Fall 2013 College Fairs

We have compiled information on several College Tour groups and College Fairs traveling during Fall 2013.  Please click on the links to find out if a school you are interested in will be traveling to an area near you.

Also, please be sure to check with your school college admission counselor, your local newspaper, or the admission offices of colleges that interest you to find out if, when and where a representative may be presenting information at a College Fair that may take place in an area near you.

1. NACAC Fall 2013 National College Fair

Parents and students participating in the free National College Fairs meet one-on-one with representatives from colleges and universities to discuss admission and financial aid opportunities at their respective institutions.  Fairs will be held between September 15 and November 14 in the following states: AL, MN, IL, WI, OH, IN, LA, CO, NY, FL, AZ, MO, ID, OR, WA, DC, MD, and NJ.  Check the website for the specific schedule.  Register before the fair to make the most of your time onsite and ensure that colleges can follow up with you.   (http://www.gotomyncf.com/Registration/EventSelectForState?stateName=All)

2. Coast to Coast College Tour, Fall 2013

Dartmouth College, Northwestern University, Princeton University, University of California-Berkeley, and Vanderbilt University collaborate on a series of events across the country designed to educate students and parents on selective admission, financial aid, and the common admission philosophy shared among the five institutions.  Students and parents are encouraged to take this opportunity to speak informally with admission representatives as well as to explore the defining characteristics of each school. This tour takes place between August 25 and October 3 in the following states: TX, LA, AZ, TN, CO, AL, OR, NC, WA, SC, ID, GA.  Click on the link (http://www.coasttocoasttour.org) to register.

3.  Colleges That Change Lives

Each Colleges That Change Lives program begins with a 30-minute panel presentation on completing a college search today, sharing the latest research on specific campus characteristics and learning components that lead to the most successful college experience.  Immediately after the panel presentation, the college fair begins, lasting approximately 1.5 hours. Students and families will be able to collect information from and speak directly with admission representatives from the colleges and universities that inspired noted education reporter and former New York Times education editor Loren Pope to write the book Colleges That Change Lives.  The program schedule and locations for 2014 will be posted on the website (http://www.ctcl.org/events/programs) early in the new year.

4.  The Claremont Colleges Information Sessions

The Claremont Colleges will host an information session by admission representatives from Claremont McKenna, Harvey Mudd, Pitzer, Pomona, and Scripps Colleges. Admission officers will discuss the benefits of attending each individual college, as well as the advantages of participating in one of the strongest and most cohesive college consortia in the nation.  The program will include a media presentation, individual college information presentations, a general question-and-answer session, and time at the end of the program for you to speak individually with each college.  Check the website (http://www.cmc.edu/admission/ccr.php) in early 2014 for a schedule of Claremont Colleges receptions and registration information.

5.  NACAC Performing and Visual Arts College Fair

Parents and students participating in the free Performing and Visual Arts College Fairs interact with admission representatives from a wide range of post-secondary institutions.  Fairs will be held between September 23 and October 29 in the following states: PA, MA, NY, DC, FL, GA, LA, MI, MO, IL, MN, OH, CO, TX, NV, CA, OR, and WA.  Check the website for the specific schedule.  Register before the fair to make the most of your time onsite and ensure that colleges can follow up with you.  (http://www.gotomypvafair.com/Registration/EventSelectForState?stateName=All&grdSelectEvents-page=1)

6. 2013 College Days/Nights in Europe and the Eastern Mediterranean

The Council of International Schools, AMIDEAST, College Council and The Fulbright Commission have announced the dates of the Autumn 2013 College/University Student Recruitment Events in Europe and The Eastern Mediterranean. These events, each organized by leading non-profit educational organizations, provide opportunities for students to meet with representatives from colleges and universities to discuss the admissions process. Contact the email addresses listed for more information.

