Meredith Reynolds - Head Start College Blog

Archive for February, 2008

Value Character over Reputation
February 29th, 2008

“Be more concerned with your character than your reputation, because your character is who you really are, while your reputation is merely who others think you are.” John Wooden
Don’t be confused. Never let your quest for your “dream” college drive you to seek above all else a great reputation, because colleges and universities seek out students with demonstrated strength of character.

Visits: Best Way to Guarantee a Match! Save Magazine Ratings For the Grocery Store.
February 29th, 2008

In both my personal and professional experience, book research, online research and mealtime conversations about college can continue for months and years without truly interesting the student in the “search”. The real fun begins when a parent and student visit a college that they find to be a “Match”. At that point there is no stopping them from excited and thorough quest to find eight or nine other “Match” colleges. Overnight they are transformed into skilled, independent researchers evlauating and comparing colleges based on their student’s individual criteria finding magazine rankings overly simplistic and/or largely uninformative. So get out there and find your first “Match”.

So where to start on the individual criteria? Briefly, the Five “P’s” are PERSON (Will this be a challenging/nurturing “home for you?), PROGRAM (Can you study and play at this college as you imagine?), PEOPLE (Are these the people you want to be part of your college community?), PLACE (Will this place enhance your college experience?), and PRICE (Is this college relatively expensive or inexpensive?). I work with my students to help them form criteria in each of these categories.

Ironically, the “elephant” P left ignored in the corner through all of this process is PRESTIGE. Prestige is the respect accorded a college by others. I sugget more important is the “respect” your high school student accords a particular college. Finding the right college requires that the student be at the center of the process, not a national magazine. Admittedly throughout the Five P’s students must rely on outside opinions and elements of prestige will creep in, but a student knowledgeable of the importance of a variety of factors will choose carefully– giving no outside, generalized, single rating central focus. The student’s evaluations must be the core of the selection process in order that a “match” for that student be found. So get out there and visit! Leave the magazines for the grocery store.

California Public Universities: Not So Much Finding a “Good Fit” as Wondering Can We All Fit?
February 26th, 2008

In 1960 Clark Kerr then President of University of California developed a “Master Plan for Higher Education”. The Donahue Education Act of 1960 as the resulting bill was entitled became law. The Master Plan defined specific educational roles for the already-existing University of California (UC), the California State University (CSU), and the Community Colleges system (CCC). For example, the CSU campuses would be given responsibility for teacher training. In addition, the Plan laid out that the top 12.5% of graduating high school seniors would be guaranteed a place at a UC campus, the top third would be able to enroll at a CSU and the community colleges would accept all applications.


I. Application Process: Objective Factors Assure Open Access But Not Much Attention to “Good Fit”


Certain of the UC’s express the goal of more “holistic” review of applications. But does the current application process provide reviewers with necessary information?

High school seniors and students wishing to transfer to a UC must do so online between November 1 and November 30.

Good news is they complete one application and merely click the boxes for the individual campuses. Bad news is the online application itself acts as a rigid screening device. For example, students are allowed to self-report only UC approved academic classes in “a-g” categories. If the student’s high school has not submitted the necessary information to the UC’s then the class will not be an approved class and not be found in the drop down list. At a local high school if a student takes Drawing and Painting the prerequisite to Advanced Art he/she will not be able to report it on the academic section of the application, but Beginning Ceramics can be listed.  The UC application does allow the student to provide information on extracurricular activities, community service, employment history, and submit essays totaling 1000 words answering two broad prompts–all offering the reviewer more insight into the student than straight grades and test scores. Counselor recommendations are part of the process, but no teacher recommendations are allowed. Given the detailed requirements, ongoing counseling is important for high school students. Taking Drawing and Painting instead of Ceramics can be the difference between acceptance and rejection. [It should be noted that California has one of the highest student to counselor ratios in the country.]


California State Universities have an award winning site to help high school

students plan their  preparation and application to CSU’s.

