Friday, September 5, 2014

Welcome Back 2014-2015!

We're back! Welcome to all students! I'm looking forward to a great year. As we settle in, below are the things to keep in mind for each grade level:

9th - You just got here. Enjoy it, get comfortable with your new school, talk to people you don't know, have fun at Ramapo, build relationships with your teachers. You are going to college, no need to start worrying about it now. Take your academics seriously (your grades, after all, are going on your transcript) but cut yourself a little slack as you learn to be a successful high school student.

10th - This year you are going to take the PSAT for the first time. We all talked together yesterday about how the College Board plans to change the SAT exam for your class, but use the PSAT as an opportunity to get a feel for standardized testing conditions and be open to learning what skills you might need to strengthen as you approach taking the real thing. Haven't found your niche yet? Now is the time to get involved (be it in school or in your community). You live in New York City, take advantage of your ability to truly pursue your passions. Colleges want to see students who are both committed to their academics and who have a three dimensional personality. They also value quality over quantity, so it is ok if your interests have a narrow focus so long as you dive in and explore them deeply.

11th - We are really going to get to know one another well next semester, but as you begin your 11th grade year know that this year is the one that makes a big impression on the colleges. Your 11th grade grades are the last ones that colleges will see on your transcript as they are reading your application. Prove to them the type of student that you are. You too will be taking the PSAT this fall, but for your class you will be the last group to be taking the exam on the 2400 scale. We have over 100 colleges visit our school each fall. If you have a free period, study hall, or lunch you are strongly encouraged to attend some of these visits for schools that you are interested in. It is a great way to learn about the schools and dip your toe into the college search process.

12th - Buckle your seatbelts, this semester is going to be challenging, but I believe in you! You can make it through without being overly stressed. Be organized. Breathe. Search for the answer before you panic, you'll be surprised how often you already have the solution sitting right in front of you. I'll be meeting with each of you individually over the next few months and this is a time when we will discuss your college application list and make sure it is balanced. Students, if you aren't used to checking your email daily, you need to start. This is the main way that both I and the colleges will be communicating with you. I'm excited for our work together!

Where can you find information about the college process and ElRo college office offerings? You got a mailing this summer with the main events that are planned for the year. Save the dates now so you can be sure to join me! You can also find the answer to many questions by looking at the ElRo College Office website, including the College Office Handbook that is available in PDF form on that site (both in the parent/guardian tab and the Junior and Senior tab). Other useful links are found on the right hand side of this blog.


Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Chapman University

Q: Is it possible to frown while looking at a palm tree? A: No.
As some of you may already know, I've made a habit of volunteering with College Summit over the summer. This year, I decided to mix it up a little bit and I signed up for a workshop in Southern California, at University of Redlands, that will be starting tomorrow. In the days preceding the workshop, I've been catching up with a friend from graduate school who is also a college counselor and we decided to visit Chapman University yesterday.

Founded before the Civil War, Chapman is one of the oldest colleges in California.
Chapman is a medium sized private university (5,600 students) located in Orange, California about one hour from Los Angeles. To give some additional perspective, it is 15 minutes from Disneyland - the most popular off-campus job option for Chapman students. There are a variety of academic options at Chapman, including things like business and film. The campus footprint isn't huge, but for students from the Northeast that likely won't have cars, the size means it is totally manageable. I was pleasantly surprised to see that many of our fellow tourmates represented a great deal of regional diversity. And I don't mean regions around LA, I mean families visiting from Maryland, Wisconsin, and Washington state.

Notable and unique attributes of Chapman include the Holocaust Education program and library, dedicated 10 years ago by Elie Wiesel.  The campus is full of sculptures (both traditional busts and more modern works) and there are multiple fountains and plazas for students to gather, study, or relax. Officially affiliated with the Christian Church (though our tour guide said that the connection is rather distant and he didn't feel that religion played a role in everyday campus life), I was very impressed with the Interfaith Center. The building and surrounding zen garden were really beautiful and clearly done with a lot of foresight and planning. Lastly, I have to point out that unlike most colleges in our neck of the woods in NY, Chapman also has two outdoor pools on campus -- one for fitness/competition and one for leisure (see below).
That is a pool. For students. Where they can study for their class called 'Reasons to Go to College In California."
In the wake of the recent college sexual assault article in the New York Times, I was particularly struck by the fact that the back of the restroom stalls at Chapman have big stickers with detailed resources for victims of sexual assault. There is obviously much to be done in addressing this on college campuses, but I greatly appreciate the fact that this is already part of the consciousness at Chapman.

