Creative College Connections


University of Miami

Sunday, February 28, 2016

  University of Miami, although it is a mid-sized school, has the offerings of a much bigger university. With 11 colleges and 180 academic programs, Miami has the largest academic array of any school its size. There’s something here for everyone: liberal arts, business, engineering, performing arts, communications, architecture, nursing, education, and accelerated programs in six areas including law and medicine.

Situated just minutes from one of the most international cities in the US, students can enjoy a beautiful campus that is closed to traffic, yet they can easily access the city for culture, internships, and entertainment. They can also head to the beach for some fun in the sun.       

U Miami takes pride in its student diversity and the community vibrancy stemming from this mix of people from so many different backgrounds and cultures. What all students have in common is a passion for their Miami Hurricanes. Category 5, the student spirit club, ensures that Hurricane Spirit supports all teams – not just the tremendously popular basketball and football teams. The university does not have its own stadium; instead, home games are held at the Miami Dolphins Stadium, where there are plenty of tickets for everyone who wants to attend.  Tickets to sporting events are free to students along with University-sponsored shuttle busses for transportation to and from games.

Special Programs

Neuroscience is a competitive program with a cap of around 70 students. Research opportunities are plentiful, starting in the first semester. The admission process is more selective than general admission. If you are thinking about neuroscience, apply as a freshman because you may not be able to pick it up later given program enrollment limits.

PRISM (Program for Integrated Science and Math) accelerates the curriculum in the first two years of college by integrating science and math classes. Courses are planned for you, so there is very little time for electives in the first four semesters. PRISM is for students who want to conduct meaningful research in science and medicine early in their college experience. PRISM students are typically on track toward MD or PhD programs.

DiVinci Program is for the intellectually curious student who is eager to learn in an interdisciplinary way. Students have great flexibility in what they study and are supported in their interest in multiple subject areas. For example, a recent student studied both physics and creative writing; her goal was to write about science in an approachable way for nonscientists.

Competitive Dual-Degree Programs

  1. BS/MD - 7-8 years

This is a very competitive program that guarantees admission to U Miami Medical School. Successful applicants are typically in the top 5% of their graduating class, with exceptional testing (SAT at least 1400, ACT at least 32, and required SAT subject tests in the mid-700’s in math, chemistry and biology). Successful applicants have already pursued research and are “high-impact students” - people who make significant contributions to their schools or communities.  Admit rate is around 3%. For those not admitted, there is a second opportunity for enrolled U Miami students in be invited to medical school early through the Medical Scholars Program.

The other programs are also competitive, guaranteeing admission into the advanced portion of the dual degree.

  1. Latin American Studies - 5 year BA/MA
  2. Exercise Physiology – 5 year BA/MS Ed                       
  3. Law - 6 year BA/JD
  4. Marine Geology – 5 year BS/MS
  5. Biochemistry/Molecular Biology – 6 years BS/PhD


U Miami is in the midst of some big changes. They have a new College President and significant staffing changes in the Office of Admission. The president wants to move the university toward meeting 100% of demonstrated financial need for all admitted students. Admissions wants to do a better job identifying applicants who are good fits for the university and are likely to enroll. The applicant pool has grown too big in recent years with students who have not necessarily had U Miami as a top pick college. The big push is for students who show “affinity” for the university. In other words, Demonstrated Interest will be an increasing factor in admission to U Miami. 

University of San Diego

Sunday, October 25, 2015

   Strikingly beautiful. Modeled after Universidad de Alcalá in Spain, the founders of USD sought to create a college campus that    would surround its students with beauty, inspire their learning, and motivate them to make a difference through service to others.

The University of San Diego is a mid-sized Catholic university of 7,600 - 5,000 undergraduates and 2,600 graduate students mostly in business and law. Catholic students represent 48% of the student body and 44% hail from California. The USD mission is clear: Character, Competency, and Citizenship.

