Wednesday, December 17, 2014

College Admissions Trends to Watch in 2015

By: Patrick O'Connor Ph.D

2014 has been a remarkable year in college admissions, and next year promises to be no less exciting.  Some trends will build on the changes that occurred this year, and some will seem to come out of nowhere. Either way, here’s what you’ll want to watch for in 2015:

College Costs, Part 2  Spring always brings renewed concern that the price of college is too high, but college costs spend months in the 2014 headlines, as average student debt for a Bachelor’s degree surpassed $30,000 in many states.  Tuition increases have slowed, but not stopped entirely; state legislatures will take this issue on in earnest, since it isn’t an election year.

More Aid for International Students  Lower oil prices mean fewer full-pay families in oil-dependent countries overseas. Look for colleges to offer more aid to international students to advance their goals of campus diversity and full classes.

More Support for School Counselors? 2014 brought praise for school counselors as never before, with the White House launching a multi-faceted initiative to get counselors better training in college admissions, and to get colleges to increase college access. After three college summits and Michelle Obama’s address to the American School Counselor Association, the center of action shifts to the states, where educators, policy makers, and foundations will combine their time and talents to move this agenda forward, whether or not it enjoys further attention in the national spotlight.

Resurgence in Technical Training  Increased college costs and the modest rise in unemployment for four-year college graduates are leading some states to wonder if the drive to send more students to four-year colleges is economically sound. Look for state officials to lead a resurgence in touting the benefits of vocational and technical training, news that could resurrect hurdles for low-income, first generation students to explore the full array of education opportunities after high school.

More Test-Optional Admissions Programs…  The new SAT is scheduled to roll out in 2016, leaving colleges time to consider the importance of standardized testing in their admissions process.  The number of “test optional” colleges has increased every single time SAT or ACT changed their test—and this will be no exception.

and More Innovative Admissions Methods  Goucher College shook the foundation of college admissions this fall when they announced students only needed to submit a 2-minute video to apply, and some colleges are considering questionnaires to determine if admitted students have the social skills and stamina to complete a degree.  This “no test, no transcript” approach is something to watch in 2015, as grade inflation and test prep courses lead more colleges to consider new ways to see if students will enroll and complete.

A Crossroads for Community Colleges New pressures are requiring colleges to consider how to help enrolled students finish a degree, including community colleges, where degree completion has traditionally only been one part of the definition of a completing student.  Will a community college student no longer be considered a success if they take the four classes they need to get a $10,000 raise at work—and if not, is that a good thing?  Stay tuned.

Fewer Students, More Applications  Birth rates show high school graduates will decline for at least 8 years, but there are more college applications going out than ever before.  This will continue next year…

More Parental Involvement in Applying will the increase in parents who want to help “edit” student essays and “organize” a student’s communications with colleges.  Any trend decreasing student ownership of the application process is a step in the wrong direction.  It isn’t likely, but let’s hope this practice slows. 

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Six Words of Advice for Parents of College-Bound Juniors

By: Patrick O'Connor Ph.D

One group is more anxious about this year's college admissions decisions than the parents of this year's seniors -- and that's the parents of next year's seniors. Junior parents love their children, and they would welcome any advice colleges could offer that would give their child's application an inside edge.
To support that effort, here's what a college admissions officer told me when I asked for advice I could give to junior parents:
"Let your child drive the bus."
The explanation she offered for this counsel, combined with long-standing conventional wisdom, gets to the heart of the college application process, and shows what admissions officers are looking for in a successful applicant beyond the numbers:
Initiative From start to finish, a college application has to send the message that applying to this school was the student's idea, and the student is excited enough to do something to bring that idea to life. This is why so many colleges want students to visit campus or meet the admissions representative at a local college fair; it shows the student is serious about their application.
That seriousness is questioned when the application is completed in what is clearly the handwriting of an adult, or when parents call the admissions office to ask questions. This is particularly true if the parent starts the call by saying "We're applying to your college next year." If the student wants to start building a meaningful relationship with the college, they make the calls, and speak in first person.
Synthesis Well-meaning parents insist they only help their child complete a college application because it is too complicated. Colleges certainly don't want the process to discourage students; at the same time, applicants show they possess the traits needed to be successful students at selective colleges by demonstrating the flexibility, organization and persistence needed to create an application crafted exclusively by the student. That's why it's best for students to schedule an hour or two each weekend in the fall to focus on college applications -- it gives them the best chance to create an application that is rich with their voice, and their voice alone.