P.S. I would also be overlooking a really important part of my visit if I didn't mention the waffle sandwich that I had across the street from the school. Come visit Chapman just so you can come have lunch here.
Really? More like really delicious.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

CT College Visits - Day 3 (Delayed!)

Sorry it has taken me a little longer than it should have to get day 3 of my CT trip posted, but the end of the school year is busy!

Our final school that we visited was Trinity College in Hartford. It had the most urban location of the five schools that we saw. Trinity has about 2,300 students and is conveniently located only about two hours from both Boston and NYC. Despite the name, Trinity is independent of religious affiliation so don't let that be a deal breaker if you were making assumptions. While they are need-aware in the admissions process, they do meet 100% of demonstrated need for admitted students. That means no gaps in financial aid packages for those that can't afford the full cost of tuition.

We didn't take an official tour, but my impressions of our walk around campus are that this is a great fit school for students looking for a traditional liberal arts school (chock full of historic buildings and a longstanding academic reputation -- Trinity was founded in 1823) that is not located in the middle of the "country." Considering I've had some students tell me that they think Westchester is upstate, I think Trinity is a great way to leave New York City without feeling isolated or overwhelmed by nature.

Friday, June 20, 2014

CT College Visits - Day 2

Day two of our Connecticut adventure brought us to Connecticut College and Wesleyan University.

Connecticut College was originally founded as a women's college when Wesleyan stopped admitting women in the early 1900s, a nice little piece of trivia dig at their NESAC neighbor ;). It is now co-ed and with under 2,000 students and it is the smallest school we are seeing on this trip. It can be hard for students to visualize what that means - but to put it in perspective, it is less than four times the size of ElRo and their Intro to Psych class has 35 students in it. I would say the typical small liberal arts colleges has intro classes that usually max out around 100 - so if you value class size, Conn College has you covered. A friendly and open minded community, Conn has 98% of students living on campus and students are guaranteed to have a single room their junior and senior year. My favorite feature of this school though is probably that they promise to cover 100% of demonstrated financial need for all admitted students. This is a sign of both the health of their endowment and their commitment to not having families overextend themselves financially in order to attend. According to the Admissions office, the students who have the best luck in the admissions process at Conn College have a strong voice. I was struck by the huge open space in the center of campus, much larger than I was expecting for a school of this size. The facilities we saw were in good condition and our tour guide seemed genuinely thrilled to be in such a supportive community of learners.

In the afternoon, we went to Wesleyan University. Wesleyan is the only school that we are seeing that is a re-visit for me. But it is always nice to see a school with a fresh pair of eyes. Wesleyan has about 3,800 undergraduate students and about 200 graduate students (hence, the 'University' part of the name) so there is a clear focus on the Bachelor's Degree. In an interesting juxtaposition, Wes is most well known for Film/Fine Arts and the sciences - it seems fair to assume that their open curriculum really does run the gamut of student academic interests. Students that thrive at Wes are intellectual activists - students who have deep passions and aren't afraid to show it. Probably the most significant change since my visit four years ago is that Wes will be going test-optional next year. One of my favorite parts of the campus was the fact that the different eras of architecture have really been well integrated. Sometimes campuses can feel disjointed, but here it felt like old and new were well connected. Like Conn College, Wesleyan will pledge to meet 100% of demonstrated need for admitted students, though be aware that could include federal loans. The most fun thing we saw on the tour was the Metronaps pod in the library where students can pop in for a power nap. Love!

Thursday, June 19, 2014

CT College Visits - Day 1

I'm taking advantage of two Regents days by getting out of NYC and touring some schools in Connecticut with some other college counselors from New York. Today was our first day and we visited Yale University and Quinnipiac University.

