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"Test-Optional" Policy at American University Expanded

July 15, 2010

by Scholarships.com Staff

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.

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Playing Favorites?

Kahlenberg and Co. Discuss Legacy Preference in College Admissions

September 22, 2010

by Alexis Mattera

I used to hate Hate HATE when my brother was allowed to do something and I wasn’t because he was a boy and I was a girl. I’d stomp and sigh and eventually find something better to do but the sting of that bias stuck with me for a while. I (and I’m sure my parents) would shudder to think of my reaction had I been denied admission to the college of my choice when another candidate got in based on any other reason than merit.

Though college officials claim their preference toward alumni children is modest at best, a new book states the opposite. In Affirmative Action for the Rich: Legacy Preferences in College Admissions, editor Richard D. Kahlenberg calls for a reexamination and elimination of alumni preferences now; as an advocate for class-based as opposed to race-based affirmative action, Kahlenberg also argues that with the elimination of affirmative action in several states (a shift he predicts will spread), existing biases make it “hard to justify alumni preferences when you have gotten rid of help for minorities.” One section of the book, which is a collection of research articles by scholars, journalists and lawyers, even details how much the advantage of being an alumni child has increased in the last 20 years (Princeton admitted 41.7 percent of legacy applicants in 2009 – 4.5 times the rate for non-legacies – while the legacy admit rate was only 2.8 times the rate in 1992) though they are typically are “average” academically and “under-perform” those with similar demographic backgrounds who did not receive alumni admissions preferences; there is also additional assistance for white applicants, athletes and the children of wealthy donors. Inside Higher Ed delves deeper here.

I haven’t read the book so therefore I cannot choose a side just yet, but I have to say the article has me intrigued. Getting into college (not to mention finding the money to pay for it) is competitive enough so why turn it into a steeplechase rather than the marathon it already is?

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The Common App Conundrum

Why Some Schools Still Won’t Adopt It

September 25, 2010

The Common App Conundrum

by Alexis Mattera

The college application process is already underway and for many high school seniors, this means filling out multiple applications and composing an essay for each school on their list…unless they use the Common Application. This 35-year-old document is accepted by more than 400 schools; in fact, in the 2009-2010 admissions cycle, approximately 500,000 students used the Common App. While some admissions deans sing its praises for helping to recruit more first-generation and minority students, it elicits a far less favorable response from others.

Some of the most selective schools in the country have adopted the Common App like UChicago and Columbia but there are still a number of schools averse to the idea. The Chronicle’s Eric Hoover picked the brain of Charles A. Deacon, Georgetown’s dean of admissions and a vehement opposer of the Common App. While he agrees with the Common App promotes equality, Deacon feels it is an unnecessary tool, an unwelcome symbol of homogenization in admissions and “an enabler of bad behavior.” If the school adopted the Common App, Deacon says it would likely attract 3,000 to 5,000 additional applicants but “as long as you get the diversity you need, it doesn’t matter how many applications you have.”

Some admissions staffers at schools not accepting the Common App have been asked essentially what their problem is for not accepting it. It’s a decision that shouldn’t been arrived at quickly, that’s for sure, but it seems to be one that can do more good than harm – especially since so many schools allow their applications to be submitted online and the amount of paperwork (and risk of paper cuts) is far lower. Maybe I would feel differently if I were on an admissions committee but from where I’m currently sitting, wider adoption of the Common App seems like the way to go for schools wanting to attract a more diverse pool of applicants.

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Politicians: Thou Shall Not Lie

Why Politicians Embellish Their Academic Credentials

September 29, 2010

Politicians: Thou Shall Not Lie

by Suada Kolovic

In the world of politics, having officials lie to the public is hardly new. Over the years, a parade of politicians from both parties – from Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton getting caught exaggerating the danger of her 1996 trip to Bosnia to Representative Mark Kirk apologizing for misleading statements he made about serving in the first Iraq war – have had to account for what opponents portrayed as exaggerations.

But lying about academic credentials is a new low, most recently exhibited by Christine O'Donnell. Last month, public relations consultant O'Donnell won Delaware's GOP Senate primary beating a favored longtime congressman. When she ran for the seat in 2006, she said she had a degree from Fairleigh Dickinson University but when it was revealed to be untrue, her campaign said Fairleigh Dickinson had withheld the degree because of outstanding student loans. The university gave her a degree on August 28, two weeks before the Delaware primary. Her campaign said she had completed a final course requirement this past summer.

So, why would politicians lie about something that can be easily checked? James A. Thurber, a professor of government at American University who studied ethic in politics, recently spoke to the Chronicle and explained, “People respect individuals and candidates who have certain credentials, and they're seen as almost necessary for office. It's fairly rare for someone to run for Senate who does not have an undergraduate degree, and most have law degrees or master's degrees. A candidate might be embarrassed about his or her academic background. They might think that no one will check it out.” He explains they get away with it once or twice and think they won't get caught; it’s when people eventually begin to believe their own lie when it really becomes a problem.