Originality Everyone has a unique view of the world, and a good college application gives the admissions office a glimpse into a student's ability to share their particular vantage point. Colleges understand that view may not be fully developed at age 17 -- in fact, most hope it isn't -- but they also understand that unique view should be consistent across all parts of the application. A 20-minute weekly college meeting between parents and applicant gives the student the right mix of structure and encouragement to shape their own answers, and assure their ownership of the application process.

Authenticity Students have different reasons for attending college, but each reason has a common purpose -- students want to get something out of the experience. A strong college application shows the admissions office what that purpose is, and taking the time to wrestle with each part of a college application not only gives the application more clarity and confidence; it also gives the applicant more clarity and confidence.
It may be hard for parents to watch students struggle at first with this important task, just as it wasn't easy to watch them strike out at the plate, listen to their first violin solo, or feel them let the clutch out too soon. Great hitters and virtuosos are made with time, effort, and the opportunity to get better, and so are good drivers. The best way to help them reach their college destination is to give them the keys.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

School Counselor Summit II: Big Teams, Big Plans, Big Possibilities

By: Patrick O'Connor Ph.D

The White House initiative to strengthen school counselors and college access took a big step forward, when development teams from 30 states convened at the San Diego State University in mid-November to share and develop ideas on how to improve college access, readiness, and completion.  The first White House summit this summer offered 125 attendees insights into best practices in improved counselor readiness in college counseling. The November summit brought together about 400 participants with the goal of taking the broad framework established this summer and building a foundation for growth to meet the individual needs of their state.
The San Diego State gathering was notable for three reasons.  First and foremost, there were far more school counselors present at this second summit.  This was an important advancement, since it brought the voice of school counselors into the discussion of college access innovation in a way it has not been included before.  With such a large school counselor presence in the discussion and construction of state-based plans to improve counselor training and college access, it is more likely these plans will have attainable goals that will be reached through programs and policies that will realistically advance school counselors and their training from where they are now to where they want to be, all in the interest of helping students make better college choices.
A second important component of November’s meeting was the variety of other educators and education partners.  Invitation to the San Diego State summit was predicated on having a group of advocates who could not only plan change in college access, but deliver on those plans as well.  As a result, many state teams included school superintendents (Including one state superintendent), principals, state-based policy makers, and a surprising number of counselor educators.  The strong presence of this last group was particularly encouraging, since interest among counselor educators in improving counselor training in college advising has been significantly absent in many regions of the country.  Their attendance last week suggests systemic change in graduate school training of counselors may at last be at hand.
Finally, the state-based goals announced at the November summit represented a wide array of approaches that are needed in the field of college access.  From increasing the number of well-trained school counselors to improving counselor training to emulating successful models of increased college attainment, development teams used the inspiration and resources of this national convening to focus on the challenges counselors and students were facing back home.  The end result promises to be a variety of state-based solutions to a host of challenges facing counselors interested in raising college attendance and completion rates, with each successful approach likely to be structured in a way that could be implemented by other states.  Since education has always been a state-based responsibility in the US, the labors of the development teams promise to bring greater focus and autonomy to college access policy at the state level.
The next White House-led meeting of counselor advocates is scheduled for December, when select state leaders descend on Washington to announce the commitments their state is willing to make in the interest of helping more students make strong college choices, and supporting the counselors who work with these students and families.  This next gathering is likely to be smaller than the convening at San Diego State, but since many of the initiatives announced in December will be the result of the work of the teams meeting In November, it’s more than safe to say the impact of the San Diego State summit will resonate in Washington—and beyond—for quite some time.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

An Update on My Letter to Michelle Obama

By: Patrick O'Connor Ph.D

It's been almost a year since Michelle Obama raised the importance of college awareness and college opportunity, and almost a year since I asked Mrs. Obama to make sure this discussion included awareness of the need for better training in college advising for the school counselors. One year isn't long in the policy-making world, but it still seems like a good time to ask: How's it going?

