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The Far-Too-Common Application

Advocates Displeased with Rejection of New Questions

January 26, 2011

The Far-Too-Common Application

by Alexis Mattera

Can you remember the first time someone asked you to think outside the box? Whether it was for a homework assignment, a science fair project or college admissions essay, you probably noticed taking this creative approach was appreciated – and earned you an A, a medal or admission – but sometimes, unfortunately, the status quo wins.

This scenario was recently echoed by the Common Application’s board when it rejected a proposal to add optional questions on sexual orientation and gender identity. The organization – which recently added a LGBT category in the activities section for students who participate in gay-straight alliances in high school – said the questions could "pose problems" now and though it left the possibility of addition open in the future, advocates are none too pleased with the message that’s being sent to the students applying to the 414 colleges that accept the Common App…especially Shane L. Windmeyer.

Windmeyer, the founder of Campus Pride, a national group that works on behalf of gay students and sponsors college fairs at which gay students can meet college representatives, believes the Common App organization is "acting like a parent of the 1950s" because the proposed questions would not be an issue: Since they would be optional, any applicant uncomfortable with them could elect not to answer; he also said a second gender question following birth certificate information would allow colleges to meet reporting requirements while accommodating all gender identities.

You can read more from both sides here but the fact of the matter is this: Many students go to college to find themselves but when they can’t even find a way to identify themselves on the application, is that school really where they want to be?

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Got Stress?

Annual Study Shows College Freshmen are Overwhelmed but Optimistic

January 27, 2011

Got Stress?

by Alexis Mattera

A student’s first year in college is one rife with new experiences and challenges. We have plenty of info on our site to help ease that transition – from dealing with common roommate problems to overcoming writer's block in college essays to beating the winter blues – but it looks like members of the class of 2014 are having more difficult times adjusting to the college lifestyle.

An annual study found 51.9 percent of first-year, full-time students reported their emotional health was above average. That may not seem so bad but lead author, UCLA's John Pryor, said this figure is a "fairly alarming" 3.4 percentage points lower than last year and the lowest since the inaugural study in 1985 when 63.6 percent reported feeling above average. Despite these record-low levels of emotional health, about 73 percent of students surveyed generally expressed positive attitudes toward higher education, even as they struggle to fund it because they believe it will help their future earning power.

But why the disparity between low emotional health and high expectations? It’s difficult to pinpoint one specific reason but Marcus Hotaling, chairman of mental health for the American College Health Association, has a theory: When the study began in 1985, he said, many students with mental health issues did not get into college but today, they are able to pursue post-secondary degrees because of improved medication, reduced stigmas and a greater willingness to share concerns with others. "Students are more attuned to who they are, what they're dealing with, and that there's help out there," said Hotaling.

First-time college students, do you share the sentiments of the students surveyed or is your freshman year shaping up to be one of the best years of your life thus far?

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Top 10 Universities for Campus Housing

January 31, 2011

Top 10 Universities for Campus Housing

by Suada Kolovic

If you’re a high school senior, you’ll be faced with a major decision in the coming months: choosing the right college. And while there are myriad factors to consider when making your decision, campus housing can be a crucial piece of the puzzle. For the most part, students are required to live in campus housing during their freshman year while upperclassmen tend to live off-campus in apartments. The reason: Most larger universities just don’t offer enough on-campus housing to accommodate their entire undergraduate populations. Yet, that’s not always the case because some prominent institutions with large endowments offer housing for all undergraduates.

According to an analysis of student housing data provided by the U.S. News & World Report, students at many of the country’s top ranked schools opt to remain on campus until they graduate. Of the top 10 national universities with the highest percentage of students living on campus, five are Ivy League institutions. Check out the complete list below (schools are ranked by the percentage of their undergraduate student body living on campus).

  1. Princeton University
  2. Harvard University
  3. California Institute of Technology
  4. Columbia University
  5. Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  6. Stanford University
  7. Vanderbilt University
  8. Yale University
  9. Dartmouth College
  10. Stevens Institute of Technology
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Who Owns Student Inventions Created on School Property: School or Student?

February 1, 2011

Who Owns Student Inventions Created on School Property: School or Student?

by Suada Kolovic

Imagine this: There’s a contest at your university to create the next big iPhone app, the next Angry Birds if you will. On a whim, you decide to enter and miraculously (or not so miraculously given your tech savvy) you win! You’re overcome with pride and joy and begin fantasizing about a life of excess. It’s only after you’ve mentally purchased everything under the sun that reality sets in and you realize you haven’t read the fine print: The university where you did the bulk of your designing may assert a partial or complete claim to the product you’ve created. If you think that’s less than awesome, then you’re right on par with a group of students at the University of Missouri at Columbia.