CSU applications are available online October 1 with priority submission period November 1 through November 30. Some campuses continue to accept applications after that date if they believe they have space available. offers students as young as middle school critical planning information for admissions to CSU. Unlike the UC application(s) each school has its own application but common information is shared across CSU applications as they are completed online at the CSU Mentor site. For some CSU’s (ie Cal Poly San Luis Obispo) students must declare a major and the application is reviewed against other applications for that major making some majors very competitive (often impacted) and others not so competitive. As with UC’s the student self-reports the CSU academic requirements he/she has met along with grades requiring the understanding of a complicated system for handling D’s and retakes. Particularly in this area timely counseling will make sure the student knows which classes he must take and retake before it is too late.  Policies vary between campuses as to whether classes taken summer after high school can be used to meet admission requirements.  The CSU’s do not offer students the opportunity to submit extracurricular activities (contra. Cal Poly SLO has five general questions concerning time spent major, activities, employment), an essay, a counselor recommendation or a teacher recommendation.  In fact criteria is so objective that students can enter their GPA and SAT/ACT scores into a formula and to learn their chances of acceptance.


California Community Colleges all comers are welcomed in, but its not  easy to exit.

California Community Colleges are vital players in public education in California. Both high school and postsecondary individuals enroll in a variety of classes at affordable fees. Within 3 miles in either direction is Pasadena City College (30,000 full time students) and Glendale Community College (5,000 full time and 12,000 part time students).  For students wishing to begin their four-year college education at a community college, deciding which four year college(s) or university you wish to transfer to is particularly important. is a good resource for more information on transferring to four year colleges and universities. With few exceptions community college transfers must apply to UC and CSU’s by their November 30 deadlines and have completed both the general education requirements and any separate requirements for a particular major at the school they hope to attend. There is limited opportunity to transfer to a UC or CSU as a sophomore. The preferred “path” is transferring in as a junior. As would be expected most private colleges are more flexible with transfer applications some offering transfer deadlines throughout the year. Note most private colleges/universities will not pre-review a student’s completed coursework to determine what coursework will transfer. The applicant must submit an application first. Again timely counseling is important for community college students.


II. Is the California Postsecondary Public Education System Working?



Though California public universities continue to have a strong reputation, failure to invest in capacity and professors may be beginning to take their toll on the quality of education.  Kiplinger does one of the few annual comparisons of public universities. In this year’s comparison rankings for instate students across the country, the flagship UC Berkeley was 18th, UC Los Angeles 10th, and U of Washington leading the PAC 10 at 9th. Only one CSU made the top 100—Cal Poly San Luis Obispo at 41st. For complete listing see



In a May 1996 report by Rand Corporation entitled “Revisiting California’s Master Plan for Undergraduate Education” Michael Shires predicted that by 2011 (now only three years away) more than 1,000,000 prospective students will be denied access to California’s public colleges and universities. This prediction is based on studies of student costs, state funding and facility capacity.


Meeting the Needs Of California Economy

Though far from a scientific analysis of this question, the State of California is facing critical shortages of both teachers and nurses. The California public education system has failed to make the necessary adjustments to provide adequate programs to meet these health care and education needs. Largely unchanged since even before the Master Plan, CSU’s train teachers, not UC’s (contra. UC Riverside now offers a teaching credential program).


With the proposed 10% budget cut this year the outlook is not bright. UC Regents recently reported that based on Governor’s budget predictions they will need to cut $500 M from their 2008-2009 budget as approved. The CSU’s are already implementing admissions policies to assure 10% lower enrollment 2008-2009 enabling them to layoff 200 members of the faculty inorder to balance their budget. It’s a tough time for California high school graduates community college students wishing to transfer who can’t afford a private college or university.


Tulane & New Orleans: Application Storm Surge
February 24th, 2008

Outstepping increases at universities across the nation in numbers of applications, Tulane received double the applications submitted last year before it stopped accepting them. As reported by the Times Picayne:

In comparison with this time last year, applications are up by 24 percent at Loyola, 28 percent at Xavier University, 43 percent at Our Lady of Holy Cross College, 85 percent at the University of New Orleans and nearly 100 percent at Tulane University.