Date Name Sponsor Contact for More Information
September 27/28 USA College Day in London The Fulbright Commission collegeday@fulbright.co.uk
September 29 CIS Paris College Day Council of Intl Schools (CIS) tomlepere@cois.org
October 1 Brussels College Night The Fulbright Commission adviser@fulbright.be
October 2 CIS Geneva College Night CIS tomlepere@cois.org
October 3 CIS Zurich College Night CIS tomlepere@cois.org
October 7 Athens US University Fair The Fulbright Commission edadthes@fulbright.gr
October 8 Nicosia US University Fair Cyprus Fulbright Foundation anna@fulbright.org.cy
October 11 American College Fair in Cairo AMIDEAST hal-hawary@amideast.org
October 12 American College Fair in Alexandria AMIDEAST rrateb@amideast.org
October 14 Munich International College Day College Council info@college-council.de
October 16 Berlin International College Day College Council info@college-council.de

7.  Study Life USA

Click on this link for a list of international education fairs taking place during Fall 2013:

http://studyusa.com/blogs/studylifeusa/international-education-fairs-schedule-for-fall-2013/

 

College applications: why your major matters

One of the most appealing aspects of an American liberal arts education lies in the notion that a student should not have to commit to any course of study before he or she is ready to do so. Unlike Britain, for example, where students apply to a specific course of study, American students applying to liberal arts colleges may at most be asked to state an academic interest. At many institutions students are in fact only called on to declare a major – such as mathematics, economics or sociology – at the end of sophomore year. (Note that engineering programs, for example, are very different, given the very high credit count of the accredited degree.)

Admitting students without reference to their major recognizes the fact that at college students will change their majors as often as they change their minds. It is also an encouragement to explore broadly and by roaming through an interdisciplinary reservoir, find the different lenses through which they can look at the issues that interest them.

It is easy, however, to confuse such an approach with a kind of academic drifting that lacks rigor and discipline. Many college applicants check the box that declares them undecided about their intended major because they genuinely cannot commit to a course of study. But for many it is simply a lazy way to avoid engaging with college as an academic institution or to think deeply about what they hope to achieve there. It is a bit like embarking on a trip without having wasted too much thought on either the route or the destination.

In the admission process to a selective liberal arts college, a lack of any academic focus can also help to weaken a student’s application. Some colleges will require applicants to express an academic interest even if their admitted students have a lot of leeway in changing majors. An applicant at Cornell’s College of Arts and Science, for example, has to be able to, “describe your intellectual interests, their evolution, and what makes them exciting to you.” Michigan asks applicants to describe how a particular college within the university will meet their academic interests. It may be possible to answer these questions without committing to a specific major, but it will probably be a lot easier to set out an intellectual evolution that has a major at the end of it. When a student is exploring what a school such as Cornell or Michigan has to offer, he or she should therefore spend as much time checking out departmental and program websites, as student activities and housing arrangements.

Even when a selective university does not require any commitment to an academic field, it is still interested in gauging what Stanford calls the “intellectual vitality” of its applicants. A student who wrestles with how best to pursue, for example, an interest in South East Asian culture – is it best to major in Asian Studies, International Relations, History or even Anthropology? – reveals just such a vitality and engagement.

Contrast such an intellectual tussle with a student who limply expresses an interest in mathematics, “because I am good at it”; or who wants to study psychology “because my friends always ask me for advice” and sociology because “I am a social person.” (These actually appeared in applications!) There is nothing intrinsically wrong with any of these ideas and in truth they probably do motivate many students. But they are superficial and thoughtless at best, and applicants to selective colleges do not want to give admission readers reason to doubt their depth. So while high school students should be encouraged to explore the many ways in which colleges differ from each other, from size and location to study abroad options, they should also be prodded to consider, with excitement and anticipation, the academic opportunities and choices at the heart of their college experience.

By Andrea van Niekerk

An Introduction to College Goals

COLLEGE GOALS is a highly qualified university admission consulting practice specializing in counseling families interested in higher education opportunities in the United States. We accept both U.S. and international students from around the globe.

Students benefit from the collective knowledge of a veteran Ivy League Associate Dean; two professionals each of whom has worked for more than a decade as associate directors in admission at major American universities, coordinating the review of international applicants; and an educator trained in test preparation with extensive experience in supporting homeschooled and alternatively-educated students, and who advises on college-aware preparation for younger students.

We share our knowledge about every aspect of college admission. Our focus is on our students’ academic success, and on their personal satisfaction.  Our students not only get in, they thrive.  Our Internet and phone-based counseling offers students and parents maximum flexibility and rapid, responsive, personal guidance through every step of their college search and application process.

