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Sixty-one College Presidents Withdraw from the College Rankings System - Yale to Host Conference on Developing Alternative Ways to Compare Colleges

PORTLAND, Aug. 9 /PRNewswire-FirstCall/

The Education Conservancy (EC) has garnered 61 signatures to a letter committing college presidents to disengage from U.S. News and World Report's rankings, EC Executive Director Lloyd Thacker announced today. The letter is part of a campaign to reform college admissions and represents an unprecedented renouncement by college presidents of the current rankings system. Signatories of the letter agree not to complete the U.S. News reputational survey and not to mention their institutions' rankings in their promotional literature. In addition, the letter asks presidents to participate in efforts to find viable alternatives to current rankings practices.

In a related development, the Yale University Office of Undergraduate Admissions has agreed to host a conference sponsored by the Education Conservancy, and including experts from education, business and technical fields. The conference, "Beyond Ranking: Responding to the Call for Useful Information," will take place on the Yale campus on September 25, 2007. It will focus on developing a robust and easily accessible system of information that families, students and counselors may use to obtain and compare educationally relevant information about colleges. 

"Ranking distorts the ways in which education is perceived and pursued," said Lloyd Thacker, founder and director of the EC. "It implies a false precision and authority that is simply not supported by data or by the educational sensibilities of many students, parents and educators. By working together, college presidents now have an opportunity to develop a more legitimate system of information and guidance."

Yale's Dean of Undergraduate Admissions, Jeff Brenzel, said, "We know that ranking systems produced by commercial publications can be misleading or irrelevant to the college search process. So we are supporting efforts that the Education Conservancy is making to determine whether there are feasible alternatives. The important thing to understand is that educators truly want students, parents and counselors to have more and better ways to compare colleges and universities than they have now."

About The Education Conservancy

The Education Conservancy is a nonprofit organization that works with leaders in higher education to make the college admission system more appropriate for students, families, schools and colleges. For more information, visit the Education Conservancy at

College Selectivity, Name-Brand Colleges and the Quality of Education

Revised from an article by Barbara Pasalis
Originally printed in The Sun Newspapers
April 22, 2004

At this time of year, families of college-bound high school seniors race to the news stand to pick up the latest edition of the U. S. News College Rankings.  

We all know the names of the colleges at the top of the list – Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Stanford… – all undoubtedly fine institutions. These are the institutions with the lowest acceptance rate.  But these represent fewer than 100 of the 2,400 four-year colleges and universities. 

What do the most selective institutions offer that the other 2,400 don't?  The Ivy League was started, after all, as an athletic conference.  Because they turn away applicants in greater numbers than other colleges, they have risen to the top of the college rankings.  One college actually increased its selectivity ranking by eliminating all educational requirements, thereby encouraging free-thinking students to apply.  They realized that the more students that applied for admission, the more they could deny.  And thus, they moved up the ladder. 

The point is, that a college's rank is not a gauge of its educational quality.  The Ivies should not take all the credit for the success of their graduates – their students were the country's best and the brightest before they arrived at their doorstep. 
More meaningful is the success of smaller colleges, without selective admissions policies.  In spite of accepting over 75% of their applicants, many of these lesser-known institutions turn out PhD's, scientists, physicians, attorneys, diplomats and business leaders out of all proportion to their selectivity.   

At these institutions, you'll find faculty that have fled the research treadmill of larger universities to dedicate themselves to teaching undergraduates.  Instead of lecture halls of 400 students, the largest classes seat 50 students, the smallest seat 4 or 5, and sometimes 1!  If you check their success rate, you'll find that their record of admission to medical and law school rivals and sometimes surpasses even the Ivies'. 

Additionally, because of the smaller numbers, it is easier for students to find their personal niche and become leaders, contributing to their campus community and the community at large, and building self-confidence along the way.  

You can learn more about these hidden gems from Loren Pope in his books Looking Beyond the Ivy League and Colleges That Change Lives.

Baseball:  An Allegory for the College Admissions Process?

Revised from an article by Barbara Pasalis
Originally printed in The Sun Newspapers
July 8, 2004

Over the 4th of July weekend my family attended a game of the minor league Lake County Captains.  This was our second trip to a minor league baseball game.  We usually attend Indians games, of course!  Isn't it always better in the big leagues? 