Character  USD follows Catholic intellectual traditions of liberal arts inquiry and personal development. At the heart of this lies the core curriculum that reflects these traditions:

  • Respect and dignity for all people regardless of background or faith
  • Free inquiry of ideas
  • Social justice and ethical reasoning
  • Academic rigor

Through the core curriculum students take courses in writing, math, foreign language, creative arts, religion/philosophy/ ethics.  In the

 First Year Experience, students live in one of nine themed Living & Learning Communities with a common seminar class taught by their advisor. This program builds community and connections between students, while linking them to faculty. It also introduces students to those essential themes of the Catholic intellectual tradition.


Accompanying the liberal arts core is a practical component of the curriculum through which students develop skills, knowledge, and experiences that help them secure employment at exceptionally high rates upon graduation. The engineering and business programs both receive top-level rankings in a university this size. A point of differentiation for USD is that business and engineering students still complete that liberal arts core, resulting in young people who enter their professions as strong writers, excellent verbal communicators, able collaborators, and critical thinkers with cultural awareness and ethical acumen.  Research is common at USD, internships in the San Diego area are plentiful, and 75% of students incorporate an international experience into their educations as either a semester or 3-week winter term program. Approximately 100 students are invited into the Honors Program each year, which offers separate Living & Learning residence halls and specialized core course. The Offices of Admission and Career Services are moving into a new building together, a statement of recognition that it is not just about starting out at USD, but also about helping students build a path to their future. A full 96% of graduates are employed or in graduate school and 91% secure a job within three months of graduating.


Student engagement as agents for good in the world is a core value at USD. The university has been honored as a “Changemaker Campus” one of 30 universities worldwide to earn this distinction. Seventy-five courses have a service component built right into the curriculum.     

Social Experience

USD offers a DI athletics program in a conference that mostly includes other California universities, however football, which has won its conference championship four of the last five years, is in a conference with colleges across the United States (“they earn a lot of frequent flyer miles”). Outdoor activities are popular given USD’s location.  The Outdoor Adventure program rents surfboards to students and offers opportunities for kayaking, skiing, and snorkeling. Greek life is present, but does not dominate the social scene. Overall this is a residential campus where students do not need a car to experience a robust social life, yet students also take advantage of proximity to activities and events in the city of San Diego.

Who is a Fit with USD?

USD is a moderately selective university with a 51% admit rate. Selected students are those who have been successful in a rigorous high school curriculum. The middle 50% of accepted students have ACT scores between 26 and 31. Merit scholarships between $10,000 and $25,000 go to the top 35% of the applicant pool. Standout applicants are typically “civic leaders” and those involved in community service as well as those with special talents. To me, USD students are bright young people who are seeking a classic liberal arts curriculum with the added practical approach to prepare them well for the world of work. Students are aesthetically aware, with the beauty of this campus as one of their stated reasons for attending. They are clean-cut yet casual – shorts and flip-flops are everyday attire here.

Interested in University of San Diego? Also consider Loyola Marymount University and Santa Clara University.

Cal Tech

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Cal Tech attracts a very particular type of student - one who is not only bright and interested in studying STEM fields, just like students at many other colleges and universities, but who is also distinctive in several other ways, namely:

  • Is passionate about math and science
  • Is interested in collaborative learning and research
  • Is motivated to take on a high level of academic rigor at an intensive pace
  • Possesses integrity and respect for others – Honor Code
  • Enjoys the tradition of clever - yet good-natured - pranks
  • Is eager to immerse oneself in a STEM-dominant curriculum
  • Has inner drive to work hard and persist through great academic challenge
  • Loves research – 80% are involved in research
  • Is enthused by the opportunity to study with and under some of the greatest math and science minds – with a 3-1 student-faculty ratio, there’s lots of exposure to faculty
  • Is excited about the chance to attend special events with idols such as Bill Nye or Stephen Hawking

Touring Cal Tech is like visiting many traditional college campuses, with lovely architecture and well-kept grounds. But inside those buildings you’ll discover state-of-the art facilities that enhance learning in this exceptional environment. As my tour guides described the curriculum and its pace, I couldn’t imagine undertaking what they are doing.

Cal Tech recognizes the intensity of its curriculum, offers strong support to its students. From the Pass/Fail policy for initial classes, to a free counseling center, to resident coordinators who are well-trained graduate students – Cal Tech takes the health and well-being of its students seriously.                              

