Thursday, October 27, 2016

The Value of Work Experience for College Applicants

This application season as I’m helping students prepare their resumes and activities sections on their applications, I’m noticing that probably fewer than half of my advisees (primarily high school students from the middle and upper middle class have paid work experience.  
This is a troubling trend to me for a couple of reasons: first, it may indicate that homework loads and course curricula have become so challenging for many students that they have little time for anything else outside of school work; and second, many students are missing out on a vital opportunity to develop responsibility and self-sufficiency. 
Increasingly, colleges and universities are recognizing the value of paid work experience among their applicants.  An article in the education section of mentions several reasons why admissions committees favor applicants who have held jobs including learning teamwork and collaborative skills and gaining perspective on the labor market.

Several of the new University of California Personal Insight Questions Writing could be answered convincingly by describing one’s leadership development on a summer job or an after school babysitting “gig.”  Personal Statements reflecting on work—whether learning new skills or learning to interact with fellow employees and managers—might also help demonstrate an applicant’s maturing attitude or narrate how the writer learned to deal with a difficult customer or boss.
As your teenager contemplates his or her extra-curricular activities for the next season, checking out part-time work or volunteer positions might be a good idea.  Also, January through March is a good period to secure a summer job such as camp counseling or paid internships.  Another way for teens to gain workplace skills is through volunteering in an after school tutoring program, like Healthy Cities or Project Read or signing up to be a volunteer coach through the PAL Athletic League.  Many short time assignments are also available through Hands On Bay Area.
And this holiday season there will be plenty of short-term retail jobs available for teens with some sales experience.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

The LIST is critical: thoughts on 2016 admissions

With admission rates lower this year than last year, and lower last year than the year before, the college application frenzy is at an all time high.  As applications were up at all University of CA campuses, admission rates decreased and the same is true for many elite, highly selective colleges and universities including Stanford and the Ivies.  See this recent post by College Kickstart.  

How does one create a balanced college list given this trend toward more and more selective
admission among the “brand name” colleges?

Here are a few of my recommendations:
  • Keep the college search in perspective—it’s about a four-year period in a young adult’s life, an important launching period, of course, but there is no one correct path or best school.
  • Read Frank Bruni’s book Where You Go Is Not Who You’ll Be: An Antidote to the College Admissions Mania  for myriad reasons and examples why going to an elite institution is not a prerequisite for success in career or life.
  • Balance your list realistically—consider selectivity, type of school, location.
  • Look for fit vs. prestige—do the schools on your list offer the academic majors and programs as well as extracurricular opportunities that you seek? 
  • Consider EA (Early Action) and ED (Early Decision) applications but be careful not to apply ED if financial aid is a consideration.  Remember that ED acceptances are binding.
  • Focus on target schools and consider reach and lottery schools as outliers—possibilities not probabilities.
  • Prepare for rejection and waitlist notifications that may arrive in the spring.  It’s good to be positive and hopeful but it’s also important to prepare oneself for at least some disappointment.
  • Make sure every school on the list is one you want to attend.
If your high school junior needs help developing a realistic, balanced college list, feel free to call me (Beth) at Peninsula College Advising to schedule a no-obligation orientation session to my college advising services: 650-743-1959.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Boston College and Boston University: which is your match?

Last week during a sudden April snowstorm I visited both Boston College, a Jesuit University, and Boston University, a large private institution.  While both are located in Boston and easily to confuse by name, each has distinct attributes that make them unlikely to appeal to the same candidates.  Below are a few highlights of each school:

Boston College:
A medium sized university of approximately 9,000 undergraduates and 5,000 graduate students, Boston College is proud of its Jesuit identity and emphasizes its emphasis on a liberal arts education, its service culture and its attention to what it calls, “student formation,” or the personal and spiritual
development of students.

Boston College consists of 4 schools in order of size: Arts and Sciences (65% of students), Business (20%) , Education (10%), and Nursing (5%).  All students take 15 core courses, a typical Jesuit general education approach.  About 80% of students participate in community service through outreach in the Boston community or alternative spring break. 

The college guarantees 3-4 years of housing depending on program and freshman are housed either on upper campus or a short bus ride away in Newton.

What distinguishes Boston College from other schools including its larger counterpart Boston University:
--all professors teach undergraduates
--the school offers many internship and other opportunities in the Boston community
--strong school spirit
--a robust  alumni network

Boston University:
When I attended the campus information session I noted the admissions counselor’s emphasis on the university’s flexible and diverse curriculum.  As the school has over 16,000 undergraduates (about 32,000 total enrollment) creating smaller communities within the school is critical. 

Students can do this through joining clubs or organizations during “Splash,” the giant activities fair every fall, going on one of the over 100 study abroad programs, working with a professor on research, or taking part in a specialized major or program.  One example of a new program is the Pardee School of Global Studies located within the School of Arts and Sciences.

Boston University guarantees four years of housing and 86% of students live on campus all four years.  The student body is quite diverse with a high percentage of international students.  It is easy to transfer between schools and programs unlike at some universities.  Other special programs include a highly selective 7 year accelerated medical or dental program and EPIC (Engineering Product Innovation Center), at the School of Engineering where students practice hands-on design and proto-typing.

