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What’s News for U.C. Berkeley and The University of California System

In Ivy League Admission Statistics, Researching Colleges, Santa Cruz, Stanford Admissions, U.C. Berkeley Application, UC Santa Cruz Application, University of California, University of California Admissions Data, What They Aren't Telling Us on May 4, 2016 at 2:39 pm

What’s in this column:  Some news on this year’s Berkeley admissions results; a short history of U.C. admissions (why is it getting so crazy–the answer is partly here); some information on budgets and politics at the U.C.  If you do not wish to read more than 140 or so characters at a time, scan for bold print and font color changes to see important data and subtopics.

If no news is good news . . . let’s just say there’s news for the U.C. system and in particular for Berkeley.

My goal here is to put this news–some of which you have likely heard, particularly if you live in California–into perspective.  And I’d like to start by making a simple statement:  the University of California was and still is the greatest university system in the world (sorry, University of London and your 18 campuses–more on them in my coming entry on international options).  And I can say that U.C. will (still) be great you are applying next year, though the bathrooms may not be as clean nor the landscaping as tidy as in earlier days, nor the computer lab repaired and updated quite as often, particularly at Berkeley where–here it is, your first data point for the year–500 employees are being laid off right now.

But before we get to budgetary problems and that massive construction project called U.C. Merced, let’s take a quick look at admissions results for the U.C. Berkeley, which sets the bar for the system as a whole.    I add one caveat:  waitlist admits and transfers are still in process, so the averages I give you here are going to move around  a bit.

Here is the scoop on the numbers for U.C. Berkeley for the 2015-2016 admissions period (a.k.a. the Class of 2020. a.k.a. students applying for the fall of 2016):

U.C. Berkeley Class of 2020 admissions

Average GPA:  3.91  (4.41 Weighted)

SAT:  (25th-75th%) 2075-2237–note that this is the SAT II, including language and math

All together Now:  Holy Bleep!  And for U.C. Berkeley:  Welcome to the newest member of the Ivy League.  No, seriously, in terms of admissions data, they have arrived.  Oh sure, Berkeley is not like Yale, Princeton or Stanford (which dropped below a 5% admissions rate this year).  But they are pretty close to Cornell, which has an admissions rate of 13.96% for the class of 2020.  Again, these numbers will move a bit as waitlist admits occur, but not much, and it tells you what you are facing when you apply next year–to Berkeley or Cornell, which had a 1400-range SAT II average last year.  You have my full sympathy.

Seriously, you do.  I grew up in California, my father worked for the Cal State system, and I have been directly involved with higher education in California in one way or another since the 1980’s.  And frankly, I don’t need a bigger college advising business opportunity than I already have, driven by a supply/demand problem that has been developing since about 1980.  The problem you face is part of a bigger problem involving what used to be called the Commons, particularly troubling when higher education is, in my opinion, the leading industry of the United States, not tech or, um, manufacturing.

Seriously. Silicon Valley exists because of the proximity of a half-dozen universities and cheap, clean water  as much as it does to genius entrepreneurs like Msrs. Hewlett and Packard, Grove and Noyce or to Wunderkind like Wozniak and Jobs (Yes, water-check out early chip production and the archaeology of the Valley here:  Not Even Silicon Valley Escapes History) .  The immediate cause for everything from HP on is as much in the universities as it is in the up-by-the-bootstraps mythology.  Hewlett and Packard were both Stanford alums and Woz was a Golden Bear, as are many inhabitants of the Silicon flatlands now. Yeh, Jobs was a dropout, from Reed College, but Reed also shaped him before he left. It’s still a great college, if you can handle the tuition.

So to see the applications difficulty reach this level makes me somewhat cray-cray.  Particularly when I work with California-resident students who visit the campus, see the Cal students, take a walk up Strawberry Canyon to look out over Memorial Stadium, with Mount Tamalpais and the Golden Gate in the distance and . . .  then, having fallen in love withe place, confront an admit rate like that of Cornell.

I will be delivering more detailed advice in upcoming columns on how to deal with this as you develop application strategy, which starts with looking at the full suite of U.C. campuses, as well as at U.C. proxies from British Columbia to destinations yet to be disclosed.  For the moment, let’s turn our attention to another “controversy” that probably adds resentment to those of you who are Californians.