Some highlights of the curriculum:

  • All courses are graded Pass/Fail for the first two terms (quarter system) in order to help with the transition to the Cal Tech rigor.
  • Honor Code – “no member shall take unfair advantage of another member” This simple yet powerful statement sets the tone, allowing for options like take-home exams.
  • Collaboration. Academic coursework stresses working with others. Since science is not done in isolation, students learn early how to collaborate with others.
  • Writing. Science writing is important so students take three writing courses.
  • No credit for AP or IB and no exemption from core requirements.  My tour guide said that AP Chemistry curriculum was covered within the first 3 weeks of the first term at Cal Tech – after that it was all new material.
  • All students take:* 2 Chemistry classes    * 3 Physics classes    * 1 Biology class    * Additional science labs                                       * 3 Math classes     * 4 classes in social sciences and humanities      * 3 writing intensive classes

Cal Tech Pranks

One of the quirky and fun characteristics of Cal Tech is its tradition of clever pranks. There’s the time Cal Tech students covered the Hollywood sign with plastic to spell out “Cal Tech.” And there’s the time two students dressed as a bride and groom, climbed to the top of the “wedding cake” building and spent the day posing as cake toppers. And then there’s the rivalry with MIT. When MIT students took Cal Tech’s 1.7 ton cannon across country, Cal Tech students found a way to recapture it and get it back to its rightful home on their campus. That cannon is now bolted down. The rivalry between these tech giants is well documented - there’s even a Wikipedia page devoted to it.

Admission and Financial Aid

Cal Tech’s extremely competitive applicant pool is composed of students who have excelled in the most advanced math and science courses available to them and post top test scores. The 9% who are offered admission are those who:

  • Demonstrate and showcase their strong passion for math and science
  • Fit into the community of students who value collaboration

Other schools that students tend to apply to along with Cal Tech are MIT, Stanford, Princeton, Harvard, and the one that is most similar, Harvey Mudd.

Cal Tech is an institution committed to meeting 100% of students’ demonstrated need. It does not offer merit scholarships.

Occidental College

Monday, October 05, 2015

Typically when you visit a liberal arts college you are on a campus nestled in a small town or rural location, removed both literally and figuratively from urban America. That’s because the founders of many of these colleges believed that   intellectual inquiry was best developed away from the distractions – and often the sins – of urban life. Just a handful of institutions that now make up the liberal arts college elite were founded with a different purpose, embracing the cities where they chose to locate. Occidental College is one of them.

Occidental College (Oxy) is a small (2100) liberal arts college just outside Los Angeles with easy access to the city. Although 40% of the students hail from California, Occidental draws students from across the United States and from abroad. It’s one of the more diverse colleges I’ve visited: 19% Asian American, 16% Latino/a, 9% African American, 15% dual citizens, and 6% international. Since it is situated so close to LA, students have the resources of the city for internships, research, and fun. They also give back through community service and involvement in issues that affect both LA and California more broadly. Hot topics include immigration, poverty, diversity, and environmental concerns such as the current water crisis in California. Students describe themselves as “activist-oriented” with a clear liberal leaning in respect to political conversations on campus. They praise Oxy for its diversity and its warm and welcoming community. Most students live on campus all four years – it’s a place they call “home.”

Academic Points of Distinction

Students begin their Oxy education with a First Year Residence Experience (FYRE) that clusters students in residence halls and connects them to a themed seminar. And they end their education with a senior comprehensive project. In between that students take 1/3 of their courses to fulfill a core curriculum, 1/3 in their majors, and 1/3 “for funsies” as my tour guide calls them. Students here are academically curious and eager to learn, hence the nickname “funsies’ for the courses you get to pick just because.

Interested in film or television? Oxy has been a setting for a number of TV shows and movies. I can understand why given the beauty of the campus and the cooperative weather. For students this means access to hands-on experiences – the college requires production companies to use at least two students each day they are filming on campus. TV shows Arrested Development and Glee; and films Jurassic Park III, and Clueless have all had scenes filmed here.

Internships – The college promotes these co-curricular experiences and even puts funds into a summer internship program (Intern LA &PDX) by providing stipends for students who take advantage of established internships in LA and Portland. Stipends help to defray the cost of living in these cities while interning and plans are underway to expand this successful program to other locations soon. 