The team of said students designed an iPhone app for a contest hosted by the Reynolds Journalism Institute at the Missouri School of Journalism. To be fair, the university did inform students of the policy prior to entering the competition which led to some students dropping out, said Anthony Brown, then an undergraduate in the department of journalism. But despite their reservations, Mr. Brown and his team, fellow students Zhenhua Ma, Dan Wang and Peng Zhuang, decided they’d stay in. They won the competition with an app called NearBuy (which gives you the ability to search for condos and houses by location using the iPhone's built-in locate-me technologies) and contacted the university to assert their ownership and to ask the university to waive any intent to assert ownership, according to the Chronicle. They argued that student inventions, even if fostered to some degree by faculty mentors, stood apart from the work done by faculty members using university resources.

Faculty members of the journalism department signed letters supporting the students’ case. And ultimately administrators agreed with the students and allowed them to maintain full ownership of their app, which to date has been downloaded over a quarter of a million times.

To some extent because of the case, the University of Missouri decided to rewrite its intellectual-property policy to better address student inventions. According to Michael F. Nichols, vice president for research and economic development for the Missouri system, the rules now cover everything from work students do as part of a class, to student work created as part of a competition, to work students do in an extracurricular group that is sponsored by the university. Keep in mind Missouri’s regulations aren’t the norm at all universities. How would you feel knowing, or not knowing for that matter, that if you were to create something on campus your university would have the rights to it?

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A Ripe Idea at UC-Davis

New Facility Combines Winemaking, Wi-Fi

February 7, 2011

A Ripe Idea at UC-Davis

by Alexis Mattera

The last thing many people want to think about the day after the Super Bowl (beside Christina Aguilera’s National Anthem flub or the overall lack of enjoyable advertisements) is alcohol but this next story won’t add to a hangover. We promise.

The University of California at Davis, long known for its winemaking program, has unveiled new technology at the school’s Robert Mondavi Institute for Wine and Food Science to fine-tune the fermentation process. Custom-built probes embedded with microchips measure the sugar density and temperature of fermenting wines every 15 minutes; the readings are then wirelessly transferred to a server at the facility and displayed on a large monitor. The use of Wi-Fi to monitor the process is certainly a big step but enology professor Roger B. Boulton says the footprint will be even larger as the measurements will soon be viewable on the Web and via smartphones. Students and researchers will be able to compare their results with expected outcomes and adjust as necessary to determine how different fermenting conditions affect different grape varieties.

Boulton continued to say that the measurement technology puts the university years ahead of commercial operations because it will ultimately reduce the number of failed batches. How green! What do you think of these developments at UC-Davis? Would having access to this new technology get you to consider a major in winemaking?

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Gotcha! Columbia University Publishes Fictitious Article, Dupes Everyone

February 8, 2011

Gotcha! Columbia University Publishes Fictitious Article, Dupes Everyone

by Suada Kolovic

Columbia University, one of the eight members of the Ivy League, knows how to have a good time. So much so that the university’s student paper – The Morningside Post – ran a satirical story about a student who was mugged by conscientious muggers.

Jane Watkins, a first year International Security Policy concentrator, was on her way to class when two men wearing ski masks and dressed entirely in black approached her. "They started to run away with my bag but I screamed and begged them to let me have my Statistics homework," Ms. Watkins reported. "I told them they could have my wallet, my iPhone, anything – just not the homework." According to Ms. Watkins’ report, it was then that one of the muggers reached into her purse and retrieved her homework assignment, laying it neatly on the sidewalk next to where the incident occurred.

The story fooled readers and media outlets, most notably Gawker. They linked to the story despite calling it a “credulity-straining report.” The site has since affirmed that the Post article is a satire. Since the backlash, an editorial note was added to the article: “Due to questions from concerned readers, we would like to point out that this is a fictitious story. We thought we’d have a little bit of fun with this one. Imagine if The New York Times had a SIPA beat...”

What do you think of Columbia’s attempt at satire? Do you find it funny? Let us know what you think.

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Want to Know the Likelihood a College Will Accept You? There’s an App for That!

