams

When applying to colleges, I had an “out-of-state” mentality: I wanted to go anywhere besides the very state I lived in. After applying and being accepted to several schools, the cost of out-of-state tuition caused my plans of leaving Maryland to come to a screeching halt. It wasn't until my second year of college that I found my escape when a friend of mine told me about a program called the National Student Exchange (NSE).

The NSE is a program that allows college students to go to another four-year university within North America for a semester up to an entire academic year. My friend went to Florida but I chose to go to California State University – Northridge and had one of the best years of my college life. It was a great opportunity for me to experience another part of the country (I’ve lived on the East Coast all my life) and it was also a very beneficial area for both of my majors, deaf studies and broadcast journalism. To top it all off, I could still pay my in-state tuition to attend the school!

If you are a college student who would like to explore, see more of the world or know what it would be like to live in another state, the NSE is for you. For me, it wasn't only a learning experience but also a life changing one. I would highly encourage anyone who attends a college involved with the NSE to participate in it. If you are interested in the program and would like more information about it, go to www.nse.org and see if your school is one of the nearly 200 member universities.

Shari Williams is a junior at Towson University with a double major in deaf studies and broadcast journalism and a minor in entertainment, media and film. With experience in public relations, a love for music and a passion for acting, she longs to be a jack of all trades. A Baltimore native, Shari is an avid traveler and opportunity seeker. She hopes to become the next face seen on the morning news or the voice heard over the radio.

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College: The Ultimate Life Lesson

June 16, 2011

College: The Ultimate Life Lesson

by Radha Jhatakia

There are many things I wish I knew before I started college...or even a year or two in! Tips about what professors are difficult, what dining halls serve the best food and where to find the dorms with the most square footage are quite often available but the biggest tip – which you won’t realize until you’re done with school – is that college itself teaches you how to get by in life.

The process begins before college with the prep work you do. You take six classes a semester in high school when during college you take three to five classes depending on the semester or quarter system. You take the SAT or ACT, which test your ability to take a test itself, not your intellectual abilities. You participate in every extracurricular possible to make your transcripts appealing, only to realize that those activities won’t really matter on campus. All of these tasks are tests: In college, you’ll spread yourself thin between a job, challenging classes, clubs and your social life but thanks to your prep work, you’ll know how to balance it all.

Once you’re on campus, college prepares you for the obstacles and struggles that await everyone after graduation. You’ll take engineering courses, biology labs and communications lectures and complete projects and papers to gauge how well you can apply the material you’ve learned and tight deadlines to help you to think on your feet. Whether you’re finding a way to pay off student loans or trying to secure a job in your field, those seemingly small assignments you completed in college will have prepared you to deal with the real world.

You’ll gain a lot from your college experience – friends, memories, knowledge – but most importantly is your degree, a testimony that you will be able to make it in life beyond those hallowed halls.

Radha Jhatakia is a communications major who will be transferring to San Jose State University this fall. She’s had some ups and downs in school and many obstacles to face; these challenges – plus support from family, friends and cat – have only made Radha stronger and have given her the experience to help others with the same issues. In her spare time, she enjoys writing, reading, cooking, sewing and designing. A social butterfly, Radha hopes to work in public relations and marketing upon graduation.

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To Attend or Not to Attend: That is the ($100,000) Question

June 20, 2011

To Attend or Not to Attend: That is the ($100,000) Question

by Angela Andaloro

The decision to attend college is one that everyone arrives at differently. For some, not going to school isn’t an option, be it by their own standards or their parents’; for others, taking the next step in their educational career may have required a little more convincing. I have even heard stories of parents who bribe their kids to go to college with promises of apartments or cars.

While a new ride or a place to call your own might sound tempting, there’s an even more tempting offer out there from PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel – the 20 Under 20 Thiel Fellowship, which, in exchange for a commitment to not attending college for two years and dedicating themselves entirely to their inventions, Thiel offered each fellow $100,000. The response was overwhelming, as are the opinions floating around the controversial award.

One of the lucky 20 fellows, Dale Stephens, wrote an article for CNN discussing his own feelings toward the idea that real world experience could prove to be more beneficial than a formal education. He discusses his disappointment in the values that are promoted by the college system – a disappointment that resounds on college campuses around the country. He goes on to discuss the possibilities out there for our generation beyond a traditional education, which, as Stephens puts it, are beyond the extremes of “Becoming the next Mark Zuckerberg or mastering the phrase ‘Would you like fries with that?’”