Both schools offer the advantages of a medium and large-sized university: a wide range of majors and classes, hundreds of activities and internships to choose among, and a strong school identity and culture.  Boston College is more likely to appeal to students interested in community outreach, public service or business while Boston University is a very cosmopolitan campus with for self-motivated and urban savvy students who are proactive and assertive in reaching for their academic and career goals.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

B,B,C: Three liberal arts colleges in Maine

I’ve visited several liberal arts colleges back to back in the past week, so I know the spiel from admissions officers at small schools well.  Plus, I have taught in liberal arts colleges in my past career as English professor so I’m already biased about their advantages. 

The B,B,C in Maine—Bates, Bowdoin and Colby—really do have a lot in common as they are not only similar in size and origin but they are all located within an hour of one another, about two and a half hours or so from Boston. 

The three schools share the hallmarks of a comprehensive liberal arts education:
--a broad and deep dive into the liberal arts
--small classes
--a collaborative and supportive learning environment
--close relationships with and mentoring from faculty
--opportunities for undergraduate research
--the ability to balance several extra-curricular activities with academic life

Each school offers a pre-orientation adventure or service trip to build community and all three emphasize their study abroad programs. 

So how are they different?  During college information sessions, campus tours led by students, and more research on websites here are some of my observations:

This school is the most mission-driven of the three.  Founded by an abolitionist, Bates remains true to its mission of inclusivity.  There are not requirements for joining any group or club, including its nationally ranked debate team and there has never been Greek life on campus.  Classes are tiny, not just small, and there is also an emphasis on community outreach in the working class town of Lewiston through the college’s Harwood Center on Community Engagement. 

Another feature of Bates is its 4-4-1 calendar, which means two semesters and a short term at the end of April through May instead of January.  This gives professors and students more opportunities for outdoor explorations in Maine as well as overseas projects and travel.  Our tour guide told us that she has been meeting with a professor all term to help plan a trip to Rwanda this spring to film a documentary interviewing survivors of the genocide.

Finally, Bates is one of a handful of colleges in the U.S. that actually requires a senior thesis or capstone project for every student.  Students participate in an on campus research conference called the Mt. David Summit where they share their projects with the student body, faculty and community members.

The most selective in admissions of the three schools, Bowdoin is popular for its strong STEM   The town of Brunswick where the campus is located is more prosperous and coastal than working class Lewiston, Bates’ location.
programs—natural sciences (including marine science and Arctic Studies), and more recently computer science—as well as its robust liberal arts traditions.

One of Bowdoin’s hallmarks is its residential life.  Like Bates and Colby, it has no Greek system, but it does maintain the houses where fraternities and sororities were once located in.  These houses, the “College House System” have become residences for about half the college’s sophomores and they are also a social hub for the campus.  The residents of each house are tasked with organizing and hosting social events for the whole school throughout the year.  In this way, students gain leadership experience and move on to other positions on campus afterwards.  Each incoming freshman is affiliated with a house, giving every student an automatic social and residential connection beyond their first year.

Bowdoin students, like those at Bates and Colby are outdoor oriented and all participate in a pre-orientation adventure or service trip before the start of freshman year.  The Outing Club is the most popular on campus and sponsors trips for skiing, hiking, and even ice climbing.

Located outside of the small town of Waterville, Colby is perhaps the most “pastoral” of the three   Its  It offers the same small classes, inclusive community and focus on a broad and deep engagement in academics.  Similar to Bates, it has a short term but Colby’s occurs in January between fall and spring terms.  Many students take this opportunity to pursue internships or short-term travel with professors.  More than two-thirds of Colby’s students participate in at least one study abroad opportunity during their time on campus. 
campus is lovely and spread out with gorgeous vistas.

To me, the most distinctive feature of Colby is its impressive collection of American art housed in a new museum opened in 2013. Colby students have firsthand access to this premier art collection; the art department’s major integrates both studio art and art history using this resource. All told, Colby offers more than 50  majors including other popular programs in economics government, English and international studies.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Notes on the New SAT

As many of you know, a redesigned SAT exam was offered for the first time in March.  Results for this test won’t be released until May so many juniors might be feeling a bit anxious waiting.  It’s going to take awhile, not only to score the new test, but for analysts to determine how the scores calibrate with the previous test.

Here are some notes I took at a recent counselors’ conference about the effects of the new exam:

Format changes:
--No guessing penalty
--There are still calculator and non-calculator sections (unlike the ACT)
--Sections are now longer.
--The essay is now optional and not included in the 1600 point composite score.
--Check the College Board site for a summary of the content changes.  Both the math and verbal sections are designed to align better with Common Core standards of evidence-based reasoning.

Implications for the University of California State Universities:
--The UCs will still require the writing portion of the SAT.
--For now at least, the CSUs will continue to use the score range from the old SAT on its eligibility index.  

Suggestions for preparing and taking the exam:
--First try practice tests for both the SAT and ACT to see which format/content works better. You can take a practice test via the public library or at a test prep center like Kaplan or AJ Tutoring. 
--Sign up to take the optional writing essay as it is still required for many colleges and universities.
--Use the free tutorial offered by Khan Academy to prepare for the test.
--As you research your college list, check whether or not each school: offers score choice, super scores, or requires SAT subject tests.

My overall advice is to prepare well for standardized tests and plan carefully to take the tests as few times as possible (no more than twice).

Good luck!