Jay Matthews, the education columnist for the Washington Post, just released his rankings of the nation's and the DC-region's most challenging high schools. Matthews' index score is the "number of college-level tests given at a school in the previous calendar year divided by the number of graduates that year." So, in essence, the more AP tests a school administers, the higher its index number.
Matthews purports that all students, even those from areas with weaker educational systems and might lack readiness, can and should take AP tests. While some might suggest that not all students can meet the challenges of the AP tests, administered by the testing behemoth The College Board, Matthews sides with those "who believe lack of progress in U.S. high school achievement is because so little is demanded in most classrooms."
He goes on, as a way of supporting his point: "But what if you have teachers who are skilled enough to grab the interest of many of those habitual slackers and who can show them that struggling with a challenging course is less boring than sitting through a painfully slow remedial course?"
But there's the rub, right? Skilled teachers.
I'm very familiar with the students at the #6 DC-area school on the list, McLean High School, in McLean, Virginia. MHS teachers are extremely dedicated and prepared to teach the students from this highly affluent DC suburb. However, rising class sizes; an ever-increasing budget gap, currently at $51 million, according to Fairfax County Public Schools; and teacher pay that is lower than its nearby counties are starting to cause problems. Last year McLean High School reportedly hired 33 new teachers to complete its 120 person teaching staff: almost a 30% changeover.
While McLean High School still has dedicated teachers who can "grab the interest of habitual slackers," new teachers might not yet have the skill enough to really teach students at the AP level--and this is in an area where the school only has 9% of its students receive or reduced lunch and enjoys a safe and productive atmosphere.
However, apparently schools in more difficult situations are giving AP tests. In the national rankings, many of the schools in the top 10 have a substantial number of students receiving subsidized lunches, including three in Texas: Science/Engineering Magnet (#3, 65%), Talented and Gifted (#6, 31%), and Idea College Prep Mission (#11, 91%).
We might ask this question: To what end? We know that students are taking AP classes and tests, but are they receiving passing scores of 3s, 4s, or 5s?
However, I'm not sure the scores matter. To develop able students, they need rigor and expectation. While results are nice, what's most important is creating a cohort of students who believe they can succeed and are prepared to take on the challenges of college.
So, you're on the wait list, in ersatz college limbo: neither in, nor out. You've gotten some yeses from some really great schools and likely have already paid your deposit to one of them. However, you haven't yet bought that Ohio State t-shirt or U. Santa Cruz "Go Banana Slugs" bumper sticker for the Prius. Why? Because you've been wait listed by your first-choice school.
This is the time of year I hear from students asking: What's the likelihood I'll get off the wait list?
The answer? A resounding "Dunno."
I wish I knew. I wish the colleges knew. I wish anyone knew. These data are murky to say the least. However, today's Washington Post article gave some really excellent insights.
Some schools admit none from their waitlists (Lehigh, Tulane, U. Maryland, Bryn Mawr, Dickinson, Macalester), while others like Penn State have used it extensively. (In 2015, it admitted almost all 1473 from its wait list.) Some schools don't share the data (Harvard), while others do, but to little use. (Duke admitted 9 and CMU admitted 4 from their waitlists.)
While you're waiting and hoping, here are some of the highlights from the article:
In 2015: 963 waitlisted, 129 admitted from the list.
In 2014: 1133 waitlisted, 0 admitted from the list.
They don't share their data.
1324 waitlisted in 2014, but won't share how many made it off the list.
In 2015: 927 waitlisted, 0 admitted from the list
In 2014: 7 were admitted from an unknown number of those waitlisted.
Lehigh, Tulane, U. Maryland, Bryn Mawr, Dickinson, Macalester
0 admitted from the waitlist
4 admitted from the wait list
9 admitted from the wait lsit
Case Western Reserve
5119 on the waitlist (9,000 invited): 518 admitted from the waitlist
In 2015, 1473 on waitlist, 1445 admitted
In 2014, zero admitted from the waitlist
In 2014, 4536 on waitlist, 136 admitted
University of Michigan
In 2014 and 2015, 4500 on waitlist, equivalent to 75% of the entire class size.