Stephens’ call to seek opportunities beyond the formal educational system may be influenced by his experience as a Thiel Fellow but is an idea that is considered by many current and soon-to-be college students. I myself have heard students complain about feeling as though they aren’t really getting anything out of college. The phrase “I’m never going to use this in real life” is one that’s uttered frequently, but how much truth is there to that? Do you feel that there’s something to be learned in college or is it a societal expectation we’ve come to accept?

Angela Andaloro is a rising junior at Pace University’s New York City campus, where she is double majoring in communication studies and English. Like most things in New York City, her life and college experience is far from typical – she commutes to school from her home in Flushing and took nearly a semester’s worth of classes online – but she still likes to hang out with friends, go to parties and feed her social networking addiction like your “average” college student.

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Attending College Away vs. In-State

June 24, 2011

Attending College Away vs. In-State

by Darci Miller

When I first began looking at colleges, I knew right away that I didn’t want to attend school locally. I wanted to forge my own way away from home and none of New York’s state schools really interested me. I did apply to one in-state school (Syracuse) that’s a multiple hour drive away from home but ended up not going there.

Starting at Miami was a bit of a culture shock. I went from seeing familiar faces everywhere in high school to being the one solitary Baldwinite at college. There are several others from my high school at Miami but they’re older than me and we’ve never interacted before. I was entirely on my own. My friends, on the other hand, moved on from high school in a very different way: Almost everybody I know attends college with at least one other person from high school and SUNY Binghamton is now the home of more than 20 members of my graduating class, many of whom now live together.

Sometimes, I’m a little bit jealous. If vacation days don’t line up, I’ll be sitting in my dorm room reading Facebook updates about how everyone’s getting together back at home – people can’t afford to fly down to Miami to visit one friend but they can afford to drive to Binghamton to visit dozens of them – but embarking on a college journey miles away from home does have its positives.

By going to school away, you’ll get to miss out on all the stupid high school drama inherent in high school friendships. You’ll be able to make an entirely new group of friends without worrying about what your old friends think of you or of them. You can reinvent yourself entirely if you want to, become your own person and return home new, improved and blissfully unaware of who kissed who and who now hates who. Trust me, you won’t miss it!

Darci Miller is a New Yorker studying journalism and sport administration at the University of Miami. When she’s not writing for the school newspaper, you can find her at the gym, either working or working out. She loves all ‘80s pop culture (the cheesier the better!), and glues herself to her TV when the Olympics are on. She dreams big, and believes the sky’s the limit!

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Standardized Test ACTually May Not Predict College Success

June 24, 2011

Standardized Test ACTually May Not Predict College Success

by Alexis Mattera

Are standardized test scores and collegiate success one in the same? Not necessarily, a new study says.

The National Bureau of Economic Research’s latest findings reveal that while the English and math sections of the ACT are "highly predictive" of college success, the segments unique to this exam – science and reading – have "little or no" ability to help college admissions committees predict whether applicants will succeed. Because of this, the validity of the ACT as a whole is in question because colleges typically rely on the composite score rather than individual subject scores. "By introducing noise that obscures the predictive validity of the ACT exam, the reading and science tests cause students to be inefficiently matched to schools, admitted to schools that may be too demanding — or too easy — for their levels of ability," the study says.

ACT refutes these findings, stating it has "decades of research supporting the predictive validity and application" of its scoring in college enrollment, performance and retention and is in the process of reviewing the study’s methodology and findings. For those of you who have taken the ACT, do you agree with the study or the testmaker? Do you find high school performance is a better indicator of college success than any standardized test out there?

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UConn's New President Donates $100K for Scholarship

July 7, 2011

UConn's New President Donates $100K for Scholarship

by Alexis Mattera

When most people start a new job, it takes a while for them to find their way and perfectly arrange their tchotchkes before they feel truly comfortable. Not Susan Herbst: She took over as president of the University of Connecticut just 22 days ago but she’s already made a huge impact on campus and beyond.

Herbst, the former executive vice chancellor of the University System of Georgia, and her husband, marketing consultant Douglas Hughes, have announced they will donate $100,000 to create a scholarship for needy UConn students pursuing degrees in the arts and humanities. "In these difficult times, UConn desperately needs increased private funding of student scholarships, faculty research, and building projects in order to become the top flagship university the state of Connecticut and its citizens deserve," she said in a statement.

