Saturday, March 17, 2012

"Stop obsessing on rankings. Don’t share all details of college apps"

Ace! NewsFlash 

Admissions Expert Offers Tips On Getting Into College
Reed College, a member of Colleges that Change Lives. Photo courtesy of CTCL
College acceptance letters will be arriving soon, followed by the inevitable news stories about the students with the perfect grades and resumes who didn’t get into their top choices.
And that will only amp up the stress and worry of those parents and kids who are already freaking out about the tiny acceptance rates of the best colleges as defined by the annual U.S. News and World Report rankings.
“In less than three weeks, you will begin to get an idea about college admissions that is not the way it is,” admissions expert Martha O’Connell told a couple hundred parents and students who gathered Tuesday night in the cafeteria of Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School. “The problem is those stories don’t tell the whole truth. The reality is far different.”
“The reality is that the average admissions rate at four-year colleges and universities is close to 70 percent,” said O’Connell, the executive director of Colleges that Change Lives, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the advancement and support of a student-centered college search process.  In fact, fewer than 100 schools reject more students than they admit.
That was one of the key messages that O’Connell delivered during a PTSA-sponsored talk on choosing the right college. The session drew parents from Walter Johnson and Walt Whitman high schools and other Montgomery County public schools as well.
O’Connell, who spent 30 years working in college admissions, told parents and students to stop obsessing on rankings that focus on a college’s applicant pool, but don’t say much about what the school offers students.
“We are driven by name brand. We love what we know about,” she said. “This process works best when it starts with the student. You are not a refrigerator. You are not a car. Those things are easy to rank. There’s no direct way to measure the quality of an institution.”
“I say this to get you to be a careful and considerate consumer,” she said. “So look at the numbers and what they really mean.”
Most importantly, students should drive the search process, asking whether prospective schools offer the culture and learning environment that will make them happy and successful. And they can only discover that by researching those schools and asking questions during college fairs and campus visits, O’Connell said.
To get a sense of a school’s culture, check out its website. If it features lots of news about sports teams or politics, then that’s probably what important to the school. And when visiting campuses, make sure to go during the busiest class time to see how students act and how they dress, and to listen to what they talk about—all of which also will tell a lot about a school’s culture.
Some other helpful tips:
Set up an email address just for the application process. Some schools will communicate only by email and important messages could be missed in the flood coming into your regular account.
Start making contacts at schools that you’re interested in. That means filling out online prospect cards and info cards at college fairs, and making sure to let schools know when you stop by to visit or emailing them after. Go to the admissions tab on the school’s website and find out who is the admissions officer for your area and email that person about your interest.
“They’re the person who’s going to be reading your application,” O’Connell says, noting that contacts can be the deciding factor for an admissions officer. “I’m going to admit the person who has a lot of contacts because they’re interested and they’re probably going to enroll.”
Schedule a specific time each week to talk about how the application process is going. That will help reduce the stress on students who can get overwhelmed by the nagging of worried parents. O’Connell says her family chose Sunday nights and met for just one hour each week.
“It created a time and a place for it and I guarantee it makes for a happier household,” she said.
And finally, don’t share all the details of the application process with everyone. That way, there’s less to deal with if things don’t work out.
“If you can resist the urge to share a lot about the process, it will make it easier for you,” O’Connell advised.

Mar 16, 2012 - 12:08 PM

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