February 9, 2011

Want to Know the Likelihood a College Will Accept You? There’s an App for That!

by Suada Kolovic

There’s an app for just about everything these days, so it’s about time that there’s one that will help students determine how likely they are to be admitted at their school of choice. The Facebook application, AdmissionSplash, asks students to submit a personal profile including quantitative and qualitative characteristics, such as test scores, grades and extra-curricular activities, which colleges consider when making admissions decisions. Then the program enters that information into a complex algorithm to predict the student’s chance of getting into any of the 1,500 colleges currently included.

According to tests conducted at UCLA and NYU, AdmissionSplash founders looked at three sets of students – 88 and 73 from UCLA and 75 from NYU – and found that the app was able to accurately predict admissions decisions for 85, 91 and 97 percent from each group, respectively. AdmissionSplash co-founder Allen Gannett views the application as a more-personalized college guide book, calling it “a really good tool for narrowing down your choices,” but is quick to point out that students should not rely on it as a sole indicator. Gannet believes the app will help students navigate through the stressful application process and hopes to develop a program that will predict admission chances for law, medical, business and grad school applicants.

High school seniors, are you downloading this app to help you with your application process? Let us know what you think.

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Colleges With the Highest Graduation Rates

February 11, 2011

Colleges With the Highest Graduation Rates

by Suada Kolovic

Acceptance letters should be rolling in for the majority of high school seniors and the pressure of deciding where to go is definitely on. A lot goes into deciding what school is the right fit for you, but if you’re interested in what schools have the highest graduation rates...then boy do we have the list for you. And sure, these institutions do have quite impressive graduations rates but keep in mind that high graduation rates don’t necessarily translate into a surefire path to success. It’s also important to note that the majority of schools that made the cut are prestigious and students accepted to the likes of Harvard aren’t likely to dropout.

The study, conducted by College Results Online, a website which uses data from the National Center for Education Statistics and Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System, ranked U.S. colleges in terms of 6-year graduation rates. Check out the top colleges and universities with the highest national graduation rates below and click here for the full list as well as profiles of each school.

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Why Students Drop Out of College

New MSU Study Cites Key Risk Factors

February 17, 2011

Why Students Drop Out of College

by Alexis Mattera

It may seem counterintuitive to work hard throughout high school, score well on your standardized tests, get accepted to your first-choice college and wrangle enough financial aid to pay for your education only to drop out before graduation but it does happen. What causes this academic 180? That’s what researchers at Michigan State University revealed in a new study.

The team, led by MSU assistant professor of psychology Tim Pleskac, used a mathematical model to analyze surveys from 1,158 freshmen at 10 U.S. colleges and universities. The surveys listed 21 "critical events" and students were asked whether any of the events happened to them in the previous semester; later, the students surveyed were asked whether or not they planned to drop out. Among the top risk factors reported were depression, loss of financial aid, tuition increases, unexpected poor marks and roommate issues. Other "critical events" like family deaths, failure to get into a specific program of study, significant bodily injury and addiction, however, were less likely to impact a student’s decision to leave school. "Prior to this work, little was known about what factors in a student’s everyday life prompt them to think about withdrawing from college," Pleskac said. "We are now better suited to think about what students we should target in terms of counseling or other assistance to help them work through these issues."

Would any of the factors listed above effect your choice to drop out of college? If they did, do you think you would eventually return to obtain your degree?

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DePaul Joins the Test Optional Club

University Says Standardized Testing is Out, Essays are In

February 18, 2011

DePaul Joins the Test Optional Club

by Alexis Mattera

Standardized testing is as much – if not more – a part of the college process as dancing when the fat envelope arrives, Facebooking your new roommate and shopping for extra-long twin sheets. That will no longer be the case for DePaul University applicants for the freshman class entering in 2012 because the Chicago school has announced its plans to make the reporting SAT and ACT scores optional.

But don’t start shredding your test prep materials into confetti just yet: Students choosing not to submit ACT or SAT scores will be required to write short responses to essay questions designed to measure "noncognitive" traits, such as leadership, commitment to service, and ability to meet long-term goals. These essays were introduced a few years ago and subsequent research convinced the admissions committee that the nontraditional measures did more than the ACT or SAT to predict the success of low-income and minority students at the university. Jon Boeckenstedt, associate vice president for enrollment management, said he wants to encourage applicants with high grade-point averages but relatively low standardized test scores to apply and believes the new method will allow his colleagues to better select applicants who are most likely to succeed and graduate.

DePaul is now the largest private university to join the FairTest list, joining Wake Forest as one of the most selective institutions to adopt test-optional policies. Do you think giving students the choice to report their scores will produce the results DePaul expects? What do you think is a better barometer of qualified applicants: test scores or essays?

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