COLLEGE GOALS is ready to help exceptional young people, from any part of the world, who are eager to take up the challenge of personal and global responsibility that the privilege of an excellent higher education invokes.

Whether your interest is in neuroscience or playwriting, economic modeling or environmentalism, the choices and decisions you will make, shaped by the learning that you are seeking, will influence society and the globe itself.  That is such an awesome privilege and opportunity!

We are here to help you develop and articulate your dreams, and forge a path to build the skills to match your goals.

www.CollegeGoals.com                           info@collegegoals.com                          401-454-4585

College Goals is Traveling

College Goals’ Joyce Reed will be traveling and available to meet with current and prospective students and families in several locations around the world!  College Goals’ Andrea van Niekerk and standardized test preparation tutor Karen Berlin Ishii will be joining Joyce in Paris and London.

Los Angeles, CA                          March 19-23, 2013

Joyce will be available to meet with interested families.

Asheville, NC                          March 24-29, 2013

Joyce will be available to meet with interested families.

Zurich, Switzerland              April 4-5, 2013

Joyce will be available to meet with interested families.

Paris, France                          April 10-16, 2013

Joyce, Andrea, and Karen will give the following presentations at The American Church in Paris.  Click on the following link for the Paris information flyer or contact Carolyn Comfort at collegegoalsparis@noos.fr.

Friday, April 12, 7-9 p.m.    Overview of U.S. University Experience and Application Process  (free)

Saturday, April 13, 1:30-4 p.m.   U.S. University Workshop for Parents and Students (25€/family, advanced reservations required)

Joyce and Andrea also will be available April 10-16 to meet privately with students and families interested in higher education opportunities in the United States and working with College Goals through the college admission process.

Karen Berlin Ishii will be available to meet with students and families interested in seeking her assistance with standardized test preparation.

London, England                          April 17-24

Joyce, Andrea, and Karen will give a presentation at Trafalgar Hall, University of Notre Dame, in London.  Click on the following link for the London information flyer.

Saturday, April 20, 2-4 p.m.    Choosing an American University Education (£20/family, advanced reservations required)

Joyce will be available to meet privately with interested families April 17-24 and Andrea will be available April 17-23.  Karen Berlin Ishii will be available to meet with students and families April 17-26.

Washington, DC                          April 27-May 7

Joyce will be available to meet with interested families.

 

To schedule a private meeting with Joyce at any of these locations or with Andrea in Paris or London, please email info@collegegoal.com.  To schedule a meeting with Karen in Paris or London, please email karen@karenberlinishii.com.

The College Board announces changes to the SAT

For many college-bound high school students, the SAT test is as much part of their landscape as prom dresses and homecoming.  But it has had its share of changes and challenges, and now David Coleman, the new president of the College Board, has announced that yet another such change is underway.

 

The SAT was first administered in 1926 to prospective college students as part of an effort to help democratize American higher education.  At the time most of the elite colleges – including those that are now within the Ivy League – were largely filled with young white men of a particular caste.  They were affluent, northeastern and educated at New England prep schools.  When James Bryant Conant, president of Harvard, decided in 1933 to start a scholarship program for gifted boys from underprivileged backgrounds, he looked for a test that would help identify students based on their ability rather than their background. He found it in Carl Brigham’s Scholastic Aptitude Test, a test developed earlier as an intelligence measure for army recruits. By the 1940s the SAT had come to assume a significant role in the way many colleges evaluated their applicants.

 

Since the SAT was first developed, it has undergone tremendous changes.  The name changed, first to Scholastic Assessment Test and then to an empty acronym. The original 1901 test had nine sections (including sections on Latin and Greek); by 1928 it was down to a mere seven verbal sections; and in 1930 it was split between a math and a verbal section. By 1994 calculators were introduced to the math section; a new writing section was added in 2005; and in 2008 the College Board pushed to make score choice universal.