Off-Campus Study Options – About 50% of Oxy students study abroad. But what’s unusual are the two domestic semester-away programs. Students interested in politics can apply for a stipend to work for a political campaign in a swing state during an election cycle. You pick the candidate, the college gives you the time and the funds to get your feet wet in the world of politics.  And Occidental is the only college offering an opportunity for undergraduates to spend a semester studying in NYC while working with the UN General Assembly.   

Student Life

This is not a “party school.” There is Greek life at Oxy, but it is low key and open to the community at large. Students take advantage of cultural offerings, clubs, sports, and the resources of LA for fun. The main quad on campus is a central meeting place with benches scattered throughout. Dining halls are pleasant environments with food that is “ranked” well for vegan and vegetarian offerings. There’s also a fountain on campus that may be vaguely familiar to any Star Trek fans; it was featured on Star Trek III. If you come here, expect to be thrown in that fountain on your birthday – an Oxy tradition

Admission and Financial Aid     

Oxy is a highly selective college, enrolling students with impressive credentials. It attracts bright students, eager to be in a city, who are engaged in learning, enjoy making connections with faculty, and who tend to be activist about causes they hold dear.  The college will meet 100% of your demonstrated need and offers some merit scholarships too. 


Occidental College boasts its share of successful and visible alumni. It is one of the leaders among liberal arts colleges in sending its graduates on to earn PhDs. And alumni are frequent winners of Fulbright and other prestigious awards.

Oxy is for students who are:

* High-achieving

* Curious learners                                    

* Seeking community

* Liberal-leaning

* Activists

* Artistic

* Seeking diversity

* Wanting urban connection

When Colleges Waive Application Fees

Tuesday, September 08, 2015

“Hey, it’s a free application so I may as well go ahead and apply!” 

Not so fast!

College policies with regard to application fees are just one of the many complexities that families encounter as they navigate the maze of the college admission process. The cost of applying to colleges can mount quickly: in 2014 the average application cost was $41, while some colleges charge nearly $100. A student applying to 7 colleges could easily spend between $400 and $500 just to submit the applications.  And, for those applying to 12 or more colleges, you may be looking at close to $1,000. 

Some colleges waive fees for certain students. One of my students recently received a waiver from Hofstra University, saving him the $60 application fee. He’s feeling special right now – Hofstra wants him! Why did he get the waiver? He visited Hofstra in the spring, he’s coming from a geographic area the university would like to develop, and he meets general academic criteria for admission (which he disclosed during his visit).  This recruitment strategy is not unique to Hofstra; many colleges will waive the application fee for students who visit campus.

I read a blog recently listing the top 25 colleges with no application fee. This is a list of prominent, highly selective schools, most of which are small liberal arts colleges, and all of which are private. For the serious applicant, the student who has undertaken a thoughtful college search and has a sincere interest in one or more of these colleges, being able to apply without paying a fee is a nice plus.  

But I caution students against throwing their hat into an applicant pool at one of these colleges “just for the heck of it” because the application is free. College admission folks have become quite good at sniffing out those who are less than serious applicants. Have you visited the college’s website to explore its offerings? Have you met with an admissions representative at a college fair or high school visit? Have you requested information or communicated with college admissions? Are you following the college on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram? Have you ever visited campus? Unless you can answer “yes” to some of these questions, you will likely be viewed as a “stealth” applicant – one who comes out of nowhere. “Stealth” applicants are unlikely to enroll if offered admission; and colleges know it.

So I caution you against including a college you know little about just because the application is free.  You still have to do the work to apply and chances are good that you’ll be fueling the college’s selectivity rate. Unless you show some demonstrated interest, many colleges will be reluctant to offer you admission no matter how strong your application.  

College Visit: Virginia Tech

Sunday, April 26, 2015

I’ve just returned from a day in the heart of Hokie Nation – the campus of Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University; aka, Virginia Tech, in Blacksburg, Virginia. Enthusiasm for this university is infectious – where else could you get thousands of people to agree to wear orange and maroon with pride? By the time I left, I understood what the hoopla over this university is all about.