As we exited Route 2 and approached the park, we found parking next to the ballpark.  There was no waiting in long lines of traffic or circling around to find an available parking space.  When we entered the ballpark, we were pleasantly surprised to find our seats – on the first base side of home plate about ten rows back!  The smaller, less crowded, more intimate ballpark enabled us to get an up close and personal view of the action.   

The food was essentially the same -- hot dogs, nachos, fries, pizza, ice cream, snow cones, and souvenir cups.  The Cargo Store offered caps, t-shirts, baseballs and bobblehead dolls for sale, just like an Indians Team Shop.  Rocco Scotti sang the National Anthem.   

The game was identical to the game played at Jacobs Field – but it was friendlier!  There were contests between innings where children could run the bases, racing against the Captain's mascot and winning prizes. Adults competed at throwing a baseball through a target and hitting a baseball over the home run fence.  It was evident that the regular fans had come to know the emcee, who directed these on-field contests.  People knew each other, and there was a pervasive sense of camaraderie.  It wasn't long before we, too, came to know the players – those who would get the hits as well as those who would strike out. 

As I sat and enjoyed the action, I realized that going to a minor league game is a little like choosing a smaller, lesser-known college over a state university or prestigious Ivy League institution.  Certainly the facilities are smaller; there are fewer people; it might even be less glamorous.  But are these necessarily bad things?  There is also less bureaucracy and less red tape.  Where does misperception end and reality begin?      

The up close and personal atmosphere at the minor league game is analogous to the atmosphere on a small, college campus.  People smile and greet each other as they walk across campus, rather than rushing in a harried fashion.  Students are not closed out of classes, and consequently, they are more likely to finish in four years.  Professors take time for their students, discussing issues both inside and outside of the classroom; they help students find internships and apply to graduate schools; they aren't too busy and pressured trying to get published before their next evaluation.  In fact, these professors are measured by the quality of their teaching, rather than the volume of their research.

As an educational consultant, I spend over 20% of my time personally visiting colleges in order to better understand the nuances that make one college more appropriate than another for my students.  I have observed firsthand the personal atmosphere that is present on small college campuses.  The value of "studying" with a Nobel prize-winning professor at a distinguished university diminishes in the reality of a lecture hall with 1000 students.  The chance of admission to medical school is enhanced when a student conducts and publishes his/her own research.  But when there are graduate students, they receive the funding to do the research.  If you seek an education in which you will be actively engaged, I encourage you to look beyond state universities, beyond even the Ivy League to the hundreds of academically excellent, small colleges that place the highest value on undergraduate education.

What Are Colleges Looking For? 

from an article by Barbara Pasalis
Originally printed in The Sun Newspapers
September 25, 2003

What does diversity really mean, and what do colleges mean when they talk about a well-rounded class?  What should a student do in order to be an attractive candidate for admission?  Is there a special formula for gaining admission to competitive colleges? 

As more and more students apply to colleges every year and the college admissions process becomes increasingly competitive, parents and students ask themselves these questions.   The college admissions process has changed dramatically over the past decade as the children of baby boomers reach college age and flood admissions offices with applications.  Another factor that has had a dramatic impact on admissions is globalization.  Today we think in global, not national, terms.  Previously, colleges sought to increase diversity on their campuses by admitting minority students.  Today, that's not enough.  Universities seek diversity in terms of ethnic background, national origin, geographic region, gender, academic specialty, extracurricular interests, etc.   

Does this mean that a student must excel in everything in order to be an attractive candidate for admission?  No!  Colleges are not looking for a jack-of-all-trades.  Students should refrain from joining every extracurricular club simply to pad their resume.  Colleges build their well-rounded classes by combining the talents of well-lopsided students.  These are the students who have a special skill, interest, talent, passion, area of knowledge, or something that will make them a unique contributor to the class.  A class of students will be built so that the strengths or special interests of each individual balances out the talents of the others. 

