Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Thanks University of New Hampshire!

Photo: Emily Colman
 This April vacation brought me to the University of New Hampshire, a school that I am pleased to say will be making its way into many conversations that I have with ElRo students as we discuss college options. This medium sized land (and sea and space) grant university truly offers the best of lots of different things. There are all kinds of majors: from engineering, to business, to nursing, to the liberal arts (check). It is a gorgeous New England campus with buildings that have managed to be renovated without losing their character (check). The location about an hour from two cities (Boston and Portland) and smack in between the ocean's coastline in one direction and mountains in the other (check). And did I mention that almost every ElRo student would be admissible? This is bordering on unicorn status: the 'likely' that you can like if you are a high achieving student. If I had to compare it to other places, I would say it feels to me like a less hippie University of Vermont and a smaller and more beautiful University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

The students I saw seemed grounded and happy. In fact, in a recent Gallup pilot survey of 19 colleges, UNH alumni reported being the happiest later on in life out of all 19 participant schools. If New Hampshire sounds obscure to you, rest assured that they have an Amtrak station on campus. So NYC students can connect through Boston to get there without needing a car. We also go the chance to eat in the dining hall four separate times - something that I really value on college tours. Part of why UNH probably felt this was a good idea is that the food is some of the best college dining food I've had. I wasn't surprised to learn that their dining services are all in-house, not outsourced to a corporation. They had Vegan-friendly, Allergy-friendly and even Passover friendly options.

The curriculum is divided up roughly in thirds - with most divisions having 1/3 of the classes from the major, 1/3 from the core curriculum (known as Discovery) and 1/3 other electives. This allows for exploration and guarantees that all students will leave having some general knowledge in 10 different subject areas that make up the Discovery coursework.

A clear goal of the University is to encourage more study abroad. We learned that, as a nation, the United States sends about 260,000 students per year to study abroad whilst accepting about 1,000,000 foreign students to study abroad here. We can do better and UNH wants to be part of that change.

This school is a real gem. If you want a public D-I school within only a few hours of New York City I strongly recommend you go and visit. The out of state tuition is about $40,000 per year, but many ElRo students would qualify for merit aid that could bring that total down to about $25,000 per year before need-based aid is factored in for those that qualify. I have a good friend who is a fellow college counselor in California and she tipped me off to UNH a few years ago, but now that I've seen it with my own eyes, I can attest: this is a school that deserves to be on a lot of lists.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Thanks ICE!

Last night, I attended a counselor event at the Institute of Culinary Education (ICE) located in downtown Manhattan. With so much of my knowledge being around traditional four year bachelor's degree programs, it was nice to get to see a culinary school. It is certainly a change of pace.

First, let's be clear, going to culinary school is not for the faint of heart. Working with food is a demanding profession and it is only the right fit for people with a passion for it (because you certainly probably won't be financially compensated, at least not at first). The hours can be challenging, you are on your feet for hours at a time, and learning the skills takes tons of practice. With that said though, for people who love food, the culinary arts is a wonderful track and one that gets you out into the real world and working with your hands (as opposed to sitting in a lecture hall for four years).

At this event, we got to tour the facility and then actually do the prep work to cook the meal we ate for dinner (fresh pasta!). It certainly gave me a huge amount of respect for those working in the restaurant industry. ICE just moved to this location, connected to Brookfield Place, last year and it really is a lovely space. They have everything from classrooms, to test kitchens, to a chocolate lab, to a hydroponic garden where they grow their own herbs and produce.

Culinary school is pricey, no bones about it. But, when you consider that the training only lasts about a year, it isn't that much more of an investment than a traditional four year college the cost is just concentrated over a shorter period of time. (In fact, it could end up costing less, depending on a student's financial aid needs. For example, spending $40,000 in one year or spending $15,000 per year at a four school, I think you can do the math on your own. . . )

One theme they seemed to emphasize is that working in the world of food is much less glamorous than it looks on tv. The students who are best suited for these careers are those who truly love the job. People who just enjoy watching cooking shows or casually cooking for their family are probably not going to make it through the program. On the other hand, people who want to understand the craft and science of fine dining can build a lifelong career via this path. It requires patience and discipline, but their training and externship program gets results.


Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Thanks Macalester!

This morning we visited our final school of the tour, Macalester College in St. Paul. Unlike the other schools yesterday, Macalester would, by far, be the easier transition for a NYC student because of its urban proximity. The school is surrounded by traditional urban sprawl (with both lovely homes and retail shops/dining options) and is only a few miles from the airport. A “mission driven’ liberal arts college, Macalester focuses on core values like: internationalism, academic excellence, civic engagement, and multiculturalism. While the arts and humanities are alive and well, Macalester also offers interdisciplinary majors like Data Science and International Studies – both of which are very popular. All students have to complete graduation distribution requirements, creating structure made up of flexible options for each of the mandated categories. Both the President and the students we talked to mentioned Macalester’s encouragement of problem solving and creativity. They regularly hold 'Mac-a-thons' and one great idea that was born out of these incubation sessions is something called Nüdl – a student created mealshare program that pairs up culinary hosts with people looking to make new friends and try new foods. Students sign up for the ‘Nüdl’, pay the host a nominal fee (as in, $3-$5 to cover the cost of the food), and get together to eat. The student we were chatting with was Honduran and hosting a Nüdl for six people later that day. It sounds so amazing! 

With 2,000 students, Macalester’s commitment to global issues is nothing new. While they have Kofi Annon as an alum, the UN flag has been flying on their quad since the 1950s, decades before Annon assumed his role as Secretary-General. They have had international students since before it was cool to have international students. Perhaps my favorite part of the morning though was the mini-lectures they arranged for us. Too many schools overlook this great resource on these types of counselor tours. They give us faculty on panels but they don’t let the faculty shine in their natural habitat: the classroom. This is a missed opportunity, because the 20 minute music lecture we got this morning was highly engaging, enjoyable, and educational. What better way to see the liberal arts in action than by showing us, not just telling us. If you want a small liberal arts school in a thriving city and you care about social justice or social action, Macalester checks off a lot of boxes and awards merit aid. 

Overall, my first trip to Minnesota was a huge success. Thank you to these three schools for hosting me and giving us such an in depth look at your campuses!

Monday, April 4, 2016

Thanks St. Olaf and Carleton!

Greetings from Minnesota! Despite growing up in the Midwest, I've never had the pleasure of visiting Minnesota before, but I'm happy to report that I have the opportunity to see three great schools this week. I was greeted at the airport by a therapy dog, there to just hang out with the airport visitors. Welcome to the Midwest. Can you imagine this being a thing at LaGuardia? Yeah. I thought not.

St. Olaf's current renovation project - totally gutted for an interior make-over.
Weekly 'word of the week' buttons in the library -- quirky and fun!
Today, the tour began with a visit to St. Olaf College, located less than an hour from the Twin Cities. The largest of the three schools I'd be seeing with about 3,000 students, St. Olaf describes themselves as 'intensely residential.' It was hard to ignore just how bright and shiny all of the facilities were. Virtually every building we stepped into (save the dormitory, which was by no means ancient, just more of a standard dorm you'd expect) was either new or fully renovated. A defining characteristic of St. Olaf would be their thriving music scene. Though they are not a conservatory, a staggering 45% of the student body is involved in either a choral or instrumental group on campus (this includes both music majors and those who just enjoy music as a hobby). I came to learn that their annual winter choir concert is broadcast on PBS every year and every dorm has at least one Steinway piano in a common space for students to play. Their Jazz Band just returned from a trip to Cuba where they had the opportunity to play for President Obama. They are one of only a handful of Liberal Arts colleges in the country to be fully accredited in all four arts disciplines (visual art, music, theater, and dance).  Values and ethics are important at St. Olaf, no doubt in connection with their Lutheran roots (an affiliation that is still alive and well, with daily, albeit optional, Chapel). This is the kind of campus where you'll encounter scenes of students leaving laptops, phones, bags, purses and coats unaccompanied without a second though. Jarring for a New Yorker (truth be told, half of the time I won't even take my cell phone out on the subway), but embraced in Northfield, Minnesota. Add this to the list of schools with a serious Honor Code. The school calendar is set up on a 4-1-4 system, with a January term that allows for students to take one in-depth course either on campus or abroad. This school part of the 'Colleges That Change Lives' network and I can see why their small, caring, and creative community fosters a sense of meaning and connection. I also have to give credit where credit is due: their dining hall rocked. Perhaps the final reason to consider St. Olaf though would be the fact that they are able to meet 100% of demonstrated financial need AND at the same time are not impossible to get into (Naviance lists their acceptance rate at right around 50%). When I try to think of other schools that meet need and are able to take such a high percentage of qualified applicants, it makes my brain hurt--- and not just because I have been up since 6 am today. St. Olaf checks off a lot of 'boxes' on the 'things to be desired in a college', not to mention the fact that you could be reminded of Rose Nyland's spirit every day for four years.


