Wednesday, December 13, 2023

The Year in Review, and the Year That Will Be

by Patrick O'Connor, Ph.D.

2023 brought adventurous twists and turns to college admissions. Here’s my top five biggies, my top five predictions for 2024, and two wishes.

2023 in Review

Artificial intelligence The value of AI in college essays, for better or worse, is still up in the air, in part because counselors and colleges are (sadly) already too used to reading essays written by Mommy, Daddy, overinvolved writing coaches—anyone but the student. Will this become more of a problem as the technology gets smarter?

Self-Reported Academic Record What started out as a great time-saving idea is now the bane of most college-bound students and their counselors. Is it possible to create a common SRAR, so students complete it once?

New Year’s FAFSA Besides debuting when high schools are closed, the late rollout hampers financial aid packages for early applicants, and maybe later ones too. Still, holding off until January 10 makes sense now, so counselors can help families apply and avoid frustration.

Early programs ED, EA et al enjoy another bumper crop of applicants, with a slight uptick reported in earlies boasting an October 15 deadline. Only an onslaught of faithless ED applicants will stem this tide, and that’s nowhere in sight.

College fairs Some reports suggest attendance increases at in-person fairs, while others insist online fairs are the future. Might AI advances yield a better way for students to get to know colleges?

Predictions for 2024

Later deposit deadlines The late FAFSA leads to a lag in filers—so much so that colleges move deposit deadlines back a month so students can make a better-informed decision. Pie in the sky? Not in a year when the number of high school graduates is down.

Summer hunting The delayed FAFSA means students hear back later from their colleges about aid, increasing the number of students who will be shopping for a better deal in July—and again, with a smaller graduating class, more colleges will be ready and willing to deal.

Easier transfer options As few as one in six community college students transfer to a four-year college, in part because they don’t want to enter the Circle of Hades four-years call their transfer credit portal. Four-years need bodies, so look for improved transfer credit evaluation methods, including a Decision Day-type model, where students can walk in with a transcript and walk out with a credit evaluation in less than 30 minutes.

Deli sandwiches Road warriors know all too well that, great as they are, most deli sandwiches have too much bread, too much meat, and too high a price tag. Cutbacks in travel budgets will require delis to dial back prices accordingly, and create a deli sandwich that is more like an ensemble of flavors, something it’s supposed to be in the first place.

Graeter’s The Cincinnati-based ice cream college reps swear is the best in the country gets bought out by Haagen-Dazs and is available nationally just in time for November 1, much to the delight of high school counselors everywhere.

My Wish, Part I College advocates on both sides of the desk grieve with every campus shooting, and when we’re asked “Why? Do you know students there?”, our answer is, “They are all my students.” It’s a mighty task, especially in an election year, but let’s find a way to end them, campus-based and otherwise.

My Wish, Part II As Higgins toasts in Ted Lasso, “To the family we’re born with, and to the family we make along the way”. May your December break find you at peace, and with those who cherish your company.

Wednesday, December 6, 2023

December Break Checklist for Seniors (Share, Use, and Modify at Will)

by Patrick O'Connor, Ph.D.

Dear Seniors:

I hope you have a wonderful vacation, since you’ve been working hard, not only at school, but on your plans for life after high school.

As you get ready for break, here are a few gentle reminders:

Finishing college applications Some of you are planning on using part of break to complete your college applications. That makes all kinds of sense for some of you, but it’s also important to use break for a break, especially since this may be the last December many of you will be home with your families for such a long period of time.

If you think you can produce your best work, complete your college applications before break. If you need time over the vacation to work on them, think about limiting your application time to an hour a day. You really deserve a breather.

Financial aid forms It’s pretty likely the FAFSA form—the big financial aid form for college and many technical programs—won’t be available until December 31. If that’s the case, do yourself a favor, and don’t look at it until school is back in session. There are no deadlines over break for completing financial aid forms, so you won’t be missing out on any cash for college. In addition, I’ll be around after break to work with you and your parents to complete this form, which is much easier than you think.

College can be expensive, but if you or your parents look at the form over break and need help completing it, frustration will only get in the way of getting the money you deserve. This can wait until school reopens.

College friends Many of you are looking forward to catching up with your friends who will be home from college. They’ll probably have a few things to say about what college is really like—and that can be a huge help as you make your future plans.

Since some of these friends are older, you may be catching up with them at events where beer and other adult drinks will be available. Let me just say you want to be careful here. Everyone has a camera on their phone, and one picture of you doing something questionable can easily hit social media—and who knows where it will go from there.

Colleges and employers don’t typically monitor social media accounts of applicants, but some students have lost scholarships, admission offers, and more because of what’s on their social media. This is on top of the dangers you risk if you drink and drive, or get arrested for underage drinking. It’s great to hang with your friends. In doing so, don’t hang your well-being, and your future plans, out to dry.

Be careful Even though you won’t be drinking, adults will be, and they may not always use good judgement. The percentage of drunk drivers goes way up as the night gets longer, and the number of drunk drivers is likely to increase where people have been drinking. These are good reasons to be home on the early side, and to use roads that keep you away from restaurants and bars. Suffice it say, getting in a car with a drunk driver is just a bad idea. Call Uber, or your parents. It may be embarrassing, but at least you’ll be around to be embarrassed.

Some of this isn’t easy for me to say to you, but the truth is, I’ve really enjoyed working with you, and I’d like to keep doing that in January. Please give me a chance to do that. See you then.