What does this mean for students seeking admission to college?  Above all, students must be true to themselves.  They should take the classes they love and in which they excel.  They should participate in activities that interest them and which fit their personalities. Their high school record should be a reflection of who they are and the things that they love.  It is impossible to predict whether University X will be looking for a quarterback from Iowa, a violinist from Illinois, or a French major from Hawaii next year.  What can be predicted is that students who immerse themselves in the things they love and in which they excel during their high school years will be able to articulate their special talents, or "passion."   They are more interesting applicants.  This is the "what else" of college admissions.  It is not enough to be the class valedictorian.  Deans of Admission ask, "What else do you have to offer?" The student that has that special talent is the one who will be most attractive for admission. 

So, relax.  Take the most rigorous curriculum in which you can excel.  Focus on the academic disciplines you love.  Participate in your favorite activities and become a leader.   Don't do everything – do a few things really well.  Be yourself.  Colleges will recognize who you are and appreciate you for your special talents.  While we can't predict what type of candidate a particular college will be seeking for its class next year, we do know that the college that needs and desires your special talents will want you.  This is your college match, the college where you will fit in, contribute to the campus and be happy and successful.  This is the college that's perfect for you.

A Cruel Time for College Applicants

By Webster T. Trenchard  |  August 23, 2007

ON THE surface, the college admissions process seems like a meritocracy. Students are evaluated on a set of objective components (i.e. grades and test scores) that are interspersed with some subjective ones (i.e. essays, interviews, and letters of recommendation). Those who make the cut are accepted; those who do not are rejected; those who fall somewhere in between are offered the purgatory-like status of wait-list. There is no way to predict, with certainty, how a given applicant will fare at a particular college in a given year.

Any visit to a college admissions office in August bears this out. You can often hear admissions officers sounding bubbly in their declarations: "We are looking for much more than just strong test takers." "There are many factors that go into a decision." "We have no cut-offs." And my least favorite: "You'll never know unless you apply."

Standing in stark relief to those cheerful assurances are the rather glum reports, punctuated as they are by sighs and explanations of unforeseen increases in applications, that I receive in March during phone conversations with representatives from admissions offices. Rarely do colleges seem as optimistic or encouraging then. A student who asked in the summer about her SAT scores that put her clearly in the bottom half of accepted students was assured, "Those are just a range of scores." In March, that student's "scores were just not competitive in the pool."

Another family, concerned about the fact that their son earned a few C's as a freshman on his way toward becoming a steady B+ student, asked in the summer if the college considered trends in grades. In the summer, they were assured, "Yes, absolutely, a student's progress is very important to us." In March the refrain was a bit different: "He just didn't have the GPA to be competitive in our pool." And so on.

That leaves me trying to reconcile the encouraging whinnies and neighs straight from the college admissions horse's mouth with the more sobering noises from that same beast a mere seven months later. I didn't take my job because I like to stomp on the hopes of youngsters, and yet that is often the way in which my messages are interpreted.

My colleagues in college admissions have it tough, too, as marketing has become the cornerstone of selective college admissions. Many on the college side find themselves more occupied with the statistics that define their applicant pool and their admitted class than with the individuals who make up those numbers. Paradoxically, this golden age of selective college admissions seems to have created more rather than less pressure upon deans and vice presidents of enrollment management. (Of course, some would argue that the advent of the term "enrollment manager" signified the beginning of the end.)

When the applicant pool shrinks, when incoming classes are small, when an institution sinks in national rankings -- rankings that happen to come out in August -- college presidents are mortified. Even one year of such disappointing results might put an enrollment manager on the hot seat. Feeling the pressure, they turn to their staffs, those very same admissions representatives who conduct the summer informational sessions, and remind them that they are in the business of encouraging prospective applicants to apply. And the cycle continues.

Straight from a summer info session where they picked up on the heartening signs to go ahead and have Johnny send in the 50 bucks to apply, parents seek me out to ascertain why I am less confident in their child's chances than they are, why I don't believe in their prodigy. I try to convince them that I do believe in their child. But it is a struggle finding the right words, to bridge the gap between what is advertised as the truth and what I know to be reality.

Webster T. Trenchard is director of college guidance at the Loomis Chaffee School in Windsor, Conn.  