University Overview

Founded in 1872 as a land-grant university, Virginia Tech is now the largest and most comprehensive university in the state of Virginia, with a total of 31,000 students, over 23,000 of them undergraduates. Roughly 70% of the students are Virginia residents, but students flock to Virginia Tech from all 50 states and 100 different countries.  There’s a new president at Virginia Tech and with new leadership comes some new initiatives. One obvious sign of change is the growth of this university. The 2015 incoming class will be 500 students larger than the previous year, and admissions folks predict even higher freshman enrollment targets in the coming years. Building, renovating, and housing seem to be keeping pace with this growth.

So, too, is curriculum expansion, with 15 new majors, such as Communication Studies, Fashion Merchandising and Design, Multimedia Journalism, Property Management, Nanoscience, Systems Biology, and Computational Modeling & Data Analysis.  Note that several of these fall well outside of science and engineering; since “Tech” is part of the university name, many assume this is a place for students interested in science, engineering, and technology. Actually, Virginia Tech has a robust curriculum outside of those disciplines. You’ll find excellent programs in the arts, humanities, business, and social sciences at Virginia Tech. Still, the “Tech “ part is alive and well – most majors require math coursework and all students take at least one math class through the Math Emporium (a learning center with 537 computers, conference spaces, and even comfy sofas), rather than in a traditional classroom. 

If you know what you want to study, you should apply directly for that major. However, if you have multiple interests or haven’t found your calling or simply don’t know what to pick for a major, you should apply to University Studies. As an undeclared student, you’ll have good academic advising from people who have a broad knowledge of the university and who will help you sort out your interests and talents, leading you to a good-fit major.  You’ll have up to two years or 60 credits to explore the curriculum, fulfill your core requirements, and prepare to enter a major in one of the university’s seven colleges. This is a better strategy than starting off in a random or wrong major with advisors whose knowledge is often limited or solely directed to their own discipline.

Be aware that there are several “restricted majors” at Virginia Tech: Architecture, Landscape Architecture, Industrial Design, Interior Design, and Engineering. To qualify for admission to one of these programs, you’ll need to be among the strongest candidates. In engineering, for example, there are 1,600 spaces with 9,000 applicants.  Everyone picks a second choice major when they apply, but if you aren’t admitted to one of these restricted majors as a freshman, you may find it difficult to transfer in later without adding time to your degree. Classes go to declared majors first, so non-majors can be shut out of necessary prerequisites. My advice: if you are absolutely certain that you want one of the restricted majors, but not offered direct admission, you are better off going to another institution that offers you admission to the major.  However, if the particular major is less important than being a Hokie, then settle either for that second major choice or for University Studies. After all, with as many majors as this university has to offer, you’ll probably find something that works well for you!

Student Life

There’s plenty to do at Virginia Tech. Blacksburg is a college town situated on a plateau between two mountain ranges in the beautiful southwestern section of Virginia. If you love outdoor activities, this is a great place to be. All freshmen live in college residence halls, where community is built. My tour guide, who is a senior and lives off campus (just a couple of streets away from the center of campus), still has a meal plan for lunch and dinner.  And why not, since Virginia Tech has been recognized as #1 for food – they even have a Hibachi Grill and occasional steak and lobster meals. The college’s motto, Ut Prosim (That I May Serve), is played out in the lives of students here. This is the largest Relay for Life fundraising campus in the nation. Fewer than 20% of students are members of Greek Life, which means its available if you want it, but membership is not essential for a fulfilling social life. As an ACC university, this is a big-time sports campus, with a 66,000-seat football stadium and a rich tradition of tailgating. Student tickets are inexpensive, and after the freshman year you are guaranteed tickets should you want them. It’s a bit tougher for freshmen to get season tickets for football, but they usually find a way if it’s a priority.


Admission is selective, but this is a university looking for reasons to admit students rather than reasons to deny them.  Successful applicants earn A/B grades in a rigorous high school curriculum, and submit solid test scores.  Through the application you’ll communicate your extracurricular activities and talents, and write up to three short personal statements. The honors program is more selective, with successful applicants submitting higher GPAs and testing that averages 30 for the ACT and 1350 for the SAT (critical reading and math).


