college selection

Because it is Harvard, plus my parents want me to apply

Our current system works to perpetuate this cycle of selectivity and prestige with an unhealthy fixation on this handful of institutions. Change happens from both the outside in and the inside out. Employers, the media, popular culture and college applicants must not rush to judgment or default to perception. Meanwhile, the college admission profession must re-examine the messages we send and the processes we create that perpetuate this unbalanced system. As parents and educators, we must raise children who think critically about brand, marketing, success, happiness, fulfillment and personal choice.

Who's to say who's the best?

30 Ways to Rate a College We've always been a bit suspicious of the usefulness of college rankings, believing that it is up to the individual to decide, based on their own criteria, which schools top their lists of "Best Colleges". This powerful graphic by the Chronical of Higher Ed show that the college rankers themselves (Forbes, U.S. News, etc.) have also "personalized" their college lists by selecting their own criteria on which they rank colleges. Interestingly, there is very little overlap in the data they use to create their lists.

Williams is the best... or is it???

America's Best Colleges According to a new report by Forbes, Williams is the college that best meets students needs. Having just visited Williams last month, I can tell you that the campus is stunning, the facilities are state-of-the-art, the faculty are very impressive, and their Tutorials Program, based loosely on the tutorial style teaching at Oxford and Cambridge, make this a top-notch place to live and learn. It seems like a no-brainer to encouage students to apply here. And therein lies the rub of these one-size-fits-all rankings. While Forbes evaluated colleges based on ten factors including the students' rankings of their academic experiences, the amount of debt they incurred, their opportunities to distinguish themselves academically, and their ultimate career success, no one ranking can decide for an individual what school should be on the top of their list.

For example, for student looking for a lively weekend scene, the opportunities to be involved in Greek life, or the excitement of cheering on a Division 1 Football team, Williams would fall towards the bottom of the list. And there are other, much more subtle, distinctions between schools that prospective students should make. What type of students thrive here? What is the social/political climate? What does the school value? There are all questions that should be asked of any college, but are factors that will never be included on college ranking lists because there is no way to objectify this data.

So, congratulations to Williams College for ranking Number 1 on Forbes' Best Colleges in America List - you certainly are an outstanding liberal arts college in rural Massachusetts with a very strong math and science program. But, if for those looking for something different in their college experience, don't let Forbes create your college list for you.

Backpacks amoung the breifcases Some students thrive on the noise and excitement of urban life and are excited about the many unique opportunities of living in a city. However, for some, being a college student in New York places them in a strange nether-world between "tourist" and "resident" and the thrill of being a self-sufficient, independent urbanite is muted by the effort it takes to take buses to classes, figure out what to wear, and learn how to fit in.

For those seriously considering city schools, it's a good idea to spend quite a bit of time waling around the campus, exploring surrounding neighbors, and figuring out how to negotiate transportation. The excitement and opportunties available to college students in the city are tremendous - but don't let the bright lights blind you to the realities of daily existence.

How students choose colleges

Admissions office probes applicants\' scary depths It turns out that it's not just me who thinks that sometimes seniors' final choice of college is - let's just say it - whimsical. After a year of visiting, touring, researching, discussing, and agonizing you'd expect a thoughtful, well-reasoned decision when the final college choice is made, but often when I ask them to explain why they made their choice, the reply is simply, "It just felt right."

It turns out that, when making decisions, emotion usually preceeds thought. Thus, we make choices based on our feelings, and THEN we try, sometimes unsuccessfully, to put words around our decisions. The admissions office at UNC Chapel Hill is tapping in to this research to find new ways to appeal to prospective applicants.

Tenured faculty are becoming an extinct breed

Tenure, RIP: What the Vanishing Status Means for the Future of Education Facing finacial pressures, colleges and universities are increasingly turning to adjunct faculty to teach their classes. The downside may be that students' educational experiences will be compromised. And, with fewer tenured faculty, who will dare to be the voice of dissent on campus?