In this Washington Post article, the author describes the frustration of getting into a dream school but not receiving (enough) Merit Aid to afford to go. Yeses become no's really quickly when you cannot afford the yes. I'm giving a scholarship seminar with Inspiring Test Prep on April 28 at 7:30 pm about finding, applying for, and winning non-university sponsored merit aid. This seminar will be too late for any current seniors, but can be very useful for parents of juniors and younger.
When my oldest applied to RISD, we told her that she could never, ever go without a substantial scholarship. She got in and quickly told them "thanks, but no thanks" after calculating her student loan debt and duration of payments. $70K for art school is just too much for this family to afford, and I do colleges for a living.
Most schools will not negotiate, although some, specifically Ohio schools, have been known to. (I'm hearing this is less and less the case now, though.) So, offsetting merit aid (which most in-state schools do not offer) is the only way to really go. Which is why when my oldest understood the need, she applied to so many scholarships--and has won well over $50K so far--enough to pay for two years at Virginia Tech. It's work, but then again, I have to work to make $50K too.
Choosing how to apply to a college can be daunting. There are multiple types of admissions choices: regular, early action, early decision, immediate decision, restricted early action, and so on.
Understanding your options is crucial to the process. I generally explain them in terms of looking for a prom date:
While Early Decision gets you the prom date, you don't have any say in the cost of the date. There's no splitting the check, opting for KFC over Shi-Shi in the City, sharing a limo with friends. You're stuck with the date and all it entails. It doesn't matter that you thought you'd get a 50% off coupon for tickets that didn't pan out. The bill comes, you pay--all of it. (Although you can technically get out of the date if it's really too expensive, but that's tough too.)
Early Decision gets you a guarantee of a good date. In fact, your chances of dating the Prom Queen or King is almost double if you ask for it Early.
As this Washington Post article shows, double is serious business. Want to go to prom with UPenn? They admit 24% ED and only 10% RD. Davidson? 48% for ED and 22% for RD. William and Mary? 50% ED to 34% RD.
However, getting the great date is only great if you can afford the cost, even if it's above what you thought. This is the problem. The wealthy can afford to take the cost risk and apply early. Those struggling and need to see the financial aid packages can't take advantage of the better yes rate.
Is it unfair? I'm not sure. Is it good to know the rules of the game before starting the process? Yes. After all, a good date can make life much more fun.
I know Eliot said, "April is the cruelest month," but he clearly wasn't an Independent College Counselor. If he had been, T.S. would've clearly known that for pain, no month beats March.
March sees cuts of both the paper and psyche variety. Big fat envelopes arrive for one student, while the anemic pasty ones arrive for his neighbor--each student opening that envelope full of hope and promises. While one might find some hope for his future, the other might have a paper cut with which to remember his pain.
Yet, acceptances roll in too. This week alone I've heard from students of mine admitted to MIT, CalTech, USC (Cal), Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech, UNC-Wilmington, FSU, Ohio State, USC (S. Car.), JMU, GMU. While there are still very eager students waiting to hear about UVA, Cornell, Harvey Mudd and other programs, the cries of happiness (and relief that at least they're going to a college) are satisfying as well.
No matter the final outcome--yes, no, waitlist--the process is mostly and finally over.
Except for paying for it, of course. That pain will linger for a while more.
I'm reading Jaques Steinberg's The Gatekeepers, a book about the admissions process. I was amused that the first chapter focused on Ralph, an admissions officer, and his "Tortilla Test" for choosing a work location: "He...checked out a local grocery store and was disappointed to discover that the only food available in the Mexican section was called 'burrito kit.'"
Just as Ralph had his Tortilla Test to determine location suitability for his job, I have had other students use similar “tests” to determine their best college location.
