If you know what you want to study in college and want to earn a high quality undergraduate degree without having to take courses you aren’t interested in, it makes a lot of sense head over to merry old England ASAP! Find out the two reasons I am so keen on Americans (and any other students for that matter) earning their degree in England!
Dorm rooms – especially those visited on college tours – all look quite similar. Dining halls are increasingly “Gucci,” while science labs look like science labs. Try spending some of your time on campus visiting a place that is far more important than all of those mentioned above!
The ups and downs of the quarantine gave college admissions officers and school counselors a taste of application life to come, as the birth rate for high school graduates continues to slide, and the need to develop new approaches to recruit students increases. As the profession continues to try and improve college access, and knowing that small differences can make a big difference, here are some considerations for both sides of the desk to ponder this summer over a well-deserved glass of lemonade:
Colleges—move your deadline dates. November 1 (early applications), January 1 (regular applications), and May 1 (many deposits) are all big dates in the college application world—and they all fell on a Sunday or a holiday this year. I don’t understand this, since the admissions offices weren’t open, and the vast majority of high school seniors had no access to counselors or other application helpers the day of and before the deadlines.
This needs to change. Yes, students need to be responsible, and should learn to plan ahead—but perhaps that lesson is better applied to deadlines for things they’ve done before (like papers), not with things they are doing for the first time (like applying to college). The first Tuesday in November, the second Tuesday in January, and the first Tuesday in May would solve this problem nicely, increasing the quality and quantity of applications to boot. Georgia Tech made the move, and they get kaboodles of applications. It’s an easy, but important, change.
High Schools—stop working holidays. Moving the January 1 deadline to a date when high schools are in session is also overdue for school counselors, who have taken a serious shellacking this year with all the student mental health issues arising from COVID. School counselors have always been overworked, but never able to use the December holidays to recover, since they were expected to help their students make January 1 college deadlines.
It’s time to take a stand. Assuming the colleges move their deadlines, counselors need to learn to let go. Send a note to all senior families early in November, letting them know your vacation is—well, a vacation. If you really can’t let go of your students for that long—or if the colleges unwisely cling to January 1– set two days of vacation for online office hours, and take a breath all the other days. You have mastered online office hours this year. Let them be your friend.
Colleges—keep innovating. One (and perhaps the only) upside of the quarantine was the ability of college admissions offices to adapt major chunks of their traditional approach to recruitment. Test optional, drive-thru tours, and online high school visits suggested it might be OK for everyone to get their hopes up, that some real college admissions reform was in the air.
In a post-vaccine world, we see more signs of returning to “normal” than creating new normal. Reinventing the entire admissions process is no easy feat, to be sure, but how hard might it be for admissions offices to spend half a day this summer doing “What ifs” to one part of the application process? Do that for five years, and you have a new admissions paradigm, and a more accessible one—the thing you say you keep wanting.
High schools— mental health and college access aren’t either/or. I will legitimately blow my top if I read one more post from a high school counselor insisting that the increase in COVID-related mental health needs makes it impossible to do any effective college counseling.
School counseling as a profession has long been showing a mental health bias at the expense of quality college counseling, and this year just seems to have widened the gap. Counselor training programs plant the seeds of this bias— training programs devote about 7 classes to mental health training, and none to college counseling—and all of this must stop, if only because the dichotomy is a false one.
Discouraged, depressed high school students light up like a hilltop church on Christmas Eve when I tell them college gives them a fresh start to life and learning, proof enough that college counseling affects mental health. That, plus the American School Counselor Association says college counseling is part of the job. Counselors truly are overworked, so they can’t do everything they want in any part of counseling. That said, college can still be part of a key to a better self. More counselors need to see that, and act on it.
Everyone—stop beating up on the Ivies. The Ivies and their equally tough-to-get-into institutions largely decided to go test optional this year. For some reason, this gave a lot of students with B averages the hope that they too could pahk the cah in the yahd, now that they didn’t have to reveal their test scores.
So—more students applied to the Ivies this year than last year. The Ivies didn’t admit more students this year than last year. That means their admit rate had to go down, and more students were denied.
That isn’t news—it’s math. And if you want to blame the Ivies for encouraging students to apply who didn’t really stand a chance of getting in, you’re going to need to make a thousand more jackets for that club. If you think the Ivies take too few Pell-eligible students, say that. If you think they admit too many legacies, stay that. But don’t beat them up for proving the laws of basic ratios. Any other college in their shoes would have to do the same thing. (Besides, it’s the national media who has left our society with the impression that there are only 25 colleges in America.)