In a nutshell, things are moving along nicely:
• In January, President Obama hosted a White House event for colleges that pledged to increase college access and opportunity for low-income students.
• This summer, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan called on state school leaders to make sure school counselors received needed training in college readiness and college advising.
• That same week, Mrs. Obama presented at the annual conference of the American School Counselor Association, where she reiterated the importance of school counselors, and the need for more counselors and more training in college advising.
• These same points were the basis for a White House Summit held in July at Harvard, where participants discussed steps that could be taken to advance these important efforts.
These events laid the ground for a second White House Summit in San Diego. About half of the states have developed action teams committed to advancing the goals The White House has outlined. The goal of the San Diego program is to share those plans and put details into them, so the groups can return to their states with a program, a vision, and a deadline.
Response to Mrs. Obama's initiative has generally been favorable, especially among school counselors, who have long felt their work is either misunderstood, taken for granted, or ignored. At the same time, some responses to this effort have been dubious, raising questions that need to be considered as the college access movement advances:
• To date, not a single state has responded to Secretary Duncan's call for an initiative positioning school counselors to be greater advocates of college access. Those attending next week's summit (and that includes me) will need to consider how to engage state school leaders in ways that lead to a proactive response -- and that usually involves some kind of financial incentive.
• A growing number of policy makers are confusing Mrs. Obama's initiative with a mandate that all students attend a four-year college. Effective counselors understand four years of college don't always fit into the right plan for some students -- but many low-income students don't realize they have the potential to succeed at college. Changing that dynamic lies at the heart of this effort; this needs to be clear to everyone.
• Some opponents are adamant that more training in college counseling isn't needed, if schools would just hire more counselors. Citing some states where there is only one school counselor for over 1000 students, critics question just how much counseling can be done with unreasonably large caseloads.
Some very successful efforts are underway to reduce high counselor caseloads(especially in Colorado), but veteran counselors and educators with caseloads ranging from 400-3000 report significant improvement in their college counseling programs, once they receive specific training in college advising. As one counselor put it, "You can drop my caseload to 250, but that isn't going to help much if I don't know what I'm talking about."

Policy makers know improved college training is only one part of the solution to the challenges counselors face, but it's an important part. The San Diego summit can bring this vital element to life -- and that needs to happen in less than a year.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Setting Up a College Counseling Office

By:  Patrick O'Connor Ph.D

The key to a successful college counseling program is transparency—we create a curriculum and share it with the community, we create avenues of communication with students and parents to make sure they understand the goals of the curriculum, as well as the individual steps taken to reach those goals, and we create a College Counseling Advisory Committee to spread the word about our program, and get feedback from key constituents.

All of this transparency doesn’t mean a thing if the tools of the curriculum aren’t accessible to students and parents.  This is one of the MAIN reasons students and parents give low marks when they evaluate college counseling programs that appear to be great; the material is indeed wonderful, but they can’t get to it.

Accessibility is the partner of transparency, so it’s time for a check-up of what your counseling spaces look like. (There are some good ideas here middle school and elementary school counseling offices can use, like creating a College Corner with some age-appropriate materials, including lots of information on how to pay for college.  It’s never too early to share that information with parents!)

Your office

_____  You have a large work area where students can interact with college information, either in print form or online. The room is bright and inviting, with college posters and informational displays on completing financial aid forms, applying for scholarships, and more. This can double as the space where colleges visit and talk with students.

_____ The print resources—catalogs, college guides, test prep information, college applications scholarships—are organized in colorful binders or file crates (not file drawers) that are clearly labeled, with directions on how to use them, and if students can check them out or keep them.

_____The online versions of these resources are readily available and easy to find, thanks to a set of instructions that are taped to the table where your computer(s) are, attached to the bulletin board above the computers, or outlined on your college counseling Web site, which is the home screen for any computer in your work area.