SAT Scores Decline for Second Straight Year, as Experts Debate Cause

The Chronicle of Higher Education
August 29, 2007

The College Board announced on Tuesday that the average combined scores on the SAT's mathematics and critical-reading sections for the high-school Class of 2007 declined to the lowest point in nearly a decade. Officials at the College Board, which owns the examination, attributed those changes to a larger and increasingly diverse group of test takers.

Average scores on the math section fell three points, to 515, and reading scores fell one point, to 502, out of a possible 800 points. Scores on the SAT's controversial new writing section fell three points, to 494.

Last year the average combined scores on the math and critical-reading sections dipped by seven points, the biggest one-year drop since 1975 (The Chronicle, August 30, 2006). That news raised concerns among some admissions deans who worried that the recently revamped test did not correlate with the previous version. Some questioned whether the lengthened test -- now at three hours and 45 minutes -- had hindered students' performance. But the College Board attributed that decline, at least in part, to a fall in the number of students who had taken the exam more than once (students who retake the SAT generally improve their scores).

Gaston Caperton, the College Board's president, said this year's decline stemmed from the expansion of the SAT testing pool in 2007. Of a record 1.5-million test takers in the Class of 2007, 39 percent were members of minority groups, making it the most diverse group ever. On average, white students score higher on the exam than black and Hispanic students do. Twenty-four percent of this year's test takers did not speak English exclusively as their first language, up from 17 percent a decade ago. Thirty-five percent were students who would be the first in their families to attend college.

Some testing experts predicted that this year's SAT results foreshadowed future declines, as test takers become more heterogeneous. "This is a good thing," said Seppy Basili, a senior vice president at Kaplan Inc., a test-preparation company. "Almost every time you expand the pool, you see a drop in scores."

ACT Inc., which offers a competing college-entrance test, announced recently that the national average score on its exam rose slightly this year, even as the number of test takers increased by 7 percent from the previous year. The number of SAT takers increased by about 2 percent.

Robert A. Schaeffer, public-education director for the National Center for Fair & Open Testing, said the College Board had failed to offer a sufficient explanation for the score declines, which reversed a long-term trend of annual increases. Mr. Schaeffer questioned whether fatigue among test takers was partly responsible for the lower scores, and whether the new SAT was, in fact, consistent with the old version, as the College Board has insisted that it is.

Also on Tuesday, the College Board announced preliminary results of a forthcoming survey on the effect of the new SAT writing section, which includes a timed essay. According to the survey, 61 percent of high-school teachers and administrators said the addition of the writing section had helped increase the emphasis on writing instruction in classrooms.

More information about this year's scores and test takers is available on the College Board's Web site.

Companies Agree to Pay to Settle SAT Error Suit

Published: August 25, 2007

Two big testing organizations, the College Board and NCS Pearson Inc., said yesterday that they had agreed to pay $2.85 million to settle a class-action lawsuit involving more than 4,000 students whose SAT exams were incorrectly scored in 2005.

Under the proposed settlement, the students would receive $275 each or possibly more, if they can show they had suffered greater damages. The board said last year that for 4,411 students, the reported scores were too low — in a few instances by as many as 450 points out of a possible 2,400. A retired judge will decide the final payments.

Edna Johnson, a spokeswoman for the College Board, said yesterday that the board had agreed to the settlement because "we're eager to put this behind us and focus on the future."

"We deeply regret the inconvenience and the worry that this caused affected students and parents," Ms. Johnson said, adding that the College Board had since "put in place even more quality control measures."

Amanda M. Hellerman, of Yorktown Heights, N.Y., who said she initially received a score that was more than 300 points below what it should have been, said, "It is great to hear that the College Board is being held accountable."

Ms. Hellerman, who now attends Amherst College, added, "But what would be more promising to me is they gave some indication of how they were going to insure that this kind of thing does not happen again."

The College Board disclosed in March 2006 in the midst of the college admission season that about 1 percent of the nearly 500,000 students who took the SAT exam in October 2005 had received incorrect scores because their answer sheets had become moist, causing them to be misread when scanned for scoring.

NCS Pearson, one of the country's biggest testing companies, had a contract with the College Board to handle the scoring.