Here it is:  the California State Auditor recently released a “highly critical report” on the U.C. and revealed (gasp) that U.C. is admitting more out-of-state studentsHere is the gist:

“Nonresident enrollment in the UC system increased by 82 percent, or 18,000 students, from 2010-11 to 2014-15, while in-state numbers fell by 1 percent, or 2,200 students”

For some historical perspective, the U.C. system originally admitted the top 12.5% of students in California–then they dropped that to top 10%, and now it’s closer to the top 8%, but this is no longer a solid number that is part of the mission statement for serving Cali students. But none of this is really  news.  The numbers have been out there.  The regents at each stage announced the retreat from California admissions and were clear about budgets and their need for increased funding via out-of-state tuition.  This was not proclaimed on billboards or in radio ads, but they did put it out there for anybody who wanted to pay attention.  And the auditor’s report as well as the  outrage  is highly political, an intentional pot-stirring by an assemblyman working on his career, with Governor Brown lurking somewhere in the background. Not to mention those jumping on the bandwagon, like San Ramon assemblywoman Catherine Baker, who wants to cut taxes, not increase U.C. funding and cap out-of-state enrollment . . . . to fix things . . . .which amounts to promising more with less.  Works pretty well in Zen koans, not so well in running an institution of higher education.  For more on that,  I quote and link the Contra Cost Bee:  “Baker’s approach sounds a lot like the words and actions of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker.”

All I can add is this:  if affects your kids–or you–now,  or will affect your kids, you can have an influence.  Read up on my links.  Talk to people about it.  Vote early and vote often.  And then plan around it for admissions.

The enrollment facts are partly due to enrollment policy changes in 1986 and to   a wider effect of disinvestment in public goods (which is a  subject way too large for this column, or any column, for that matter–a book would be needed).  What is annoying to me is the supposed surprise of so many, and the attitude of politicians, who seem to think that funding can freeze and so can tuition.  In particular, I’m looking at  Governor Brown when I say this, and I have voted for Jerry every time he has run for  office.  So message to the Gov:  Sure, for a year or two you can freeze things while you work out your problems, then you have to pay the bills.  And just cutting janitors and tech support is not going to fix the budget for the U.C.

Please note:  I do not think tuition should increase.  But I know more money is needed, and this squeeze will soon begin to affect the U.C. system and Berkeley in particular, in ways students will feel . . . actually it already is happening,  not just in the jobs lost, but also in the support for students that those 500 employees represent.  Need that computer lab to be repaired?  Sorry, maybe next month.  For more, I quote and link this:

“Class sizes are ridiculous and desks are broken,” said Rebecca Ora, a doctoral candidate in film and digital media.

As for the Ivy-League admissions numbers, the enrollment policy change I mention occurred in 1986.  Prior to that year, students could only apply to one U.C. campus; if they were not admitted, they would then be redirected to another campus.  Pretty simple, if limited in terms of choice, and to control the outcome, students chose one campus they preferred and that they felt they had a good chance to be enrolled in. Most were okay if they were shunted from Berkeley to, say, Davis or San Diego.    So keep in mind that some of the crazy numbers for Berkeley–and U.C.L.A.–are driven by the multiple admissions policy as well as by the high, international profile of those campuses.  Pretty much everybody applying to the U.C. system at large applies to Berkeley and Los Angeles, even if they really think Riverside is their real target–Why not, when there is no real downside?

For a quick history of U.C. admission, have a look here:  Frontline on U.C. Admissions

But back to that budget:  here’s the news at U.C. Berkeley–

150 million dollar Budget Deficit

500 Job Cuts

Again, if you do not need to follow the news on state government and education in general, you might find this anywhere from confusing to outrageous–after all, did we not pass proposition 30, thus increasing taxes and so securing funding?  Well, yes we did.  But even then, in 2012, this still left a 1 billion dollar deficit, yep billion with a B, due to funding shortfalls going all the way back to the financial meltdown of 2008-2009 and to not funding obligations back to the turn of the century. Berkeley Chancellor Dirks announced in February of this year that he forecasts a 150 million deficit.

Expect other campuses to have problems as well.  One of the causes is pensions costs, but of course for years the U.C.  stopped contributing to pensions and now the U.C. system as a whole–as part of their budget from the state– must make contributions to catch up.  Lest I sound too much like Catharine Baker, I add that U.C. and therefore the State of California had contracts with pay and benefits that they signed and should stand behind, and that the big decisions were made in the legislature and in the Governor’s office–going back through Schwarzenegger’s time, btw.  In my view, throwing employees overboard after making an agreement in exchange for labor and services is immoral and I know that this would  lead to an exodus of employees that serve students–like that engineering professor who is or will in the near future be teaching your kid–as well as making it harder for U.C. to recruit good profs and support people.