Your Web site

_____ Your Web site is up to date with fresh information on topics of interest, where the home page has links or tabs to resources by topic. If your office is on any social media site, that’s mentioned here as well.

_____Your Web site address is displayed on every publication you create.

_____ The  front page of the Web site includes basic information students need to complete a college application, including the school’s name, address, phone, fax, and CEEB number.  It also displays the names of all counselors, their direct dial numbers, and e-mail addresses, and how student and parents can register for text reminders from your office (if you offer that service).

_____ If students are allowed to order transcripts online, this process is outlined on the Web site.  Directions are also included for how alumni can request transcripts.

_____ There is a clearly marked section for Colleges that includes an electronic copy of your school profile (which includes your Web site address), as well as a link to your entire course catalog.

_____ There is a link on the front page to your current college counseling bulletin, and an area where all past bulletins are archived.

Your schedule

_____ A copy of your schedule is posted outside your office door.  This includes information on your regular availability; your availability for the current week, and information on how students and parents should reach you on nights and weekends. (“E-mail me” is more than fine.)

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

You Should Know About #hscc2015

By: Patrick O'Connor Ph.D

There is a movement afoot to help out public school counselors in a very important way. Here's how it's worked, so far:

When it comes to helping students apply to college, there's nothing like the annual conference of the National Association for College Admission Counseling. About 6,000 college representatives, school counselors, and other professionals involved in college access meet to get caught up on current trends and issues, consider where the college application process is heading, and talk about the students that are applying to college.

NACAC is a great experience for every counselor who can attend, but the cost isn't always within reach of most school counselors -- especially public school counselors. A conference this big has to be held in a big city, and that can be pricey. NACAC moves the conference around the country, so it's easier to get to when it comes closer to a counselor's school -- but three nights in a hotel and the conference fee are still sometimes out of reach, even after NACAC offers significant scholarships to public school counselors who couldn't otherwise attend.

Enter David Quinn, an educator from Washington who has paid his own way to more than one NACAC conference. David decided more public school counselors needed to attend NACAC, not only to learn from those in attendance, but to help conference attendees hear more about the challenges public school students (and counselors) face when it comes to college.

Bates College in Maine accepted the challenge, and has agreed to pay all expenses for a public school counselor to attend the 2015 NACAC conference in San Diego. Bates then challenged Pitzer College to do the same; Pitzer said yes, and then threw the challenge down to Brandeis. The challenge is now shuttling across the country, with some colleges offering to pay for two counselors;  recently, a private high school (Harvard Westlake) has taken up the challenge, and is also paying for a public school counselor to attend NACAC.

No one has sent the challenge to me, but I know a good thing when I see it. I don't do independent counseling any more, but I do have some royalties saved up from the last book I wrote -- and I can't think of a better way to promote better college planning than to bring a public school counselor to NACAC 15.

I'm proud to be the first author of a college guide to accept the High School Counselor Challenge, and I now challenge every other college guide author, independent counselor, motivational speaker, college essay writing coach/tutor/guide, test prep organization, summer counselor institute, and -- what the heck -- Julia Roberts to take up the challenge as well. None of us make a fortune off of what we do with our books and services (well, Julia does OK), but none of us have to figure out how to help 900 kids get to college with no resources, either. It's time for some perspective.

There's more to figure out here -- like how to pick the counselor, when to introduce them to NACAC so that the conference doesn't overwhelm them, and what might happen after the conference -- but there's time for that. Two dozen colleges know that in order for good college counseling to occur for everyone, the college conversation has to include everyone -- which means my fellow college guide authors and suppliers of college application support have some catching up to do.

I'm in for #hscc2015. Who's next?

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

How to Get Juniors on the Right Path to College

By: Patrick O'Connor Ph.D

Fall of junior year is a crucial time in the college selection process.  Junior parents see senior parents in hysterics, so they go home and ask their student about their college plans.  When the junior understandably says “I don’t have one”, the parent gets anxious, which now makes the junior anxious—and since you’re in crunch time helping seniors apply to college, neither one knows what to do, and you just don’t have time to talk.