Everyone—about Kiddos. It’s no secret that college is largely a time of youth, especially with the expansion of adolescence into the early twenties and beyond. But college is also a time to help young people embrace the opportunities of adulthood, skills and attitudes that sometimes require setting the desires of self to one side.
This goal would be more easily achieved if we saw students—and if they saw themselves– as capable of embracing a larger sense of self by referring to them as students, not Kiddos. They don’t need to grow up in a hurry or, with the right kind of help, succumb to the media images of college choice as a high stakes pressure cooker. But they also need something more than just a pat on the head and a verbal affirmation that’s the equivalent of a lollipop. Let’s try calling them students.
There were only eight in the box, but Billy didn’t see it that way. To him there wasn’t anything he couldn’t draw. Especially anything red. Shoes. Birds. Strawberries. Even dogs. Look at it the right way, and anything could be red.
Mrs. Struthers understood that, and loved to see Billy in class every day. Together, they discovered all kinds of things that turned out to be red. As the year went on, Mrs. Struthers showed Billy how many other things were a mix of red and one of the other colors in his box of crayons. By May, Billy was working with just green, and just yellow, and just about every other color. But once kindergarten was over, it was the red crayon that had been worn down to a stub.
Coloring somehow became both less important and more important as school went on. By second grade, the box had grown from eight to twenty-four, but there was less time to color in school. Billy had rearranged the box to keep his favorite eight colors together, in the front row.
During one of those rare times drawing was allowed, Billy was relishing the chance to draw another cardinal, when Mr. Tyler walked by his desk.
“Cardinals aren’t really red, you know” he said.
Billy kept drawing, and looked up. “What do you mean?”
“They’re actually their own color. Cardinal red. You have that in your box. It’s in the top row of colors.”
Mr. Tyler walked away. Billy kept drawing with red.
The last time Billy saw a box of crayons in school was fourth grade, when the box had grown to 64. Billy had no idea what to do with a crayon named Salmon—wasn’t that a fish?—and the two named Yellow Orange and Orange Yellow looked exactly the same. Why take up space with two crayons of the same color? Billy brought his box of eight crayons from home. The red was getting very small.
There wasn’t time for coloring again until eighth grade, when Billy took an art class in middle school. The crayons had been replaced with pastels that were thicker, and moved across the paper differently than crayons. Suddenly, Billy’s crisply drawn cardinals were fuzzy, and smeared, and looked a little more like smushed raspberries. Billy waited until the end of class to ask his teacher about this, and how could he draw crisp cardinals with pastels.
The teacher frowned. “We didn’t draw cardinals today” she said, “we were drawing mosaics. Did you draw mosaics?”
Billy put his head down. After school, he took his crayons home, and put them in the back of a desk drawer.
The counselor opened up the file on his lap and smiled. “The career tests suggest you have an exceptional talent for art. Have you considered a career in graphic arts?”
The student across from him stared at his blank phone screen.
“Billy, did you hear me?”
“Yeah” Billy said, not looking up.
“Your records say you haven’t taken an art course since eighth grade. There’s room for one in your schedule next year as a senior. What do you say?”
Billy’s eyes were frozen on the ground.
“Mrs. Jefferson is a great art teacher. She taught me how to cross hatch. Have you ever tried that?”
The counselor pulled out a blank piece of paper, and opened the top drawer of his desk. It was filled with crayons.
The squeak of the drawer made Billy look up. “They’re all green” he said.
“Yeah” the counselor chuckled, “I had this thing for green crayons when I was a kid, and it’s stuck with me all these years. I had a couple of teachers try and talk me out of it, but when you love something, you just stick with it, you know?”
Billy looked away for a minute, then pulled out what looked like a pack of cigarettes from his pocket.
“Uh, Billy—” the counselor said.
Billy flipped open the top of the box, revealing a dozen crayons of different heights. All red.
“Do they teach art in college?”
This isn’t the week to be a high school student. Statewide assessment is going on across the country, and thanks to social distancing policies, at least some students are taking the ACT on gym bleachers, six feet apart, straddling a wooden plank across their legs and using it as a desk. Among other things, the results of this ACT will be used in some states to decide which students get merit scholarship money.
Students in Michigan are about a month away from likely doing the same thing. State officials reached out to the US Department of Education and asked for a waiver from the required testing in this year of COVID mayhem. Apparently the request got there when Betsy Devos was still in charge, because it was denied.