While the board sent revised scores to colleges, some students said that the lower scores had affected where they applied and that it was too late to make changes. The board discovered the problems after a couple of students paid to have their tests rescored by hand.

The size of the minimum settlement is not that different from what some students pay for taking the SAT multiple times and for additional services like rushing their score reports, sending them to additional colleges, changing their testing centers or verifying that an exam had been scored correctly. Sitting for the basic SAT test costs $43. The charge for having the results of the test double-checked is $50.

Robert A. Schaeffer, public education director for FairTest, a group that is critical of much standardized testing, called the settlement "an important reminder that standardized tests are fallible and that reported scores can be wrong."

State Senator Kenneth P. LaValle, a Republican from Port Jefferson, N.Y., who is chairman of the Senate's higher education committee and who held hearings on the scoring problems, also welcomed the agreement.

"Vindication is always a nice thing," Mr. LaValle said, adding that he still felt the need for greater oversight. "The testing institutions need to be accountable."

T. Joseph Snodgrass, one of the lawyers in Minnesota who represented the test takers, said that if the settlement received final approval from a federal district judge in late November as expected, he believed that payments could go out early next year.

'Private' Online Photos Really Aren't

by Wayne Parry
Thursday, July 12, 2007

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. -- It's not just Jersey girls who get tripped up by embarrassing Internet photos.

Whether trying to become the next American Idol, Miss America, or just get an office job somewhere, people are starting to take steps to ensure that photos and personal information they post on the Web doesn't end up coming back to bite them. 

The latest high-profile victim is Amy Polumbo, who was named Miss New Jersey last month, only to be hit with an alleged blackmail attempt by someone hoping to make her resign by threatening to release embarrassing photos of her. 

The pageant board decided Thursday that the photos _ which were in poor taste, but none featured any nudity _ did not warrant stripping Polumbo of her crown. 

"This was meant to be private," the 22-year-old told NBC's "Today" show on Thursday. "It was supposed to be between my friends and I." 

But there's no such thing when it comes to photos posted online or e-mailed to others. Fellow Jersey girl Antonella Barba became worldwide news earlier this year when racy photos of the "American Idol" contestant surfaced during the competition. 

"I used to say 'Cover your tracks,' but it really should be, 'Don't make tracks that need to be covered,'" Barba said Thursday. "Once anything is online, it's free rein. 

"I feel so bad for her," said Barba, who has returned to college in Washington, D.C. to make up classes she missed while on the TV show. "I've been in the same situation she's been in. It disgusts me, people's interest in the dirt and trying to bring somebody down." 

Polumbo's mother, Jen Wagner, said her daughter was just like millions of other young people who thought that just because their Facebook or MySpace page was set to "private," their photos would remain that way. 

"They don't realize how many people can eventually see these photos," she said. 

The photos of Polumbo came from her Facebook page, which has since been taken offline. 

Embarrassment isn't the only consequence of personal photos surfacing. Many employers troll social networking sites like My Space, Facebook and others when checking out a job applicant or keeping tabs on employees. 

Steven Jungman, director of recruiting for Houston-based ChaseSource LP, told of a young woman his firm helped land a job with a company working on a sensitive project. 

"This was a project that had to be kept secret, that if the competition found out about it or the media wrote about it before it was rolled out, it would be very bad for business," he said. "It even had a secret nickname. 

"Every day, twice a day, the company did a ... search for that title, just to make sure nothing was getting out about it," Jungman said. "One morning, an interesting link came up, to someone's My Space page. It went, 'My name is so-and so, I'm working on such-and-such for so-and-so.' And right next to that were photos that would make Anna Nicole Smith blush, and Paris Hilton go, 'Whoa!'" 

Two days later, the woman was fired. 

Other tales abound of job applicants getting passed over because their online pages showed them smoking marijuana, passed out after drinking, or flashing too much skin. 

Theresa O'Neill, a career counselor at Rutgers University-Newark, urges students to take down their online photos while looking for a job. 

"Think of it as being in a very large, public place like Yankee Stadium, taking the microphone and broadcasting your personal information to 50,000 people there," she said. "If you don't want everyone in the stadium to know the details of your personal life, then keep them to yourself." 

