Friday, October 23, 2009

Ted Sizer was an innovative thinker about high school education but his premise was simple -- respect students. That didn't mean coddling them; it meant having high expectations for them. It meant acknowledging that these young people have talents and abilities and want and need guidance and direction, but they also want to be respected. He felt that when teachers approached students more as mentors then positive learning could take place. Read more about this remarkable and dedicated educator at the NY Times.

It should also be noted that Ted Sizer had a learning disability and when he was a student he was told by his teacher that he should not plan on going to college. Thankfully, Sizer did not listen to that teacher and went on to become one of the nation's most influential educational leaders, and in particular was Dean of the Harvard Graduate School of Education and Headmaster of Phillips Academy, Andover.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Advice to College Freshmen

As students head off to college for their freshman year, there is/will be a mass of advice coming from all angles -- how to manage your money, how to select your courses, how to survive a roommate, how to deal with being away from home, how to manage your time, and on and on about how to "survive" college.

There is some is some valuable advice that is not always included as to how to make your carefully chosen college a successful venture. These few suggestions are ones that I have witnessed that have enabled other students to have happy and successful college experiences. These are not listed in any order of importance, since they are all important:

Regardless of whether you are at a "large" university or a "small" school, the best way to become integrated into a community, make associations, and feel committed is by becoming a part of something that interests you. Join whatever group you might have a passion for, or one that you would like to learn more about. (Please note, though fraternities and sororities may provide a source of social belonging, they are generally "social" and may not necessarily provide a link for you to specific interests or talents).

A second recommendation, almost a "requirement" or "assignment", that I would make to you, is that each semester you get to know one faculty member well, and likewise, he or she you. This will take an effort on your part, but I promise that it is one that will pay more dividends than anything else you do in your four years. Though there may be some professors who do not reciprocate, you will find that most faculty members are eager for the relationships that develop with their students. It is one of the great rewards of teaching; so give the faculty the opportunity to share your educational experience. In order for this to happen you will most likely have to make an appointment to go to the faculty member's office; you may also want to invite him or her for a coffee or to a sporting event. These “profs” love being a part of their institutions and will eagerly share that with you. Do it! These will be people who not only will be mentors but will be friends, and possible writers of recommendations.

Third you should participate in some sort of volunteer, internships, or community activity that will give you useful “experience” that could be transferable to a job or career. Those students in business, engineering, or other "pre-professional" programs may have a built-in advantage here, but there are also many who believe that a liberal arts degree is the best preparation for one's future career or profession. You will find businesses, medical schools, law schools, etc. stating that they are more eager to enroll students who have not specialized too much. What employers and graduate schools like to see along with a sound education is experience, regardless of whether you were pre-professional or liberal arts. If you pursue opportunities to share or develop talents by participating in campus life, you will gain the invaluable experience that will help you land employment or acceptance into grad school (very important four years from now!). This experience may very well help direct the later part of your educational experience in college -- foreign study, research, self-designed major, internships, etc.

These opportunities add a richness to the academic experience that is invaluable to making your college "education" much more than just the classes you take by providing a cultural enrichment not generally available to the public.

So there it is, my advice – INVOLVEMENT, FACULTY FRIENDSHIP, EXPERIENCE, AND ENRICHMENT. Not much to remember, but these few things will enhance your collegiate experience well beyond what you would get from four years just going to class. Best wishes for a great year!

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Making the Best College Choice for Your Life

As another school year begins, juniors and seniors become increasingly focused on college. With today’s costs, more and more students and families are looking to insure that their money is well-spent. They want to feel that those tuition dollars help lead to a satisfying experience as well as to the ability to be employed following graduation.

To insure this, it is more critical than ever that students make a good match for themselves, both academically and financially. Failure to take either of these into account could involve additional expense and lead to unfullfillment and frustration.

In the early ‘70s, a NY Times reporter, Loren Pope, began writing about colleges and the disastrous choices and high dropout rates he was seeing. His research led him to publish “Colleges That Change Lives”, a book about 40 colleges across the country that do an outstanding job of educating students and preparing them for future success.

This perspective on what constitutes a “good” college turns the concept of “rankings”, as fostered by other national publications, upside-down. Over the past half dozen years, a group of the colleges described in his book have been traveling the country presenting information sessions and fairs at events call “The Colleges that Change Lives Fair”. Though these colleges are presenting themselves as excellent options and opportunities, their over-arching theme and message of what makes for a quality college education is universal.