School counselors really thought we had won the day when over 1350 colleges decided to continue their test-optional admission policies for this year’s juniors—in fact, many colleges have extended this policy for an additional two years. This kind of extension takes a little bit of courage, since it was made before colleges finished the current admissions cycle. Either they’re hoping for the best, or they’re seeing what so many colleges have long known—testing doesn’t mean all that much, and once you no longer have it,
In our delirium, it seems we forgot to talk to government officials, who are asking for test results that are sure to disappoint. Early test results in the last year show student achievement is down. That may be for all kinds of reasons, but when you make a student take the ACT on their lap, it’s pretty likely that’s not going to show their best effort—so we can expect to see more of the same.
School counselors aren’t a greedy bunch by nature, but there are more than a few that look at the adoption of test optional policies and sigh. It was just a year ago when more than a few college admissions wonks—deans and directors included—were truly excited at the prospect of creating a brand new admissions system that was cleaner, fairer, and easier. Ample articles are out there showing how wealth skews every single tool used in the current system, from grades to test scores to essays to letters of recommendation to extra curriculars. When the COVID quarantine came along, veteran admission watchers thought “At last! Here’s the big thing that’s going to require us to rethink the whole process.”
That didn’t exactly happen. Since many of the changes affecting admissions also affected campus life and methods of instruction, college administrators were too concerned with keeping beds full and classrooms open to consider changing most admissions policies. Figuring out how to build a class without test scores proved to be challenging enough; changing anything else was perceived to be a dice roll no one could take right now, unless they were willing to risk the college’s entire future on it.
There’s still a lot to do to bring in this fall’s class, but it isn’t too early for colleges to hunker down now and think about The Big Move they didn’t have time for this year. Understanding that most admission changes are glacial, admission offices can use the lessons they learned from the quick change to test optional and build on them with a more strategic approach for other changes. This could lead to a new model of admission for this year’s high school sophomores. It’s already clear most colleges that went test-optional aren’t going to go back. Top that decision off with some strategic planning, and careful study of some schools who did make huge strides this year (I’m looking at you, UCLA), and there’s still a chance to either even the playing field of admission, or openly admit it isn’t even, and develop the protocols needed to create the exceptions that will make it more fair.
Meanwhile, if someone could just tell government policy makers why they went test optional, and why it makes sense for states to do so as well? They might as well make the students complete the tests with quill pens.
It isn’t just the seniors who missed this year’s scholastic rites of passage. Students may be the stars of this show, but there’s something about weak lemonade, folding chairs, and speeches about pursuing your passion faculty and administrators find just as assuring as the honored students. It’s the closest we get to winding down a year and taking a breath before taking up the task of deciding how the coming year could be smoother, better, or more effective. And if ever there was a year when that breath was needed, it was this year.
We didn’t get it. Instead, pundits and parents, who had spent the spring seeing first-hand what educators really do, were banging on academia’s gates, asking about the resumption of “school as usual” in the fall with a keen level of expectation. They may have been saying “Will schools reopen?”, but they meant “Schools had better reopen.” Unaccustomed to making such deep decisions on the fly—and, frankly, a little exhausted from having made two months’ of such decisions on the fly—K-12s and higher ed begged off. Let’s see what the numbers look like, they said, and we’ll have an answer soon.
Wow, did we blow it. One of the best ways to convey confidence in leadership is for leaders to make decisions with some sense of anticipation and planning. Given all the seemingly spontaneous decisions this spring required, how much better off would we be in the eyes of the public if we had used April and May to say what really needed to be said in three key areas:
“We’re going to review our entire application process.” School counselors are exhausted by June, but word that hundreds—that’s right, hundreds—of colleges were not requiring SAT or ACT scores for this year’s juniors created a groundswell of euphoria unknown to the summer months. The arguments for ridding college admissions of these tests are better articulated elsewhere (like here). Now that quarantine had added one more point to the argument—that the students just can’t take them—colleges succumbed to the reality in hordes, leaving counselors hopeful that, as long as they were checking under the hood of their admissions policies, admissions folks would toss out some other policies that deny college access to many students who need it most.
That bigger review doesn’t seem to be appearing. In his typical fashion, Lawrence U dean Ken Anselment was the first to suggest in a Tweet that colleges should use this opportunity to clean up the entire admissions process, instead of taking an approach centered on the question, “So, how do we make admissions decisions without test scores?” If anyone can make major revisions to their application in two months, it’s Ken and the Lawrence crew. It would have been better if, as a profession, all colleges had committed to this in April, creating more time and space to ask the bigger, better questions.
“We’re going online, and it’s going to be great.” Colleges also tried to buy some time this spring when they were asked how instruction was going to occur. As a group, they intuitively demurred, sure that any answer involving pure online courses would turn off students looking for a “full college experience,” sending them into the arms of community colleges, and leading many small private liberal arts four-years with weak decades-long financial struggles to close.