At least some people are listening. A survey last year by the Web site found that 47 percent of recent graduates had changed or planned to change their Web pages because they were looking for a job. 

Barba survived on "American Idol" for a time after the photos of her began circulating, before being voted off by viewers. 

She has steadfastly declined to speculate on how the photos of her became public and says she's not planning any legal action. 

"I don't have the time and energy to go after someone the way they went after me," she said. "We just want to prevent this from happening to someone else."

More Are Taking a Rain Check on College

By Ian Shapira
Sunday, August 5, 2007

Billy Neville was flipping through the humongous Fiske Guide to Colleges last fall, yet another senior at a pressure-cooker high school in search of a game plan, when his mother told him something unexpected.

"She said, 'Keep in mind, you don't really have to go to college next year. You can do something fun,' " recalled Neville, 18, who graduated in June from Walt Whitman High School in Bethesda. "I genuinely liked that idea, but I didn't know how serious she was and how well a year off would work. But I started looking at the idea, and it looked better than going to college because I didn't know what I wanted to do at college."

Ultimately, Neville was accepted at Miami University of Ohio. But he deferred enrollment for a year, joining the ranks of maverick students who take a "gap year" -- time off between high school and college. Some do it to find enlightenment and introspection, others to learn something new or pursue a passion.

There are no hard counts of gap-year students, but the National Association for College Admission Counseling in Alexandria reports anecdotal evidence from counselors that more high school graduates these days are seeking a year off. Gap-year consultants who charge $1,000 or more to advise students on how to fill the time have emerged.

Some students say they take a gap year to escape stress accumulated from Advanced Placement courses and competition over grades and class rank.

"I grew really tired of everything in school. I just didn't like the atmosphere, especially at Whitman, where if you're not an overachiever, then you're just . . . I don't know," Neville said. "So, I was hoping, in my year off, I'll find out what really interests me."

Neville asked for his deferral in a letter to the admissions office. "And they came right back, saying, 'Sure,' " said his mother, Clare Neville.

Ann Larson, a senior associate director of admissions at Miami of Ohio, said the university grants deferrals for medical issues, military service, study abroad and other reasons on a case-by-case basis.

"We really have no problem with students taking gap years," Larson said. "It's very positive what they bring back to the university. It's a maturing experience."

College admissions officers said they want gap-year students to improve upon an area of expertise or perform some kind of public service. John Blackburn, dean of admissions at University of Virginia, said students often seek deferrals for missionary work or public service jobs through such nonprofit organizations as Operation Smile, which performs free reconstructive surgery on children born with facial deformities in developing countries. Admissions officials at Georgetown University estimated that 25 to 30 students admitted each year in a class of almost 1,600 ask for a deferral, requesting trips abroad to learn a foreign language, intern at a foreign embassy, or even work at a foreign or domestic magazine.

Charles Deacon, Georgetown's admissions director, said: "Students have to have a plan that we approve of. Mostly it's for some type of cultural enhancement."

Some outsiders might consider a gap year an exercise in slacking off. But many students plan their time intensively. Some turn to consultants, such as the Center for Interim Programs in Princeton, N.J., or Taking Off in Boston.

Consultants typically charge nothing for the first conversation. But students who want to meet for a lengthy period and discuss options tailored to their interests might pay $1,000 for short-term help or $2,000 for longer-term guidance.
Consultants say they keep up with dozens of programs, so they know which ones are safe and reliable. They also say they know how to draw out students who might be unsure of their goals.

"I ask them, 'How do you want to live? Do you want to live on your own or with other kids? Do you want to learn another language? What's your budget?" said Gail Reardon, founder of Taking Off. "I have over 3,000 opportunities available."

Neville, planning his gap year on his own, checked out and considered some volunteer opportunities. He had a yen to travel with a friend in Europe and possibly find work. He thought about a job in Austria as an English-speaking sports commentator, but he passed. Recently, he returned from a week of building homes in Chiapas, Mexico. He hopes to teach skiing or find other work in the mountains of Colorado. He also aims to volunteer with Habitat for Humanity to help rebuild New Orleans.