 

Many of the changes to the SAT have come in response to broad criticism of its content and use in evaluating college applicants.  Those criticisms have centered on two issues in particular.  The achievement gap between students from different socio-economic and racial backgrounds and gender too, that is quite rightly of huge concern to American educators, is also reflected in SAT scores. Commentators argued that the gap could at least in some part be explained by the test’s susceptibility to coaching, which means that kids from more affluent families who can afford better test preparation will inevitably score better.  Critics of the College Board also pointed to evidence of cultural bias in the SAT, and this led to the elimination of analogies from the verbal section in 2005. Another significant criticism of the SAT has focused on its ability, or lack thereof, to predict success in college.  Thus as part of the 2005 changes the College Board also added a third section on Writing to address concerns that the old verbal section did little to test the writing ability and readiness of prospective college students.

 

The 2005 changes to the SAT were prompted in large part by a call from the Richard Atkinson, then president of the University of California system, on colleges to abandon the SAT as a college entrance exam. And indeed, many colleges have done just that – Bowdoin College, one of the premier undergraduate colleges in the US, in fact did so back in 1969 already.  The National Center for Fair and Open Testing (FairTest) lists about 850 such test-optional schools. The majority of American colleges, however, still require some standardized testing from applicants in their attempts to assess the college readiness of applicants.

 

In his recent letter to counselors, David Coleman of the College Board argued that changes to the SAT would focus on such college readiness. “We will develop an assessment that mirrors the work that students will do in college so that they will practice the work they need to do to complete college.” Mr. Coleman had previously led efforts to develop the Common Core Standards, and not surprisingly he said that changes to the SAT 1 would allow the test to better align with the Common Core. He did not offer any specific information about the changes, though Scott Jaschik of Inside Higher Ed points out that Coleman has been critical, for example, of the writing section for requiring students to write rather than to analyze.

 

The general consensus is that at least for the foreseeable future, colleges are unlikely to drop their testing requirements, as flawed as they understand these to be.  After all, in the US there is no national examination of the sort that students in Britain, France or South Africa must complete to graduate from high school, and under these circumstances the SAT offers admission officers one of the few tools with which to compare students across the patchwork quilt of American high schools, and across the world. But pressure on the College Board will only increase, and indeed, this year was the first in which more students took the ACT instead, a test whose four sections rely heavily on the coursework students encounter in classroom.  It brings to mind the 2008 report of the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC), in which the organization pointed out that anxiety about the role of standardized testing in college admission has never been higher. NACAC called for the greater use of tests, like subject tests and International Baccalaureate exams, which are “more predictive of first-year and overall grades in college and more closely linked to the high school curriculum.”  The College Board may have taken note.

On writing your college essay

As we enter July, rising seniors should be giving serious thought to the college application. Many of you will not find this a happy thought, since starting the essay seems so intimidating!

There is certainly no shortage of good advice on the topic.  On the College Board‘s website, for example, Dean Schmill of MIT advises you to be honest in your self-presentation and to read the instructions.  Dean Brenzel of Yale reminds you to be authentic and to have your essays read by others who know you well. Dean Merrill of Connecticut College reminds warns that crafting a good essay takes time and you should make good use of the summer.

This last bit of advice is particularly important.  Students dream of an endless summer, but the break in your exhausting routine of homework and activities is actually short-lived. July is therefore a good time for some tips on writing your college essay:

•    On choosing a topic: For many of you, identifying the topic will seem the hardest part. The Common Application gives you six prompts to choose from, including a “topic of your choice.”  In other words, you can really write about anything under the sun because the topic is merely the vehicle for a larger story: what to tell an admission reader about yourself.  Whether you choose to write about a book, a person or an event, the admissions committee has at best passing interest in that subject, and will instead try and decipher what the essay tells them about you.

•    On controversial subjects and funny stories: Admission officers reassure students that they are free to write on any subject as long as it is honest and authentic, but there are clearly some subjects that will not work as well as others.  Few teenagers are deft enough to handle controversial subjects like their positions on abortion, presidential politics or foreign wars, with more depth than dogma.  Funny is good, but it works best if your unknown reader actually shares your sense of humor.  As with any writing, keep your audience in mind: admission officers are educated adults who are unlikely to share the social tastes of teenage girls and locker room boys, experienced enough to have read countless essays on every topic under the sun, and are above all led by the needs of their institutions.

