“Shut Up About Harvard” (fivethirtyeight.com)

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It’s college admissions season, which means it’s time once again for the annual flood of stories that badly misrepresent what higher education looks like for most American students — and skew the public debate over everything from student debt to the purpose of college in the process.

“How college admissions has turned into something akin to ‘The Hunger Games,’” screamed a Washington Post headline Monday. “What you need to remember about fate during college admission season,” wrote Elite Daily earlier this month. “Use rejection to prepare teens for college,” advised The Huffington Post.

Here’s how the national media usually depicts the admissions process: High school seniors spend months visiting colleges; writing essays; wrangling letters of recommendation; and practicing, taking and retaking an alphabet soup of ACTs, SATs and AP exams. Then the really hard part: months of nervously waiting to find out if they are among the lucky few (fewer every year, we’re told!) with the right blend of academic achievement,extracurricular involvement and an odds-defying personal story to gain admission to their favored university.

Here’s the reality: Most students never have to write a college entrance essay, pad a résumé or sweet-talk a potential letter-writer. Nor are most, as The Atlantic put it Monday, “obsessively checking their mailboxes” awaiting acceptance decisions. (Never mind that for most schools, those decisions now arrive online.) According to data from the Department of Education,1more than three-quarters of U.S. undergraduates2 attend colleges that accept at least half their applicants; just 4 percent attend schools that accept 25 percent or less, and hardly any — well under 1 percent — attend schools like Harvard and Yale that accept less than 10 percent.

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Rethinking College Admissions

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Frank Bruni, author of Where You Go Is Not Who’ll You’ll Bereflects on the recent changing tide in the college admission process.

Read the entire January, 2016 NYT article here.

20bruniWeb-master675Over recent years there’s been a steady escalation of concern about the admissions process at the most revered, selective American colleges. And little by little, those colleges have made tweaks.

But I get the thrilling sense that something bigger is about to give.

The best evidence is a report to be released on Wednesday. I received an advance copy. Titled “Turning the Tide,” it’s the work primarily of the Harvard Graduate School of Education, though scores of educators — including the presidents and deans of admission at many of the country’s elite institutions of higher education — contributed to or endorsed it. Top administrators from Yale, M.I.T. and the University of Michigan are scheduled to participate in a news conference at which it’s unveiled.

“Turning the Tide” sagely reflects on what’s wrong with admissions and rightly calls for a revolution, including specific suggestions. It could make a real difference not just because it has widespread backing but also because it nails the way in which society in general — and children in particular — are badly served by the status quo.

Focused on certain markers and metrics, the admissions process warps the values of students drawn into a competitive frenzy. It jeopardizes their mental health. And it fails to include — and identify the potential in — enough kids from less privileged backgrounds.

“It’s really time to say ‘enough,’ stop wringing our hands and figure out some collective action,” Richard Weissbourd, a senior lecturer at Harvard’s education school, told me. “It’s a pivot point.”

College Admission & Social Media

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What role does a teen’s social media use play in college admission?

The traditional elements of a college application — GPA, test scores, extracurricular activities, recommendation letters, essays — may seem thorough enough. But according to a new study, there may be one more factor a school looks at: social media. Kaplan Test Prep’s most recent survey shows that the percentage of college admissions officers who visit applicants’ social media pages has quadrupled to 40% since 2008, when it first started exploring the issue.

“Social media can play a role in telling a better story about an applicant and help a school better understand who it is that they’re admitting and what kind of match or fit that might be,” says Yariv Alpher, executive director of research at Kaplan Test Prep.- USA Today, January 2016

Read more here.

Is overachieving in high school overblown?

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Highly Selective Colleges Begin To Wonder If Overachieving Is Overblown.

To get into college, Harvard report advocates for kindness instead of overachieving- Washington, Post, 2016

Parents, educators and college administrators have long wrestled with the unintended negative side effects of the admissions process, like the intense focus on personal achievement and the unfair advantages of more affluent students. The report, entitled Turning the Tide: Inspiring Concern for Others and the Common Good Through College Admissions, aims to tackle these complex issues. It lays out a blueprint for addressing three of the most intractable challenges facing college applicants today: excessive academic performance pressure, the emphasis on personal achievement over good citizenship, and the uneven opportunities available to students of varying income levels and backgrounds…

“Yes, we want students who have achieved in and out of the classroom, but we are also looking for things that are harder to quantify, [like] authentic intellectual engagement and a concern for others and the common good,” explains Jeremiah Quinlan, dean of undergraduate admissions at Yale University, one of the report’s endorsers.

Read the article here.

A dose of humor about resume padding for college applications

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A dose of humor about resume padding for college applications from the Onion. Maybe some truth in humor?

Soup-Kitchen Volunteers Hate College-Application-Padding Brat

“This experience will be invaluable when I have to write my personal essay, which counts for a lot with Stanford,” Malveaux said. “It’s the kind of real-world growth experience that goes over huge with the admissions people. And, if I ever need a recommendation, there are several people here who I think I’ve bonded with enough to ask.”- Onion,  2003

Read the rest of the “article” here. 

What Do College Admissions Officers Really Value?

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What Do College Admissions Officers Really Value?

Advice from “behind the curtain” of one college’s admission process.

Tips from experienced application readers:

 Take time to reflect

Taking time to think about the kind of college experience you want can help you narrow down your list to schools that suit your personal and career goals. While you’re making sure you’re a good fit for the school, make sure it’s also a good fit for you.

McDermott’s last thought: “I think [high school] students should spend a little of time thinking what they liked in high school, what they didn’t like, who they are, and not just going and rushing off and looking at schools and getting in the frenzy.”

Engage

Visiting the campus, having a Skype or phone interview with an admissions counselor, or sitting in on a class shows admissions counselors you’re interested in that particular school. It also gives the school a chance to get to know you better.

“Just like a teacher in the classroom wants a student engaged, we want students engaged in the process with us. I think it makes for better discernment of what a good fit is for both them and for us,” says McDermott.

Don’t “phone-it-in”

When it comes to the application, admissions counselors say the biggest red flag is a sloppy, half-baked essay.

“Or over-thinking the topics so much that it becomes awkward and doesn’t convey the student as it should,” McDermott adds.