With the internet as accessible as it is, the truth is just a click away. So, whether you’re lying on a resume for a potential employer or a college application or scholarship is getting caught worth the risk?

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Want to Get into an Ivy League?

All You Need is $19.99!

October 15, 2010

Want to Get into an Ivy League?

by Suada Kolovic

And I’d have to agree – $19.99 is a steal. Aren’t we all just a tad curious as to what those select few wrote to be granted access behind those coveted gates? I know I am and Howard Yaruss figured you, future college applicants, would be too. So he founded the Application Project Inc. WeGotIn.net, which sells copies of successful applications to Ivy League colleges. For $19.99, you can browse applications submitted by 21 members of Brown University’s 2009-10 freshman class and for the same price, you can access applications submitted by 14 members of the 2009-10 freshman class at Columbia University. (Or buy both for $34.99 and save five bucks!)

For the price of large pizza, you’ll get copies of the applications with entire responses to each question, including essay and short-answer prompts. But are they legit? According to Yaruss, the company obtains the copies directly from students, who are asked to submit their application via their college e-mail as proof of enrollment. Wondering what other Ivy League institutions are in the database? As of right now, just the two mentioned above – Brown and Columbia – but Yaruss plans to expand to all Ivy League institutions, Stanford University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2011.

The catch, since there always seems to be one, is that an accepted application may not necessarily reveal why a student was selected. The truth of the matter is that multiple factors go into a student’s admittance into a university and to provide students with such a tiny piece of such a complicated puzzle is frankly misleading. That’s why a few admissions counselors who have perused through WeGotIn.net could only scoff. “An application out of context has no value, and it’s disingenuous at best to imply that it does,” said Willard M. Dix, an independent counselor in Chicago who works with low-income students. “But there’s a sucker born every minute. Sites like this clearly know that.”

Yaruss admits he has already encountered some “hostility” in the admissions realm and suspects more criticism will come. But he’s been pleased by the response from the people whose help he needs most—college students. He has solicited their applications by contacting them through, of course, Facebook. His pitch: sharing them would help other students who aspire to attend elite colleges.

Why would such elite students offer their personal responses that they surely put their blood, sweat and tears into to a stranger? Did I mention each student who shared his or her application was paid (two received $100, and the others less)? And in the world of a college student, that ain’t too shabby.

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Proofing College Applications: More Than Just Spell Check

October 19, 2010

Proofing College Applications: More Than Just Spell Check

by Alexis Mattera

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:

  • An applicant to Oberlin College wrote about her admiration for Julie Taymor, an Oberlin graduate who created the “The Lion King” on Broadway. The essay was passionate…but also inaccurate: The writer kept referring to “The Loin King.”
  • An admissions officer came across an essay that said, “It’s my dream to go to Boston University.” That’s fantastic…except the essay was being reviewed at Cornell.
  • An applicant to Molloy College wrote "Steve" in the field asking her expected graduation date. Um, what? The applicant later explained she was in a relationship with a man named Steve and hoped he’d be her date at graduation.

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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The Early Student Gets Admitted

Colleges See More Interest, Accept More Students Early

October 21, 2010

The Early Student Gets Admitted

by Alexis Mattera

Hiring managers and interviewers like to say “If you’re early, you’re on time and if you’re on time, you’re late” and over the course of the most recent recession, that motto has been unofficially adopted by admissions committees and prospective college students.

According to the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC)’s annual “State of College Admission” report, many colleges (private and public) have reported increased interest from applicants in applying early and a jump in the number of students admitted this way. The former remained relatively the same as over the last two years but the latter – 65 percent of schools accepting more early decision applicants compared to 43 percent just one year prior – is pretty remarkable. The same can be said about the growing gap between the admissions rates for early decision and regular applicants at the same institutions: Colleges with early decision admit about 55 percent of all applicants, but 70 percent of early decision applicants, though only 7 percent of applications received take advantage of the early decision option. Another facet of the NACAC report is the overwhelming popularity of applying online, up to 80 percent in 2009 from 68 percent in 2007.

Does this mean schools are becoming less selective and simply rewarding the early birds in their quests for the worm? Not entirely…and not at all for the Ivies. The top criteria remain grades, the strength of the high school curriculum and admissions test scores but what NACAC calls "demonstrated interest in enrolling" is also climbing those ranks. Does this info change how you plan to apply?

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Is Your School Transfer-Friendly?

Why it Pays to Accommodate

November 2, 2010

Is Your School Transfer-Friendly?

by Alexis Mattera

Transfer students have long been afterthoughts at many schools but they are beginning to be viewed as quite the opposite. Just ask Bonita C. Jacobs, a woman aiming to increase transfer friendliness one college at a time.