So what can you do to help them out?  Get them talking to each other.

College admissions officers will tell you the key to a smooth college process lies with clear, frequent communication between parents and students.  That doesn’t happen when a parent asks Bobby about the PSAT just as he’s heading out to the gameFriday night, and it really doesn’t happen when Simone comes home and says “There’s a college fair across town tonight, Can we go?” 

The way to avoid this chaos is to plan ahead.  Parents and their student agree on a regularly scheduled weekly meeting where all they will talk about, for 20 minutes or so, is college.  Usually held on the weekend, it’s scheduled at a time when everyone can focus on college issues, and where no question is a bad one.  Parents can ask about testing, visiting college campuses, and ideas about majors; students can ask about going to campus with friends, a summer program they’d like to attend, or if they really have to apply to the college Mom and Dad attended.  Everyone asks questions, everyone gets answers; if some questions need research, homework is assigned, and the answers are shared at next week’s meeting…

…because that’s the next time college gets discussed. The weekly meeting is an opportunity for students to take ownership of the college selection process, something colleges say is a key to a successful transition to the independence students need once they start going to college.  By starting the 20 minute meetings in the fall of the junior year, parents are giving their junior time to grow in the role; if the student forgets to ask their counselor about the local college fair, they get a second chance to ask the following week.  That will come in handy when the less-forgiving application deadlines roll around senior year – the student has had a year to learn the importance of following through with timely college information.

The 20 meeting meetings are held every week school is in session, from the start of junior year to the middle of senior year, once financial aid applications are submitted.  Parents may wonder just what they’ll talk about for all those weeks, so it’s helpful to put together a schedule of topics for them and publish it on your Web site, through your parent newsletter, or even through social media.  College visits, college fairs, testing, college searches, kinds of colleges, kinds of application deadlines, senior year schedule, college essays, college applications, transcripts, summer programs, community service, and paying for college, make it easy to develop topics and questions for parents and students to consider—and just think of all the questions you won’t have to answer, when parents and students discover the answers together.

It’s too easy for anxious students and worried parents to stop talking to each other out of frustration or embarrassment. You don’t always have to be there to keep the conversation going, as long as the opportunity exists for them to keep the conversation going on their own.  The 20 minute meeting is one of those simple solutions that works—it’s a college game-changer.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

How Much College Help Can You Really Give?

By:  Patrick O'Connor Ph.D

This is the time of year that truly tries a high school counselor’s soul.  Sure, it’s busy, but when isn’t it busy in a high school counseling office?  We may have to deal with college applications and testing now, but financial aid will come next, and just when the college application process is dying down, we’ll get to pick up the scheduling responsibilities we have as part of those “other duties as assigned.”

So the break-neck speed of our work isn’t killing us; frankly, it’s the kids.  Consider these real-life situations, taken from conversations I’ve had with colleagues throughout the country:

  • Since August, a school’s newsletter has reminded students they must send ACT and SAT scores to the college, and it will take 2-3 weeks for the college to receive them- yet, a student comes to the counseling office the day before the application is due, asking the counselor to send test scores.
  • A student e-mails a counselor for an appointment, telling the counselor with joy that her application for State U is almost ready to be sent.  The student is referring to the application that was due in the college counseling office three weeks ago.
  • A student tells a counselor the student will be applying Early Decision to a college, and wants to know if the counselor can read their essays that were due three days ago.  Students have been told essay review takes a week; the student wants them back the next day—and the e-mail is being sent on Sunday.

The good news in each of these cases is that the student is applying to college.  This is very important to remember; there are many students who look at the myriad applications, deadlines, and requirements, and say “Forget it.”

On the other hand, this set of “almost forgot to apply” students create their own challenges, since a lack of help from the counselor suggests a lack of interest from the counselor.  That isn’t the case, but “you missed my deadline” is of little help to many students, and almost all of their parents, when an application isn’t submitted on time.