The story goes on to explain that much of the surge is the result of  high school students coming to volunteer with the rebuilding of New Orleans  after Katrina and falling in love with the people, place and culture. A good example of the unexpected benefits of getting out of our comfort zone and helping others.

Summer Programs: Something for Every Student
February 22nd, 2008

Its not too late to enroll your high school student in an exciting summer program where they will have the opportunity to not only explore an activity of interest to them, but will gain valuable experience living away from home making new friends and discovering new places.


Summer Programs

Search a database of summer programs throughout the United States including summer camps, academic programs, and travel.

The Science Service website has a search program for science and engineering programs across the U.S..

Student completes survey re interests, dates and locations this business will have brochures from matching programs sent to your home at no obligation.

Summer programs at Carnegie Mellon University.

Links to summer programs at Univ. of Massachusetts at Amherst, Emory University, U. Cal. at Berkeley, and Oxford University.

New York Film Academy. Links to summer programs related to film.

Summer program through the Institute for Television, Film and Radio Production at Boston University.

Junior Statesman of America. Links to summer programs at several universities including Georgetown, Princeton, Yale, Stanford, and Northwestern.

Landmark Volunteers is a summer service organization for high school students. Two week service programs working at one of several historical, cultural, environmental, or social service institutions throughout the nation.

National Student Leadership Conference. Programs in Law and Advocacy, Medicine and Health Care, and International Diplomacy.

Oxbridge Academic Programs – overseas study programs at Oxford and Cambridge Universities and in Paris.

Idyllwild Arts offers summer programs in visual and performing arts.

Summer programs at Georgetown University.

Summer programs at Johns Hopkins University including pre-college programs.

Interlochen Center for the Arts summer programs in visual and performing arts.

Cal State Chico offers among others a Rock & Roll

Summer Music Camp.

Cal State Summer School for Mathematics & Science.

See also UC San Diego

Cal State Summer School for the Arts/Inner Spark.

Residential program at Cal Arts.

Columbia University summer programs in NYC and Barcelona.

Computer Camps designed for the novice and budding expert including everything from programming to designing video games.

School for Field Studies

The School for Field Studies offers summer programs and semester programs in Australia, British Columbia, Baja Mexico, the Caribbean, Africa, and Costa Rica. These programs focus on environmental issues.

Putney Programs offer students programs in community service, global action, language learning cultural explorations and more offered in US and the world.

Overscheduling: Are Idle Hands Really the Hands of the Devil
February 6th, 2008

This month our high school’s PTA book club is reading Revolution in the Bleachers by Regan McMahon. The cover’s tag line is “How Parents Can Take Back Family Life in a World Gone Crazy Over Youth Sports”. We’ve all been there, done that and got the t-shirts from 15 different teams. Some try explain away the phenomenon as parents wanting their kids to get a scholarship to college. But NCAA reports that fewer than 1% of all high school athletes get college scholarships. Is all that’s necessary then to send the parents to the NCAA website? There’s more to it than paying for college.

Sports are much more than simply opportunities for kids to have fun with other kids as in the past. Forty years ago kids walked to a vacant lot found some abandoned cardboard for bases, divided into teams and played a game of baseball lasting all afternoon with neighborhood kids dropping in and out throughout the game. I remember going on bike rides with no particular destination in mind exploring new places. I’m quick to admit my kids (aged 26, 24, 21) didn’t have time to do much of that kind of thing. They were busy with sports, art, music and scouts..oh yes and school work and school activities.