I had one student who ranked states this way:
Another student pulled up a map of Adderall abuse in the United States. She said, look at this map. See the big circles? I don’t want to go any where near there. Despite this incredibly high-achieving student’s goals—great school with great CS program—she was also incredibly laid back and tired of the overly stressed students at her school. As a founder of the “Stress Less, Laugh More” campaign at her high school, this map allowed her to home in on the schools that spoke to her intense academic goals and her desire for less stress: Stanford and USC and not Princeton or Yale.
A third student pulled up a map of Starbucks and Walmarts by state and said, "I do not want to go to school in a Walmart state." After talking with her, I realized she wanted a progressive school in a metropolitan area.
There are, of course, detriments to using bifurcated metrics like these—this but not that, these but not those—as they don’t allow for shades of grey. However, as a counselor, I do appreciate that these students, like Ralph, have a sense of who they are and what they want, and can find a map of metric to use as a starting point.
The Common App released its revised essay prompts for the 2015 to 2016 application cycle.
Mostly, the Common app updated its prompts to allow more thoughtful and robust responses.
While most prompts are essentially the same--the one on background or about your greatest failure--others are completely new: Describe a problem you've solved or a problem you'd like to solve....
I hail the changes.
Updating the language afford/requires students to take more risk with the writing, allowing them to show another side to themselves.
So, why is the standard Place-of-Peace essay gone? I'm just surmising here as I've not read admissions essays in a few years. However, as I do read college essays and work with many students on admissions essays, I feel qualified to respond.
Reason 1: The Place-of-Peace essay is the easy choice, giving students a chance to respond with more resume filler: My place of peace in the neuroscience lab, where I am developing a new anti-serum to end world hunger.
This typical student response is understandable. After all, this essay counts big, and students want to make it check every possible box. That biggest failure prompt? That's not going to allow for double dipping and resume-polishing like the Place-of-Peace had. (However, it does make for a far more interesting final product.)
Reason 2: The Place-of-Peace essay is boring to read. Think of bulk essay reading like judging Miss America. At some point, you tire of hearing that each contestant wants world peace. You'd like to hear something edgy, real, off putting, something that offers insight, clarity, depth. When a Little Miss Sunshine walks in espousing an edgy viewpoint, you're at least no longer bored.
Rising seniors, no matter which of the new essay choices you're drawn to, now's the time to look at the prompts and think about your possible choice.
You've heard this before: "It's harder to get into an in-state school than in past years."
While you might be inclined to pass this gripe off as just student sour grapes, it's actually true--at least according to this Wall Street Journal video. See, public universities are under pressure to not increase tuition, even as higher-education costs keep rising. How to balance the books? Accept more out-of-state and international students who pay more than twice the amount in-state students will.
After you stew about how unfair this is as a tax-paying resident, take some anecdotal solace with this thought: While your residency might restrict your access to that state school you've dreamt of your entire life, out-of-state schools will suddenly find you very attractive, so much so they do tend to offer money--enough to offset the out-of-state tuition difference.
One student from last year applied to fifteen schools: 1 in-state and 14 out-of-state. She got into them all and eventually earned enough merit scholarship money to make most of them reasonable and one almost free. (She applied ED to the state school, got in, and took the spot, despite the now comparatively higher price tag.)
However, what if you still want to go to your childhood dream school, home of the Fighting Tomatoes? Then become best friends with your college counselor, because chances are she'll know the tricks and hints that can help you get noticed.
After last year's oddly high National Merit Semifinalist cutoff for Virginia (222), this year's cutoffs are out. Virginia is finally back in the land of the sane with a cutoff of 219.
Congratulations to all who made the cut!
Qualifying Scores for the Class of 2015 National Merit Semifinalists:
District of Columbia 224
New Hampshire 212
New Jersey 224
New Mexico 210
New York 218
North Carolina 212
North Dakota 201
Rhode Island 212
South Carolina 209
South Dakota 203
West Virginia 201
Commended 201 (National Cutoff)
Outside United States 224
U.S. Territories 201
Great advice on how to succeed in college, from a college professor. As one myself, I agree wholeheartedly with so much of this. The main piece of advice is this: go to class. Butts in seats matter.
A College Counselor who asks and answers the tough questions.