Amid the flurry of activity, it’s easy for counselors to hope there’s a magic switch to flip that will make these last-minute problems go away.  If you’re looking for ways to make sure more students get the message about the importance of deadlines, answer these questions:

  • How do you let students and parents know about application deadlines?  E-mail? Newsletter?  Text Message?  Posters?
  • What resources exist to spread the word that you aren’t using now?  PTA meetings? Back-to-School Night? Sporting Events? Teachers?
  • Do students and parents understand why you have to know about an application well before the college wants it submitted?  Is there a better way to tell that story?
  • If you have a “tell us first” deadline, is it as late as it can be?  Are there logistical tweaks to be made that can get transcripts and counselor letters out sooner?
  • If something’s going to be late, are there some colleges that will give you the benefit of the doubt?

These are all key ideas to consider in trying to help students be timely—but remember, all you can do is help.  If a thorough review of your policies and communication approaches leave you with the conclusion that you really have done everything you can, chances are you really have.  Feedback from parents and students may help you see something you’re missing, but when all the analysis is over, there are some kids that are just late—who will need some careful guidance developing Plan B. 

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

The College Application Mistake That Can Really Hurt You

By: Patrick O'Connor Ph. D

I always encourage seniors to relax a little.   I'm still sticking to that, but it seems there is one part
of the application that could benefit from a little more, shall we say, focus.

Most students complete a college application in the order it's written: giving their name and address, listing their awards and test scores, embracing the large essay that outlines their life (or wrestling with that essay, which is a special kind of embrace) and completely overlooking that dinky little essay that comes near the end.
With many colleges, that dinky little essay asks a question like, "What specific programs or qualities attract you to our college, and lead you to believe your college goals will be attained if you are admitted? (150 words)"
In other words, it's great you want to go to college. Why here?
After laboring through the larger, more personal essay, students come across this question, see the word limit, think about how great it will be to go to bed once this app is submitted, then write down something about how cool the campus is and how the football team is awesome. Finis.
Yes, you are indeed finished. So, so finished.
This response is overlooking three important rules about applying to college:
1. Colleges never ask for information they don't find useful. If a college really didn't care about what you see in their school, they wouldn't ask -- yet you just answered the question as if it didn't matter. Colleges know it matters to them, and now that they've read your hasty answer, it's clear it doesn't matter to you. Big oops here.
2. Every essay is a chance to go the extra mile. A successful college application always -- always -- stands out in a good way from the thousands of other apps the college received. This essay gives you the chance to do some solid research on the school that goes beyond a cursory look at the website, and move your application to the top of the heap. Did you manage to do that with the 30 seconds it took to come up with your answer?
3. This is one more chance to bring them into your world. The first rule of good application essay writing is, "don't tell them, show them." Most students do this with 500-word essays, creating introductions and narratives that take the admissions officer out of their office and into your life. But these same students get to this shorter essay and write geometric proofs:
"I want to be a political scientist."
"Southeastern Michigan U has a good political science program."
"Therefore, SMU is for me."
This may work at Euclid State, but for the rest of the college world, the same rules apply to short and long essays. Start by showing them your world, then show them how their school and your world would work wonderfully together. Use your impressions from when you visited campus, talk about the programs you feel set them apart from other schools and show them what you'll do with these opportunities that will help the college and you. Don't get overly dramatic and promise to win a Nobel before you graduate: Describe what you see when you see yourself on their campus, and you're just about there.
It isn't easy to write big in a small space, but when it's done well, it's memorable. The Ten Commandments weigh in at under 100 words, and they're still getting some serious attention; you get 50 more words, and only have to have a fraction of their impact.
So pick up the pen and begin again. Why there?

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Didn’t Apply in July? It’s All Good

By: Patrick O'Connor  Ph.D

The college application season got off to an unexpectedly rocky start this year when a number of colleges decided they didn’t want to wait until September to start recruiting students. Instead, these colleges sent notices to juniors as early as July, encouraging them to apply as soon as possible—and in many cases, students applying in the summer would eligible for special scholarships as a reward for their timely behavior.