It is true that U.C. has bloat in administration, but technology has led to increasing need for technology administration, as have new requirements for programs and services.  You want somebody to police discrimination or to oversee additional support to ensure graduation rates, you gotta pay for their salaries.

The upside for you, Oh Applicant or Parent of Applicant is that part of the deficit comes from an agreement fought over, excuse me, negotiated between U.C. President Napolitano and Governor Brown, an agreement that freezes tuition while increasing the number of California students by 10,000 over a three-year period.  For the coming application season, this means that an additional 2,500 students from California will be admitted.  So this is good:  the current 13,400 tuition and fees will rise only at about 3% per year and you have a better chance of getting in, Oh California Resident, and a pretty much equal chance to last year, if you are not a state resident.

While the idea that your first-year tuition, if you apply in the fall of 2016 will go up by 3% sounds bad, it’s not, relative to what might have happened.   This 3% per year rise means that in 2020 you will pay about 15,500–but in projections back in 2012-2014, tuition was going to be in the 20,000 dollar range by 2020.  You will save around 12,000 dollars because of this agreement, over four years, if you start school in the fall of 2017.   So more California students will get in, with little impact on out-of-state applicants, and you will pay less than the U.C. planned back on 2014.

My final note is this:  I know that 2,500 admits for California students seems a pittance when there were 206,000 applicants for the U.C. system this year. And it is a paltry number, at 1.2% of that total of over 200,000–but also note that fall 2015 admissions saw 92,324 students admitted out of a total of 158,338 applications.  And it is much better than a decline in California resident enrollment.  So cheer up and apply to Santa Cruz and Riverside and have a good overall list of application targets.  U.C. Merced . .  . better for a transfer after two years in a community college, in my opinion.  More on that in another post.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Brave New World Of College Applications

In college admissions, college application, Researching Colleges, Tuition Costs, University of California Application, university rankings on May 31, 2012 at 11:19 am

Back in the old days, say in the year 2005, the only worry you really had when applying to college in California was whether or not you would get in.  Now, not only is it harder to get into college, you also have to worry about  how politics (and the economy) are impacting the universities to which you want to apply.  Most of the problems you will face, from finding a school to paying the ever-increasing tuition to getting into the more and more crowded classes have a common cause: funding.  And funding is a function of political priorities as much as it is a result of economic swings.

Bear with me while I explain,  and then I will offer a simple strategic proposal after I  outline the current situation.

We could start with the fact that Cal State students launched a hunger strike earlier this month in response to tuition increases and cuts in courses and enrollment.  Their solution is focused on administrative pay, which is a satisfying target, but won’t solve the problem.  The problem is much bigger.

In March, the Cal State system announced that it is planning to cut up to 3,000 staff members for the 2012-2013 academic year, as well as slashing enrollment–this seems assured if the tax initiatives on the ballot for November, 2012, do not pass.  Even if the initiatives do  pass, Cal State schools will not be accepting transfers next Spring, meaning the twenty-five or so thousand community college students who are ready to move on to a CSU will have to wait half a year.  This means that the current best-case scenario amounts to a freeze in enrollment while services are cut.

If this outrages you, put it into perspective:  the system has experienced increasingly severe cuts for the last decade, and at this point it has the same amount of money as it did in 1997, but it has 90,000 more students to serve. Decades of cuts have accelerated in the last four years, and something has to give, so plan not only on paying more tuition per term at a CSU, plan also on spending more time in school because you can’t get the classes you need to graduate.

More time in school means spending more money, so factor an extra term or two in as an additional cost when you set up your application list.

Moving on to the University of California system,  the regents are proposing a 6% tuition increase for this fall–this is on top of the increases already planned and implemented–and this increase is almost certain since the U.C. regents say it is based on whether or not funding will be increased for 2012-2013 (hint:  it almost certainly won’t be.)  This will put the total tuition for 2012-2013 at 12,923, plus other fees.   As a result, students attending a U.C. this fall can expect to pay about twice what a student paid in 2007.  Worse yet, if the tax measure on the ballot for November fails to pass, U.C. regents will meet to “consider” an additional  double-digit increase effective for the next term.    Yes, at least 10% will be added on to the planned 6% in the same academic year.  The sky is indeed cracked and it will start falling in 2012 if more revenue is not generated.

