I’m Bob Poulsen, an Oregon parent of a high school senior. While researching colleges, I couldn’t find an efficient web tool to display US colleges on a map. So, being a web designer, I built one!
Let me show you some of the features of College Overlook, my new free web app.
After first viewing a map of all US colleges awarding Bachelor’s Degrees — over 1,700 according to the US Department of Education — accessible filters can then be applied to include or exclude groups of colleges based on size, acceptance rate, governance (public/private/religious), Common App acceptance, and more. That way you can map only the institutions that interest you most!
To save work for later, click “Save” (the download button with the arrow facing down) and you will get a unique URL that references your list of colleges, and your most recent map view. Set a bookmark, or share your unique link with others via email or social media. If you share this link with yourself, you’ll be able to view your work from any device, any time.
So, that’s what I created!
In May, 2022, I published this app on the web at https://CollegeOverlook.com
PS – The map can also be configured to check for colleges offering Associates Degrees.
We’re about three weeks away from the height of the release of college admissions decisions, the time of year when students pull their hair out either waiting to hear or musing over what they’ve heard. Along with trying to ease student angst, college admissions veterans know they can expect an inbox full of articles featuring the following content:
- Record High Applications at Highly Selective Schools
- Highly Selective Schools Report New Lows in Admit Rates (yes, these two are related, but most Americans don’t understand this, thanks to the way we teach math in this country, so…)
- Calls for Equity in Admissions Follow Record Application Year
We can expect these articles because they are written every year, partly to make an official record of what actually has happened, partly to supply some kind of solace to students who didn’t get the admissions news they had hoped (“See Son? It was harder than ever to get in”) or to fatten the praise of those who did (“Wow! I beat the odds in the Most. Competitive. Year. Ever!”)
To balance these “the sky is falling” articles, I write one that tries to keep everyone on an even keel, so they can provide some stability to the students and parents who are new at this, or who are doing it again, and forgot what it felt like the first time. Hardly anyone notices the piece I write—it’s apparently more fun to be out there on rocky seas than to be safe in the harbor—but in the interest of trying to offer some support, here we go:
- Not all applications are created equal. A college that reports a 5 percent admission rate doesn’t mean a particular student’s odds of getting in are 5 percent; it means the college admits 5 out of every 100 applications it receives. Put another way, a student with a C average applying to Swarthmore doesn’t have the same “chance” of being admitted as a student with a 3.9. Juniors should keep this in mind.
- Much of the college experience depends far more on what the student puts into the experience than where they experience it. A former student was admitted to a Seven Sisters college, which then proceeded to gap her in financial aid. She ended up at a public university, where she basically ran the Global Studies program where she earned a degree. This included fulfilling her desire to do a semester abroad in South Africa, even though her college didn’t offer study abroad there. She simply registered as a guest student at another college that did. Tell me she would have had any of those opportunities at the Seven Sisters school. Go ahead.
- Notions of the need for change in the college admission process are overblown. It takes about 20 minutes to apply to most colleges, since they require neither essays nor teacher letters. Since that’s about the same amount of time it takes to get to another level in Mario Brothers 812, it’s pretty safe to say most students can complete this task without life-altering stress.
- Notions of change in the college admission process are simplistic, Part I. Admissions observers had a field day when COVID drove many competitive colleges to go test optional, a change that was gaining steam even before 2019. Two years later, we now find a rise in “test optional strategies” from test prep advisors who will advise students on which tests to take, and which scores to send—all for a fee. Similarly, we see some competitive colleges admitting fewer—far fewer—test optional students than those who submit scores, but deciding not to report that to the major public, since the “test optional” moniker is so highly valued. The result? A change that was supposed to make applying to college easier has made it harder in many cases, except at colleges where the admit rates were generous to begin with—and those are the schools where applying takes 20 minutes, and application reform wasn’t necessary.
- Notions of change in the college admissions process are simplistic, Part II. Undeterred by the lack of real parity brought by many test optional policies, many reform advocates are now turning to essays and teacher letters of recommendation as the next parts to go in the current process. This leads to two questions:
- If you take out all parts of the current application process (some are even saying grades shouldn’t have to be reported), what do you replace them with?
- Do you honestly think whatever you answered in the last question can’t also be gamed to favor the rich? Interviews? Community Service? Cake Baking? Put any life experience or skill in the mix of college applications, and in a year, a horde of tutors will crop up that will give an edge to students who can afford their services. That will be very hard to beat.
- My annual plea for more counselor training in college counseling. If it’s safe to conclude that any admissions process will favor students who understand it, it’s reasonable to conclude it will favor any student who works with a counselor who understands it. So, instead of changing the admissions process, how about leveling the playing field by making sure all counselors receive deep training in college counseling? Less than 5 percent of all school counselor training programs devote any time to instruction in college counseling, and that sometimes only consists of how to register for the SAT. Private school college counselors have greater access to professional development that keeps their already keen college counseling skills sharp. Most public school counselors got their counselor training in a program that gave them no college counseling skills at all. Which group needs to be better trained in the first place?
That should be all you need to make it through the media madness of the next month. Release the hounds.
How many colleges should be on your college list, and how many of these colleges should be safety schools, target schools, or reach schools? Use the guidelines to keep yourself organized and focused.
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!
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.
Sometimes you just need a change of scenery. If this describes how you are feeling right about now and you are an American or Canadian high school student, NOW is the time to seriously consider and start researching options for completing your undergraduate degree in the United Kingdom.
“But how do I go about do that?” you ask? “I wouldn’t know where to begin!” you declare.
Start by signing up for the invaluable TH!NKUK event running from January 18 through 22, 2021.
TH!NKUK is like a massive multi-day virtual college information session, and it will be the largest scale event organized specifically by UK universities for a North American audience this year. TH!NKUK highlights diverse higher education opportunities in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland and will cover everything from how to submit UCAS applications to what it’s like to arrive in the UK as an international student. Best of all, participants will have the chance to engage with International Admissions Officers, academics, current UK university students from North America, and UK university alumni.
Students, parents, and high school counselors are encouraged to attend to learn more about studying in the UK.
Before or after attending, here are five ways applying to attend college in the UK is different from applying to attend college in the US.
Long time readers of admissions.blog know that I’ve often said that there are at least two great reasons for Americans to get their degree in the UK.
Though so much has changed in the last year, high school students need to remember that the world is your oyster! Don’t settle for an American college degree if it’s not a good fit for you. Research until you find your ideal post-secondary path. Good luck!
Putting together your college list requires more thought than deciding what you want to wear today. Yet, far too many students that I’ve worked with probably put MORE thought into their daily clothing choices than they put into how to develop a final college list.
I could probably write a book about the many factors you should consider when developing a smart and strategic college list. Unfortunately, right now members of the high school Class of 2021 don’t have time to read a whole a book and I don’t have time to write a whole book. Instead, if you still have time to refine your college list, at least take the time to watch three videos that I put together recently. They explore how you can select smart safeties, possibles, and reaches for your college list. Good luck!
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.