This concept has been borne out in research studies through the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) and the Center for Inquiry Study in the Liberal Arts, and has been heralded by the Educational Conservancy. All of these groups point to the fact that it is the engagement between students and faculty that is at the crux of an effective and worthwhile college education. It is not name, ranking, size, or any other “popular” factor that makes for an outstanding college education and success in life; it is instead the quality of the teaching-learning experience.

The “College That Change Lives Fair” is one of the best opportunities for students and parents to get a good picture of what educational quality can look and feel like. I encourage all students, whether they are considering one of these specific colleges or not, to attend this fair and get a fresh perspective on what makes for a great college experience.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The ‘Tour d’Admission’: Guidance Counselors Seeing Colleges by Bicycle - The Choice Blog -

Here is a blog article written by a reporter from the NY Times about the College Bike Tour:
The ‘Tour d’Admission’: Guidance Counselors Seeing Colleges by Bicycle - The Choice Blog -
I had spoken with Jacques Steinberg, author of "The Gatekeepers: Inside the Admissions Office of a Premier College" (, about two weeks ago on another topic and was sorry I could be there for to ride this leg with him! By the way, he's been to Greenville and thinks it is a great city -- That's pretty good praise coming from someone from NYC!

Thursday, July 9, 2009

The Tour Goes On

Our visit to the U.S. Naval Academy began at exactly 0800 and reinforced the concept of this being a very special place. Not only is it an outstanding engineering program (there are liberal arts majors as well) but it a place with a real sense of caring for its students. The idea of hazing and weeding out is gone. The Academy believes that it has admitted some of the best individuals in the country and it is committed to seeing those individuals succeed, not only at the Academy but in the Navy and later in life. And their record proves it -- numerous notable officers, astronauts, Rhodes Scholars, and even a President of the United States. My great-great-great grandfather -- Rear Admiral C.K. Stribling who was the first Superintendent of the USNA, would be proud. "On Stribling" refers to the main walkway through the grounds and means that a plebe is "on-campus". (For those from S.C. who may recognize the name Stribling, he was from Pendleton and left home at the age of 15 in the mid-1800s to join the Navy -- note the US Navy cycling jersey I found on sale just before I left Greenville!)

We were in Annapolis during "plebe summer", the time when the new students come to the Academy and begin their training. They were out at 9 PM marching around, and then back again the next morning in formation. It might be tough, but 85% go on to graduate in 4 years; a record surpassed by only a handful of colleges in the country.

The Academy is definitely in the modern age technologically and it has excellent facilities. All that combined with career training that is easily transferable to the civilian world makes this a great option!

posted by William "Stribling" Dingledine, Jr.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Goucher College & Johns Hopkins University

Stage 1 of the Tour de Mid-Atlantic is over and great weather and wonderful visits prevailed! A beautiful summer morning of about 60 degrees greeted us as we pedaled from Oldfields School to Goucher College -- I thought everyone was taking July 6th off since July 4th was on the weekend but you couldn't tell that by some of the early traffic! The eight of us from the following: Rowland Hall in Salt Lake City, Stoneleigh-Burham in western MA, Tenafly HS in NJ, Christ School in Arden, NC, St. Luke's School in Westport, CT, and Scarsdale HS in NY, and Oldfields in MD, all set out in various bike set-ups. Several of us had the traditional panniers, one pair was on a tandem (that had traveled much of Europe!), and a couple had "trailers" towing their belongs behind. We talked and laughed most of the ride today through local neighborhoods.

Goucher was excited about its new (long-awaited) students center and library about to open this fall with a big "green" focus in its construction. Not only are their science programs strong -- great pre-med tradition and psychology is considered a "science", thus requiring significant research, but their dance (best facilities for any college this size I have ever seen -- conservatory quality!) is great along with education and creative writing. Though not a college associate with any religion, the student body has a strong spiritual component ranging from Christian to Jewish to Muslim, and alternative; the non-denominational chapel is widely used. Also, Goucher is Test-optional and really places a strong emphasis on high school preparation and writing ability (as shown on the essays -- they require 500 words as opposed to the 250 regularly requested on the Commmon App).