I'd been to Yale once before as a volunteer for College Summit, but it was great to be able to be here with a true admissions focus. First, let's be honest about the fact that Yale is one of those universal 'far reach' colleges - regardless of the applicant. Have perfect SATs? Still a reach. Created a patent for a new bio-chemical compound? Still a reach. Lowest grade on your transcript is a 99? Still a reach. But there is nothing wrong with having reach schools on the list, so long as you also have viable target and likely schools that you would like to go to if you were admitted. With that said, there are people who are better 'fits' for Yale than others. Yale describes themselves as competitively collaborative. This means that because it is highly selective, admitted students are highly talented. But they look forward to sharing those talents and interacting together. This is not the case at every highly selective school, so take note. One of Yale's distinguishing features is its residential college system. All students are randomly sorted into one of twelve houses and houses are the heartbeat of the social and community experience on campus. If you wouldn't be a positively contributing member to a residential college community, Yale might not be a good fit for you. Two new residential colleges are on the docket to open three years from now, so expect to see a small increase in the undergraduate population. I don't think I need to spend much time here describing the merits of Yale, but I will say it was a wonderful morning and the Admissions office was very gracious to give us their attention. We haven't had a student from ElRo admitted to Yale so far, but that is no reason to feel discouraged because with an admission rate of 6.3%, we just have to keep trying. :)

For the afternoon we headed over to Quinnipiac University, which I found to be located surprisingly close to New Haven. In fact, even though the campus is located in a valley surrounded by tree covered hills, it is really more of a suburb with very close proximity to more developed areas. For someone looking for a nice balance between natural serenity and connections to Boston, New York, and New Haven, Quinnipiac might just fit the bill. Quinnipiac is a medium sized university with a little over 6,000 students. We got to see all three campuses -- the main campus (where the bulk of the undergraduate life is focused), the York Hill campus (where juniors and seniors live and the main sports facilities are -- the views were really gorgeous), and the North Haven campus (primarily for graduate students and is the location of health sciences programs like nursing, Radiology, and the medical school). Quinnipiac is perhaps best known to the outside world as the home to those infamous political polls, but they offer a variety of popular majors including communications and business. With a Division I athletic program and a location that is a big change from the five boroughs but not hard to get to, I think there are many appealing things about this school. It should also be noted that they do offer merit based financial aid. Maybe the most noticeable thing about the visit though was the fact that the campus and facilities were immaculate. Every blade of grass was manicured, there was no litter strewn about or building in dire need of renovation. There is something to be said for a school that takes pride in its appearance, and we all took note. Some of the most popular overlap schools for students applying to Quinnipiac are Marist, Boston University, Providence College, Fairfield, and Elon. I will also mention that there are a number of 'plus' programs where students can combine undergraduate and graduate study to leave with two degrees -- maybe most notably a 3+1 MBA.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Josh is Famous!

Congrats to Josh, ElRo Senior, for being featured on Fox 5 talking about the new STEM scholarship. Some powers of fate must have been at work, because what are the chances that the person Fox found on the street outside ElRo would be a graduating senior, going to a SUNY, who is eligible for this scholarship? Our fingers are crossed for you too Josh!

ps - Anyone who attended College Night should also recognize Michael Turner from HESC!

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Thanks University of Chicago!

Because I apparently am a glutton for punishment, I felt it was a good idea to follow my 18 school Vermont tour, College Night, and ElRo Auction with accepting the invitation from the University of Chicago the same week as the Unique NYC College Fair and Admission Accomplished. Well, good news everyone, I made it back from the trip and it was worth it!

University of Chicago is a highly selective liberal arts university located in a residential neighborhood only a few miles away from downtown Chicago. They have grown in recent years and currently enroll about 5,800 undergraduate students per year (though they are also known for their outstanding graduate programs and more than one student cited access to graduate courses, graduate students, and research opportunities as reasons for picking UChicago). UChicago has made waves recently in the admissions world for simultaneously increasing their applicant pool, drastically decreasing their admit rate (I'm talking 40% to now under 9%), and drastically increasing their yield rate (from about 30% to about 60%). They also stand apart by being one of the few selective schools that still offers the chance at being awarded merit aid.