Read the legend on the right for the different quiet levels in the library at Carleton. Obsessed!

Campus snapshot, with the bookstore in the background.

After lunch, we headed over to Carleton College, which you can actually see off in the distance from St. Olaf's campus. With only about 2,000 students, Carleton is filled to the brim with interesting students who love to learn passionately, think deeply, and come from all across the country (and world). They are collaborative, "research abundant," unpretentious, and seek/receive not just knowledge but also friendship from their professors. Carleton runs on a trimester system and this allows their students to fit in an extra course per year (remember the theme of wanting to learn passionately? If fitting in extra classes doesn't appeal to you, Carleton probably won't appeal to you). We were told that Carleton students "have a high idling speed" -- meaning they are not satisfied coasting. Students seek engagement both inside and outside of the classroom. Understand that it isn't a place only for the arts and humanities -- Computer Science actually just passed Biology as the most popular major on campus. STEM kids need not avoid these kind of small schools, we got to meet a graduating Physics major currently picking among EIGHT PhD program acceptances of which she's narrowed it down to two: Cornell and Northwestern. If you don't know how impressive that is, let me just save you some Googling: it's impressive. At this point in my career, I've been on over 140 college tours, so when I encounter a new tour strategy for the first time, I notice. My Carleton tour guide (A Stuyvesant grad-- go NYCDOE!) did something I've never seen before: whenever our tour passed by someone she knew on campus, she yelled out to them "Hey ____, what's your favorite part about Carleton?" and they would yell back their answer. She did this about a dozen times over the course of the hour tour and it was GENIUS. What better way to accomplish two goals at once: show us the beauty of a small school where you can walk around for an hour and run into a dozen people you know on a first name basis and show your tour group that regular people who aren't tour guides have positive things to say about the school. [Their answers, for what is worth, included multiple votes for "the people," multiple votes for our tour guide, more than one academic department, and the Ultimate Frisbee team] Like St. Olaf, Carleton also meets 100% of demonstrated financial need for admitted students. It seems to me that the students who thrive here are those who take joy in studying -- a professor on a panel even shared that she felt she has to keep an eye on how much work she assigns because she knows the Carleton students won't rest until they've done it all --- their motivation can sometimes overtake their judgement. This is something that might sound familiar to a lot of ElRo students. . .

The bus schedule to get students where they need to go.
Lest anyone be nervous that I'm just selling the Midwest Kool-Aid and I'm trying to dupe city kids into a place where they will be stranded from real life, please know that both of these schools have daily shuttles to and from key places where students might need to go--so no car or driver's license is necessary. Students can easily get to Target, the Mall of America, and the airport in Minneapolis/St. Paul. I'm not be facetious when I say, where else would a college student from NYC need to go? Today was a phenomenal day. Excited to see Macalester tomorrow!

Thursday, March 31, 2016

We're here!

I've already sent out a message to all current seniors and their parents in advance of this 'decision season' but I also wanted to make a blog post as we approach the final moments of the waiting game that is the college application process. This time of year is special because for a large chunk of seniors, it is when they go from hoping they will be picked to being the person doing the picking. It is a quite rapid (and sometimes overwhelming) shift, so if it is the position you find yourself or your child in, don't worry, your feelings are natural.