Our ride to JHU was led by their Vice-President for Enrollment and he took us through some of the prettiest old neighborhoods of Baltimore City -- not the usual route for visiting Hopkins -- and this certainly dispelled any notion of the neighborhoods around the University being questionable. Nevertheless, it is true that Hopkins is in the city, so usual cautions are advised that one would employ in any city. As expected, Hopkins presented itself as a powerful "research" institution. Though class sizes might average 11-12, intro classes in the major courses (biology, chemistry, organic chem, psych, etc) are 250+. Students are driven by internal desire to succeed and that lends itself to the notion that it is a very competitive school; yet there is a good amount of collaborative and collegial learning and studying that occurs. More and more housing is being made available to students -- very important this year because they accepted a few more students expecting a lower yield, only to have more of them deposit -- counterintuitive in this economic climate! They emphasized that Hopkins is not just a "science" school but is quite strong in many areas of the liberal arts -- creative writing, economics, international relations, and art history. The student body is diverse and it is sometimes hard to find a unifying theme or aspect, except for lacrosse -- this is the mecca for the sport -- but there is no doubt that these students come with strong academic and extracurricular backgrounds. The admission office pointed out that they consider all factors of a student's academic and non-academic profile when making decisions.

Time to go rest up for tomorrow's ride to Annapolis and St. John's College, one of the nation's oldest and most unique colleges. Hopefully I'll have good computer access tomorrow and can post some thoughts to digest about the "Jonnies"!

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Tour de Mid-Atlantic

Well, after over 17 years and more than 50,000 miles of serious cycling, I am fnally doing my first Tour! Not the Tour de France which does begin today (and I will be following closely), but I will be embarking on my first multi-day bicycle tour, visiting colleges in Maryland and Delaware. I will be joining about a dozen colleagues and friends from across the country on what has become an annual event and though I have wanted to go for the past several years, this year will be my first. In addition, the idea of getting oneself cross country by bicycle has always had an attraction to me --the independence and sustainablity aspects are especially appealing.

In the past, time and money were the obstacles, but this year’s event allowed me to drive and not have to pay the exorbitant fees for taking a bicycle on the plane (almost as much as a roundtrip fare!). I was all set! Or so I thought until I went to purchase some panniers (French for bags that hang off the sides of bicycles to carry your belongings -- or big sticks of French bread if you truly are French!).

My first "pothole" on the road to preparing was that I have the wrong kind of bicycle for touring. After so many years of riding bicycles, I found that ALL of my bikes were racing bikes – none of them had the little eyelets necessary to attach the rack needed to hold the panniers. Thanks to Scott and Nathaniel McCrary at TTR Bikes (Tandem, Touring, and Recumbent Bikes – here in Greenville, I found a neat, sleek rack designed just for racing frames! They had some spacious panniers and that was all I needed to get packed and be ready to ride.

I am leaving today to meet one of my fellow riders in Charlotte and then we are driving to Baltimore (via my brother's house in VA) in order to be ready to leave on Monday to visit Johns Hopkins University and Goucher College. Then we head to Annapolis to see St. John’s College and the U.S. Naval Academy. Following a crossing of the Chesapeake Bay, we visit Washington College on the Eastern Shore of MD and then head to the University of Delaware with a stop at St. Andrews School (film location of “Dead Poets Society”) before returning to Baltimore. Accommodations will be in college dorms and most meals will also be at the colleges along the way; in total, we will cover over 200 miles. A bit more than I average in a normal week of riding, but certainly manageable. (For those who are skeptical, one really does get comfortable on a thin, bicycle seat!)

I hope to post updates on the College Directions blog but it will depend on internet availability along the way; I am not yet sure if I can manage my laptop in the panniers or what access will be open to us on the college campuses. I will also be sending messages to Twitter (wsdingle) from my cellphone -- so follow along!

Happy Fourth to all! More to come!

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Making the Most of Summer: College Visits & Essays

When final exams are done, high school students and their families are all set to enjoy the summer vacation, whether it be the beach, mountains, travel, or even a summer job or learning experience. For college-bound juniors, there are two other important activities to keep in mind: visits to colleges and beginning the college essay. Time spent doing these two activities will save much pressure and anxiety come fall of the senior year.

In the spring, college seemed a year away, and many juniors were too busy with sports, end of the year school activities, and/or AP or final exams to find time to make good visits to colleges (see Test Drive a College). Some people feel that visiting a college in the summer is not very valuable because school is not in session. Though the school year may be the best time to visit, there is certainly much to be gained from getting on campus during the summer. A well-planned trip can help a student focus his or her thinking about college opportunities and choices; and because application deadlines are occurring much sooner in the fall, it is important that students have the perspective of a good visit before finalizing their list. There may be too little time to accomplish visits in the fall so the summer is a very good time to make the effort to get on college campuses. (Note: summer is also a great time for sophomores to visit colleges and get a broad sense of options without the pressure of having to make decisions right away.)

