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Monday, June 27, 2016
Taking a Breather from College Admissions Essays
It's the summer before your junior year. You may have already taken the SAT and squeezed in a few perfunctory college visits. The end of high school is near, but still far off enough to stave total panic. Maybe your parents are on your case to get serious about researching colleges. Your guidance counselor may have sent you home with a pile of brochures and a notebook for jotting down essay ideas.
But it's summer. Why borrow worry from tomorrow? Why not be a kid for a little while longer?
Why, indeed-and yet, when it comes to writing, there is no better editor than time. I can promise you that I've written things late at night that sounded brilliant until I read them again in the morning.
Which is why-sadly, perhaps-I think this summer is an ideal time to start thinking about your essay. I realize I can't make you. Yet good writers and experienced college consultants frequently advise college hopefuls to start keeping a diary. You don't need to pour your heart out to the pages every night, but just jot down things that strike you at the time. Time tends to lend perspective to emotional highs and lows, and this measured reflection will surface in your writing.
The benefit here is that note-taking won't swallow your summer. On the contrary, it will help keep it fresh for you. Trust me-you won't remember half of it, and the other half, you'll remember wrong.
Ignoring responsibility just makes small tasks seem huge. Give your essay a little thought this summer, and then walk away from it. When used wisely, time is a powerful architect of change.
Monday, June 20, 2016
End of the Road for Fisher v University of Texas
It has been nearly a decade since Texas high school senior, Abigail Fisher, was denied admission to the University of Texas at Austin. Under Texas' "10% Rule", the top ten percent of every high school graduating class is granted automatic admission to Texas’ public universities. Ms. Fisher was not among the top ten percent in her class.
Fisher claimed she was rejected, while African-American students with lower grades and test scores were admitted. Her lawsuit was a challenge to UT's long-standing consideration of race in college admissions. For the past eight years, the case has winded its way up the hierarchy of appellate courts. The case was first heard by the US Supreme Court in 2013, but remanded back to a lower court for further hearing.
This past week, the high court made a final ruling in the matter which affirms the use of race in college admissions decisions. From a practical standpoint, the ruling isn't necessarily going to cause immediate waves. Texas' 10% Rule itself was not exactly on trial. Eight states already have legal bans on affirmative action. Fisher herself graduated from the University of Louisiana in 2012, so any victory would have been symbolic for her.
The ruling on the matter was heavily influenced by the absence of Justice Antonin Scalia, who died earlier this year. Scalia and the Court's three other conservative justices are staunch opponents of affirmative action. Justice Elena Kagan had to recuse herself from the matter. The ruling was 4-3, and with Scalia's involvement, would most certainly have been a 4-4 "draw", which would simply have upheld the ruling of the lower court.
Monday, June 13, 2016
Are High-Priced Summer Programs Worth the Cost
With college admissions mania reaching almost folkloric status, it's not surprising that the universities themselves are forever in search of new opportunities to woo new students. And let's be honest-they aren't shy about making money in the process.
Elite colleges across the country offer a cornucopia of "pre-college" courses to students during the summers before college. These classes span a wide range of subjects and formats. Some are weeklong day classes, while others are packaged into six-week sessions, during which high school students live and study on campus.
In theory, the opportunity to test the college waters before diving in is great. Do you really want to be a lawyer or a doctor? Take one of these courses and find out. For the colleges, it's a boon. Top institutions charge thousands of dollars for these packages, and anxious college-hopefuls (or their parents) are happy to pay.
Some universities offer scholarships, but the pre-college concept smacks of privilege, and feeds the hysteria surrounding the competitiveness of college admissions. Many college admissions officers are quick to admit that the courses don't necessarily improve a student's chance of getting in.
Still, the demand is there, and it isn't hard to convince students that adding a whiff of pedigree to their resume will give them an edge. Like carrying a designer handbag, being able to say you attended a summer program at Yale just smacks of importance.
So whether or not bloggers like me, or more influential folks like admissions deans-sing the praises of these pre-college campus romps, it's clear there's a market for them. Whether the cost-benefit analysis weighs in a student's favor is entirely another matter.