Virginia Tech students graduate at rates significantly higher than the national average for universities this size. And, graduates boast the highest average starting salary among all Virginia colleges and universities. Over 3,000 employers are registered with Career Services, giving students plenty of access to prospective employers.      

Tips for Success

My tour guide, a senior finance major with a job waiting for her after graduation, ended with advice for future college students that, I believe, is applicable wherever you enroll:

  1. Go to class.  Students need to be accountable for their learning.
  2. Do the readings before class.  You’ll be expected to know material from class and from assigned readings.
  3. Get involved. That’s how you make friends and find your place on campus.  After all, college is about more than the classroom experience!

Selecting a College for Life-Long Success

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Much of the recent conversation surrounding the value of a college education has revolved around the notion of Return On Investment – in fact, it’s become so common that you’ll often just see the acronym, ROI.  And, you can’t visit a college campus these days without hearing conversations about internship opportunities, career building resources, and successful alumni. Colleges want you to know that their ROI is strong! While I fully recognize that having good job opportunities after college is important, my problem with discussions about ROI is that they seem too narrowly focused on that first job after college.  What about the value of a college education 5 years out? Or, after 10 years? Or, after 25 years? How does a college education impact one’s lifetime career success and personal fulfillment?   

So, I welcomed the letter this week from Pam Horne, Associate Vice Provost for Enrollment Management and Dean of Admissions at Purdue University, about Purdue’s research into just those questions. Rather than simply surveying their own alumni, Purdue took a lead role in partnering with Gallup Poll to conduct extensive research with over 30,000 college graduates from a wide range of institutions, asking questions to determine what it is that connects a college education with life-long success. Keys to what they refer to as "Great Jobs and Great Lives” are:

  • Workplace engagement – being intellectually and emotionally connected at work, doing what one likes and is good at, and having someone who cares about one’s career development
  • Well-being – how people think about and experience their lives with a focus on five elements of well-being: the physical, the social, the financial, a sense of purpose, and community
  • Alumni attachment – strength of the bond to one’s alma mater

The study found that successful alumni share some key undergraduate experiences that are similar regardless of where they went to college - public or private, selective or not (notable exception: for-profit institutions).

  • Support from a professor who cared
  • A professor who got them excited about learning
  • A mentor who encouraged their dreams
  • A meaningful internship or job where they could apply classroom knowledge
  • Experience on a project that took a semester or more to complete
  • Active involvement in extracurricular activities

This is extremely useful information for families considering colleges.  What’s most important when it comes to the value of a college education is being at a place where you will have these opportunities, be it a large university or a small college.  Purdue has published two helpful guides for families.

The first is a College Planning Checklist:

And the second, the Student Guide to Creating a Successful College Experience: 

Bottom Line: Enroll at a college that supports these experiences and where you will feel comfortable and confident pursuing them - and there's your ROI for a lifetime!

Test Optional Colleges

Monday, March 16, 2015

The New SAT – Is It Time To Consider Test-Optional Colleges?

If you are a high school sophomore or junior who is thinking about college, or the parent of one of these students, no doubt you’ve heard about the upcoming changes to the SAT. And, no doubt, you find the testing landscape daunting.

Some of the questions I hear are:

Will the new SAT be a harder test?                                                    

How do I prepare for it?

When should I take it?

Will there be glitches in the first administration?

Should I take the old SAT and the new SAT? Or just the old SAT? Or just the new SAT?

Should I forget about the SAT altogether and take the ACT?

The irony is that while we face yet another big overhaul of the SAT, more and more colleges are backing away from (or modifying) admission testing requirements. The non-profit group FairTest has done a good job of advocating for and tracking this movement away from an emphasis on high-stakes testing. My own observation is that colleges with selective admission seem to fall into one of two categories: those that minimize the role of testing and those that emphasize the role of testing.  There’s very little middle ground - it’s one or the other. Colleges that require test scores are leaning in favor of the higher testers and frequently rewarding them with enticing scholarships.  

For students who need or want to find colleges that will look beyond testing, FairTest provides a wealth of information. First, take a look at the large group of colleges that de-emphasize testing. It’s a long list! Make sure to read the fine print since some colleges require a certain GPA in lieu of testing and others may require testing for particular majors. Some colleges may ask for a portfolio of graded academic work to serve as an alternative assessment. But, there are plenty of colleges on the list that are totally test-optional – you don’t have to send scores.