The focus of rage at this point is misguided but understandable–the hunger strikers I referenced above are upset about administrative salaries, and I agree that it is unfair for admins to get raises while students are hit in the wallet, but saving even tens of millions dollars by freezing or cutting admin pay is the proverbial drop in the bucket relative to cuts of at least 750 million dollars  for U.C. and Cal State for this year alone.  It might help a little to cut admin pay, and I don’t think any administrator anywhere should be getting a raise when profs and students are taking a beating, but it’s a symbolic act to cut admin pay, not a solution.

Keep in mind that increased tuition accompanied by fewer class offerings are not the only effects of budget cuts.  Instructors are increasingly hired as adjuncts and lecturers, which means you increasingly have part-time teachers who are paid less and don’t get the benefits of full-time professors and who teach larger and larger classes. Everything from research to maintaining quality of instruction is compromised as the system cuts costs.

Meanwhile, understanding what is going on is more difficult due to the economic troubles of an entirely different industry–journalism.  Local reporting is mixed in its quality, with ABC 7 in L.A., for example, putting out reports like this one, in which the reporter writes about how the U.C. system still has “pricey” constructions projects going “gangbusters.”  The reporter finally explains that these projects were funded through bonds, often seven or more years ago, but the headline and focus of articles like this one–which doesn’t really explain anything until the article is halfway through–creates confusion about what the real problems are.  Construction which is currently underway has nothing to do with the  budget crisis we have right now, but it’s hard to tell that if you are scanning articles like this one.

And the problem is clear, if you step back a bit:  the collapse of the housing bubble and deep recession of the last four years have not so much caused  university funding to collapse as they have revealed the deep structural problems in education funding in California, problems which go back to the year 1978 and Proposition 13.  And speaking of going back to future, Jerry Brown was governor when Prop 13 passed, and while he opposed it strenuously and publicly, he also bowed to the will of the people and implemented it to the letter after it passed.

Governor Brown is nothing if not forthright, and just as he did in 1978, he is presenting the citizens of the state with a clear alternative:  vote in November to raise taxes or the budget will be cut even more severely. If you understand state budgets, you know this means big cuts for next Spring, but even bigger cuts for the fall of 2013.  And I mean the kinds of cuts that are causing me to tell my college advising clients who live in California  to apply to multiple universities outside of California.

And I am going further than that:  I am telling my clients who are planning to go to college in the fall of 2013  that, if the ballot initiatives fail in November 2012, they should plan on going to college out-of-state and even outside of the United States.  Going out of state or out of the country can be close to the cost of going to school in California now,   and in many places outside of the (formerly) Golden State, students will be more easily able to get the classes they need and so to graduate on schedule, which also saves money.

With current U.C. increases planned to push tuition above 18,000 dollars over the next four years, and with the potential for that to increase  to over 20,ooo dollars a year by 2017 if the tax initatives fail, going out of state is looking like a good bet to be on par in tuition and expenses or an even cheaper alternative, if you search widely and well.

As an example, out of state tuition at the University of Oregon  is currently in the 25,000 range for out-of-state students, but cost of living is lower than at many U.C. schools, and if the November tax initiative fails, tuition in California will race to catch up or pass out-of-state tuition in many states, including Oregon.  Oregon has its own severe budget problems, but they do not currently have the catastrophic potential of  those in California, and with U of O looking at an endowment  and other strategies to boost funding, along with tuition breaks at smaller schools like Southern and Western Oregon, I expect costs in Oregon to be significantly more stable and potentially cheaper than in-state California tuition by 2018, and if you go to a WUE school, it could be cheaper within a year or two. Add to that the fact that U of O is seeking more out-of-state students, and you also have a comparative advantage in being admitted in the first place.

Before moving on, I want to reinforce that Oregon and Washington have serious budget problems and face continuing increases in tuition, which is why you should be looking internationally as well, but relative to California, Oregon and Washington schools are becoming more attractive.  See this report for a breakdown of what is happening in the sunny west.

So that’s the takeaway:  if you live in California, apply to universities in at least two or three states, and you should also be looking at universities beyond U.S. borders.  In fact, nobody should be applying only to California or even solely to West Coast universities.  But don’t assume that leaving California means everything will be hunky-dory.    Do your homework in assessing the budgets for all universities in all states in which you plan to apply.  Most places are suffering.  It’s just far worse in California than anywhere else.

