Recently Visited: Swarthmore College

There are so many great colleges in the eastern U.S. A beautiful, highly respected and historic one is Swarthmore, near Philadelphia. Swat, as insiders affectionately know it (students are “Swatties”), dates from 1864, and was founded by the Society of Friends.

These days Swarthmore is a highly selective liberal arts college of just over 1500 students known for challenging academics, activism, and civic engagement. Beyond the usual liberal arts disciplines, Swat also offers Peace and Conflict Studies, Education Studies, Film and Media Studies, and Engineering.

Remarkably, Swarthmore boasts an 8-1 faculty-student ratio, and fully meets the financial need of accepted students, thanks to its vast endowment.

Swarthmore has a strong sense of tradition, and symbolic rituals for entering and exiting students underscore this. The ceremony for entering students is called First Collection, and involves a candlelit gathering of new students, faculty and staff at the outdoor amphitheater on campus.

Finally, Swat has a stunningly beautiful 425-acre campus that is also an arboretum. On the day of my visit there were groups of nature lovers also touring the campus, savoring the magnificent towering trees and other vegetation. Studying in such an atmosphere would definitely be inspirational, in more ways than one.

 

College Preparation, Year By Month

Dr. Lisa Ransdell is an independent educational consultant and college counselor who helps students and their families stay on top of college planning. Lisa’s practice is grounded in 28 years of college teaching and 20 years in higher education administration. She constantly tours, reads, and does professional development in order to give clients the most up-to-date info.

Bodleian Library, Oxford

I have blogged about this important topic before, but just came upon a great series of guidelines for high school students on how to best plan for college: year by year and month by month. The guidelines are published by NACAC, the National Association for College Admission Counseling.  Here is a nugget for each year of high school from the piece:

Freshmen: Investigate what high school courses are required by colleges and plan your enrollment accordingly.

Sophomores: Prepare for and take the PSAT in October. This test prepares you for the SAT next year, and can be repeated next fall to try for National Merit Scholarships, a significant source of scholarship money.

Juniors: Begin a preliminary list of colleges of interest, and make contact with them, either by visiting or by requesting literature.

Seniors: Keep grades strong and attend to college application deadlines. Don’t take rolling admission policies for granted at colleges that don’t specify a specific date. These schools will close down admissions once their incoming class is full.

For the full set of suggestions for each year and month, see NACAC site: http://www.nacacnet.org/studentinfo/CollegePrep/Pages/default.aspx

I also see they have a Preparing for College newsletter for high school students and families, which is also likely a good source of info.

 

Recently Visited: Dartmouth College

In early June I spent a very enjoyable day at Dartmouth, smallest of the Ivies with an undergraduate enrollment of 4196. Hanover, NH, where Dartmouth is located is green, leafy, small and seemingly quiet (at least when I was there, which was during summer term, and possibly uncharacteristic).

Besides the power and cachet of its Ivy League membership, Dartmouth has many progressive and attractive features.  Foremost among academic innovations is the D-Plan, which gives students incredible latitude to plan the sequencing of much of their enrollment. Built around Dartmouth’s four ten-week terms, the plan requires students to be present on campus for 12 of 16 terms, including during fall, winter, and spring terms of freshman year; summer term of sophomore year; and fall, winter, and spring terms of senior year. Apart from this, provided that requirements have been met, students are free to participate extensively in study abroad, pursue internships, and engage in other pursuits that enhance their educational experience. The Dartmouth website showcases multiple ways that students have taken advantage of the D-Plan: www.dartmouth.edu. I also really appreciated learning about the Institute for Writing and Rhetoric (so cool to address writing AND speaking in an academic enhancement center), and the Big Green (vegetable oil-powered) Bus, a student-run sustainability initiative. According to the website, the BGB is currently spreading the word in Las Vegas, of all places.

Campus buildings are lovely and impressive, especially the libraries. In the main library I sneaked away from the tour group in order to see the “Hogwarts Room” on an upper floor once I learned that it wasn’t a part of the tour. It would make an inspiring study site. I also slipped into the Rauner Special Collections Library, also not on the tour, and was impressed by its precious holdings, including the papers of Daniel Webster, an 1801 grad, and oversized first edition of Audubon’s Birds of America.

Dartmouth isn’t cheap, with a tuition charge for the class of ’14 of $40, 437, and is ultra selective as are all Ivies. Just 11.7% of applicants were accepted in the last season. In addition to its undergraduate programs in the arts & sciences and engineering, Dartmouth has noteworthy graduate programs: the Thayer School of Engineering, the Dartmouth Medical School, and the Tuck School of Business. The photo is of my Denison friend Seth, then just a week away from graduating with his MBA from Tuck, and his dog Harry.

 

Early Fall College Planning

What should high school students and their families be doing in the late summer/early fall to be ahead of the college planning game? Here is what I would suggest:

Seniors: Do as much as you can before senior year starts. You will be distracted, you will be busy, and besides applying to colleges your main job will be keeping your grades up. Start your college essays; you can have them well underway if not finished before your classmates — one less stress during crunch time come November-December, which is prime application-time. Check the essay prompts for the Common Application, which are pretty typical.  Even if you are asked to write a different kind of essay by a particular school, cutting and pasting sections is often possible.