Secondly, it is a great advantage for students to begin the process of drafting and writing their college essay(s) during the summer. Most colleges will have their essay questions posted online or on the Common Application Student should view the topics, brainstorm ideas, and begin drafting what they want to say. Whether these drafts become the final essay or not, they will help the student to focus his or her thoughts so that when the time comes to submit the essay, the topic and the writing will be sound. Waiting until school begins in the fall means that the essay becomes part of the normal school workload and puts undue pressure and anxiety on a student that can adversely affect either schoolwork or the quality of the essay, or both. as early as July.

Taking some time to visit colleges and begin work on essays will make life a great deal easier come the fall, and most likely more successful as well since good planning and work often lead to positive outcomes.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

An Empowering Commencement Address

Below you will find a link to a comment by a college administrator who heard a moving commencement address (additional link). As he states, the address speaks for itself -- but I find that it speaks to me, and probably most educators, in that it is both a) the usual message of encouragement to new grads, but more importantly b) that it is also one of hope for the future.

This address made me aware that those of us involved in education are truly optimists -- we must be in order to be able to continue encouraging students to strive to become better. Above seeing this as any sort of "duty", I find myself immensely rewarded by enabling students to feel "empowered" as to their abilities and to the many opportunities to explore and develop themselves.

What a privilege I have to be at the threshold of such potential and see it blossom! I hope this address instills confidence in our individual and collective potential and energizes all of us to focus our efforts in a positive way for our futures and that of the national and world community.

Congratulations to all graduates and best wishes to all!

A last word on commencements / Getting to Green - Inside Higher Ed

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Sunday, May 24, 2009

The Best College Choice

As high school seniors graduate this week and being the transition to their college of choice, and juniors begin to look forward to doing their college research, there is a family from Illinois that helps provide an example of how students can make their college education work in their favor. The Sereno siblings – all six – attended the same college, Northern Illinois University (not necessarily on the US News or Forbes list of “best” colleges) and all earned PhDs and have become recognized experts and scholars in their fields. (

As Paul Sereno (now a world-famous paleontologist) stated, “It underscores the fact that you are what you make of yourself and your talents, and you can almost begin at any time.” In other words, as some often say, it is not where one starts, but where one ends up that matters.

All of this helps give focus to students to consider themselves as individual learners and to visualize what type of learning environment will suit them best so that they will learn and enrich their intellect and lives most effectively. Thus, the “name” of the college or university one attends is not critical to success, but it is the learning – both in the classroom and experientially -- that one gains that matters. Consider this: all text and reference materials are available to anyone, and good teaching is not limited to “name” colleges -- in fact, professors at many highly regarded colleges are hired more for research than for teaching.

Perhaps there is a more “selected” group of students at some colleges, but there is no doubt that there are students who are equally as capable at almost any college in the country, and what one learns should not be dependant on who is in the adjacent seat but on one’s own desire and willingness to learn. Students must be aware that they are the ones who are responsible for their learning and achievement and should look at colleges as the place where they can make the most of their own motivation.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Selfish Colleges

At the recent Wake Forest conference on "Rethinking Admissions", the Director of Admission from Duke, Christoph Guttentag, made a statement that colleges, especially selective ones, are "selfish" in making their admission decisions and that the process is not really meritocratic. He noted that colleges are not transparent that these decisions are really made with the mission, needs, and the self-interest of the institution in mind, not in "rewarding" students for their achievement.

This statement might be confusing for students who are striving to reach the highest level in grades, test scores, and extracurricular attainment in order to be rewarded with admission to a highly selective college. If taken at face value, the comment might add anxiety to an already high pressured process. In reality though, it can be liberating for students by allowing them to focus more on becoming true to themselves (remember the virtue of "unto thyself be true"?) rather than focusing on extreme course loads, extensive and expensive test prep strategies, and overloaded extracurricular schedules that erode "studenthood" -- the intellectual and personal vitality and interest that should be the basis for positive student growth. Numerous books and studies have been written about the fact that most of the "name" institutions in this country have strong institutional biases when making admission decisions and that those biases lean towards higher socio-economic groups, athletes, and other "name" individuals who will attract money, attention, etc. to the institution.