These same considerations are evident in the early announcements some colleges have made about Fall classes. Hoping that reduced sizes of in-person classes and cancelled Fall breaks will contain the health risks, these colleges are ignoring the realities of some of their own football teams, where summer scrimmages are leaving up to twenty-five percent of the team COVID active, and at least one re-opened bar in a college town, where a quarter of all patrons are now on self-quarantine (and this is before students show up). It’s clear the best health option for all is to stay completely online—but how do you sell that to a student who just had a slew of online classes at either college or high school that, by and large, were less than they could have been?
Enter the professors. It’s easy to see how parents and students don’t want to pay for weak online learning. On the other hand, professors and high school teachers had about a week this spring to turn their classes into an online version of its face-to-face self, a task most colleges give professors an entire semester (and time off) to do. Now that the summer is here, college instructors can give their courses the firepower they need to be more vital, more individualized, and more like the face-to-face thing.
If colleges connected the professors to families who rightfully see online learning as dubious, the profs could bring their websites along and show how these courses are more robust than their springtime counterparts. Smaller colleges have long tried to get faculty involved in discussions with students, because good profs create an excitement about learning that closes the enrollment deal. The same could have applied to online learning, if we had started sooner. Now, we’re forced to play catch up again.
“We want your kids to be healthy.” The teachers at a local kindergarten decided they wanted to run a quarantine version of kindergarten graduation. They made a giant rainbow arch, a few lawn signs, and went from house to house of every one of their students. They’d set up the display, have their student walk through the arch, and created a composite video of the whole event.
A success? Not really. The edited video didn’t show what really happened: that the excited students broke every safe-distancing rule in the book when their teacher showed up. Kindergartners love their teachers (thank goodness), and two months apart led to a euphoria that was shown by hugging everything in sight, a scene that’s reassuring to everyone but the Health Department.
In a nutshell, that’s why reopening K-12 schools to any kind of face-to-face learning is a bad idea. Wal Mart can’t even get “adult” customers to wear a mask; what chance does a teacher have making a dozen five year-olds practice safe distancing?
A joint effort by state and federal officials in April, devoting dollars and expertise to developing nationwide broadband access and best practices in K-12 online learning, was the best answer to teaching students. It also would have given time for working parents to develop resources for child care. Instead, K-12 is left with a continuation of the catch-as-catch-can policies that allowed them to limp to June in one piece, thinking that a couple of days in the classroom each week will placate parents. It might, until school closes again for quarantine—and if you think of the last birthday party you attended for a seven-year old, you’ll understand why that’s a certainty.
With each passing day more cases of COVID-19 are reported around the world. Meanwhile, every year college dorms across the United States become breeding grounds for viral and bacterial illnesses. Therefore, it would make sense for colleges from coast to coast to step up what is hopefully already a solid game plan should the worst happen – COVID-19 breaking out on campus.
Yet, at least publicly, there is not much proof that emergency plans are being dusted off and updated in anticipation for COVID-19. While many colleges in the U.S. are keeping mum about how they will react should COVID-19 break out on their campuses, at least one university to the north has put out a statement urging calm. Simon Fraser University in Canada released a notice stating that it “is actively reviewing its infectious disease protocols, pandemic plan and meeting with key stakeholders to ensure our three campuses are prepared and able to respond if needed.”
As recently as earlier this month, many colleges seemed just as concerned about xenophobia stemming from the Asian origins of the illness as they were about protecting the physical well-being of their current residential students.
In Maryland, enrollment professionals and those tasked with thinking about a college’s finances are worried about what COVID-19 may mean for enrollment of international students, many of whom are from China. Luckily, there are also members of the University System of Maryland who are at least thinking about how to react should COVID-19 present on one of its campuses; yet, the actual plan for such a dangerous virus – one that can take weeks for symptoms to appear and even more weeks for patients to succumb to death – are vague in Maryland and beyond.
Not only do American colleges and universities have to plan for protecting their domestic campuses, in many cases they also need to plan for evacuating and/or triaging their employees or students working or studying in remote domestic or international locales. This is a logistical challenge in normal times; in times of a real emergency, such as a pandemic, which has not occurred in the modern age, are colleges and universities up to the task of protecting their own? Or are they waiting on guidance from state governments or the federal government?
What’s certain is that currently most college students’ only knowledge of COVID-19 has come via Facebook’s random advisory showing up on students’ Facebook feeds (see below).