I always start by drawing attention to this gifts and challenges post that I wrote way back when this blog was in its infancy. I point it out every year because I think the message still holds true. This process is long, and can be exhausting, and can be confusing - but in the end, you'll survive it and probably be better for it. Whether you got into your dream school or are faced with fewer choices than you wanted, I'm confident in your success because I believe in you not in the name of the college on your diploma four years from now. Tape that on a post-it on your bathroom mirror if you have to. Repeat it to yourself as a mantra. In the words of Frank Bruni, where you go is not who you'll be.

While not quite over yet, this has appeared to be a year with lots of waitlisting. Schools do this as a way to manage their enrollment and maximize their stats (to ultimately help an obscure magazine sell copies). If you find yourself in this position, remember that you could always only enroll in one place. Twenty years from now, be it if you were placed on one waitlist or eight waitlists, you'll remember the place you ended up enrolling, not the places you didn't. There is usually no way to predict waitlist movement. Every year is unpredictable - that is, after all, why waitlists exist in the first place. A school could unexpectedly over-enroll (and thus not need their waitlist). A school could see deposits with a great gender imbalance, requiring them to fill beds in a dorms in a certain pattern. Instead of pouring energy into knowing if/when you'll get off of a waitlist - put that energy into two tasks. 1) Contact the college where you are waitlisted and give them a brief but sincere summary of your continued interest and any accomplishments that have happened since you've applied. Only do this if you actually are interested in attending that school more than every other place you got in. This isn't a competition for trophy collecting. If you want to stay on a waitlist "just to see if you can get in", even when you know full well you are picking a different college, please seriously reconsider your motivations. You are being unfair to the college and unfair to the other people on the waitlist who would be serious contenders to enroll. 2) Get excited about the places where you were admitted. Somewhere out there wants you. I'm a firm believer that every college can be a place for growth, social happiness, and academic inspiration. Having a negative attitude from the start is a recipe for trouble. This fall I told you you needed to like your likelys. Now is the time to walk that walk.

Yesterday morning, we had an awesome PTA meeting speaker named Sean Grover. While much of his talk was only tangentially related to the college process, I think a few of the things he brought up do connect to this process. First and foremost, parents/guardians please remember that your children notice everything about the messages you explicitly and implicitly send. If you aren't on board with your senior's college options, it will be hard for them to get on board. The train is leaving the station and we need you on it. Repeat in your household how proud you are of your kids. Even if you've said it before, say it again. Use words. Use actions. Use hugs. Let them overhear you telling your friends. You are building memories every day together. Make this final stretch of the college process a time filled with praise and celebration. Your final visits to admitted student days will be over in a blink of an eye. If you catch yourself bickering or feeling tense as a family, press reset and reminder yourself that this is going to be a big transition and both adults and kids need to be there for one another.

In closing, I don't want to fail to mention another elephant in the room. Money. College is designed to be an investment. In fact, it is designed (in a lot of cases) to be a pretty serious investment. As in the cost of an apartment (ok, an apartment in an outer borough, but you get it) kind of serious investment. Would you buy an apartment without seeing it? Would you buy an apartment without comparing it to the other apartments you could be buying? Would you let a person who can't even legally buy alcohol be the sole decision maker in buying an apartment? I say this because every year I see families who make enrollment decisions with total disregard to family finances. They don't even sit down and calculate the net costs for all of their options-- opting instead to just enroll at the 'best' school or 'first choice' school they got into. This is nuts! You filled out the FAFSA. You did the paperwork and the applications. You owe it to yourself to at least make an informed decision about the exact billed costs at each place and the exact amount of discounts (meaning scholarships, grants, or other institutional aid that won't be paid back) that you are being offered. This doesn't mean you have to pick the least expensive school. But, it does mean that you should at least be making an informed decision. If you opt to take out loans in order to go to a more expensive options, at least understand the exact dollar amounts ahead of time. Sacrificing planning for retirement to pay for school is NOT a smart idea. Enrolling at a second or third choice school in exchange for preparing for the future is not cruel. In fact, it might be the most benevolent thing a parent can do for their child.

Congrats to the Class of 2016! We're here!


Thursday, March 24, 2016

Thanks SUNY Oswego!

This morning I attended a breakfast at the SUNY Welcome Center on 42nd Street hosted by SUNY Oswego. I haven't visited Oswego in person, so this was a nice opportunity to learn more about the campus and offerings in a local setting.

