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.