Students shouldn’t have to get their COVID-19 information from Facebook. Colleges needs to get ahead of matters – and quickly. With the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warning that community spread within the United States could come at any time, all American colleges and universities need to make their emergency plans public now so that all stakeholders are ready to appropriately respond should the virus take root in the U.S.
2/26/20 Update from Italian newspaper Il Fatto Quotidiano: “At least five American universities have canceled study programs in Italy. The list includes Elon University, Fairfield University, Florida International University, New York University, Stanford University, and Syracuse University, almost all with programs in Florence.” More from Voice of America and Stanford Daily.
2/27/20 Update from The Spokesman-Review: “Gonzaga University students studying abroad in Italy will return to the United States due to the spread of COVID-19, Gonzaga Provost Deena J. Gonzalez said in an employee email.”
If you only have one more spot to fill on your college list and it comes down to Northwestern University or Washington University in St. Louis, here are the factors you should consider before making the final cut.
Enjoy this installment of College List Deathmatch below!
If you can read only one thing this year that encapsulates the current state of life at far too many American colleges and universities, and thus, life in America, read this intense and amazing essay by writer and Yale graduate Natalia Dashan. This essay is a window into the life those chasing admission into selective colleges and universities can expect – whether they realize it or not.
More: “The Real Problem At Yale Is Not Free Speech” via Palladium Magazine
I could tell this was not going to be a typical meeting with a college representative. He walked into my office with absolutely no hurry, as if this was all he had to do all day, and talked about his school from the heart, not from a memory-committed checklist of things someone else told him to say. When I asked questions, he left a space between when I stopped talking, and when he started his answer, never once referring me to the school’s website, or the college catalog. This was clearly a guy who knew his school as well as he knew his middle name.
It was also notable that he didn’t talk about his school in some theoretical abstract. We do that a lot in college admissions, where we talk about a college in the third person, like it’s some kind of god. He mostly talked about the students at his school, what they were doing, what they liked about being there. He knew that’s what makes the college experience work for a student—who you go to school with. He wasn’t going to waste my time reciting scores and rankings, because Rugg’s could tell me about scores, and rankings were, well, pretty pointless. If you have time to talk with someone face-to-face, the conversation should be a giving of self, not of data, and that meant talking about things that mattered. What matters most in college is the students.
After he said everything he thought I should know, he got up and gave me his card. As I recall, he said something about how he’d like to hear from me, but the university had made it kind of hard to get hold of him, with a student aide and a secretary standing between him and every incoming call, but he urged me to persist. After he’d left, I read his card, and realized I’d just spent forty-five minutes talking to a Director of Admissions who had made a cold call to my high school.
That was my introduction to Tom Weede, who passed on earlier this month, leaving this world and our profession all the poorer. The outpouring of loss has come from all circles of our field, and it all contains one common message; Tom was the rare person who not only felt you mattered; he made sure you knew you mattered. He trusted you with his opinion, and trusted that you would step up and let him know how you felt in turn, even if you saw things differently. His advocacy in the profession was focused on students, and when he engaged you in conversation, you felt, as George Bailey once said, that he knew you all the way to your back collar button.
Tom’s come to mind quite a bit this summer, and not just because of his passing. I’ve been besieged by a number of students and parents flooding my office with requests to make college plans, and they’re all ninth and tenth graders. One father called and insisted he had to meet with me right away, since his son was a junior, and had no college plans at all. The student’s name wasn’t familiar to me, so I looked him up. Turns out he was a sophomore, but since his father called the day after school was over, calling his son a junior made things sound more important, I guess.
That’s the kind of month it’s been. One parent wants to meet to talk about “college strategy,” another one is convinced his ninth grader’s chances at graduate school are already shot because the student has no plans for this summer. It’s easy enough to get caught up in the mania the media is peddling as college readiness, but it’s never hit the ninth and tenth graders like this before. Worse, it seems to be hitting their parents, and too many of them are succumbing to the herd mentality of college angst, abandoning their post as sentinels of their children’s youth.
If there’s any remedy to this, I’d like to think it’s the calm, listening voice of the Tom Weedes that are still with us. Tom did most of his preaching to admissions officers, and none of us were smart enough to ever ask him if he’d thought about saying this to kids and families. Since similar voices are doing the same thing, it’s time to ask them to broaden their scope, before SAT flash cards become the in gift for bar mitzvahs.
Voices like Ken Anselment, Heath Einstein, and Tamara Siler do a very nice job of reminding colleagues that that the college selection process is all about the kids. What’s needed now is for them to share their insights with a larger audience, giving kids permission to be kids. It would be a great way to honor Tom’s memory. Better still, it would be the right thing to do for our world.