Posts

Along the road to college admission…

Watch where you’re going!

The college application process can have many unfortunate effects, and one happens when students run around madly padding their resumes with yet one more activity, one more shot at leadership, one more service moment.  The problem is not only that this kind of scattershot business does little to enhance their applications, but also that they seldom stop to ask the important questions: why am I doing this, what does it all mean, where is it taking me?

Watching this mad runaround brings to mind one of my most favorite college presentations, done by an esteemed colleague and good friend at Brown University.  She reminded prospective students that the journey matters, not just the arrival; that as a high school student moves towards college and the next phase in his or her life, thinking and engaging and playing around with ideas along the way is as important as ultimately getting accepted.  Being a classicist, she pointed out that even as we cheer for Odysseus to find his way home to Ithaca (not only those dreaming of Cornell!), we should remember the wondrous things he saw along the way. So she handed prospective students a copy of the beautiful poem Ithaca, by the modern Greek poet Constantine Cavafy (1911).  It is worth repeating here:

Ithaca


When you set out on your journey to Ithaca,

pray that the road is long,

full of adventure, full of knowledge.

The Lestrygonians and the Cyclops,

the angry Poseidon — do not fear them:

You will never find such as these on your path,

if your thoughts remain lofty, if a fine

emotion touches your spirit and your body.

The Lestrygonians and the Cyclops,

the fierce Poseidon you will never encounter,

if you do not carry them within your soul,

if your soul does not set them up before you.

Pray that the road is long.

That the summer mornings are many, when,

with such pleasure, with such joy

you will enter ports seen for the first time;

stop at Phoenician markets,

and purchase fine merchandise,

mother-of-pearl and coral, amber and ebony,

and sensual perfumes of all kinds,

as many sensual perfumes as you can;

visit many Egyptian cities,

to learn and learn from scholars.

Always keep Ithaca in your mind.

To arrive there is your ultimate goal.

But do not hurry the voyage at all.

It is better to let it last for many years;

and to anchor at the island when you are old,

rich with all you have gained on the way,

not expecting that Ithaca will offer you riches.

Ithaca has given you the beautiful voyage.

Without her you would have never set out on the road.

She has nothing more to give you.

And if you find her poor, Ithaca has not deceived you.

Wise as you have become, with so much experience,

you must already have understood what these Ithacas mean.

Some Interesting College Application Stats

The Common Application posted an announcement to all college admissions counselors today with some statistics about this year’s application season.

Currently, there are 788,241 students who are registered to submit Common Applications – an increase of 15% over last year.

Together, they submitted 1,736,287 applications – an increase of 19% — and they expect to process about 1.9 million applications before the season ends, July 15th.

Teachers submitted 1,211,709 recommendations – an increase of 112%!

From the January edition of College Bound comes this information regarding the application pools at a few of the colleges:

Harvard’s applications are up 5%

Dartmouth’s applications are up 4%

Brown saw an increase from 24,000 to 28,000 this year

But the amazing statistic is U. Chicago . .  . up 42%!!!!  (Their admissions staff must be going wild)

The University of California system is up 6%

Despite the economy, nationwide, 49% of colleges attracted more applicants in 2009 than they did in 2008

A few really excellent colleges dropped in applicants, however, including Brandeis, Bucknell, Colgate, Dickinson, Elon, Harvey Mudd, Middlebury, St. Lawrence, Valparaiso.

57% of colleges accepted more students in 2009 than in 2008 (trying to avoid a drop in enrollment based on the economic crisis), and some had a higher enrollment than they were prepared for, meaning crowded dorms and classes .  .  .  don’t expect they will keep the high acceptance rates this year!

Liberal Arts: What Will They Do For Me?

Your education in the liberal arts

When students apply to American universities, one of the phrases that get tossed around most often is “liberal arts.”  So it is worth pondering exactly what we mean with this – is it a political idea, and what is artsy about it?  What does it say about the kind of courses I will be doing at college?  Will I get a job with it, or have to return home with a fine degree and no job prospects?

No one these days can easily specify exactly what “liberal arts” are, even as it has come to define much about American education.  But the idea itself is a pretty old one and grew out of a classical notion that being educated meant more than being narrowly trained for one career.  Instead, a liberal arts education lies in the difference between learning how to cut out one jigsaw piece, and learning how all those many pieces actually fit together – studying economics rather than how to manage a business, sociology and anthropology about how societies work rather than training to be a social worker, mathematics rather than how to be an accountant.   But the value of liberal arts is not even primarily in teaching you to see the big picture.  Instead, your sense of your world is transformed because once you understand how your set of questions fits into that big picture, you also begin to understand the other ways that those same questions can be asked and answered – historically or mathematically or philosophically, for example.  So liberal arts also expose you to different ways of asking those questions.  Understanding that there are different ways to approach a set of questions also mean developing different tools with which to solve those questions.

But then college ends and you have to go off into the big world where you are expected to get a job and pay the mortgage.  Studying liberal arts is not “time out” from the real world in which you get to play around with some interesting ideas which you then pack away to get on with the job of real life, however.  By teaching you how to ask questions and approach solutions from different angles, the liberal arts actually give you a great foundation for any career.  After all, we live in a world where a global economy calls for workers that can innovate, that can communicate well, that are flexible and adaptive enough to survive technical fields where fixed skills become rapidly obsolete, and who have the broad knowledge to apply synergy towards solutions.   In short, employers increasingly call on workers with the learning skills, creativity and broad mindset that the liberal arts teach students.