When I talk about test-optional colleges, often families think I am steering them toward less selective, less prestigious institutions – not true! Some of the finest colleges and universities in the United States offer test-optional or test-flexible admission policies.  FairTest has published a list of Test-Optional Top Tier Schools  – as designated by US News & World Report Best College Guide 2015. You’ll notice some familiar names, including renowned competitive institutions like Bowdoin College, Wake Forest University, and American University; and some public flagship universities like the University of Arizona. The range is wide here – there are great choices for most students who are seeking colleges willing to look beyond test scores!

My Tips:

  • Take the SAT or ACT
  • Consider taking SAT subject tests
  • Research the test policy at colleges of interest
  • For colleges that require testing, know that your test scores are likely to be a big part of admission and scholarship decisions
  • Consider test-optional colleges
  • Remember that there’s no such thing as “grades optional” – they may not consider scores, but grades and rigor of coursework always matter!

Thoughts on Gap Years

Thursday, February 26, 2015

For years I’ve been saying that college is often wasted on 18 year olds.

Maybe that’s because I recognize that I would have benefitted from that break between high school and college as a time to explore, mature, and learn without academic pressure. 
Maybe I would have gone to college with a little more academic direction, rather than changing majors and graduating still unsure of what I wanted to do next. Alas, it never occurred to me back then that there was an option other than heading straight to college. While the idea of a Gap Year is not new, opportunities to delay college for an alternative experience are more common, more plentiful and more diverse than ever.  Not every student may want to consider a Gap Year, but for those who do, it can be a transformative experience that more often than not launches students toward a more productive and successful college experience.  Here is just some of what I learned this week at the USA Gap Years Fair presentation for counselors –

  • Although “Gap Year” is what people tend to say, it is better to think of this as “Gap Time” because some students may take a full year between high school and college, but others may take only the summer months, or a semester, or even longer than a year.
  • Many students fill their Gap Year with multiple experiences that involve work, travel, internships, community service, cultural exchange, and sometimes structured learning programs.  There are opportunities both close to home and around the world.
  • TIP: it’s best to begin your Gap experience with a program away from home. When late August arrives you probably won’t want to remain home if most of your friends are headed off to college. You also might want to postpone any plans for total independence until later in your Gap experience.  Start off in a program where you have some structure and peer grouping, and then ease into the more independent portion of your Gap Year.
  • The most common objection expressed by parents is the concern that their child will never go to college after experiencing the break.  Data doesn’t support this - in fact, 90% of Gap Year participants continue on directly to college.
  • The reasons students choose Gap Year are various, but the most common Gap Year student is the burnt-out student – the high-achiever who simply needs a break from academic demands and competition. Interestingly, we’re also seeing another group of high-achievers - pre-med college students – taking some time for an alternative experience before heading on to medical school. Harvard reveals that 60% of applicants to medical school are alumni who have taken gap time after college.
  • Colleges are reporting that students who take Gap Years tend to earn higher GPAs once they enroll in college.  Some colleges now promote a Gap Year.  Harvard encourages admitted students to pursue a Gap Year; Princeton has a small tuition free Gap program for a select number of freshmen; Tufts now has a program they call 1+4; Elon runs a small and select semester-long program off-campus for first semester freshmen; and American University invites some admitted students to do a semester of internships before enrolling full time.  
  • Students who take Gap Years report feeling more motivated, responsible, and independent. They also report feeling more fiscally aware than most college students. And, they report feeling a greater sense of educational purpose once they return to the university setting.
  • A common myth is that Gap Years are expensive.  While there are programs that cost upward of $50,000, there are also programs that cost more like $5,000.  Also, there are scholarships for Gap Years and programs that incorporate opportunities to earn money.
  • TIP: Apply to college in your senior year. Defer enrollment. Then go off on your Gap Year knowing you have a college home when you return.                                