In the near future, I will be writing in more detail about the situation outside of California and outside of the United States, with analysis on specific schools in Oregon, Washington, Arizona, Canada and Great Britain as well as Ireland, but this content will only be available in full to my  subscribers and clients.

Good luck and Godspeed in researching colleges, and be sure to look up budget matters–or hire me to help you with that.

College Application Success: The Seven Rules

In college admissions, college application, common application, Common Application Essays, Harvard Application Essay, Researching Colleges, Stanford Application, UC Santa Cruz Application, University of California Application, university rankings on March 29, 2012 at 11:46 am

College App Jungle’s  Rules of College Admissions:

1. There are no secrets to admissions though each university does have priorities which shape admissions. Beyond looking at the information colleges provide about how they evaluate applications, spending time trying to figure out if there is a “secret handshake” which will give you admittance is a waste of time.

This doesn’t mean that all things are equal and no strategy is necessary.  I strongly recommend that you carefully research universities and craft your application to match the schools which you want to attend–more about this below.  But those who spend hour after hour on the chat threads on College Confidential, hoping to find something guaranteeing them an acceptance letter from their favorite school,  should instead spend the time working on their essays.

Maybe you know a guy who knows a guy who knows that U.C. Berkeley is looking for engineering students who are the first in their families to go to college, but . . . so what?   Even if this is true (and it was recently) this kind of “fact” changes each year. Every university has dozens of priorities for admissions, priorities which are revised both before and during the admissions process each year; as students are admitted and categories fill, numbers  like the SAT average and ethnicity  for applications and admits also change.  Early on, the college may be looking for students who fit a particular profile, but once that fills or starts to fill, they can shift the priority to a different category .

Why?  The universities have one eye on you and another eye on things like their ranking in the U.S. News and World Report.  The take away is that you can’t spend time worrying about things which will change even as apps arrive at the college.

As an example of an admissions priority which is changing, San Jose State is currently embroiled in a controversy over giving preference to students coming from Santa Clara County, where the university is located.  For this year, they have backed off from eliminating this preference, but facing 60 million dollars in budget cuts right now, they are likely, within another year or so, to eliminate it.  Why? You could say that,  to be fair to all applicants in a statewide university system,  they can’t act like a local school, but more realistically  this move seems designed to allow more space for students who will pay more–foreign and out-of-state students, for example.  This will also increase their selectivity and so tend to improve their national ranking.

And this is only one of many preferences facing evaluation and possible revision this year for San Jose State alone, which like the rest of the Cal State schools  uses the supposedly simple objective admissions process; add to this the priorities assigned to various schools and majors within the university,  and you have some idea of how complex the calculus is for every school.  Do the same for a holistic admissions university and it’s even more complex.

See my last post for more information on how universities assess applications and what a holistic versus objective evaluation entails, and look below for my link to the U.C. Santa Cruz evaluation to see a detailed list of factors considered–keep in mind that these vary to some degree from school to school, even within the U.C. system.

2. Grades and test scores are the most important factors in evaluations of college applicants.

You can count on grades and scores to be the first but not only consideration as your application is evaluated.   If you are a top student in a good school, if you have excellent SAT/ACT scores, a broad set of activities and a clear area of specific excellence  and passion, you will be admitted to most schools you apply to.  If you do not fit this description, you may have fewer options, but fear not:  there is a college with a spot for every student in the country with decent grades and test scores.  You may have to go further afield, of course, but you are not forever doomed by a few C’s and B’s.  As for GPA, it’s your unweighted average that is directly compared and which is used in the averages the universities publish with their profiles of admitted students; your weighted average does matter as it establishes your class rank, and can be used as an additional factor in direct comparisons, but the unweighted GPA is the first thing assessed, along with SAT/ACT test scores.

3. Some things do trump grades and test scores, but these tend to be very specific and very obvious exceptions.

Your favorite university is, in fact, looking for you if  you show a clear ability or potential to excel at something of value to the institution– if you are a recognized musical talent with decent grades or a mathematical prodigy or a 6’4″ All-CIF high school linebacker running a 4.5 second 40 yard dash and bench pressing 350 lbs, for example.  But even with exceptional skills in some area, such as tackling other large, fast people, you must still show that you have the academic chops to survive as a student at the specific school, though some entities, like athletic departments, may supply assistance in the form of tutoring.