The aptly-named Susan Herbst and Douglas Hughes Family Scholarship will be based on academic achievement and need and will be awarded for the first time next spring. Does this financial aid opportunity have you considering spending your college years in the Constitution State?

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Head Out of State for an In-State Price

July 27, 2011

Head Out of State for an In-State Price

by Alexis Mattera

Scenario: Your dream school is beyond state boundaries but your college fund is more suited to a college closer to home. Don't fret: If you know what and where you want to study, you could score an impressive tuition break through a regional discount program. Here's the breakdown:

New England Regional Student Program: Students living in Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island or Vermont could be eligible for average savings of $7,000 per year through this program if they enroll in a degree program not available at public schools in their home state. One drawback – if majors are changed, recipients may no longer be eligible for the tuition break.

Academic Common Market: Southerners (aka those living in Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia or West Virginia) follow the same guidelines as the NERSP but with some additional restrictions. For example, schools in Florida, North Carolina, and Texas only offer tuition reductions at the graduate level.

Western Undergraduate Exchange: Do you live in Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, Washington or Wyoming and want $7,500 per year in average college savings? WUE requirements vary from state to state and campus to campus but more than 26,000 residents took advantage of the program last year...so, interested students, apply early to ensure funding.

Midwest Student Exchange Program: Students from Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota or Wisconsin can save an average of $4,274 per year on tuition without being restricted by majors. The catch is that schools (public and private this time) can limit what degree programs qualify for this discount.

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And Forbes’ Top American Schools Are…

August 4, 2011

And Forbes’ Top American Schools Are…

by Suada Kolovic

High school seniors, do you know where you want to spend the next four years? Sure, it may still be summer and you’re nowhere near crunch time when it comes to making that decision, but go ahead and get a head start and check out some of the top schools in the country, according to Forbes Magazine.

Every year Forbes puts together a list of the best undergraduate institutions in the country, focusing on areas that matter most to students: quality of teaching, great career prospects, graduation rates and low levels of debt. Here’s the numerical breakdown: Post-Graduate Success (30%), which evaluates alumni pay and prominence; Student Satisfaction (27.5%), which includes professor evaluations and freshman to sophomore year retention rates; Debt (17.5%), which penalizes schools for high student debt loads and default rates; and Four Year Graduation Rate (17.5%) and Competitive Awards (7.5%), which rewards schools whose students win prestigious scholarships and fellowships like the Rhodes and the Fulbright. Here are the top 10:

  1. Williams College
  2. Princeton University
  3. United States Military Academy
  4. Amherst College
  5. Stanford University
  6. Harvard University
  7. Haverford College
  8. University of Chicago
  9. Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  10. United States Air Force Academy

For the second year in a row, Williams College has been named as the best undergraduate institution in America. And with total annual costs adding up to nearly $55,000, it’s certainly not cheap but the 2,000 undergraduates here have among the highest four-year graduation rates in the country, win loads of prestigious national awards like Rhodes and Marshall Scholarships, and are often rewarded with high-paying careers. Does this information have you rethinking where you’ll apply?

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New Study Explores Higher Ed Stratification

August 11, 2011

New Study Explores Higher Ed Stratification

by Alexis Mattera

Money may not be able to buy happiness or love but a new study shows it’s an integral factor in getting into college.

The study – “Running in Place: Low-Income Students and the Dynamics of Higher Education Stratification” – reveals that despite efforts to attract and enroll more low-income students, such students are still more likely to attend community colleges or noncompetitive four-year universities than more elite schools. These students are indeed taking the steps necessary to increase their grades and standardized test scores but their wealthier counterparts are taking wider, faster strides toward the same goal.

According to the study’s lead author and associate professor of higher education at the University of Michigan Michael N. Bastedo, “The distance between academic credentials for wealthy students and low-income students is getting longer and longer...and that’s despite the fact that low-income students are rising in their own academic achievement.” Selective colleges claim they want to bring in more low-income students but the study’s authors say ancillary factors like higher/better job placement and more generous alumni are proving detrimental.

There is much more to the study here including the authors’ suggestions for improving equity (i.e., optional SATs, greater access to Advanced Placement and honors courses). Take a look and share your thoughts!

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