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Sunday, February 24, 2013
Breaking the Bank for College
If you're like many young students, the real costs of college haven't yet entered your head. For the past several years, you've just been focused on trying to get in. Now your head's probably just on the wait.
Soon enough, you'll know. Rejection can be tough to forget. Fortunately, so is the thrill of acceptance. Either way, once you figure out where you're going, the sticker shock sets in.
If you are a parent funding a child's education, the reality of the costs may have hit you long ago. You're not alone. In his inaugural address, President Obama referenced the College Scorecard. This website is the government's best effort to offer some transparency in education costs.
Last year, the government invited a small group of colleges to adopt a Financial Aid Shopping Sheet. This is pretty much a spreadsheet of costs (books, tuition, rent) and offsets (grants, scholarship, loans). If all schools actually did this math and posted it publicly, consumers could make more informed decisions.
If you are a young student financing your own education, you should also pay attention. Federal and state loans can make it possible. Student loans generally carry low interest rates and have long repayment terms. Still, most will expect you to start paying within several months of graduation. So remember that your out-of-pocket costs aren't deferred forever.
For the average student, a college education may be their most expensive investment ever-barring perhaps, buying a home. With that in mind, it isn't a transaction that should be entered lightly.
Interested in researching the price tag? Both the College Scorecard and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau have websites designed to help consumers navigate the costs of investment.
Labels: Breaking the Bank for College
Sunday, February 24, 2013
Common App Mixes Things Up. Again.
The release of essay prompts may not be news to most people. It's probably downright yawn-worthy. But there are a few groups that will/should take notice: college counselors and high school students. Yep, I'm talking to you, juniors and seniors.
It's been just a couple years since the Common Application capped their essay word count limit at 500. This was newsworthy for a few reasons. First, nearly five hundred colleges across the country accept applications routed through the hub of the Common App. Second, the word count reduction left many re-speculating about the significance of the admission essay. The Common Application has just released its essay questions for the 2013-2014 admissions cycle and there are a few surprises. There was some uproar this year when it was announced that they'd be eliminating the Topic of Choice prompt. Some counselors saw it as stifling of student creativity. They worried that the more perfunctory prompts would dull down the quality of writing.
Instead, the Common App shuffled the content of the prompts, softening them, and giving students a big more creative wiggle room than first expected. For example, there is this: Some students have a background or story that is so central to their identity that they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story. Essentially, this is an invitation to write about almost anything-as long as it's related to you.
They've also expanded the word count to 650. They remind students that 650 isn't the "goal", but that it is the limit. If you've ever tried to write or edit a 500 word biographical essay, you might welcome these extra 150 words rather enthusiastically.
So while you will no longer be able to submit an essay to the Common App about your favorite flavor of mustard, you still have some creative latitude. And a few extra words to throw in the batter.
Sunday, February 17, 2013
High School Classes that Matter
For years, the gap between many state education requirements and the entrance requirements of many colleges has been a wide one. For example, a high school may require just two years of a foreign language, but a student's top college choice may not even look at an application unless a student has studied that foreign language for all four years.
Shouldn't I focus on classes targeted towards my desired college major?
Typically, at the top universities in the country, the best candidates will all have four years of English, Math, History, Science and a foreign language. This expectation is generally the same no matter what major you chose. Don't assume that by applying as an English major, the college will overlook a gap in your math and science courses in high school.
What about electives?
Many experts say that colleges really don't care. I think the better answer is that electives are really just icing. If you don't have the right amount of core classes and a rigorous curriculum, what you take as an elective doesn't matter. Having said that, colleges are looking for bright, creative students with initiative. So while one art class may not matter, four years of theater may say a lot about a student's character and potential.
How about AP classes?
Like anything else in your preparation for college-don't overdo it. There's no point in collapsing under the weight off too many AP classes. On the other hand, if you're skating through some of your core courses, you may want to consider advanced placement. A better solution is taking AP classes only in the subjects in which you excel.
Recent polls have suggested that grades and strength of high school curriculum are amongst the most heavily weighted factors in college admissions. So students need to be making these choices as high school freshman. It may not be fair, but it certainly matters.
Labels: High School Classes that Matter
Monday, February 11, 2013
Law Schools Searching for Opportunity in Crisis
I've been writing for some time now about the spectacular downfall of the law schools in the U.S. in recent years. As the months roll on and new admissions data is released, the picture continues to get bleaker.
Just a few of the striking statistics from a recent New York Times article:
- Law School applications for the 2013-2014 academic year are down 20% from last year, and nearly 40% from 2010;
- Since 2004, the number of applicants has dropped by nearly half;
- The number of graduating students at the end of this year is expected to be about 38,000-the lowest since 1977, when there were a dozen fewer schools.
Some schools have already begun layoffs and cutbacks. Experts predict that as many as ten major schools may simply close over the coming decade.
The primary reason for the downturn is job prospects. In 2011, just 55% of law school graduates had found work (requiring passage of a bar exam) within nine months of graduation. A close second is the spiraling costs of tuition, which easily hits six figures at some of the private institutions. If debt payoff was onerous in the past, it is literally impossible for an un or under-employed law graduate.
The fracturing of the system has forced schools to start asking some of the important questions. How can they continue to attract students? How can they provide educations that are more aligned with real-world practice? How can they foster respect for the many strata of graduates, from those who aspire to Supreme Court clerkships to those who may become small market solo practitioners?
Certainly, the silver lining to the alarming numbers is the soul searching. Until it was broken, no one bothered trying to fix it. Now law schools- and the profession at large-have no other choice.
For a comprehensive look at the reasons behind the fall: NY Times
Monday, February 4, 2013
Doping in College Admissions
Well, ok, I'm speaking metaphorically.
Over the past several years, law schools have taken a lot of heat for falsifying student records in an effort to bolster their rankings. Unfortunately, the rankings-fraud trend (if we must give it a name), has been rapidly leaking into other arenas of higher education.
Last year, Claremont McKenna College, Emory University and George Washington University all admitted to submitting falsified student data to the US News & World Report-the publication considered to be the preeminent source for relevant ranking information. These are all undergraduate institutions. They are (or were, in the case of GWU, ranked somewhere in the top 20 nationally).
This month, Bucknell, a private liberal arts college in Pennsylvania, ranked in the top 35, has also admitted to falsifying data.
Experts are crying out for a revamping of the rankings system. It is based in large part upon selectivity. The lower the acceptance rate, the higher the ranking. Naturally, acceptance rate doesn't tell the whole story. For students looking to find the right fit, it isn't a very scientific approach.
If we continue to insist on selecting colleges based on rankings, then we must start fleshing out the manner in which rankings are determined. At present, a single publication pretty much has a monopoly on rankings. Though US News tries to base rankings on a broad range of data, they are still merely pollsters. Factors like student satisfaction and quality of the college environment cannot be mathematically quantified.
If all universities are falsifying data in order to keep pace with the rankings of their competition, does that make it ok? Of course not. Just ask Lance Armstrong how it worked out for him. The other shoe is eventually going to drop.
Labels: Doping in College Admissions
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