If you want this quantified further, a 2008 study showed that players on top 25 football and basketball teams had SAT scores 220 points below the average for the rest of the student body at these schools.  Obviously elite athletic programs get priority at many schools.

Unfair, you say?  Not from the institution’s point of view.  It has its own priorities, with money and reputation near or at the top of the list, and sports are important both to boosters and to most students.   So are many other talents.  If you doubt my claims, see my entry about admissions stats for early 2012 and scroll down to my discussion of Stanford for further details on the importance of athletics.  It seems that the football team is important even at an intellectual paragon like Stanford.

The next rule is for the vast majority who  do not fit the exceptional niches that most universities set aside and who do not have a perfect academic record.

4. It’s okay to be human.  A few B’s and a  C will not kill your chances of admission to any but the most competitive universities, especially if you show a desire to push your limits by taking challenging classes in which you are not always perfect.  As you create your application portfolio, your  essays and extracurriculars can  reveal important and valuable aspects of you that can offset relative weaknesses in your grades or test scores.  Good recommendations are also important.  For an example of a the kinds of additional factors, see the U.C. Santa Cruz website, where they list fourteen factors used in making evaluations–they are, for example, giving  California residents preference (at least as of this year’s applicants), something that other U.C.’s  are moving away from (as I pointed out above, they get more money from a nonresident. . . )

My advice:  Try to keep things in perspective as you prepare for college.  I have known a few Valedictorians who were really living miserable lives in order to “win” academic honors.  I think it’s better to be less than perfect and to enjoy your life rather than to live in torment over every grade point.  There are many schools you have not heard of where you could be perfectly happy and be well educated.  If you are a resident of a western state, see my post here for more information on finding a good university in the West and potentially saving a lot of money as an extra boon.

5. The college application process starts early.  In fact, it should begin no later than the Sophomore year in high school.  Even the Freshman year in high school is increasingly important, if not as part of your GPA, then as part of your overall academic trajectory (they want to see increasing difficulty and challenge in your class selection from year to year). I think this is unfair and unwise–many people struggle to adjust in the first year or two of high school, and there are myriad examples of successful people who did not excel early–but this is the way things are going as competition for admission to selective universities increases.

On the other hand . . . a student who stumbled early should not give up.  The holistic schools will look at other aspects of your application that may explain or offset some academic    shortcomings.

You should make a serious effort to establish relationships with counselors and cultivate relationships with teachers, for you will need recommendations.  Try to develop these relationships early and in a sincere way, which requires something from you as well as from them.  When dealing with teachers, show interest and be helpful when possible–and show an interest in the academic subject of the teacher,  not just in yourself and your opinions.

By your Junior year, you want your counselor to know your face, your name and your important interests.  If you are a Junior and haven’t talked to your counselor, there is no time like the present.

Be straightforward about your desire to work with your counselor as part of your application process.  Ask them for their advice–they are usually knowledgeable  if not expert, and people like to share what they know, so let your counselor talk.  If your counselor seems less than eager, on the other hand, it might have to do with budget cuts that have loaded them with 500–or more–students.  Be polite and persistent.

6. Essays are Important and can separate you from your competitors.  And in the essays, as in your activities, authenticity matters.  Your application self and your real self need to have a clear relationship.  If your verbal score on the SAT was 550 but your essays read like Zadie Smith wrote them,  your app will not do well, even if your SAT math score was perfect.  Most experienced admissions readers can predict your SAT verbal from reading your essays, and if you farmed your essays out to one of the ghost writers offering their services on the internet, you are most likely doomed,  not just for a lack of academic skill, but more importantly because you lack integrity.  Getting editing help and reader input on your essay is fine; faking it is not.

This can be a gray area when you seek editing–as an example, I do detailed, line-by-line editing and suggest better phrasing as well as offering more holistic evaluations of essays, but ultimately my client’s essays are theirs.  My job as an editor is to give them ways to reshape the clay that they provide, but the essays are and must be student material.  Any editing help provided must be both sensible and sensitive as well as honest.

For a holistic school, like all of the Common Application schools, authenticity means more than your test scores and class rank.  In general, the admissions readers genuinely try to construct a full picture of you from your materials, from grades through essays.  Many students try to create a false self in their essays, just as these same students may be dabbling in many activities just to get them on the “resume.” Find a way to say something authentic in your essays–this can take time and will involve reading for some of the recent prompts for supplemental essays.

