Meredith Reynolds - Head Start College Blog

Archive for May, 2007

High School Seniors: Crazy Daze of Summer
May 31st, 2007

Its been another year of “lasts” for high school seniors across the country. Though each student had their very own set of “lasts”, each represented a moment of reflection and something lost forever. Last football game, last choir tour, last prom… Senior year has tried everyone’s patience thanks to nine months of “lasts” set in the pressure-cooker of the college application process.

But hold that thought because as summer approaches, this one may be more crazy than lazy. Seniors have been pushed out the door of their high school and are irrevocably proceeding toward college with every passing day. Parents often deal with their stress by creating lists and deadlines for preparation. Students, in contrast, frequently find the most comfort in looking back, and refusing to even think of the “firsts” looming on their horizon. For some it will be the “first” time they have shared a room or bathroom with anyone, much less a stranger. ..”first” time they can’t have a bowl of cereal at midnight…”first” time they have to do their own laundry…”first” time they have to try out for a fraternity or sorority…

Having been through this with three children, I would advise that though the “lasts” were poignant, the “firsts” are much tougher both in anticipation and execution. So have a wonderful,crazy summer. Be patient and lazy whenever possible and give your senior an extra hug as often as they will tolerate.
PS Parents and siblings are going through their own “lasts” and “firsts” so seniors you too should be patient and pass out a few random hugs this summer.

The Evergreen State College: no grades, majors or departments
May 31st, 2007

One should not be surprised that many students who apply to Evergreen State College, mascot an eight-foot clam named “Gooeyduck”, also apply to the University of California Santa Cruz, home to the Banana Slugs.  However, in contrast to UC Santa Cruz, Evergreen State College lacks grades, majors and departments. Evergreen is known for interdisciplinary studies that explore the connections between disparate disciplines. The curriculum has five planning units: culture, text and language; environmental studies; expressive arts, scientific inquiry and society; and politics, behavior and change. Nearby Olympia, the state capital, is described as progressive and open-minded. Seattle is an hour away as is skiing, hiking and the beach. Evergreen State College is not for everyone, but no college is!

Pomona College: Palm Trees for Ivy, Where It All Started
May 25th, 2007

The first of the Claremont Colleges founded in 1887 Pomona was modelled by its Massachusetts founders after east coast Ivy League liberal arts college. As the demand for colleges rose in early 1900’s its founder travelled to Oxford and elected to establish a framework for the creation of 10 colleges under the Claremont umbrella copying Oxford. Scripps was established in 1920’s focused primarily on humanities, though now boasts a strong biology program. Then came Claremont Mens College (now Claremont McKenna College) after World War II with an initial focus on economics and international relations–practical liberal arts education. Harvey Mudd in the 1950’s with the push to the moon is focused on science and engineering , and Pitzer College in 1960’s looking to ethnic diversity and other social causes. Obviously this is a gross simplification but it gives you an idea of the underlying philosophies behind each of the colleges which of course over the years have continued to expand and develop their programs of study to meet current needs.

Pomona is truly a residential liberal arts college. 95% of its students live on campus all four years (equal percentage graduates in four years). Unusual, 30% of freshman housing located on South campus are singles. Upperclassmen live four-five blocks away in what is termed North campus where students gather late nights for free Snacks which include everything from cookies to pizza. Dorms are nice and students report food is good.

Its a tight-knit community with 375 freshmen each year. Classes are small. Only one or two in four years will be as large as 50. Your first night on campus you will have a one-on-one social dinner with your advisor. Before classses begin as part of freshmen orientation students (groups of 12) select an adventure…canoeing at Hoover Dam, kayaking near Santa Barbara and more. With five colleges a lot is happening on or around campus to the point some students complain they don’t get off campus enough…but realize its their own fault. One Pomona tradition is the ski/ beach day when students ski at Big Bear in morning and go to Venice Beach in the afternoon…why do they do it? “Because we can.” In deference to east coast students (school has students from 48 states), the College sponsors a snow day and brings in artificial snow for students to play in until it melts (usually 2hrs max). Pomona tradition also dictates that students be thrown in fountains on their birthdays so the college makes a big effort to keep them clean even using chlorine.

Academics are “rigorous but not cut-throat”. True to its liberal arts roots the majority of a students classes will be outside their major. Pomona students are required to take five distribution classes which include foreign language requirement and PE. Students can take classes at any of the other Claremont colleges. For Pomona students that’s usually four or five over their four years. 50% of the students study abroad and for those particularly interested– either before or after there is a foreign language dorm with sections for French, Spanish, Chinese etc. The college provides a fluent speaker in each of the languages to facilitate activities and conversations. Students that do not live in this house may join a table at any meal and listen or speak their language of choice.
Besides being thrown in fountains or playing in the snow, Pomona students enjoy all the concerts, speakers, performing arts on campus, they can walk to Claremont village for a change of pace. Also big each year is the Pomona/Claremont football game…parking is not a problem.

