Meredith Reynolds - Head Start College Blog

Archive for February, 2009

College Fear: “I don’t want to talk about college!”
February 12th, 2009

To follow is an article from today’s Inside Higher Education that I found interesting. As I explain to my clients, each student/family has their own version of “College Fear” and my job is to recognize their unique fear and help them work through it with minimal stress. For some its attending an official college tour or for others it might be writing the dreaded essay or asking for teacher recommendations or attending an interview… Interesting things to reflect upon for all parents and high school students.

Early Decision and the Adolescent Brain

In the debate over early decision admissions programs, much of the focus has been on socioeconomic equity. Students are more likely to have enough information to apply early, the criticism goes, if they come from families and attend high schools that encourage an early focus on developing a first choice. Indeed many colleges report that their early decision applicants — who must commit to enroll if accepted — are more likely than the applicant pool as a whole to be white and wealthy. So when colleges fill large portions of their classes early, many fear, the disadvantaged lose out.

The National Association for College Admission Counseling is releasing a report today that suggests a different kind of equity issue: the differing rates at which adolescents mature. The study reviews the latest research on adolescent development and suggests that many high schoolers are unlikely to have the maturity to make early college choices — or to be making the academic choices in high school that set them on a path to finding a good match for college.

The report — by Barbara Schneider, a professor of education and sociology at Michigan State University — is not issued as NACAC policy. But it is consistent with many of the cautions that association leaders have made about trends in admissions, particularly the rush to decide early and to view the admissions process as a game.

Research about adolescent development has many apparent contradictions, Schneider notes. Physically and in terms of sexual relationships, young people mature more quickly than they did in previous generations. But she also notes that in terms of parental involvement, an unwillingness to make long-term commitments, and other factors, today’s young people show less maturity than previous generations.

Numerous studies also have found, Schneider writes, a mismatch between adolescent ambitions and their sense of educational plans. These “unaligned ambitions,” she says, mean that many high school students have some idea of their career or life goals, but very little sense of an educational plan to get there.

Combined with the “college fever” that grips many families — with much tension and competitiveness about getting into college — early decision may be psychologically wrong for many students, she writes. They haven’t figured out what they want to do or how to reach goals, and yet feel pressured to commit, she says. (Schneider notes that high school students do not mature at the same rate, so her argument isn’t that early decision making is wrong for everyone, but that it’s wrong for many.)

Further, she writes, this problem is exacerbated by the socioeconomic inequities. Those students with access to counselors and with strong family knowledge of college admissions may be more likely — if they aren’t psychologically ready to commit to college early — to get help in deciding.

David Hawkins, director of public policy and research for NACAC, said that he hoped the report might “rekindle” discussion of early decision issues. After a few elite universities dropped early decision in 2006, some hoped for a groundswell, but it didn’t take place. Hawkins noted that even if colleges don’t drop early decision, a “de-escalation” might reduce the pressure many students feel.

The new report describes trends in admissions that have been evident well before the current economic turmoil. And this year, many private colleges have been pleased to see an increase in early decision applications. Hawkins said that the downturn “has the potential to make it worse,” with more students feeling more pressure. “For both institutions and students, the early decision game is all about hedging against uncertainty, and these are some of the most uncertain times we’ve had in decades, perhaps ever in college admissions,” he said.

By focusing on adolescent development — an early decision factor not previously studied — Hawkins said that NACAC hopes to better inform colleges. “Many of our counselors have felt that colleges might be making decisions about early decision strategies in a vacuum,” he said. “The primary purpose was to expose our entire profession to the idea that adolescent development” should be part of their thinking about early decision.

— Scott Jaschik, Inside Higher Education, February 12, 2009

California: The Gradual Extinction of the College Freshman?
February 10th, 2009

Wait! Those charged with the duty of managing the University of California, California State University and California Community College systems need to take a step back and reflect on the long-term non-economic costs of their recent decisions. Both UC’s and Cal States in response to projected budget costs are lowering the number of freshmen they will admit next year (and probably the following year). At the same time they warn they will need to raise tuition costs.  The next step is obvious. More high school graduates will enroll in community colleges that are already stretched to the limit with only 25% of those students who enter expressing a desire to transfer to a four year university actually making it. As the tail continues to wag the dog, the Board of Regents voted to create a task force to increase community college transfers to UC’s and Cal States (even fewer freshmen?). WAIT! Are we forgetting there is more to earning a college degree than passing classes…are we forgetting the value of the friends we made in our freshman dorm..or the dorm softball games on Friday… or that feeling when you lost your voice as your school’s team beat their rival at whatever sport…the not like home food…changing your major three times…There’s so much more to getting a degree than meeting a-g transfer requirements, finding an apartment in Westwood and finishing up your political science major so you can move on to law school.

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


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