Colleges consider the value of gender-neutral housing

New Policies Accomodate Transgender Students Colleges are working to figure out how to best accomodate their transgendered students. While there seem to be no easy solutions, some colleges are instituting gender-neutral dormitories.

Is the High Cost of Private College Worth the Return on Investment?

A new set of rankings for colleges has just been have released. Payscale has compared the return on investment (ROI) for over 800 colleges and has posted the study on their website Average-cost-for-college-ROI. . With the high cost attending private colleges families are clearly questioning whether it's worth the investment. We are certianly hearing that more and more in our offices and understand as well as appreciate the appropriateness of the question. While useful as one of the factors in the college planning and selection process, this should not overshadow the importance of the best fit for the student. Being happy, successful and prepared to enter the world of work after college are relative to the individual. Just because a college has a great ROI, it doesn't mean it will for that one person. So while this is one indicator of success, it is just that one indicator. Other factors include student culture, professor access, class size, cocurricular opportunities, internships, and location to name a few.

What's next for higher education?

Experts Ponder the Future of the American University In reponse to the globalization of commerce and culture, increased accessibility of information, and changing demographics in developed countries colleges and universities are being forced to rethink their traditional models of education. The University of Phoenix is, in many ways, on the leading edge of some of these changes and it will be interesting to watch how other schools respond.

4 Reasons why the library should affect your college choice I've always been a fan of libraries as a place to study, read quietly, and hang out with friends. But with the advent of Kindle and the ready availability of information on-line, schools and colleges are starting to question if and why they should devote space and capital resources to maintaining their libraries. Here are some compelling reasons why libraries are, and should remain, the hub of a school's campus and a place certainly worth checking out on a college tour.

Summer is a great time to visit college campuses

School is almost over and now is the time to plan those college visits. Summer can be a great time to visit colleges especially those that are a greater distance from home. Admissions offices are also now scheduling interviews as well. Without missing school or having to worry about school obligations you can take advantage of the summer to tour college campuses and interview.

The Personal Touch

A Campus Embraces Old School Admissions The admissions office at Hobart and William Smith Colleges is putting their efforts into making personal connections with prospective applicants. Their results - a higher yield. From our perspective - a better experience for the applicant.

A different perspective on the college search

A New Journey with my Daughter This summer I will begin the college search process with a student whom I am certain is going to be my all-time favorite client - my own daughter.

I have worked with many different types of students of widely varying abilities, talents and interests. I have enjoyed learning about them as discovering the right college match has lead them to learn new things about themselves.

Although I have known my daughter for much longer and much more intimately than any of my clients, I am eagerly looking forward to that same process of self-discovery with her.

Now you can bring Fido to college with you

Colleges Extend the Welcome Mat to Students' PetsAn increasing number of colleges are allowing students to bring their pets with them to school. After agreeing to some very strict rules, students can keep their cats, birds, dogs, and, in some cases, non-venemous snakes in their dorm rooms. Those colleges with designated dorms allowing pets believe that students who opt to bring their pet to school show greater responsibility and organization. Others worry that having a pet might keep those pet owners more isolated.

How to increase your chances of acceptance

The Dynamics of Demonstrated Interest As colleges are working to increase their yield, at many colleges, particulary the most selective ones, admissions officers are looking carefully at a student's demonstated interest in their school as a way of gauging how likely they are to yield.

Finding the "Right Type" of College

The new year marks new beginnings and January is when the Class of 2010 begins the college process. Although, at this point, it might seem like there is more than enough time to do all that a successful application entails, starting early and in earnest will set the course for a successful and less stressful experience. Here are a few suggestions to get the things started: With 3,000 schools to choose from, the college process can seem overwhelming. To get a sense of what options are available take tours of several local campuses not in an effort to find the "right college," but to find the "right type of college." After a few visits it will be clear that almost all colleges allow students to study abroad, have faculty advisors, offer peer tutoring and have a variety of housing options. Once the common threads are identified, it will be easier to focus on how schools differentiate themselves.

