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Through our very own editors and guest writers, this blog will discuss the INSIDE scoop on the admissions process of various schools and programs. If you wish to ask a specific question, please write to us, and we will make every attempt to address your questions in our future blog discussions.
Monday, March 26, 2018
The Advantage of the California Community College
This week, University of California President Janet Napolitano threw down the gauntlet to the UC system by suggesting that it guarantee admission to all qualified transfer students. The idea is not a new one, but the call to open all UC campuses to such a program would be a first.

Guaranteed transfer agreements are a common practice at at least six of the nine UC campuses; Santa Barbara, Davis, Santa Cruz, Merced, Irvine and Riverside offer admission to California community college students who need to maintain relatively moderate grade point averages. At both Pasadena City College and Santa Barbara City College, for example, the required GPA for transfer students is between 2.8-3.4. By way of comparison, UC Merced, one of the campuses with a relatively generous admit rate of around 70%, admits students with an average GPA of between 3.40-3.91.

Notably absent from the list are UCLA and UC Berkeley-generally regarded as the most prestigious in the UC system, with staggering application numbers (108,000 for Berkeley and 113,000 for UCLA for the 2018-2019 academic year).

This is what makes Napolitano's proposition so astounding. The Los Angeles Times noted that the UC system is "widely regarded as the nation's top public research university system, with 270,000 students at 10 campuses, five medical centers and three national laboratories". Easing access for transfer students would arguably enrich California's population by creating more well educated, employable graduates.

There are myriad advantages to community college. It is exponentially more affordable. Admissions requirements are far less stringent. Two-year colleges tend to attract a more economically and racially diverse student body-something lacking at most of the UC campuses. Opening up this pipeline would quite literally open doors of opportunity to tens of thousands of California students. While the likelihood of all nine campuses heeding Napolitano's call is slim, her words are important, and may shape the state's approach to higher education in the years to come.

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Wednesday, March 21, 2018
What Happened to the Four-Year College Degree?
Did you know that just around forty-one percent of students enrolled at U.S. colleges and universities will graduate in four-years? The other fifty-nine percent of students take a full six years to earn their undergraduate degrees. In an era where college tuition and costs of living are skyrocketing, this is a really big deal.

A 2016-2017 survey conducted by the College Board found that the average annual cost of tuition and fees was $34,740 at private universities, $9,970 for in-state residents at public universities, and $25,620 for non-resident tuition at public universities. While instructive, these averages may mean little for students living in urban centers or states with higher costs of living. Annual tuition at the University of California, for example, is over $13,000. At the University of Pittsburgh, the annual tuition (for 2015-2016) was more than $18,000.

Taking an extra two years to finish college comes at a steep cost, both financially and in terms of time investment. That's two fewer years in the job market. Adding tens of thousands of dollars to your student loan debt means you could be paying loans off for decades.

So why is it taking students longer to finish degrees? Finance is a huge one. The cost of college these days means that more students have to work. They are more likely to take fewer units over a longer period of time. In other cases, students aren't actually aware of the number of units necessary for graduation, or elect to change majors mid-way. Many community college units don't transfer to "four-year" universities, requiring students to take longer to graduate (with surplus units, to boot).

At most colleges, 15 units per term is the magic number for a four-year finish. An awareness campaign called "15 to finish" was introduced by the University of Hawaii in 2012 and has become a new standard in several other states since. While universities are the ones who benefit from the six-year degree, they also have reputations to consider. Funneling students quickly through college and into the workforce does wonders for a university's post-graduate placement rate.

Whether the four-year degree becomes a thing of the past is a trend that remains to be seen, but for now, its outlook is a little bleak.

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Monday, March 19, 2018
Setting Reasonable Expectations for College Admission
Figuring out "what colleges really want" is really the Holy Grail of the research and application process. Usually, students set their sights on a university, then take to trimming and tailoring their appearance to impress their suitor. The experience can be exhaustive, and students end up spending months, hoping beyond all hope, that they're a match.

Consultants and counselors have been reminding students for years that the most effective college search is one that focuses on the best fit. The top universities in the country get a lot of air time for their single-digit acceptance rates. Let's stop bemoaning the exclusivity and move on. There's another home for the 95% of the students in the country who won't get into an Ivy.

Some consultants call the essay a deal-breaker for borderline students; others say it's all in the grades and test scores. Some suggest that successful students will have a better grasp on big-picture ambitions. The last one is tough for a seventeen-year-old. Not many of us had it all figured out before setting foot on a college campus.

Which is why the best approach is to let go of the notion that there's an easy answer. Colleges are looking for all sorts of different things in a candidate. Their decisions aren't always going to be fair and admissions isn't a scientific process.

Students that don't get in where they want are going to want to find scapegoats, and this is a wasted effort. I'm not discouraging students from reaching for the stars; merely reminding them that ambition and disappointment often go hand-in-hand.