Upon reflection, I would say publicly that I wanted them to have a chance to try all these different things, but really I did it because I didn’t like the alternative. In a world with 90% of the kids scheduled to the hilt who would be left to go on a bike ride with my kid or where would he find enough kids to play baseball if there even were a vacant lot not already reserved for little league. Maybe my problem is I really believed “idle hands are the hands of the devil”. In our town the devil was “hanging out on Foothill Blvd”. Think of the comfort I had knowing every scheduled activity had adult supervision, rules for safety and lots of parents watching–what a relief!

But if its true that 70% of all kids quit sports by 13, we now have a neighborhood full of 13 year olds who have all sorts of idle time and no experience with filling it! [The mean age of pedestrians on Foothill Blvd. is  13.] They may know how to throw a split-finger fast ball or score on a free kick, but they have no idea what they want to do for three hours on a quiet Saturday afternoon.

The lesson here is so obvious. Encourage your kids to explore interests outside of organized activities. The easiest way to encourage them is for you to enjoy hobbies yourself. If they like to be outside teach them about trails in the area and show them how they explore them safely. Loan them a camera and let them spend the afternoon taking photos of whatever they want. When my kids were small for a few years we spent an hour every Sunday night coloring.Twenty years later on family vacations, my kids still expect me to pack the crayons and coloring books.
I realize I’ve just added another “duty” to your already long list as parents. Teach your kids to enjoy and be comfortable with Idle Time…it should be the best of times for the rest of their lives. Step one is to create some idle time.

Stanley Kaplan’s Personal Quest to “Beat” the SAT
February 4th, 2008

To follow is a wonderful (though long) article from the New Yorker on the life of Stanley Kaplan and his career tutoring students for the SAT. Particularly fun are answers alternatives from SAT test without questions and you will see you are able to answer them!?

Kaplan has also written a memoir. Test Pilot: How I Broke Testing Barriers for Millions of Students and Caused a Sonic Boom in Business of Education. I haven’t read this but plan to get a copy.

Writing Skills: Career, College, SAT’s, Career in Politics?
February 4th, 2008

The message is clear that writing skills are closely linked to success in college and later life. Seeming to recognize this fact three years ago the SAT was reorganized to include a writing section. But why is this segment of the SATallegedly “ignored” by colleges. Perhaps college admissions representatives are concerned that by its very design it fails to measure the writing ability most critical in college and later in the workplace–writing built on reflective thought both on the question and one’s answer followed by careful review of grammar, style and usage.

See what you think after you read these excerpts from an article by Charity Vogel in today’s  Buffallo Times entitled “Writer’s Block”:
the newly revised [SAT] exam, now in its third year, includes a lengthy writing segment which tests their ability to improve sentences and paragraphs through multiple-choice question sequences. It also requires them to write an essay in 25 minutes.

However, many students are told outright by their high school teachers and guidance counselors that the SAT essay score will not count for much when it comes to college acceptances.

Experts on the SAT test concurred that students received mixed messages about the importance of the writing part, as well as about how to tackle it.

Nancy Berger at Upgrade Academics Inc., a tutoring and SATprep agency in Williamsville, said that many students approach the writing component as if it’s an assignment in English class. That can actually hurt their chances of scoring well, she said.

“It’s completely different from how they teach writing in high school,” she said, of the SAT essay and the way it’s graded. “That approach just doesn’t work.”

The SAT essay segment requires students to draft, in pencil and in longhand script, the first draft of a complete essay on an assigned subject. Essays are graded on a scale of 1 to 6 points by two professional teachers employed by the College Board. Colleges see both the score the student receives and a downloadable pdf image of the student’s written essay.

Because the time is so short on the exam, students need to walk in with concrete ideas of what they can write about, even before they see the essay question, Berger said.

She said students also need to realize they won’t be able to revise and polish their essays the way they are taught in high school.

Well…that’s important information to share with your high school students. As part of their preparation for the SAT they need to come up with topics that they want to write about and then “tweak” them to answer whatever question they get on the SAT…sounds like great preparation for a career in politics!



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


PO Box 1401
La Canada, CA 91012
818.952.2414 phone
818.952.2432 fax


» NEW! Visit the Head Start College Resource Page