The University of Chicago has a core curriculum and runs on the quarter system - two big unique factors that set it apart when it comes to academics. By having students take 3-4 students in the fall, winter, and spring quarters, UChicago students get to take more classes in a shorter period of time. If the idea of taking more classes doesn't appeal to you, you probably aren't a good fit for this school because the overarching theme of students who thrive at this school is having a thirst for academic knowledge that cannot be quenched. Unlike a lot of other colleges with strong reputations, UChicago was described as "an elite school that isn't elitist." It was clear that the heartbeat of this school is not generations and generations of prep school graduates, big donors with heavy hitting last names, or a student's pedigree - the heartbeat of the school is intellectual curiosity. Your high school, where your parents went to college, how much money you have is all secondary to how you contribute to the classroom and how passionate you are about seeking knowledge. For all the ivy and neogothic architecture on campus, they seem to be doing a great job of upholding the ideals of a meritocracy.

First year students (what they call freshman) are all assigned both an academic adviser (who has no other job besides advising) and a career adviser from the start. In the past few years, a new initiative has started through career services to found various UCIs, University of Chicago Careers In _____ programs where students can get linked up with coursework, internships, career advising and exploration in the following fields: Business, Entrepreneurship, Public Policy, Journalism, Law, Health Professions, Education, and Science & Technology. This allows for a liberal arts college to provide the same (if not better?) career preparation than a more pre-professionally focused school.

As a University of Chicago student, you have access to internationally the renowned faculty. There are low walls between the majors and because of the core curriculum it is common to explore many different fields and change directions if a new passion is discovered. In the past, UChicago was a self selective pool, but they have since transitioned to being just plain selective. The application famously requires students to answer a supplemental essay that really does show the essence of how the applicant things (example of a past essay prompt: define x.) This is not the kind of school to just mindlessly add to your Common App.

Overall, this was a great visit and I feel like I really got a sense of who would like UChicago. We got a chance to see the new Mansueto Library (see video below - a robot retrieves the books!) and hear a student panel. Don't believe how intellectual the students are? I overhead the students on the panel discussing the equations that happened to be on the white board behind them (unrelated to the panel) before getting settled. That's a first for me.

The reputation of UChicago is that it is 'where fun goes to die.' I think i would adjust that statement to say that students at UChicago think learning is fun, and from what I observed learning is about as far from dead at UChicago as it can be. I hope they stay true to that identity and embrace the fact that they don't need to be a party school to be fun.

Thanks to UChicago for hosting me, it was a great trip!

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

College Night 2014!

This is a funky week being back in school only one day before our annual College Night! I hope the short week though won't prevent people from attending one of our best nights of the year for helping 9th, 10th, and 11th grade students better understand the college application process.

I am excited to remind everyone that tomorrow, Thursday, April 24th from 6:00-8:30 pm we will have a great night of college information to share. The night will be structured the same way that it has in the past -- a panel discussion, two short workshops of your choice, and a mini college fair. Workshop topics include: Financial Aid, The Common Application, Essay Writing, Parent Do's and Don'ts, and the CUNY/SUNY system. Information will not be coming from me, instead it will come straight from the source: Admission professionals from around the country. Representatives will be attending from: Reed College, CUNY, Virginia Commonwealth University, SUNY, and Wesleyan. These were selected intentionally to expose people in attendance to: in state public schools, out of state public schools, private schools, local schools, and schools that are far away. The panel discussion will be held in the auditorium.

Even if you attended last year, I encourage you to come back so that by the time you are a senior you will be an expert on these topics.

I can't wait to see you there!


Friday, April 18, 2014

CVC Day 6 - I made it!

Earlier today we hit our 18th school! This morning I saw Burlington College to finish out the CVC tour. In a way, Burlington stands alone in more than just the schedule of the tour. Burlington is a small college (only about 225 students) with a non-traditional student body. The school describes itself as having 'zero boxes' meaning that students usually really don't fit the mold. A new 'open spaces' curriculum was instituted this year where students follow a sequence of seminars and courses to try to both prepare them to be able to find work and navigate changes over their lifetime. There is an intentional focus on communications, writing, and critical thinking. Students start their education with an investigation, then move into the community, then a team based project, and then end in a final degree project. It seemed to me that Burlington is really the best fit for a student looking for a more non-traditional experience. For example, there is no dining hall or campus sports. There are many students at Burlington that do not attend right after high school and the experience here would be focused on study and exploration not on the full college experience. I wish our visit would have focused a little more on the woodworking campus that Burlington runs about an hour from the campus we saw. This program is small, but seems to be really unique and interesting for students interested in woodwork.