Setting reasonable expectations at the outset can have the long-term effect of taking anxiety out of the process. College is important, but pedigree isn't determinative-that's what hard work is for.

So broaden your college outlook and take a step back. You won't regret it.

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Monday, March 12, 2018
Demanding Transparency in Legacy Admissions
Though the debate surrounding the fairness of legacy admissions policies is not new, it garnered some fresh attention this week. Student groups at thirteen top universities made a formal announcement of their intent to mobilize against legacy admission-a policy they recognize as a form of affirmative action for family members of wealthy alumni.

Their first goal is transparency. While many top universities don't deny the existence of legacy policies, they are much quieter about the actual admission metrics. Some try and cover the policy with a veneer of equity, claiming that, when faced with two equally qualified students, there is nothing wrong in selecting the student with stronger familial ties to the university. The problem with that argument, naturally, is that there is no way of proving that legacy admits are in fact as qualified as the students denied admission because of their lack of family connections.

A longer-term aim of these student groups is to scrap this patently prejudicial policy, which they see as a barrier to upward social mobility for all but the white, wealthy and connected.

Of particular importance is a debunking of the notion that legacy admissions benefit scholarship students. They argue that there is little evidence that legacy preferences increase donations. Wealthy alumni may just as inclined to donate to their alma maters whether or not they were able to purchase an admission spot for their own child.

They will, of course, face an uphill battle. The legacy admissions model has quietly served elite families (and university endowments) for decades. It is unlikely that they will loosen their grip on that expedited access without a fight.

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Friday, March 9, 2018
Tracking Women’s Presence in Higher Education
In honor of International Women's Day 2018, I’m devoting today's blog to a cursory look at the state of affairs for women in higher education. In the interest of brevity, I'm focusing exclusively on American colleges and universities.

The first thing to note is this: women have made up the majority of college student populations since the late 1970s. Over the past four decades, their numbers have continued on an upward trend. Some of the most recent federal data calculates that women accounted for 55% of undergraduates matriculating from U.S. universities.

These numbers generally ring true at the graduate and professional school level as well. In late 2017, the Council of Graduate Schools (CGS) released its annual report for 2016, noting that women earned the majority of doctoral degrees for the eighth straight year, outnumbering men in graduate school by 135 to 100. In 2017, the Association of American Medical Colleges reported that-for the first time ever-more women than men were enrolled in U.S. medical schools. In 2016, the number of women enrolled in U.S. law schools exceeded men, for the very first time.

In fact, the only notable lack of representation for women is in graduate business programs, where women make up just 37% of student enrollment. The good news is that many MBA programs have gotten savvier and more assertive in their efforts to encourage women to apply, and that there are individual schools across the country where women's enrollment exceeds that of their male counterparts.

The flipside of all of this good news is simple: after graduation, women's representation takes a cognizable nosedive. There are just 32 female CEOs in the Fortune 500 (.06%). There are just 106 female members of U.S. Congress (19.8%). Just thirty percent of college presidents are women. Three out of nine U.S. Supreme Court Justices are women. The U.S. has never had a female president or vice-president. The misalignment between women in management and women in school is staggering.

It's a stark reminder that progress doesn't have legs of its own and that, if the future is indeed female, we've got a lot of work to do.

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Monday, March 5, 2018
The End of Student Loan Forgiveness
The Public Service Loan Forgiveness program (PSLF), is a federal plan created in 2007 by the Bush administration, designed to encourage graduates to pursue work as teachers, social workers, public defenders and other public service positions. Students who work for ten years in the non-profit or public sector, and who make at least 120 payments towards their loan debt, can qualify to have their remaining balances forgiven. Under the Trump administration, this program is now on the chopping block.

At the graduate and professional school level, PSLF is critical for allowing and encouraging students to work in lower income professions. For example, many law students graduate with six-figure student loan debt, but jobs as public defenders and legal aid practitioners often pay between $40,000 and $60,000 a year. The same hurdles are true for medical school graduates who pursue work at low-income clinics and community medical centers. PSLF was designed to coax quality professionals into service-based careers.

According to US News & World Report, more than half a million borrowers have utilized PSLF in the past ten years. Critics of the program argue that PSLF's solvency hasn't yet been tested, because 2017 was the first year in which the earliest recipients could have their loans forgiven.

In December 2017, the House GOP introduced a bill called the PROSPER Act, designed to reform federal student aid legislation that has been in place since 1965. The bill would eliminate PSLF entirely, as well as placing a cap on federal graduate student loan borrowing. Such an action would likely have two primary effects: 1) forcing students to take on more private loans and 2) discouraging students from pursuing graduate education in the first place.

The Trump Administration's proposed 2019 Budget calls for the termination of the program. It is believed that the elimination would not apply retroactively.

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