To do that, visit area colleges of several different sizes, types and locations to gain a sense of the variety of options. Few juniors actually know what a school of 7,000 students really feels like when they say they want a medium-sized university. Because of their numbers, large universities and small colleges have different resources and opportunities available to students. The trade off for the vast opportunities at big schools is the intimate setting at small schools and students need to consider where they would thrive.

Also, visit a campus located in the heart of a city as well as one in the suburbs to understand how location might influence the college experience. While opportunities for internships, cultural events and night life abound in the city, for some the opportunities of a smaller college are easier to navigate.

Further, visit several different types of schools: engineering colleges, business schools, liberal arts colleges and public universities. This can help students clarify if they want to live and breathe their major - as they will at pre-professional colleges - or if they want to explore their field of interest in the context of a broader liberal arts curriculum. Being an accounting major at Babson College is not the same thing as majoring in economics at Wheaton College.

It is also important to build a college vocabulary. Tour guides will talk glibly about 4-4-1 versus 4-1-4 calendars, interim programs, and co-op experiences. These are some of the opportunities that vary from college to college and are features that distinguish the academic program at one school from the next. Learning what these programs offer will help to define the criteria for schools that will ultimately be the right fit.

Take advantage of upcoming vacation days to visit a few schools to get a broad understanding of the various options. Don't worry about the particular location, selectivity or "perfectness" of these schools - instead make the point of these visits to get a sense of what feels like the right type of school. The more precisely you can define what it is that you are seeking in a school, the more fruitful your search for the right school will be.

Reprinted with permission from Metrowest Daily News.

Developing the College List

After months and months of research, visiting schools and interviewing, many seniors are faced with a new dilemma: how to narrow what has become an impressively long college list into the manageable list of schools to which he will apply. With more than 3,000 colleges from which to choose, the challenge is to develop a list of schools that both matches the student's abilities, interests and character and also represents an appropriate range of selectivity. Generally, a college list of eight to 10 schools is appropriate for most students. Even though the Common Application facilitates the application process, interviewing, campus visits and completing supplemental materials can take a tremendous amount of time. Working on too many applications can compromise both the caliber of each individual application as well as detract from time and effort better focused on school work and extracurricular activities.

To hone the list, consider carefully why each school was put on the list in the first place. Likely, through the college process, search criteria became increasingly refined and those schools chosen early in the process may no longer be appropriate. Review the list carefully, and keep only those colleges that remain the best matches.

The next step in refining the college list is to check it for balance, making sure that there are "reach," "eye-level" and "likely" schools represented. Typically, the most selective, or reach, schools are the easiest to add. In an effort to increase the chances of being admitted to a reach school, students may be tempted to add a disproportionate number of them to the list. However, because these schools typically have lengthy supplements, applying to many of them can actually backfire as the applicant won't put forth his best effort on each and every application. A better strategy is to submit thoughtful and well-polished applications to the candidate's top two or three reach schools.

At the other end of the spectrum, likely schools play a critical role and should not be just "thrown on" as afterthoughts. Like every other school on the final list, these schools should be places where the student would thrive academically and socially. If a likely school is not a college the applicant would attend, than it shouldn't be on the list at all. These two to three schools are the most difficult to find because they involve a compromise of some kind and they don't have the same cache as the more selective schools.

The middle tier of schools that appear on a balanced college list are the eye-level or moderate schools - those institutions where the applicant stands an even chance of being admitted. These three or four schools are the backbone of the college list and should be chosen with tremendous thought and care. Chances are, it is one of the schools in this category that the student will end up attending.

Developing a balanced list of appropriate schools takes time but should reflect a range of schools at which the applicant will be a happy, successful student. While there can be compelling reasons to have lists that are longer or shorter than the recommended eight to 10 schools, the most important thing is that the list is balanced between reach, eye-level and likely schools, and that the applicant puts his best effort into his applications at each and every school.

Reprinted with permission from Metrowest Daily News.