What is even more valuable about accepting this perspective is that individuals who are being true to themselves are happier, better adjusted, and more successful in the long run, including in the college search and application process.

Students should strive to grow and develop themselves to the fullest extent rather -- "being" rather than "doing" just to gain acceptance to a specific college or colleges. This change in perspective can help students have a more valuable and rewarding high school experience. It should not diminish the pursuit of excellence and growth, but the change in focus should provide a healtheir motivation for students.

In addition, as students select colleges, the focus should be on which ones will support progress towards becoming who they are and reaching their potential.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Rethinking Admission

Wake Forest has just concluded its first national conference on "Rethinking Admissions" ( and the presentations by a wide range of admissions experts presented some thought-provoking research and comments. The discussion ranged from the use of the SATs to preferential admission to how to define college "success" to the use and impact of college rankings.

While there was clear agreement that there were problems with the current process, there were differing viewpoints on the nature of the problem and how best to improve it. A conference blog ( provides some insights into the topics and points that were made.

Over the coming weeks, I will be commenting on specific aspects of the conference.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Admissions from the Other Side

Many seniors are assessing their admission responses -- some students are elated, some are dejected, and many are wondering "Why?" the decision went one way or the other. This op-ed piece from the LA Times gives a unique perspective to the process, and is valuable not only for seniors but for all high school students and their parents in understanding how decisions may be made and affected at selective colleges.,0,4003619.story.

The greater understanding and learning that comes from this piece is that this process can be and is a very personal one, and the more that a student can become and be the true person he or she truly is, the better the chances of admission to a college or colleges that will "match" that student and provide the best experience for his or her growth.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Seeking Good College Values

Juniors are now moving into the college research and selection part of the college admission process. There are many factors to consider, but clearly an important one is cost. Sometimes this gets overlooked by students as they seek “name” colleges; and at other times it becomes a limiting factor because students (and parents) think anything but state institutions are out of range.

It is not unusual for me to meet with a student and his or her parents after college applications have been sent to a list of selective and expensive colleges – seemingly picked from someone’s list of “best of” – and hear of their anxiety about being able to afford any of the choices, even if accepted.

The first thing to keep in mind is that though all colleges are different, and contrary to what the “rankings” pretend to reflect, there is little difference in educational quality among most colleges, and much greater difference in approach and environment.

Another scenario that comes through my office is the student (and family) that clearly would benefit from a small liberal arts environment but has limited his or her choices to large state institutions because of cost.

The second important consideration in seeking god college value is to know that many private colleges have endowments designated to help attract students through merit scholarships. Even in these uncertain economic times, many colleges plan to maintain or increase these funds in order to sustain enrollment. This “half a loaf is better than none at all” mentality will mean that good students will still find themselves being awarded merit scholarships.

Keep in mind that scholarships are used to attract, and keep, good students, and that those (selective and well-ranked) colleges that get many more applications from strong students than can be admitted do not give many awards. But, because there is not a huge quality difference between those colleges and those that want more of those strong applicants, students should be looking to those “lesser known” colleges to provide opportunities for affordability.

Thus, since quality need not be as significant a concern as one is led to believe, and since scholarships are available from good quality but lesser known colleges, students need to step outside the bounds of the “known” colleges and look more broadly and deeply for some great options, both educationally and economically. It is not necessarily, and sometimes not monetarily (and educationally), wise to constrict one’s college options because of reputation or sticker price.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Importance of College Visits

As the college admission season wanes for seniors, it begins in full for juniors at this time of year. The endless talk about college acceptances and rejections and the process of making a final choice trickles down to the juniors from above and they begin to think about their potential choices.

The most important aspect for students in making a good choice about which colleges to add to and keep on a list is the college visit. Many facts, and myths, abound about colleges, and students need to keep in mind that they are selecting a college that will suit them for their continuing education. I caution students about making a college choice by “default” – choosing a college just “because” it’s the state university; it has a big-time sports program; it is highly selective; etc. Not that a student will end up in a bad situation resulting from a decision based on these or any other perceived quality, but because the purpose of attending college is an education, a student must dig deeper to find the true characteristics and qualities that will fit him or her and allow the best learning experience. The chance of finding that enriching intellectual and career-preparing four-year collegiate experience is much more likely when there is good research to back up the decision. And because the cost of a college education is expensive, it is worth a student making sure that it is money well-spent.