Jacobs, the executive director of the National Institute for the Study of Transfer Students at the University of North Texas, recently spoke to the Chronicle about the integral pieces of the higher education puzzle transfer students have become. More schools are thinking harder about the needs of transfer students and the advantages of enrolling them - benefits discussed by Jacobs and others at the College Board’s annual conference. Jacobs and Alfred Herrera, the assistant vice provost at the University of California at Los Angeles, detailed how four-year colleges can better serve students coming from community colleges by making transfer students’ success an institutional priority as opposed to seeing such students as a way to “backfill” freshman classes to meet enrollment goals.

How are they planning to achieve this? At UCLA, for example, reps from various campus offices that serve transfer students meet regularly to discuss their strategies and progress; the university also has a dedicated resource center that caters to transfers. “These students add to the richness and diversity of our campuses,” Herrera said. “When we don’t look at the transfer experience, we’re really in trouble.” Jacobs added, “We often put transfer students in this package, and they don’t all fit neatly into that package. They’re a distinct population, but they’re very diverse. Some of them see their first semester as their first-year experience. Others are older, with children, and are totally different. So many times, campuses will look at transfers as an admissions issue. But it’s also a student-affairs issue.”

We know some of our readers are considering transferring from a community college to a four-year institution so what do you think of the work Jacobs, Herrera and others are doing to make your transition more seamless? And for students who have already transferred, is there anything you wish your school had offered you when you were the new kid on campus?

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What the Blank?!

Experts Say Filling All Application Fields Isn’t Necessary

November 5, 2010

What the Blank?!

by Alexis Mattera

You’re applying for a job, seeing a new doctor or creating a Facebook page and you’re asked to tell the powers that be a little bit about yourself. This information could range from work history to preexisting conditions to favorite bands, respectively, but what do you do when there’s still space left on the form? That’s right: You scour every square inch of your thinkspace for relevant (and maybe not-so-relevant) information to fill in the blanks.

College applicants know this situation well during this time of year and for those who don’t have a laundry list of extracurricular activities or community service hours at the ready, filling out applications – like this year’s Common App, which has 12 blank fields for “Extracurricular Activities and Work Experience” – can cause some serious anxiety. Admissions officers, however, say there’s no need to input something into each field. “The perception is that you have to fill in all the blanks,” said Jennifer Delahunty, the dean of admissions at Kenyon College. “What we hate to see is when students do things like check ‘9th, 10th, 11th and 12th grades’ and then write ‘personal reading.’ Yes, we’re glad you’re a reader. But it looks decidedly like filler.” Monica C. Inzer, the dean of admissions at Hamilton College and a member of the Common Application board, agrees: “We’d rather see depth than a longer list. I think students think we want well-rounded kids. We do. But we really want a well-rounded class. That could be lots of people who have individual strengths. Distinction in one area is good, and better than doing a lot of little things.”

So, college students to be, does this news warrant a gigantic sigh of relief or are you worried the 12 blank fields won’t be enough to hold all of your accomplishments? If you’ve already been through the process (this year or 20 years ago), did you find the application process daunting?

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GPA, SAT, and a Great Sense of Humor Walk into a Bar

November 12, 2010

GPA, SAT, and a Great Sense of Humor Walk into a Bar

by Suada Kolovic

When you envisioned what your college application process would be like, I’m sure you anticipated stress and anxiety but I doubt you expected a joke could get you in. This was the moment you were told to draw on your strengths and articulate every achievement – countless community service hours, stellar GPA, and the fact that you were senior class president. Every sentence would be so perfectly and meticulously thought-out that who you were just leapt right off the page. You prepared your answer on why you belonged at your dream college and pinpointed what you had to offer…until you opened the actual application and found a serious curveball.

In addition to common essay prompts, more and more institutions are jumping on the unconventional question bandwagon and are interested knowing not only in why students want to gain admission but just how creative they can be when challenged. Here are the far-from-average questions schools are asking this year:

California Institute of Technology

Caltech asks applicants to not overanalyze:

  • “What are three adjectives your friends would use to describe you?”
  • “Caltech students have long been known for their quirky sense of humor and creative pranks and for finding unusual ways to have fun. What is something that you find fun or humorous?”

University of Chicago

Each year the University of Chicago asks newly admitted and current students for essay topics:

  • “Dog and Cat. Coffee and Tea. Great Gatsby and Catcher in the Rye. Everyone knows there are two types of people in the world. What are they?”

Yale University

Yale asks applicants to write essays, plus answer the following questions in 25 words or less:

  • “If you could witness one moment in history, what would it be and why?”
  • “Recall a compliment you received that you especially value. What was it? From whom did it come?”

University of Dallas

Along with three conventional questions, including “What influenced you most to apply to the University of Dallas?” the school also asks:

  • “Tell us your favorite joke or humorous anecdote.”

Soon-to-be college applicants, what do you think of this technique? Are you a fan of the challenge or frustrated by the fact that not only are you expected to impress them with your achievements and extracurricular activities but now you’re expected to be witty, too?

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