"I want to find out what I can accomplish without my parents or my school telling me what I can do," Neville said.

Zach Duffy, 17, who just graduated from the Ethical Culture Fieldston School in New York City, will spend part of his gap year traveling in India in the fall with Global Learning Across Borders, based in New York, to cultivate interests in Buddhism, Hinduism and the environment. He deferred enrollment at Whitman College in Washington state.

"The only trip I've taken abroad is to Italy, and I stayed at a nice hotel in Rome and Florence," Duffy said. "I have a desire to learn more about the world because I think I'll be able to conduct myself better in all aspects of my life. If I see poverty in India, then I'll be more humble. I'll just be a more interesting person."

But choosing to take a gap year and forming a plan was not easy. It also was tricky to determine whether the plan would be financially feasible. The Duffys wanted to know whether Brown University in Rhode Island -- where Zach's older brother is a rising junior-- would give the family more financial aid even if Zach were not attending college. (Universities often give extra help if families have two or more children in college.)

Why are the Duffys so concerned about aid from Brown in the next school year? Zach's gap year will cost more than $10,000, including fees, immunizations and equipment.

"We're hoping that they will treat Zach's gap year as if it were a college experience, but we don't have a commitment from Brown yet," said Mark Duffy, Zach's father. Even if Brown turns down their request, Mark Duffy said the gap year will go forward. Zach has a plane ticket for India on Sept. 16, and he's set up a "gap year blog" at

Early Planning Is the Key to Admission to the College of Your Choice

Revised from an article by Barbara Pasalis
Originally printed in The Sun Newspapers
December 4, 2003

More students than ever before are applying to college as the children of the Baby Boom generation come of age.  The number of applicants has been steadily increasing, and this trend will continue for at least the next decade.  This year, colleges are already reporting another 20-25% increase in applications over last year's numbers.  What can students do in this climate of ultra-competitive admissions to maximize their chances for admission to the college of their choice?

It is true that colleges look at a student's grades and rigor of curriculum first.  However, in today's era of grade inflation, over 40% of college-bound students have an A- average or better.  One Ivy League university rejects over 70% of its applicants with scores of over 1400 on the SAT.  Why is this?  In their search for a well-rounded student body, colleges build their classes by combining the talents of well-lopsided students.  These are the students that have a special skill, interest, talent, passion, or area of knowledge that will make them a unique contributor to the class.  A class of students will be built so that the strengths or special interests of each individual balances out the talents of the others.

What does this mean for students seeking admission to college?  Above all, students must be true to themselves.  They should take the classes they love and in which they excel.  They should participate in activities that interest them and which fit their personalities. Their high school record should be a reflection of who they are and the things that they love.  It is impossible to predict whether University X will be looking for a quarterback from Iowa, a violinist from Illinois, or a French major from Hawaii next year.  What can be predicted is that students who immerse themselves in the things they love and in which they excel during their high school years will be able to articulate their special talents, or "passion."   They are more interesting applicants.  This is the "what else" of college admissions.  It is not enough to be the class valedictorian.  Deans of Admission ask, "What else do you have to offer?" The student who has that special talent is the one who will be most attractive for admission.

Students should begin to build their profile early in their high school career.  Their academic choices, extracurricular activities and summer experiences should show a pattern of interest and depth of involvement.  Careful planning from the beginning of 9th grade will enable a student to articulate and convey to the admissions committee the factors that make him or her unique and special.  This is their passion, the "what else" of college admissions.

Thus, the college admissions process does not actually begin in the junior year when students begin to research and visit colleges.  A wise student begins in the freshman year with careful planning.  Students should participate in career and academic assessments to help them identify their academic strengths and personal interests.  With careful planning and thoughtful counseling, a student will develop a profile that reflects their unique and special talents – one that will clearly articulate that special "what else." 


Career Assessment Can Help Insure the Right College Match

Revised from an article by Barbara Pasalis
Originally printed in The Sun Newspapers
February 5, 2004

When students begin to investigate colleges, they research academic programs, athletic teams, and extracurricular opportunities in order to find the schools that match their profile and interests.  However, these students are omitting one very important step in the process.  A student who has not taken a career assessment will be less able to identify colleges with appropriate academic and extracurricular programs. 