Monday, June 13, 2016
Summer Before College
Back in my day, summer was meant to be a vacation. I took a few summer school classes to get ahead, but I didn't pay much attention to SATs, and never toured any colleges. By early Spring of my senior year, I’d been accepted to my top choice school. After that, I checked out.
I'm not sure students can get away with that anymore, but I'd sure dare them to try. I left for a European backpacking adventure with my best friend just days after high school graduation. It meant that I missed my late summer college orientation. I didn't meet with my college counselor for help in selecting classes and took a few I'd already tested out of. I still graduated.
Of course, it's all in my rearview mirror, and times have changed. Still, I think the summer before college is unlike any other you'll have again. For better or worse, you've probably committed to a school. You probably have no real idea what your next four years will look like. People will tell you they'll be the best of your life. Trust them.
They say that liminal space is fertile ground for personal growth. Embrace the anxiety of the unknown. It's okay not to be in control. You've done the work you needed to do in order to get where you're going.
The net will appear. And before you know it, college will be in your rearview mirror too.
Labels: Summer Before College
Monday, June 6, 2016
Undocumented Valedictorians Stoke Immigration Conversation
The early weeks of June mark high school graduation ceremonies across the United States. Part of the ritual involves speeches from the most academically auspicious amongst each class-the valedictorians. It is the highest honor reserved for graduating students. This week, in Texas, two valedictorians made headlines-and not for their stunning achievements.
Mayte Lara Ibarra, a valedictorian from Austin, and Larissa Martinez, from McKinney, both shared that they were undocumented immigrants from Mexico. Ms. Martinez addressed her status in her speech; Ms. Lara in a tweet. And outrage ensued.
In an election climate where the presumptive GOP nominee is promising to build walls and indiscriminately deport undocumented immigrants, these announcements struck a nerve. There is no shortcut to becoming valedictorian, but this did not stop arm chair critics from arguing that the two women were gaming the system. Others claimed the women were taking places reserved for American citizens.
As it stands, many US universities make no query into the immigration status of incoming students. A greater deterrent to undocumented students in higher education is cost-federal and state financial aid programs often do enquire into immigration status, making undocumented students far less likely to tackle the forms ancillary to college applications.
At a deeper level, the ire reserved for two young, successful and talented students holds a mirror towards problematic issues of race politics that plagues college admissions and society at large. A Fox reporter was fired this week after commenting on this story and stating, "I didn't know Mexicans were that smart".
Ms. Ibarra will be attending the University of Texas at Austin. Ms. Martinez has been accepted to Yale, and intends to study medicine.
Friday, June 3, 2016
Texas Top 10% College Admissions Rule to Change
If you don't live in Texas and aren't a constitutional law scholar, this revelation may not affect you. But for anyone in either of those categories, the recent proposal by Texas governor Greg Abbott to scrap the "Top 10%" law is a big deal.
Let me explain.
Since 1997, Texas has had a law in place providing automatic college admissions to the top ten percent of each high school graduating class. Texas' high schools are deeply racially segregated, so the theory behind the law was the promotion of racial diversity in Texas' public university system.
As usual, laws that promote preferential treatment of one group over another tend to generate controversy. The landmark court case Fisher v. University of Texas has been appealed all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court. That suit was filed by Abigail Fisher, a white student denied admission by the University of Texas, who blames the "reverse-racism" of Texas' system.
Fisher is not alone. The blowback against the 10% rule comes largely from a contingent that feels it discriminates against white, higher-achieving students. The university system dislikes the program because of the ways in which it restricts the universities from building and selecting their own student pools.
Whether Abbot is pandering to voting demographics or hoping to implement meaningful structural change remains to be seen. The issue is forever complicated by the difficulty in tracking the success of affirmative-action type programs, particularly against a backdrop of opposition to "preferential" admissions.
Across the country, states have different approaches to affirmative action. In states where it has been banned, many universities have circumvented the prohibition through alternative programs which offer preferential treatment to certain student populations. The dismantling of the "Top 10%" may have the most direct effects on Texans, but its abolition could send a powerful message to universities nationwide.
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