•    On writing well: It is hard to separate what you are saying from how you say it.  With a college essay good writing is especially important since admission officers are also trying to gauge something about your academic preparation and intellectual depth.  This is not the moment to try and impress by choking out long words and unfamiliar phrases, and you are well-advised to follow the advice of William Zinsser in his On Writing Well, when he warns against the tendency to “inflate and thereby sound important.”

The American personal essay is unique in the world of university admissions. It is not as important to selective colleges as a student’s academic performance – as admission officers like to say, a good essay can help heal the sick but it cannot resuscitate the dead.  It is nevertheless hugely significant in applicant pools where many students share similarly high achievements and equal evidence of hard work. And in the process it gives young people with very busy lives a moment to reflect on the opportunities and meaning of those lives.

College searching: what information matters and why

This summer rising seniors and juniors are actively researching colleges in order to plan trips and identify the schools to which they may want to apply. These are indeed important summer activities, and there is no shortage of resources to use – from college guides like Fiske to online search engines and college websites.

But this flood of resources does not tell students why the information they are gathering, matters.  They read about class size and student to faculty ratios, the number of undergraduates and even graduation rates. But none of this means much unless they also know why all those bits and pieces of information may, or may not, matter to them.  Big school or small, open curriculum or core, college or university, residential or commuter – none of these qualities are necessarily good or bad in the abstract.  Their value derives from whatever a particular young person needs in order to thrive at college.

Here are some of the choices students may consider:

  • Big or small: At larger schools class size usually depends on the level of the course, but at smaller colleges most classes are almost inevitably smaller. To one student class size will make no difference at all to the learning experience; to another, it will mean being deprived of focused attention and mentoring support that he or she needs to do well.  For these students, the presence of an honors college may be important to explore.
  • University or college: While most colleges have no graduate school at all, research universities may have as many graduate students as undergraduates.  For some students, access to the greater research resources of a university (resources necessary to train graduate students), will be very appealing.  But yet another may feel that those graduate students siphon off the university’s attention away from undergraduate teaching.
  • Availability of undergraduate research: Research takes place at all colleges and universities, but students should note how accessible research opportunities are to undergraduates.  In some fields of study, doing research beyond what is required in class may be unusual. But if you are excited by the idea of producing knowledge or simply know that research hones skills and adds to a resume, the availability of such opportunities at schools like Harvey Mudd may be reason to choose one institution over another.
  • Study abroad: High school students often make note of study abroad programs, even though many college students will in fact study overseas with programs administered by a school or organization other than their own.  But even though you can still spend a semester in Spain even if your own school does not offer such a program, your college’s commitment (or indifference) to the value of studying abroad may have an impact on how readily it grants you credit for courses taken elsewhere.
  • Curriculum: Even though college is presumably above all an academic experience, many high school students have no idea how a liberal arts college’s curriculum is structured or why they should care.  These curricula do in fact all try to achieve the same thing: a well-rounded education in which a student is exposed to a broad range of ways of thinking.  But they get students there in different ways, and while one applicant may find the shared intellectual conversation of a core curriculum exciting, another may find it restrictive. Similarly, the same open curriculum that some students find liberating may perplex or intimidate others.
  • Range of majors: High school students often understand a liberal arts education as little more than the chance “to study a lot of different stuff,” and may spend more time checking out the school’s mascot or reading about its traditions than they will spend on the school’s list of majors or the websites of specific departments.  This superficial understanding of a liberal arts education is reinforced by an application that may not ask you about your future major and the knowledge that you may change your mind anyway.  But there is a difference between thinking broadly and being intellectually scattered, and if you are interested in studying Classics, Geophysics or anything else, whether or not you change your mind later, you should make sure your college offers you the chance to explore that field!

 

These days everyone in college admissions talks about the idea of a good “fit.” But whether one is buying a suit or choosing a college, fit is about individual measurement and taste, and students should examine the information they gather about each school through a lens of self-awareness and personal reflection.

 

Unconventional Paths

When you think of MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology), you think of brilliant students with brilliant futures. But did you ever think that a blossoming young printer turned Peace Corps director would ever become an MIT graduate? Alan White’s life motto is, “Follow unconventional paths: they will take you where you want to go”.