THE best way to do this is to make a visit to a college and see for oneself what it offers. Just as one wouldn’t marry a person based on reputation, a student should “date” a college some before deciding if it is the right match; and a college visit is a key component of that “dating” experience.

A good visit should be more than just the perfunctory information session and tour. Students and parents need to keep in mind that those are essentially marketing tools for colleges – means to encourage students that the college is a great place to go to school. One must go beyond those general experiences and get a clearer sense of the personality of the college. Here is a link to a wonderful piece on how to “Test Drive” a college – Doing these ten things will give a student a great sense of how good a match a particular college might be and will empower his or her decision.

For further tools or information about visiting college, please feel free to contact

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Mixed Message -- Buyer Beware

As we move into the “decision letter” season, colleges begin to publish statements on how competitive the admission was or will be this year at their institutions. Students and parents need to keep aware that those statistics can be deceiving.

First, colleges are delighted to publish how many students applied for a specific number of freshman spaces. While the numbers are correct, the colleges fail to be transparent about the fact that they usually have to admit three to four times that number in order to get enough students to “yield” that number of enrolled freshmen. This obfuscation makes a college appear more competitive for admission that it really is and thus heightens the anxiety among students and parents about admission. See the following Furman press release,, that gives the impression that the University’s admission rate is <20% when in reality it is about 50%, as an example.

Another statistic that colleges produce about admission is the “average” or "mean" SAT/ACT score for students. NACAC (National Association for College Admission Counseling) has a policy that colleges should report test scores in ranges covering the middle 50% of the admitted class. A score range is much more realistic for students considering where they might fall in an admission pool because a mean score automatically puts at least half of the qualified students in a “below average” position. Again, reporting only an average or mean makes a college seem more competitive than it is in reality.

Because parents (and students) frequently mistake competitiveness for admission with quality, these practices mentioned above tend to discourage students from feeling “qualified” to attend college. Whether the college is Harvard, Furman, or North Greenville University, it is important that students be aware of what the upcoming announcements truly indicate about the admission climate at that institution.

Monday, February 9, 2009

ACT and SAT -- What to Do

It's now the time when many juniors have just taken or are planning to take the SAT and/or ACT. I find there is still confusion on the part of students and parents about these tests -- when to take them, which ones to take, how many times, and now, what to do about "score choice" from College Board.

Some basic advice I give to all students:
  • Take one of each test -- they are different enough that you might a) score better on one than the other, or b) you just plain like one format more than the other -- and then focus on that one test.
  • Prepare! Do not go into any of these tests now as a junior without some serious preparation!
  • Practice, using some of the books from bookstores and the released materials directly from College Board and ACT.
  • Take both tests soon enough in your junior year so that you have time to take it again before the junior year is over -- you don't want to be caught wringing your hands hoping for a big score increase in your senior year.
  • Take the writing section if you are taking the ACT -- the writing will be counting more in the future.
  • Always take the test once more in the senior year.
All of this can be tailored to each individual student because some have different preferences and handle standardized tests better than others.

Friday, January 30, 2009

I have had a couple of conversations in the past month with parents about the role of outside "agents" (or parents) helping students with their college essays or recommendations.. Those of us in the profession have been aware of this phenomenon for a good number of years, but its presence has become significantly visible in the media in recent years as "essay writing mills" have appeared on the web and some college "consultants" tout their ability to craft essays for students that will "guarantee" admission to the college of choice, or as parents jockey to gain admission for their children using an outside "agent" to help secure admission.

It is astounding to me in this period of irresponsible and unethical business and political practices, that parents (and "providers") continue to openly encourage the need for and use of services or practices that take the completion of the college application away from a student. To me as an educator, it is the height of misplaced values and effectively demeans individual self-esteem. A student who must have someone else write (or heavily edit) his or her college application and essay is sent the message, either overtly or subtly, that he or she is incapable of successfully performing this function. After 12 or more years of supposedly good education, this student must have an "expert" or use some artificial means to get him or her into college. What an insult to the student.

Secondly, if this student truly is incapable of writing a good college essay or has not demonstrated strong abilities to those at the school or within the community, what business does he or she have in trying to attend and be successful in an institution where he or she is unable to meet the expectations. Imagine an athlete having a surrogate tryout for him in order to get onto a team; then only to get blown away by the other athletes. Where is the value of that, much less the ethics?