7. Activities are important, especially those that show a long-term interest and commitment, but for authentic intellectual development, reading widely is the best approach.     Reading is one of the best ways to add authentically to your general knowledge and to deepen your understanding of the world, and many college applications recognize this in their essay prompts, which either ask for or allow books as topics.  This does not mean that you should start reading the most serious possible literature immediately.  In fact,  I link you here to an excellent essay by Michael Chabon, one of our best contemporary writers,  on his love for comic books, with a vigorous defense of their value. Yes, reading comic books is –oh, excuse me, I mean reading graphic novels– is intellectually respectable, or at least it can be.    So go ahead and start with the supposedly lightweight, but be sure to move onward and outward from there.  You might try going from comics to Chabon’s The Adventures of Cavalier and Clay, for example, or from Neil Gaiman’s graphic novels to his, well, novels, like American Gods.

In addition to being generally useful, a good reading program will pay off in the application essays.  Your life will most likely have a few important episodes that might work in an autobiographical essay, but the number of experiences available to you through books is relatively limitless.  With the Common App and most holistic universities using essay prompts which directly address books or for which books are a good topic, reading is a good place to put in some time.

I have previously discussed writing about books, and will be addressing this again in future posts, but you can’t do a good job writing about books if you do not start reading early.

If you are already a Junior, and don’t read  beyond what is assigned in school, it’s a bit late but not too late.  I will have some suggestions for reading programs over the summer for all types of students in a later post.

Those are my rules, or guidelines, if you will.  Look for more posts in the near future on writing about books and other application matters.

Researching and Selecting Colleges: Go West, Young Person

In applying to college, college admission, Researching Colleges, university application information on February 23, 2012 at 3:22 pm

Update on this post for 2018–A lot has changed, but my basic stance remains the same–you can save a lot of money by looking to public, western universities.  I will write soon about foreign options-and not just in Canada–but if you are out West, take a look below.  And if you are not, look nearby.  UMass Amherst, great school, much easier admit than any Ivy, well-known regionally and more and more well-known internationally. 

As for changes out west in 2018, among other things, the WUE tuition reduction program for students out West has been dialed way back at many schools, but Arizona State is still a big exception in every way and has some really solid programs in tech as well as the usual suspects in business and the humanities.  They are going with scale but in creating separate campuses and building up the Honors college, they have it going on. 

Okay, Jumping back in time now–

Who should read this post:  anybody who wants to reduce tuition costs; high school Juniors and Sophomores anywhere; community college students; anybody who wants to figure out which majors at which college in the West are most in demand (most impacted) and so are the hardest to get into;  students in any western state; cowboys and girls trapped on the East Coast; Beat poets who need an excuse to go on the road.

Researching Colleges:  Some Sources and Activities

I will start with the basics in this post and then quickly get into strategies for finding cheap tuition and good programs in many majors across the West, from Alaska to California and from Hawaii to New Mexico.

Here are three things you should be doing if you are a high school Junior or Sophomore or a Junior/Community College student in the early stages of planning for college admissions:

1. Do some research on majors.  I will address this separately for those of you who have not yet examined yourself and the available fields of study.

2. Start exploring colleges by going to sites like the Princeton Review and getting books like Princeton Review’s The Complete Book of Colleges; Princeton Review’s Best 376 Colleges is also a good place to get going as it is more selective than The Complete Book of Colleges, which can be overwhelming.  The Best 376, like most other college guide books, has a website which is easy to search and gives some information for free;  see the website here at The Best 376 Colleges.  I also like the Fiske products; though they are not as comprehensive, their opinions are useful–even when I don’t agree with what they say, they give me things to think about. (Note that many titles have changed, mostly by adding to the number of schools covered in the last few years.)

You should use a variety of factors to  match yourself to colleges, but start by looking at their GPA and SAT/ACT scores for entering students. Come up with a short list of your most preferred colleges–At this point, you might find dozens of colleges, but by the time you start to fill out applications, I recommend 10-12 total, and about 8 “most preferred;” you should include 2-3 schools which seem to be a reach in terms of entrance requirements.  Be sure to consider affordability when you compile this list and, in addition to the “reach” schools, include three schools which are both affordable and easily in the range of  your GPA and test scores.  You will need to do some guesswork here if you have not taken the SAT and ACT.  I know that is a lot to consider, but right now you are in the early stages, so don’t put on the blinders, and stay relaxed.  This stage can be a lot of fun if you treat it as an opportunity to do some armchair traveling.