The admissions officer at the information session bragged Pomona was recently voted the fifth “happiest college” in the country. I can’t guarantee that but if you are interested in a very personal, liberal arts education with only one snow day and lots of Palm trees consider Pomona College.
(PS He wouldn’t divulge the four that beat Pomona.)

It’s NOT Harder to Get Into Elite Colleges! “Statistical Mirage” ?
May 17th, 2007

We’ve all seen report after report that it is increasingly difficult to gain acceptance at the country’s elite colleges (recognizing that the label of elite college is itself in constant flux). For example, the admission rate (percentage of applicants accepted) at Pomona in Claremont, California, was about 15% this spring; it was 38% twenty years ago. (reported in New York Times, 5/16/07).

Kevin Carey, a research and policy manager at Education Sector, insists it is not in reality harder to gain acceptance to elite colleges calling the alleged increased difficulty a “statistical mirage”. (See Dallas Morning News May 13, 2007) Carey explains that from a student’s perspective, the odds of getting into college are a function of two things: the number of qualified students who apply and the number of slots that colleges make available. Carey agrees that the number of prospective college students is growing. But he is quick to add that the number of spaces in elite colleges is increasing at a nearly identical rate. [This fact is critical to his theory and merits further substantiation.] But moving on…so what’s really happening?

Carey illustrates his theory with this example. Imagine 20 students, each of whom applies to five schools and gets into two. Now imagine if the same 20 students each apply to ten schools and again get into two. The outcome for the students is the same: two acceptance letters. But the “additional” schools in the second example will report lower admission rates, and the odds of admission will be reported as numerically lower, but in reality be the same!?
Somehow I feel like I just fell victim to a shell game. I would be interested to hear your thoughts. At a minimum, even if the outcome is same for this student, the increase in number of applicants must necessarily add uncertainty as to the qualifications of the other students applying thereby lowering any given student’s chance of acceptance by one of Carey’s two basic assumptions. Put another way, if there are more balls in play its more difficult to predict the outcome.

It certainly FEELS like more than a mirage! Ask high school seniors.

Waiting Lists: Lottery with No Guarantee of a Drawing
May 17th, 2007

The papers have been filled with stories reporting students applying to ever- increasing numbers of colleges. It seemed only logical to those who consider such things (myself included) that students would therefore be declining acceptances in record numbers making the wait-lists all that more important to college admission offices. In fact, anticipating this eventuality some schools even increased the size of their wait-lists. “NOT!”
Instead, as reported by the Wall Street Journal (May 16, 2007) the percentages of students accepted to a school who ultimately decided to attend that school were unexpectedly high. Put simply, the predicted overlap of acceptances did not materialize. So the colleges are not looking for students to back-fill their freshman class numbers.
Further confounding predictions for wait-list acceptances comes from the fact that colleges have wait-lists not merely to assure a certain number of incoming freshmen, but even more important colleges use wait-lists to “balance” their freshman class. Therefore, even if you are lucky enough to be on a wait-list at a college that is admitting from the wait-list, you may not be what the college needs for a well-balanced freshman class. Most obvious example, the college is short of boys and you’re not. A good illustration of the unpredictability of wait-lists is Princeton. Last year Princeton accepted no students from its wait-list, this year Princeton accepted 30!
So what to do!? Select your favorite college from those who accepted you. Plan your housing and begin the mental and physical process of “going there to college”. If you can’t give up the dream of attending a school that has wait-listed you, remain on the wait-list fully aware that being on that wait-list is like buying a Mega Super Lotto ticket without even a guarantee of a drawing.

Remember…College: A Match to Be Made, Not a Prize to be Won. Perhaps the “Match” has already been made, but you’re hanging on in hopes of winning the “Prize”?

It’s not WHERE you go, but WHO you are.
May 8th, 2007

Arlene Matthews has written a book entitled Getting In Without Freaking Out: 101 Stress-Free Secrets. Secret #4 suggests that a parent ask their student to name three people they admire and why. Afterwords ask the student where those people went to college. Odds are the student won’t have a clue. Illustrating once again, that it is not where you go to college, but who you are that will cause those around you to admire you.

Who YOU are should drive where you go to college, not who your friends and family think you are, or wish you were. Begin your college search by reflecting on who you are and who you want to be. Remember college is a match to be made, not a prize to be won.

Perhaps most important for the entire family, the Head Start College program paces students to complete their applications by Thanksgiving.


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