Parents MUST prepare students for the responsibilities of the future, but parents cannot live their child's life for them. Rejection and failure are part of life. We as parents will not always be there for these young "people"; they must learn their own abilities and how to improve them and how to use them. Do parents intend to "wipe the noses" of their children for the rest of their lives?

The college application process is a wonderful learning experience. Contrary to public myth, where one attends college is not a life or death option. A good, worthy student will have many good choices. Students should know that life is not where one goes to college, but what one does with the life and opportunity that is presented. A great learning ground for this is the college application -- parents should allow their son or daughter be in charge and should not try to manipulate the application process from behind the scenes. As parents and educators our goal is to empower our students and handling the process for them does the opposite.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Summer Options

Spring is not yet here, but for many students and parents it is time to think about what to do during the summer – Job? Camp? Summer school? Summer Program? Volunteer work? Swim team? Hang out?

Some look at the summer as the time to get a job and make money to use for discretionary spending, or for saving for college. Others see the summer as a chance to do something to impress colleges for admission. And some see the summer as a complete break form the grind that is school.

Because students have essentially been told by the school, teachers, parents, coaches, etc. what to study and what to do during the school year, the summer is the time for the students to be in control and learn and do the things they feel will serve them best, not just temporarily or for the short term, but over a lifetime. The summer is the time to learn or experience whatever a student wants.

This asks that students be mature and recognize the importance of preparing for their lives ahead. That expectation should be part of the discussion around options. Developing a new skill, learning something new of interest, gaining experience and enlightenment will all enhance one’s preparation for and involvement in his or her life in the future. The time to prepare for that future as an adult is adolescence – that is the time between childhood and adulthood. One doesn’t wait to begin in college; the final stpes are being taken there.

It doesn’t have to be a fancy trip or summer language immersion program; a simple job in a related field of interest can help more a student forward. Volunteering and shadowing are excellent ways to gain knowledge and experience as well as insights into one’s abilities and interests. Students who already have an interest and/or talent in an area can teach or assist with programs for children. There are many standard and creative options.

What happens is that when a student pursues something because of a personal interest, that effort will be more rewarding personally and the outcome will be better than if it is something done for extrinsic reasons (i.e. trying to impress a college admission office). In weighing options, students should consider which activity or experience will have the greatest lasting effect. As a simple example, a job whose only purpose is to earn money for casual spending money will leave the student with very little in the future – the money will be spent on food, movies, and other transient experiences, and the job experience will not have added anything to the student’s future abilities or insights. Learning and/or education (and these are not synonymous) is permanent and continues to add value to one’s life.

If one pursues their summer opportunities in this fashion, he or she is making the best choice for enhancing the college application.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Best Values in College not Valuable

There is a new college “ranking” that is getting attention – the Kiplinger’s “Best Values”. As with all the lists and rankings, they are designed to sell magazines and they don’t help give students and parents get the proper focus. On the surface this list appears to be a valuable resource for students and parents in this time of economic downturn. The problem is that the input variables do not reflect the reality of the college selection process or of college quality.

One example of poor research and statistics is the use of SAT/ACT scores in rating colleges. The National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) just released a year and a half-long study -- The Use of Standardized tests in Undergraduate Admissions – stating that the use of test scores to evaluate institutional quality is an improper and misuse of the tests, and the Commission called upon media and other organizations to cease this practice. Also, the use of “admission rate” is not a reflection of quality; it reflects too many factors for it to be of great value in determining “value”. Finally, the calculations take into account scholarships as a measure of value, and those can be skewed by many factors that make them out of reach for most students – athletics, arts, etc. – and thus are not good measures of college value.

Unfortunately, Kiplinger does not post anywhere the weighting or formula they use, only the criteria. Much of the criteria come from ratings taken by The Princeton Review, which is an excellent test prep company; but their method of gathering “quality” data is not truly scientific.

What does this mean for students and parents? It means that the college selection process is not one that can be made simply by looking at some list. It requires students to know themselves as learners and to have a good sense of why they are going to college – and to know each college well enough to recognize the different opportunities that college offers. A simple “to gain maturity” is much too nebulous a purpose to drive a student forward towards a wise college choice. As an example, all NFL teams begin with the plan “to win the Super Bowl”, but none of them begins without specific objectives each practice and each week. Students need to outline not only their goals but also the steps they must take in order to reach those goals –week by week, year by year.