Located right on Lake Ontario, SUNY Oswego stands out from the other 63 SUNY schools in a few different ways. With 6,900 students, it is right in that middle range size wise that allows for some degree of anonymity without finding yourself in massive lecture courses (the average class size is in the low 20s). Maybe one of the best things about Oswego though are the facilities. Sometimes SUNY schools can be criticized, not for the quality of their programs, but for the quality of their physical plant. Because of the timing of SUNY's expansion, the architecture and spaces can sometimes feel dated. At Oswego, they have had the luxury of renovating essentially the entire campus so that things feel modern and up to date. To attend a campus for $21,192 per year (with room and board included in that price) and find all the facilities renovated, it is a pretty nice option in terms of bang for your buck.

Speaking of price, Oswego has a very transparent scholarship system that where many ElRo students would qualify for automatic merit scholarships. A 93+ GPA and 1190+ SAT (Reading/Math) will garner students $4,700 per year, renewable for four years. That $21,000 price then drops to only a little over $16,000 and that is without need based grants like TAP or Pell factored in (for those that qualify for need based aid). When we are talking about minimizing debt, these kind of things are not to be overlooked. Oswego also has a room and board price guarantee where rates are locked in based on the student's freshman year. So there will be no increases in housing costs over the course of the four years. These kind of meaningful commitments to affordability are why in-state schools should be on the radar.

Admitted students to Oswego are invited to attend bus trips leaving from New York City. For more information, go to Round trip tickets on the bus include dinner and cost $36 per person.

I'm excited to have SUNY Oswego participating in this year's College Night at Elro (Save the Date: April 21) so if you want to learn more, I encourage you to attend so you can meet their representative in person.


Monday, March 14, 2016

Thanks SUNY Cobleskill!

 On Friday, I went to one of the more unique college information sessions for guidance counselors that I've attended so far. It was a breakfast hosted at a Brooklyn restaurant by SUNY Cobleskill. The location and format was chosen because a SUNY Cobleskill Culinary Management graduate (and former NYCDOE student) is now the executive chef at the venue and they wanted us to be able to experience, first hand, the work of one of their students. It was a really cool way to connect the presentation to our work. (Not to mention, the food was really delicious).

SUNY Cobleskill is a technical school with 2,500 students located about 3 hours from New York City. SUNY technical schools offer both 2 and 4 year degrees on a residential campus. This has a slightly different feel than a community college (which tend to focus on serving their local county and have many commuter students). Most of the programs focus on hands-on learning (as opposed to, say, a strictly liberal arts college) and some of the degree programs are a little out of the ordinary. For example, Cobleskill offers training in things ranging from Turfgrass Management to getting a certificate to be a Paramedic. They also have traditional college majors like Business Administration and Applied Psychology.

Unique programs of note include:
  • Their early assurance pre-med program - allowing students to potentially be admitted early to medical school (SUNY Upstate) after spending part of their undergraduate degree at either Cornell or Siena. For consideration in this program, students must have a 90+ GPA and a minimum of 1200+ on the SAT. 
  • SUNY Cobleskill is on the forefront of the movement toward environmentally sustainable, organic, farm to table food production - all things that I think are gaining momentum right now. 
  • The Animal Science program is a good fit for pre-vet students and there are on campus facilities to give students hands on access to livestock and large animals (something that is part of all Vet school programs). 
  • For students interested in forensics, they offer a 2-year degree in Histotechnology - the science of tissue and forensic science analysis. 
All in all, this just goes to show the huge range of options within SUNY's 64 campuses. For students who learn best by doing, SUNY Cobleskill might just have the right mix of choices. Thank you to SUNY Cobleskill for hosting me!  For students interested in going to visit, they sponsor bus trips from New York City - look here for more information.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

About That Redesigned SAT Experiment . . .

About a week ago, I was greeted in my inbox with a rather disappointing email. The College Board cancelled my SAT registration. Citing 'a new test security measure' -- which, by the way, is conveniently not listed in writing on their website and was not included in the email -- I was told that only students taking the test for its 'intended purpose' were allowed to sit for the March test.