This approach may have played well with college presidents and boards, but the lack of advanced notice left a very sour taste in the mouths of many:

·         School counselors were unable to advise students on how to approach these applications, or to discuss if these colleges were right for some students who received the invitation.
·         Many high schools were left scrambling for resources to send transcripts, since many school personnel who handle records are off in the summer months.
·         Uninformed students returned for the first day of high school only to discover some of their friends had already started—or, in some cases, finished—the college application process, getting an upper hand at some of the same colleges uninformed students were interested in.

Some say colleges moved up the application opportunity to get the attention of students who wouldn’t otherwise notice the college in the usual deluge of fall college mail. Others suggest colleges are working off of the long understood notion that students are more likely to attend a college if it’s one of the first ones to offer them admission—and the best way to move up the clock to Yes is by moving up the clock that let them apply.

Given the inconsistent awareness of these summer opportunities, students now applying to these schools are asking themselves a simple question—is it too late to apply, even though it’s October?

The answer is a resounding no, thanks to the National Association for College Admission Counseling. Colleges who are members of NACAC must comply with a code known as the Statement of Principles of Good Practice, and when it comes to summer applications, the mandatory section of this code couldn’t be clearer:

All postsecondary members agree they will:
Not establish any application deadlines for first-year candidates for fall admission prior to October 15 and will give equal consideration to all applications received by that date.

Just to drive the point home, NACAC members approved a clarification of this requirements when they met last month in Indianapollis:

Colleges and universities may welcome the initiation of applications from first-year students prior to the notification date and earliest deadlines. Any incentives offered, including but not limited to application fee waivers, essay waivers, scholarships, housing, etc., must be honored at least through October 15.

Among other things, this requirement means that any student applying to one of these colleges in the next two weeks:

·         Has to be judged by the same academic standards for admission as any student who applied in July
·         Is eligible for the same scholarships or other bonuses offered to early applicants
·         Can’t be told they won’t be considered for admission to special programs because all of the seats were taken by July applicants

Any student who feels they may not be given these equal opportunities because other students applied this summer should discuss the issue with the college’s admission office.  If they don’t agree, contact the NACAC member near you who oversees NACAC’s principles of good practice.

It’s chillier in most places now that it was in July, but that doesn’t mean a college gets to leave you out in the cold.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Parents Mean Well-- and Yet...

By: Patrick O'Connor Ph.D

“Mr. Osborn?”


“This is Wanda Axelrod, Jimmy’s mother?”


“He’s applying to your college, and when I told his counselor Jimmy had a few questions, the counselor told Jimmy to call the college admissions office, so of course I wanted to talk to you.”

“I’m sorry.  Jimmy had some questions, so you—?”

“Yes.  Now, Jimmy’s counselor told us you superscore on the ACT, and we just wanted to make sure that was true.”

“Why, yes.  Counselors are really very reliable with that information.”

“That’s exactly what our SAT tutor said, but I just wanted to make sure.  Now, when listing extracurricular activities, should we list them in chronological order, or in order of importance?”

“Order of importance.  We think that shows us some of the intangible qualities of student.”

“That’s what I told Jimmy after we typed them into the online application, but he insisted that I check with you.”

“He did?”

“I told him, ‘Jimmy, you may have only changed planes in Ukraine, but colleges like to see students familiar with other nations, and that’s why I put that experience at the top of the extracurricular list.’”

“Ma’am, changing planes isn’t exactly—“

“This was after we spent two weeks at the Sanskrit writing seminar.  Jimmy had such a good time—I’m so glad we found out about it through the magazine at the beauty salon.”

“Your son goes to a—?”

“Now, you mentioned intangible qualities. Let’s talk more about those, since we have a list of those we’ve been working on since sixth grade.  Jimmy has extensive leadership experience as CEO of his own lawn maintenance company for the past seven years.”

“He owns a lawn maintenance company?”

“No.  He just runs it.”

“I see.  How many employees?”

“Just one.”

“Other than himself?”

“Why, no.  Is that important?”

“You could say that.”

“He’s up to five lawns this year.  Of course, he had to quit piano to make more time for lawn cutting, but I told him that leadership was something colleges like.”