I'm tired, but this week in Vermont has really been a great experience to show me the truly WIDE range of options in this relatively small state. Thank you to the CVC for having me!

CVC Day 5 - Vermont Keeps Going!

Yesterday (Day 5) started at 6 am and ended at midnight - I'm going to stick with the bullet point summary approach as I'm here in the Burlington Airport. Without further ado, day 5!

Landmark College
  • Truly unique campus because they are exclusively for students with learning disabilities/differences. There is also a small program for students on the Autism spectrum
  • Last year added a 4-year BA to the already existing Associate's program. 
  • The original track for the majority of students is to start at Landmark, allow the student to take ownership of their education and understand truly individualized strageties to be successful in a college classroom, and then have the ability to transfer to a four year school. 
  • There are 3 entry points for students. 
    • Full Credit-- for the college ready student who just wants to start in a LD friendly environment
    • Partial Credit - for students who are close to being college ready but who take only part of their classes for college credit as they build their skills.
    • Non-Credit - for students who are not college ready but can eventually stregnthen their skills.
  • Because of the individualized program, some students stay for two years, earn and Associate's and transfer. Others earn an Associate's, but at a slower pace, and then transfer.
  • They are truly the experts in helping students with learning differences be successful in college. Runs the gamut from assistive technology, to executive functioning support, to counseling. 
  • A reality of this all inclusive support is that tuition at Landmark is very expensive. About 60% of students apply for financial aid and of those only 60% are granted some form of financial assistance. The good news is that some states do allow for vocational rehab funding to be applied to tuition. There is also a medical tax deduction that some families might qualify for, which greatly improves the financial impact of paying tuition and fees. 
  • The benefits of attending Landmark instead of a more traditional school is that, often for the first time, students can feel understood, welcomed, and empowered in regards to their learning differences. It is a great chance to build self confidence and thrive as students make the college transition.

Marlboro College
  • Only about 240 students
  • Vibe on campus is deeply intellectual in an individualized and 'out of the box' kind of way
  • HUGE emphasis on writing
  • Non-traditional curriculum where students create an individualized plan of study culminating in a final 'plan' which is akin to a thesis but can be much more than just a long paper. It can include things like art and performance and it really molded over the time on campus to be a real labor of love. (For more on this and my impressions of Marlboro, read this previous entry) I got to visit the 'Plan Room' in the library to see all the bound copies of all plans that students have done since the beginning of the school.
  • Professors and students experience one another as colleagues
  • Monthly town meetings involve the entire campus and address all issues relating to the school (from marketing materials to campus events)
  • Must be eager to think deeply
Southern Vermont College
  • 500 students on a mountaintop with a gorgeous view
  • Career focused liberal arts programs, including nursing
  • The average admitted student has a 2.8 GPA and 940 SAT on the first two sections
  • The President knows students by name and has an open door policy
  • The campus has a few different locations, with shuttles between, but all classes take place in a converted historic mansion at the top of the hill. 
  • This school seemed to have a more mainstream student body compared to the more environmental, skiier/snowboarder, activist type of students at some of the other schools that we saw.

Bennington College
  • A little under 700 students in a nice spread out campus with a variety of architectural influences (everything from barns to modern)
  • Dorms are called 'houses' and there is a clear community feel
  • Two part education:
    • Plan Process
      • Explore and discover in your first year by taking any classes you wan
      • intentional exploration to discover essential questions
      •  In the sophomore year, write a plan paper that describes what your educational goals are
      •  Spend the next two years crafting that thesis or senior project
    • Fieldwork Term
      • Mandatory 6 week internship or field placement each of the four years
  • Seeks students with intellectual vitality
  • Interview is seen as essential during the interview process because the school is so unique
  • Testing Optional
  • No core requirements
  • All classes have a narrative evaluation but can opt into being issued a traditional grade on a class by class basis for those that feel they want it.
  • Seems like a great fit for a student looking for the room to explore within their education journey, especially great for students with niche and interdisciplinary interests