For more information:
American Gap Association

Gap Year Fairs

Teen Life

College Visit - Earlham College

Wednesday, October 01, 2014


One of the 40 Colleges That Change Lives, Earlham College in Richmond Indiana is a small Quaker College that lives its mission in every aspect of the college experience.  For those unfamiliar with Quakers, students describe the influence as more cultural than religious.  Students and faculty come from diverse faith backgrounds, but all seem to echo the Quaker ethos: community, respect for self and others, simplicity, intentionality, the value of every voice within a community, and consensus building.  This is far from the average college, and it is not for everyone.  But, if you are looking for a campus of individuals with a bit of a nonconformist or unconventional bent; who enjoy learning and intellectual exploration; who value and support community; and who want to be agents for positive change in the world… this may be the place for you.

Why Earlham?

Established in 1859, Earlham College is a liberal arts college of 1,200 students on 800 acres in the small city of Richmond, IN. Driving through town you’ll see evidence of Richmond’s tough economic times. But, Richmond is a city that is coming back with neighborhood revitalization and some new cool places that students enjoy hanging-out – think artsy and independent rather than upscale and chain stores. Students at Earlham are a diverse group: almost 20% are international and a full 25% are US minority students. Only 10% or so are Quaker.  Academics are taken seriously here, but the academic climate is more collaborative and supportive than competitive. On alternate Wednesday afternoons the college holds a very-well attended (but not mandatory) convocation on various intellectual topics.  While touring campus, I witnessed something I had never seen before – a professor in his office on a Sunday afternoon helping a student with class material. Wow, very impressive. While there’s plenty going on outside of class, it isn’t Greek life – no fraternities or sororities at Earlham. Because students tend to be diverse in their interests and individualists, sports are low-key here.  Students will support friends who play on teams, but you don’t see the majority of campus showing up for an athletic event.  Soccer is probably the most popular sport, which makes sense given the high number of international students and soccer’s standing as the world’s most popular sport. It’s important to note that this is a real residential campus, with 96% of students living in college residence halls.

New and Noteworthy Buildings and Programs

New Science Complex I toured the completed phase one of a three phase $35 million project to totally overhaul the science buildings.  With a long tradition of outstanding undergraduate science education, these new buildings allow for more group research in state-of-the-art and environmentally friendly facilities. All students are required to take two science classes, one of which must include a lab component.   

The Center for Visual and Performing Arts just opened this fall. It is a beautiful and well-used building with large light-filled studios for photography, ceramics, metal work, painting/drawing, and even weaving.  For music students, there’s a fabulous practice and recital room. All students use this building since the college requires two classes in the arts, one applied art and one theoretical (such as art history).

The Center for Integrated Learning is a program unique to Earlham that focuses on the connections between various academic disciplines, between academic and co-curricular activities, and between college and life beyond the college years.  The Center employs a staff of 16 and serves as a resource for all Earlham students. Some of the great programming:  

  • Theory to practice: students can connect classroom learning with internships. The Center provides funding so that students get paid during those internships.
  • Campus to community: students pursue research and projects for the surrounding community.  At the request of the city, a team of Economics students worked on a project studying the economic impact of public arts programming. Another student group helped the city revamp its farmers’ market through a research project on effective farmers’ markets in other locations.
  • College to career: all freshmen take a seminar that includes self-assessment and self-awareness exercises woven into a topic of intellectual inquiry.  Students begin to think about careers and planning for the future with the guidance and mentorship of faculty and staff.

Admission and Scholarships

Earlham is a Test Optional college, so if you don’t feel that your scores accurately reflect your success and potential as a student, then you do not need to submit your SAT or ACT score report.  The college is slowly growing from 1,200 to around 1,600 students so they are looking for qualified good-fit students. Interviews are available on-campus and off-campus; interviews are not evaluative. Earlham does pay “some” attention to Demonstrated Interest.  Admissions will recalculate the high school GPA to a 100-point scale in academic classes.  Students who earn grades of B and up in academic subjects are most successful in the admission process.  Earlham enrolls 15 Bonner Scholars each year (scholarships for students who pursue community service). They also award 5 full-tuition scholarships and 4 scholarships worth $30,000. Students are identified through the admission process, so there’s no extra work to do to apply for these scholarships. There are smaller awards too – almost 90% of students receive some form of financial assistance.

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