“How long had he played piano?”

“Since he was three.  He was state champion at the Junior level three years straight, and had a good shot at the Senior division crown.  But we gave that up.”

“Did he like it?”

“Giving it up?”

“No.  Playing the piano. Did he like it?”

“Oh heavens yes.  He would spend hours at the piano, playing Bach from memory, composing his own songs.  It was beautiful while it lasted.”

“And now he’s mowing lawns instead?”

“Mr. Osborn, we know the value of being a small business operator in the college application process.”

“Of course.  What other intangible qualities--?”

“Well, he did display selflessness when I took him to the soup kitchen.”

“As a volunteer?  That’s great.  How many hours did he work there?”

“One. But we really grew through that experience.”

“Anything else?”

“Independence, since we’re now cleaning our own room.  Organization, when he cleaned the garage.  And adventure of course, when he had to change planes in Ukraine.”

“Mrs. Axelrod, how about initiative?”


“Yes.  You know, setting up his own appointments with his college counselor, finding his own summer programs to attend, showing leadership and selflessness by staying with the piano to offer free recitals to local retirement villages and free lessons to local children, calling the college of his choice by himself to ask his own questions—that kind of thing.”

“That—that doesn’t appear to be on our list.”


“I suppose that means his life is over.”

“I somehow get the impression that once he’s in college, his life will just begin.”

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Public Opinion About College Has Changed. Yours Shouldn’t.

By: Patrick O'Connor Ph.D

It was only a matter of time.
A recent article in The Washington Post reports that most Americans do not believe a college education is very important.  The PDK- Gallup Poll indicates only 44 percent of Americans now feel a college education matters, down from 79 percent just four years ago.  In other words, students who are now college seniors started life after high school with a country that largely thought they were doing something noble by going to college, but now, not so much.

The article goes on to indicate a generally less supportive tone of education in general (greater disapproval for Common Core, a belief new teachers should spend a full year with an experienced teacher), but both the article and the poll overlook an important question—why has public support for college dropped so much so quickly?  Some of the possible reasons are important for school counselors to consider, as they continue to advise students on postsecondary plans that will shape their careers, their lives, and their lifestyles:

Four year college degrees were oversold for years.  
The Great Recession left many students of middle class families scrambling for new career options, as the factories that offered good union wages for high school graduates downsized or went out of business in droves.  Looking at the high wages earned by workers with a Bachelors Degree, desperate families and policy makers placed an emphasis on going to college that was based more on the needs of the country than the needs of the individual student.  Much of that bad advice has led to high dropout rates—clearly not what was hoped for.

New college graduates can’t find jobs in their field.  It wasn’t just the factories downsizing in 2007, as the white collar managers of those plants and their suppliers also lost their jobs.  This led to a decrease in entry level jobs for those just completing colleges, driving many of them to become the best educated baristas around.  It isn’t hard to understand why an average high school student would look at that and decide college isn’t for them—especially since…

The cost of college skyrocketed.  College tuition has been on a steep upward climb for years, but every price hike in the last few years has received greater attention, once cumulative debt for college students surpassed the hefty watermark of $1 billion.  A high priced product (college) that could no longer promise high benefits (a good job) is a strong reason for consumers (students) to look elsewhere to spend their postsecondary dollars—like community colleges and training programs, where some technology jobs start graduates out at the very reasonable rate of $40,000 per year.

Four year colleges may be looking at some kind of correction, but counselors will have to keep a close eye on the “college isn’t worth it” movement to make sure students don’t overlook all college has to offer.  This can best be done by remembering the mistake society made in deciding that college was the “one size fits all” solution to the Great Recession.  It wasn’t—just as putting every student through technical training isn’t the answer to the challenges we’re facing now.

A carefully designed college counseling curriculum will help students understand the different kinds of colleges and the purpose each kind has—as well as key factors in deciding if college is for you.  It’s long past time for students and counselors to let public sentiment decide our students’ futures.  We know better, and it’s our job to teach our students better, no matter which way the winds of public opinion blow.