You should also keep an eye out for visits by college representatives to your campus and, for colleges you already are interested in, you should check their websites–some schools visit  particular regions intensively while others are more like rock stars (or hip hop stars or whatever), visiting only a few venues to which you must travel.  If you do go to a presentation, try to introduce yourself and follow up with an e-mail to the presenter.  The more competitive the school, the more important it is that you have shown interest during the application process.

 When you have a list of schools that you like and that seem like  a good fit, you should add schools which are out of your comfort zone in the sense that are out of state or in a state you have not yet considered.  The rest of this post and the tools I suggest will focus specifically on western states, but the states involved include everything from Hilo  to Fargo, so there should be something for all but the most East Coast Preppy among you.

3. So step 3 is to look for schools which are a good match for you but which are out of state.  This is especially true for residents of California and our brethren on the East Coast,  places which have, for the most part, higher tuition and higher living expenses than do other, western states.  I will focus on tools for researching and evaluating western colleges for the remainder of this post.

What About Out-of-State Tuition?

But wait, you protest; isn’t the tuition for nonresidents much higher?  If I go to Oregon or Washington or Arizona (etc, et al) won’t I pay even more than I would in my home state?   The answer is maybe.  Yes, out-of-state tuition can be prohibitive in any state, but there are exceptions and more importantly, there are local and regional programs which alleviate or eliminate the extra cost.

As an example some of the smaller Oregon colleges–and a few of these are very good schools–have been particularly aggressive in recruiting students from California, offering in-state Oregon tuition to out-of-state students.  More generally, the  Western Undergraduate Exchange program can also drastically reduce costs at many colleges in many majors.  So next you should:

Reduced Tuition for Students Living in the West; Evaluating Impacted Majors

3.  Go to the Western Undergraduate Exchange website.  You can click on the link I provide here.   This lists schools participating and allows you to examine schools which participate.  You can check them by major, as the availability of WUE tuition support depends partly on the major.

The WUE is highly informative in another way–you can look at most colleges in the West and figure out which programs are looking to recruit students; put another way, you can see which programs are most impacted, meaning are hardest to get into, for the majors which interest you. Most of the WUE support will not be for majors which have too much demand or for which the college, for whatever reason, wants to help out-of-state students get into.

There may be  a few majors in which the universities have specific reasons for promoting out-of-state students even if the major is in high demand, but this is not the rule. As an example, History majors are still relatively common and many of the popular  WUE campuses do not offer a discount for History majors because, well, they have enough already from inside the state and have no reason to encourage others to apply.  For a more hip example, if you look up some of the Digital Arts and Computer majors, you can deduce how in demand they are, at which schools, which tells you not just if the WUE will help you but will also suggest  how demanding the admissions requirements are for these majors at these schools.  It might be much harder, for example, to get into the Digital Arts program at the University of Oregon than it would be to major in Music there.  Some colleges do not yet offer a Digital Arts Major, so check with the college website as well–they may not offer it yet, so it won’t show up on the WUE list.

I will go into using the major selection as a strategic move when applying  in later posts, though I have addressed it in briefly in earlier posts on this site.

4. Identify at least 4-6 colleges which are out-of-state a which are a good match for you in terms of GPA and test scores.  Hopefully you used the search by major tool on the WUE site and fiddled with different configurations to look at whether various majors and colleges participated in the WUE program.

I recommend not applying to more than ten colleges from your final list, with twelve being the highest number you should apply to (more about that in another post), so in the coming months, you should continue to research colleges.


Other Factors to Consider:  Would You Want To Live There Under Other Circumstances?

5. Consider factors you have not yet considered:  weather is important, as are other kinds of “climates” like the social climate and the political climate, as well as the potential for regional connections.  Is this a party school or an academic school or a place with both good academics and a good social life?  Is there an arts community? Are there opportunities to see music and theater?   What kinds of companies show up at job fairs and recruitment visits?  You should look up the city or town on wikipedia and other sites, and you should go to student review sites such as unigo–keep in mind the limitations of these sites, however–most of these students are evaluating without much direct experience with other schools, which makes many of their comparative evaluations suspect.  Also, research on user reviews shows a bias toward negative reviews.  And you should, if possible, visit the the school and explore its setting.  I mean the physical school, not just the website.  I would not want to enroll in the University of Washington, for example, without checking out Seattle, at least for a couple of days.  Especially if you are from a sunnier climate.