With today's high cost of education, parents are anxious for their children to make the right college match in order to complete their degree in four years.  The more self-aware a student is, the better able s/he will be to identify the right fit.   

Doesn't the choice of career depend solely on a student's academic strengths?  No!  Research has shown that career satisfaction has more to do with personality traits than academic skills or interests.  Why?  This is because people's interests and abilities tend to evolve and change over the years.  Personality traits remain constant.  Thus, if a student can identify the career that fits their personality, they are more likely to achieve career satisfaction. 

How does one go about assessing their personality?  There are many personality tests available.  Two reliable assessments are the Myers-Briggs Personality Assessment (and similar tests), and John Holland's Self-Directed Search, which identifies a student's RIASEC Codes.  Often, high schools offer assessments through the guidance office or career center.  Many libraries also offer personality and career assessments.  In addition, students and families can turn to an educational consultant who offers testing services.   

Regardless of where they obtain the guidance, it is important for students to do some soul searching and think about more than their favorite academic class or the record of the college football team when they are evaluating a college.  A thorough understanding of the factors that will contribute to a student's happiness in life will be very helpful in identifying the appropriate college major and learning environment.   

Finally, does all this mean that the only reason a student goes to college is to prepare for a career?  Certainly not!  There is much to be learned in college that has nothing to do with one's ultimate profession.  The value of the knowledge gained from a broad study across all academic disciplines, as well as the development of critical thinking, public speaking and writing skills is unquantifiable.  Nevertheless, the pursuit of higher education should not preclude students from gaining an awareness of their personality traits and the factors that will lead to their happiness. 

Sophomores and Juniors Are Urged to "Seize the Day"

Revised from an article by Barbara Pasalis
Originally printed in The Sun Newspapers
November 8, 2003

During the month of November, seniors are buried beneath college application materials, frantically fine tuning their essays and filling in biographical and personal information.  Concurrently, they schedule last-minute visits to the colleges of their choice.  All this takes place as they face the most important semester of their high school careers: colleges closely evaluate fall semester senior grades.

Sophomores and juniors should scrutinize the labor of their older classmates and adopt the motto "carpe diem."   They must seize the opportunity to begin their college search today.  Advance planning will reap major rewards in the senior year. 

Sophomores should begin to examine their talents and interests and possible college majors and career paths.  They should examine their curriculum, extracurricular activities and summer plans to determine whether each supports their plans for the future.  It is important for a student's college application to articulate a clear picture of the student's interests and talents.  A student's interests should be reflected in the academic courses s/he chooses, the extracurricular activities in which s/he participates, and his/her summer experiences.

Juniors need to start researching colleges now so that they will be ready to begin their college visitations in the spring.  The sooner students have a preliminary list of colleges in which they are interested, the sooner they can visit these schools and begin to narrow their choices. The goal should be to have a fairly good list developed by midsummer so that they can begin their college applications and essays.  If this plan is followed, they will return to school in the fall with a head start on their applications.

Seniors who have begun the process early are much more relaxed.  They have fewer distractions and more time to devote to those all-important senior courses; they have time to enjoy their friends, homecoming, and other senior activities.  Moreover, the atmosphere at home will be calmer and happier.  During the months of November and December the relationship between seniors and their parents is laden with tension and anxiety.  Students are invariably struggling to balance class work, social activities, college visitations and applications.  Concerned parents are constantly pressuring students to finish their applications.  Much of this tension can be avoided if students start the process earlier.  With advance planning, families can enjoy senior year activities rather than participating in the inevitable power struggle over when the applications will be completed.

An additional benefit is that the earlier students begin the process, the easier it will be to find scholarship opportunities.  When everything takes place at the last minute, it is much more difficult to conduct a methodical search for scholarships.

Thus, the wise underclassmen will heed the message of the drama that is currently playing in the households of their senior classmates.  Start early and follow a sensible college planning timeline.  You'll have more time to do your research correctly, which will result in a better college match and more scholarship opportunities.  In addition, your life will be calmer, and you'll be able to enjoy your senior year.

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