I tried getting a hold of someone who could give me more information. I spoke to customer service representatives. I asked to speak to supervisors. I got lots of vague and unhelpful responses including but not limited to:
  • The March test was not an "open" administration
  • There was a security risk having people who were not looking to apply to an undergraduate institution take the test
  • It wasn't about my age, they claimed not all older students had their registrations cancelled. (Considering I'm a college counselor and not a tutor or test prep employee, I find this hard to believe.)
  • There will be no Q&A service for the March administration (Mind you, I hadn't paid for the Q&A service, unclear how or why this is relevant)
They told me that I could move my registration to May, but I'm not convinced they won't pull a similar last minute cancellation stunt then. I requested a refund and was then told that would involve going to my bank, which sounded confusing (has anyone reading this ever had to go in person to a bank to be issued a refund from a company?), so I'm still waiting on clarification on how that will work.  They actually never even responded to my appeal, I had to call them back Friday to even verify that my registration was definitely cancelled.

On a practical level, I'm disappointed with the SAT cancellation because I had genuinely been trying to prepare for the past two months for this test. I had been doing Khan Academy lessons diligently and while I certainly wouldn't say I'd been cramming, I had been regularly devoting at least two hours per week to prep and had sat through three practice tests online. I'm a adult who has been out of high school for over 15 years and I was re-teaching myself what a radian was. Trust me, there wasn't much residual fun for me during that process. It is annoying to have done that work for seemingly no benefit.

On a philosophical level, I'm disappointed with the SAT cancellation because I think a consumer who registers and pays money for something should be entitled to that service unless there is evidence to show they have nefarious intent. I also feel the burden of test security is on The College Board and the testing site, not on the test taker. If you felt adults taking the test were a security risk, put us in a separate room or seat us with extra empty desk around us. Or, better yet, considering this redesign was in the works for years, state a clear policy on testing rules well in advance of registration.

On an educational level, I'm disappointed with the SAT cancellation because I did honestly want to go through the motions of taking the test to better connect with  my students. I wanted to feel that same timing pressure. I wanted to toss and turn the night before the test and remind myself of those high school  memories that can be easy for adults to forget. I wanted to log in and see my scores with the same bubble of excitement/fear that I know my students feel. I genuinely wanted to see how much Khan Academy could move the needle on my score.

So, what was The College Board afraid of? Were they nervous that having journalists, educators, bloggers, and test prep tutors in the pool of test takers would make it easier for exam issues to be put out in the media? Did they suspect problems and want to keep only the most vulnerable people in the room to minimize collateral PR damage? I couldn't help but notice they had no problem sharing how much students 'liked' the new test after the school day administration last Wednesday. Were they fearful of outliers skewing the norming process? (If so, I'm not sure why they couldn't just pull our tests from the norming in advanced, considering they were able to identify us for cancellation). Was this always planned as a way to deliver another striking blow to the test prep industry? (David Coleman's original announcement made it clear that The College Board's partnership with Khan Academy was intended to cut off the test prep industry at the knees. Something, I should add, I might actually agree with The College Board about . . . )

One thing is clear: while the exam itself has been redesigned, other aspects of The College Board have not changed. This situation was poorly handled and can be added to the list of concerns I have about The College Board and their practices.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Inside Mount Holyoke College's Application Review

Thank you to Mount Holyoke College for hosting me this week for a conference dedicated to understanding the application review process. I've been on many guidance counselor 'tours' to help me understand the unique personality of colleges over the years, but this is the first time I've been invited to an event focused instead on a really detailed look 'behind the curtain' about how the application reading process works.

Especially because I left the world of college admission before most colleges transitioned to reading files online, this was a really cool way to go back to those days of reading files and experience how technology has changed things. While every college has their own unique priorities in reading, this helped me understand much more deeply how and why Mount Holyoke admits the students they do.

Too many young women discount women's colleges without giving them a fair shake. Some of the reasons to consider a women's college include: greatly increased diversity (including more than just racial and ethnic diversity), stronger financial aid packaging (both merit and need based), stronger STEM outcomes (including medical school and PhD program acceptance rates), and the legacy of tradition and alumna connections. A small liberal arts college isn't right for everyone, but if you are considering other top quality small schools, Mount Holyoke deserves to be in the mix. The young women I got to meet over these three days were poised, bright, articulate, confident, and engaging. If that sounds like an environment you might like, you know what to do. An added bonus, of course, is that in the event you do feel the need for a change of pace, there are four other nearby colleges where you can cross-register (three of which have male students enrolled).

