Friday, October 2, 2015

NACAC San Diego Day 1

Today was the first official day of the conference. I had the chance to attend an event hosted by SMU, go to two educational sessions, and go to the NYSACAC membership meeting.

SMU, a medium sized university in Dallas, Texas, did an innovative thing by hosting a lecture with one of their faculty in the morning before the conference started. This was an awesome idea, both because it reminded me of why I loved college so much (I was a 'never skip a class' kind of person) and because it let us see one of their best assets in action. Admission stats can be viewed online, but hearing directly from a professor talking about the subject they are an expert in is at the core of the college experience. We heard from Jeffrey Engel, a History professor about the importance and usefulness of the liberal arts - in this case a specific analysis of how the events of 1989 were viewed differently by America, Western Europe, Russia, and China. These viewpoints then have an impact on foreign policy now and illustrate how the lessons learned in the past can be used to gain a deeper understanding of current conflicts. He spoke on how the study of history - a liberal arts subject - is essential to make economic and business decisions. I especially liked his commentary on how while majoring in business might get you your first job, majoring in the liberal arts is what will get you your first promotion. This is due to the ability to read critically, write well, link interdisciplinary ideas, and see things from a broader context. SMU has about 6,500 undergraduate students and 5,200 graduate students on a campus that looks like something more out of the southeast -- thing white columns, brick, sprawling quads, etc. There are five undergraduate schools: Humanities & Sciences, Business, Engineering, Arts, and Education & Human Development. Dallas offers one of the best placed in the country for job opportunities and the campus is the home to the Bush Presidential Library (the only campus to be able to say they have a Presidential Library on campus). I couldn't help but notice that SMU consistently brands itself as SMU. I'm not sure if it is intentional to avoid boxing themselves in as Southern and Methodist or if it is just habit to use the letters instead of the full name. I am curious though to know how a New York City student would fit in. It was encouraging to hear that on pretty much every metric, if Rice is the number one private college in Texas, SMU is right behind them at number two. Considering about 50% of students are admitted, like USD earlier this week, this is a nice target option for many ElRo students. Reliable academics without insane competition for admission.

The first session I attended was the one on the Common Application. I like trying to attend this one every year so that I can be in the know when students ask me questions. I think most counselors would agree that one of the most exciting changes for this year's site is the ability for students to preview the application, page by page, without going through the motions as if they are going to be pressing submit. This reduces stress and allows students to see how the page will look to the reader. It was also nice to hear about some new initiatives for providing help via both phone and online chat - though it wasn't clear if this was only for counselors or if was also for students. It was also revealed that later this year there will be a Common App App for iPhone that will allow students to track their deadlines and organize their 'to do' list. While it isn't an app that will allow for editing of the application (this makes sense) it will help students as a companion to the web based application site. The final piece of useful information that I gleaned from this session was a new turnkey site for counselors to get ready-made lessons to help support students in filling out the Common App. This site, called Common App Ready, is something we could maybe use in Advisory to help further give instruction to students about how to be more comfortable with the site.

The second session I attended was called 'Behind the Curtain of Financial Aid.' While I'm not sure it was a full peek behind the curtain (this, by design, is kind of hard to do in a panel setting because the inner-workings of aid are different at every single school), it did help me connect a few things that I think are helpful in navigating the financial aid website. The first thing that I hadn't fully connected before was the idea that two schools, both that say they meet 100% of demonstrated need, can offer the same family significantly different packages. This has to do with the fact that while the Federal EFC from the FAFSA is constant at both schools, the Institutional Methodology formula for institutional aid is different at every school. So even if both schools require the CSS profile, they may or may not weight certain factors in their algorithm and that can skew things for the student. So, it behooves the student to research ahead of time how every question on the CSS is, or isn't, used by the college if they are trying to create a list that will yield maximum aid. It was promising to hear about a website that the presenter found helpful in looking through the data surrounding aid and packaging - in fact, the session crashed the site with so many people logging on to check it out. The site is called Common Campus, but I was disappointed to see (once the site was up and running again) that it is a subscription service.

The day of sessions ended with the annual NYSACAC meeting - a gathering of NY professionals from both sides of the desk. It is always great to see so many familiar faces. This year, the NYSACAC conference is being held in Staten Island at Wagner College, which means I may have a chance to be able to participate. I can't wait!

Tomorrow is another long day - starting off with the Keynote address from Sal Khan of Khan Academy!