Also, do some initial scholarship research to see what you might qualify for (also a time-saver later), and visit any schools you have a clear interest in that you haven’t visited. Many colleges regard an official visit as an indication of sincere interest, so don’t miss out on communicating this.

Juniors: Do some serious prep for the ACT/SAT (see my blog of Feb 21, ‘11) and take each exam.  If your results aren’t stellar determine which was your strongest test, do more prep and re-take it.  Schools will only consider your highest scores, so there is no downside to repeating these tests.

Make this a standout academic year, as junior year grades are what you will be showcasing in the majority of your applications come fall of senior year. Maintain one or two of your past extracurriculars, as these will be scrutinized as well.

Begin building a college list and touring colleges in earnest to identify what kinds of schools match you, and to establish your interest.  Participate in some of the college fairs that happen locally in the fall. This is a great chance to learn more about all kinds of colleges, collect information, and meet admissions reps.

By all means, consider working with an independent educational consultant!:)

I made additional recommendations for high school sophomores and freshmen in my past blog of Sept 28, ‘09; check it out!

 

Test Optional Colleges

An evolving trend in the world of higher education is a swing toward test-optional colleges, meaning schools where students are not required to submit SAT or ACT scores. According to the National Center For Fair and Open Testing, the current count of such institutions is over 850, and is expected to continue growing. The list includes many selective and highly selective colleges, especially private liberal arts colleges, and some state universities. So far no Ivies have gone T.O. (after all, the SAT was originally developed as a means for Harvard to judge applicant scholarship worthiness). The following is a short illustrative list:

  • Bard
  • Bowdoin
  • California State system
  • Denison
  • Franklin & Marshall
  • Lawrence
  • Lewis & Clark
  • Middlebury
  • Rollins
  • University of Arizona
  • University of Kansas

Test optional is good news for students who are bright and hard-working who may not perform well on standardized tests, and it is good news for colleges, as the trend allows them to escape to some extent from the tyranny of publishing ever higher student score ranges to sustain their selectivity profile.

The diminishment of the importance of testing follows from long years of criticism of the cultural bias of such tests and their potential lack of validity. Admissions professionals at many colleges affirm that the strongest predictor of student success in college is performance in a rigorous high school curriculum.

For a comprehensive list of test-optional colleges, see www.fairtest.org.

 

Great Financial Aid Resource

Dr. Lisa Ransdell is an independent educational consultant and college counselor who helps students and their families stay on top of college planning. Lisa’s practice is grounded in 27 years of college teaching and 20 years in higher education administration. She constantly tours, reads, and does professional development in order to give clients the most up-to-date info.

I recently attended an excellent presentation on financial aid at Smoky Hill High School presented by college money guru Frank Palmasani. Frank’s background includes work as a high school counselor and college director of admissions. These days he privately works with families and spends time making free presentations around the country to help parents understand the ins and outs of college financial planning.

Palmasani is a dynamic presenter, and he manages to cover a lot in a relatively short amount of time. One great piece of info that I gleaned is that many colleges are about to launch Net Cost Estimators on their websites that will make costs and expected family contributions much more transparent than in the past. The technology was demonstrated with the version to be used by local Regis University, which was clear and simple, and should help many families understand better what they are getting into by way of college costs. Here is a look at the Regis estimator:

http://www.regis.edu/rc.asp?page=financial.calculator

Those who haven’t had the opportunity to hear Frank in person can check out his superb website and amass a ton of information and tips, including many from a series of detailed videos: http://www.managingcollegecost.com.

 

Local College Admission Tales in the NY Times

Local standout Cherry Creek High School has been heavily featured in The Choice college blog in the NY Times, beginning this past December. Six Creek seniors have blogged their way through the (still concluding) application-notification-decision process, sharing stories of anticipation, anxiety, excitement, and occasionally, despondency. In some cases seemingly joyful outcomes turned to frustration and disappointment when an acceptance from a favored institution paired with little or no financial aid means the offer can’t be accepted, an unfortunate outcome that’s come to be known as “admit-deny.”

The series continues today with a solid piece on deciding among competing offers of admission by counseling department coordinator Kelly Dunham. Ms. Dunham cites a lengthy set of comparable factors and recommends that students develop pro and con lists and weigh the strengths of each school, especially from a “personal fit” perspective.

This past Monday I was at the Cherry Creek counseling office, attending a new client’s junior conference along with his Mom. I was impressed with the efficiency and thoroughness of the program, and appreciate that I was welcome to attend as part of the student’s team of helpers and promoters, a good sign of genuine support for the student.

CCHS blogs will continue through May, when the students will have made their choices.  The pieces are compelling and very well written, a testament to the fine education to be had at Creek. I’m really appreciating the series as well as the comments from readers all over the U.S., who seem to enjoy hearing about the college planning scene in Colorado.

Check it out: http://thechoice.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/12/07/cherry-creek-introduction/

Lisa Ransdell is an independent educational consultant in Denver, Colorado with an extensive background in college teaching and administration. She helps students and families nationwide with all aspects of college planning.