I want to thank the Mount Holyoke staff for their transparency and hospitality. It was a great three days! I also had the chance to catch up with current Mount Holyoke student and ElRo Class of 2014 Elro Alum Chloe L. (pictured above)!

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Turning the Tide

If you have access to the internet, have turned on a TV, or read a headline today you probably caught wind of the new Harvard Graduate School of Education Making Caring Common report entitled "Turning the Tide Inspiring Concern for Others and the Common Good through College Admissions" that was released today. In case you missed it, this is a report, endorsed by many college and university admissions folks, that attempts to address the troubling direction that college admissions is going and suggest healthier alternatives for both students and schools.

An Op-Ed by Frank Bruni was also published yesterday in anticipation of this release. 

Included in the report are recommendations, some of which, I'm pleased to say, have already been a part of the school culture that Eleanor Roosevelt High School is trying to build. However, these goals can only be accomplished with buy-in from our students, parents, and guardians, so I hope that you will read through the report and reflect on how you can be a key player in making these recommendations a reality. 

Some examples:
  • The report recommends ". . that students engage in forms of service that are authentically chosen—that emerge from a student’s particular passions and interests— that are consistent and well-structured, and that provide opportunity for reflection both individually and with peers and adults."As you are all aware, ElRo asks students to submit 20 hours of community service per year to demonstrate their connection with the community around them. We have a designated Community Service and Internship liaison (Ms. Genova-Hall) to help support students that feel they need extra guidance in accessing opportunities. I've said many times in multiple forums that our aim is for students to engage in their world. The requirement of community service aims to push students past the point of just going through the motions to complete service hours and instead help them find ways to use their passions as jumping off points for building up year after year of meaningful and authentic connections in their local, regional, national, or even international community. While things like raising money or participating in awareness campaigns are a start, a better way to demonstrate caring is for students to engage directly with those that are impacted. Raising money for breast cancer research is good, serving as a patient escort for individuals seeking breast cancer treatment is even better. Making posters about recycling is good, becoming a Central Park teen park ranger is better.
  •  The report recommends "Colleges should tell students that taking the [standardized] test more than twice is very unlikely to meaningfully improve students’ scores." It has always been my recommendation that students sit for either the ACT or the SAT twice and taking the test more than that is not a useful or productive way to spend their time. Twenty years from now, you won't look back on endless sessions with a tutor as an experience that shaped your personality. Using that time to volunteer, or read classic literature, or get an internship at a museum very well could have a lasting impact on your life trajectory. 
  •  The report recommends "Admissions offices should convey to students that simply taking large numbers of AP or IB courses per year is often not as valuable as sustained achievement in a limited number of areas." At ElRo, we make a conscious effort to be transparent about our policy to limit AP enrollment. 10th graders can take up to one AP course and 11th and 12th grade students are typically limited to two AP courses. This long time policy is in place to help students both manage their mental/emotional health and to help students make the connection between sincere academic interest and advanced coursework. We have been long time resistors of the "AP Arms Race" and I'm happy to see this report will encourage a continuation of those policies. 
  • The report recommends "Admissions officers and guidance counselors should challenge the misconception that there are only a handful of excellent colleges and that only a handful of colleges create networks that are vital to job success." I make a concerted effort to help re-frame the idea of what makes a 'good' college. I'm constantly recommending places like the schools found in the 'Colleges That Change Lives' network and a common refrain in my meetings with students is to encourage a well balanced list of reach, target, and likely schools. The name on your college diploma that matters most is your name, not the college's. You control much of your success via your drive, tenacity, ambition, and willingness to trust in your own ability. 
The content of this report is enough to fill hours of philosophical discussion and entry after entry on a blog like this one. I present these highlights and links to encourage you to think about these things in your own family and reflect honestly about if you are part of the identified problem or (hopefully) part of the solution.