Indeed, Alan is anything but conventional. A recent immigrant to Hawaii, he continues to work for the MIT Sloan School of Business as one of its Senior Associate Deans, while enjoying the pleasures that “location-independent” work offers. As he slowly moves toward retirement, Alan admits that these “new patterns of work” benefit him: he finds he has higher productivity. This situation of course puts him closer to Asia where much of his work is centered. “However”, he says, “it doesn’t work for everyone”.

As the Senior Associate Dean for the MIT Sloan School of Business, what would Alan like to say to high school hopefuls who are eager to apply to – and be accepted by – elite colleges such as MIT? “Relax! Getting into the MIT undergraduate program is horribly difficult.” It is true that MIT acceptances are merit-based, but MIT also wants students with various backgrounds and interests. “It’s not about punching a dance card – the more the better. We want passion and excellence, proof of leadership and accomplishments in particular and not necessarily standard areas.”

Clearly, Alan has had several work and life accomplishments.  He has two successful sons to whom he recommend that they take liberal arts degrees rather than applying to MIT: “broaden your studies now – you can specialize later!”.  He is also the former director of the Sloan Fellows Program, a full-time Executive MBA program. “If kids don’t take the widest, most diverse possible paths to education, they are not doing their best. It’s important that they expose themselves to as many things as possible.”

One anecdote that Alan shared was about a candidate he interviewed – the best candidate he had ever seen, but who was not accepted by MIT. “What’s the point of my story? We have a wonderful country and system where people can build their way up. You shouldn’t feel disappointed if you are not accepted. The point is that there are so many good schools, students shouldn’t feel compelled to go to one place.”

If unconventional paths can build stronger futures for our children, what unconventional paths are MIT currently undertaking? “MIT now has 47% women!” Also, MIT is hosting free, open, on-line MIT courses (ocw.mit.edu): “And over 100,000 people have signed up for a new online course that awards a certificate! Harvard has joined the program!” What is the benefit of this program? “Why should we keep this knowledge to ourselves? Knowledge is to be shared. Education has overcome political arguments – it’s one way countries can collaborate without going to war!”

 

Written by K. Forissier for College Goals

 

Waiting on the waitlist

High school seniors have opened the envelopes, received emails or logged into websites to discover the result of their college applications.  For many the news was very good or very bad – they were admitted to a college and have a decision to make, or that college will no longer be on the menu because they were denied.

For many the end result will be far more uncertain, however.  Instead of a clear yes or no, they received a warm and encouraging letter telling them that they have been placed on the waitlist.  Some will view this as good news (the door is still ajar) or as bad (they were not admitted), but the ambiguity leaves students wondering what this means and what to do about it.

The why of waitlists is easy: as students apply to more colleges, it becomes harder for colleges to estimate how many applicants will actually accept their offer of admission and they pursue various enrollment strategies. Waitlists are one such device to manage the uncertainty of a lesser yield. The institutional yield rate for colleges has steadily declined: nationally on average yield dipped from 49 percent in 2001, to 45 percent in 2007 and 41 percent in the Fall 2010 cycle.  Not surprisingly, more colleges reported using a waitlist: 39 percent in 2009 to 48 percent in 2010.

In the end, however, only for a minority of students will their persistence in staying on a waitlist pay off: in the 2009 cycle colleges nationally accepted 34 percent of students on their waitlists, and in the 2010 cycle, on average 28 percent.  If those odds seem reasonable, remember that the more selective a college, the more students will accept its offers of admission and the fewer spots will open up for waitlisted students.  In 2010 Yale reported, for example, that it had over 900 students on the waitlist but only about 100 made it into the class.  Most selective colleges will not have a numbered priority amongst many hundreds of waitlisted students, but will admit students according to institutional needs – fixing a gender imbalance, for example, pulling in more engineers, or answering a need for racial, socio-economic or geographic diversity.  In other words, all students on the waitlist may not be equal!

Given all of this, what is a student to do when places on a waitlist?
•    Decide how badly do you still want to attend that college.  It is okay to cut your losses, move on, and bond with your new home.  You can throw yourself into Facebook discussions with future friends and roommates and get back to finishing high school joyfully and successfully. After all, your success at college and in life will not be determined by the name on your college gate but by what you choose to do once it closes behind you.
•    If you remain interested, by all means stay on the waitlist. But know that it may be a long shot, and plan accordingly: accept another offer meanwhile, negotiate your financial aid if necessary and pay your deposit if required.
•    Respond to your waitlist offer with a note reiterating your continued interest in the school.  If a space opens up, admission officers will have some leeway in choosing the candidate they put forward for that spot but will definitely make their choice with yield in mind. Update the college on any new achievements and changes, and make it clear that you remain interested and will attend if taken from the waitlist.  At this point, individual admission officers too are desperately keen to be done!

Amidst all the appropriate concern over bloated waitlists that go nowhere, it is worth remembering that waitlists also have a more human face.  Admission officers at very selective colleges are faced everyday with the difficult task of choosing amongst a large collection of impressive and interesting young people who have worked hard to earn for themselves a chance to be admitted to top universities.  Most will not be admitted, however, and sometimes placing a student on the waitlist instead of slamming the door shut can also allow an admission officer a brief sense of still advocating on behalf of a much-admired young man or woman, or at the very least show the student that his or her efforts have been noticed and valued.

Doing school: the gap between high school education and college admissions

Many of you will have heard me complain rather cynically about the distance between colleges’ expressed expectations for high school students and the reality of highly selective college admissions.  That gap leaves students feeling funneled into an intensely functionalist view of their education even as they are also subjected to rhetoric about passion and intellectual engagement by colleges and by teachers.

This subject has gained growing attention recently in debates over the book Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, in which Amy Chua described her controversial ideas on parenting for success.  It is also the theme of the film “Race to Nowhere”, in which director Vicki Abeles described “the dark side of America’s achievement culture.”

Many of these questions were expressed even earlier by Denise Clark Pope, a senior lecturer in Education at Stanford, in her 2001 book, Doing School.  She examined “the predicament of doing school,” in which prevailing attitudes and expectations in high schools help create, “a generation of stressed out, materialistic, and miseducated students.”  Pope followed five students at Faircrest High School in California, as they negotiated with classmates, cheated on homework, manipulated teachers, and transgressed rules in their efforts to “be the best,” achieve material success and meet social and parental expectations.

In debates about high school education, the role of college application looms large.  Students are told that colleges are interested in their strength of character, (Harvard); that they are more than their GPAs or test scores (Chicago); and that universities also focus on their potential to contribute to learning (Princeton).  When university admit rates drop and colleges tout soaring levels of academic and social achievement by their applicants, however, it is clear that cookie cutter candidates with impressive credentials are most likely to prevail – those with course loads filled with an exhausting number of APs, a stratospheric GPA, and a slate of activities so impressive they seem unlikely to be the stuff of any normal teenage life.

Colleges have been called on the carpet for what seems like a growing gap between the ideal and the reality of holistic admissions. Marilee Jones, former dean of admissions at MIT, said in a 2004 interview that elite colleges “are complicit in rearing a generation of young people staggering under unbearable pressure to be perfect at everything.” The Education Conservancy argued that, “Students feel it is impossible to be everything colleges would like them to be.” Good teachers remind students that they need to find a balance between an impressive course load and an interesting one; between high academic expectations and joyful learning; and between their ambition for material success and status and their desire for a meaningful life.

But in her study of Faircrest High, Pope also referred to the central role that parents play in creating that contradiction between what students are taught to care about in their education, and the reality of selective college admissions.  She quoted a student whose parents expressed concern about her health in the face of a grueling schedule, as saying, “They are worried about me and say it is okay if I don’t go to an Ivy school, like they’ll still be proud of me, but that’s b.s. because no they won’t.”  Another admitted that his obsequious behavior towards teachers and his constant anxiety about his grades came because his father “wants me to go to Stanford like him.”

Pope’s interviews highlight the role parents play in encouraging students to equate success in learning with success in gaining admission to a brand-name college.  She shows how parents, probably far more than any admission officer, cue children to find the measure of their self-worth in grade reports.  But parents can also liberate their children from a relentlessly pragmatic view of high school by allowing them to pursue the things that fill them with joy rather than fill up resumes with yet another mindless activity.  As parents, we are hopefully more interested in raising critical thinkers and honorable adults than Ivy League graduates!