Wednesday, December 29, 2010

With Common Application, Many Find a Technical Difficulty in Common, Too

The Common Application, the admission form accepted by more than 400 colleges and universities, was created in part to ease the burden on high school seniors. No longer must applicants fill out a dozen different forms to apply to a dozen schools, including the nation’s most selective.

So it was frustrating for Max Ladow, 17, a senior at the Riverdale Country School in the Bronx, to discover this fall that he could not get his short essay answers to fit in the allotted 150 words on the electronic version of the application, even when he was certain he was under the limit.

When he would follow the program’s instructions to execute a “print preview” of his answers — which would show him the actual version that an admissions officer would see, as opposed to the raw work-in-progress on his screen — his responses were invariably cut off at the margin, in midsentence or even midword.

This technical glitch in the Common Application has vexed an untold number of college applicants, not to mention their parents, at a moment in their lives already freighted with tension.

Considering the stakes, Max said he was left with two head-scratchers: Why can’t the Common Application be better, technologically, given the caliber of the institutions involved? And, at the very least, why can’t the nonprofit association of colleges that produces the form fix this particular problem?

“It’s kind of ridiculous,” he said. “I take computer science. I have a vague idea of how this may or may not work. I think it would be just such an easy thing for an error message, at least, to pop up.”

By the Jan. 1 application deadline at many colleges and universities, an estimated 1.9 million versions of the Common Application will be submitted for slots in next year’s freshman class, an increase of 27 percent in just one year, said Rob Killion, executive director of the Common Application.

Part of that increase is from submissions to Columbia and the University of Michigan, the most recent colleges to agree to accept the Common App, as it is widely known.

Mr. Killion said the issue of “truncation,” as it is known within the Common Application offices, is not new, and had been a reality of the process for more than a decade, causing barely a ripple.

And yet, enough students, parents and counselors complained about the problem this fall that the organization has scrambled in recent weeks to embed a link to a warning box within the form.

It reads, in part, “It is critical that you preview your Common App and check for truncated information. If you preview the Common App and find some of your text is missing, you should attempt to shorten your response to fit within the available space.”

The organization’s explanation for such technological quirks — some applicants have found that the form also cuts off parts of parents’ job titles, as well as details of their own extracurricular activities — has provided little comfort.

As it turns out, applicants do not have, say, 150 words to discuss their most meaningful extracurricular activities; they have something closer to 1,000 characters (Max said he eventually figured this out). And because some letters may take up more space than others, one applicant’s 145-word essay may be too long, while another’s 157-word response may come up short, Mr. Killion said.

“A capital W takes up 10 times the space of a period,” he said. “If a student writes 163 characters that include lots of Ws and m’s and g’s and capital letters, their 163 characters are going to take many more inches of space than someone who uses lots of I’s and commas and periods and spaces.”

Asked why the problem had not been fixed, Mr. Killion said, “Believe me, if there’s a way to do it, we’d do it. Maybe there’s a way out there we don’t know about.”

The truncated answers might be funny if the matter at hand were not so serious.

Frank Sachs, director of college counseling at the Blake School in Minneapolis, said an anxious parent showed up at his office recently to lament that her child had inadvertently pushed the “submit” button on a college application without carefully checking how the mother’s title had been rendered in the section on parents’ jobs. The application read: “director of pla,” instead of “director of planned giving.”

In that case, at least some fault may rest with the applicant: an applicant is not allowed by the Common Application program to push “submit” until checking a box that reads, “I have print previewed my application and it looks exactly as I intend.”

Still, Mr. Sachs, a former president of the National Association for College Admission Counseling, said that the board’s making available a box to check is “not a great solution,” and that he noticed such cutoffs had added to the stress of some families at his school this year.

He added: “I do not recall this happening in years past.”

Wiley Davis, a senior at Mira Costa High in Manhattan Beach, Calif., said the most maddening aspect of the Common Application was trying to get his descriptions of his activities — including his role on the school robotics team, as well competing in Shotokan Karate — to fit within the space allotted for the activities section.

The robotics team, he said, “won the world championship last year, and we won in a different category in 2008, so getting that down was difficult.”

“The character and space limits,” he said, “meant that I had to do a great deal of work to get my point across without running over and cutting information.”

Still, students and parents, can take heart: Shawn Abbott, assistant vice president for undergraduate admissions at New York University, said that when he occasionally sees a sentence cut off in an application, he knows immediately what has happened, and does not penalize the applicant.

“In a nutshell, I would empathize with students’ frustration,” Mr. Abbott said. “A truncated essay is not going to be the end-all, be-all of an admissions decision.”

Written by Jacques Steinberg for The New York Times
Posted by Lindy Kahn, M.A., CEP for Kahn Educational Group, LLC

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Issues Facing College Arts Students When Transferring

A recent survey that shows one-third of parents of high school students say they are considering sending their child to a local community college for two years and then transferring the student to a four-year school.  Sounds like a practical plan for financial reasons, but for arts students, a college transfer can be a major obstacle in the pursuit of their dreams.

Why? For students in the performing arts—from voice to musical instrument to drama and dance—the three most important criteria to success are auditions, auditions, auditions. The fact is, by the time a transfer student hits the stage at their new college or conservatory, their peers who may have been there for a year or
two, have already proven themselves. The competition is more intense to get roles, get cast, or to play in the orchestra, because other students have already earned the confidence of those who make the decisions in such matters. Bias exists, it’s a fact of life. In addition, existing students have likely already formed close relationships, and gotten involved in school activities such as chamber groups, ensembles, or a cappella groups that don’t include the “new kid.” New students, even with two years of training elsewhere, are starting from scratch. It’s not a level playing field.

Students of visual arts face challenges of their own. Their peer students who have been enrolled in the “new” college since freshman year may have already had gallery exhibits on campus or off and be making a name for themselves.  Access to studios or other workspace may be limited and those with seniority know how to work the system. New students are challenged when collaborative projects are assigned, because the existing students already know the strengths, weaknesses, and personalities of their classmates.

Whether the student is pursuing visual or performing arts, they are working toward a degree in a very specific curriculum.  Studying the arts takes a passion that is generally not found in students of liberal arts, communications, or many other majors. The hours of practice an arts student has invested by the time
he or she gets to college is likely unmatched by students of many other majors. Therefore, arts students rarely transfer out of their major. They are pursuing a dream they have had for years, possibly since childhood. For this reason, there may be few openings at the target university or conservatory into which the arts student hopes to transfer.

Arts students, like others, also have to struggle with issues of course credit transfers, especially between
non-accredited and accredited schools.  In addition, many colleges don’t give transfer students the attention that freshman may receive for a variety of reasons.  The first and main reason is that freshmen students are more profitable. Since transfer students may be able to transfer at least some credits from general education classes and will likely live in off-campus housing, they do not contribute as much financially as a freshman student who lives on campus.

The adjustment to the new school is another issue that transfer students face. Colleges roll out the red carpet to make freshmen feel welcome and at home. That is not necessarily true for transfer students. When transfer students are included in freshmen activities, they often feel out of place because they are older and already have some college experience.

Yet transferring schools is not impossible for the arts student.  They must keep in mind that hard work pays off. Brush up your audition skills or portfolio, use your experience to create compelling essays, and master the presentations schools require.  Most important of all, be both realistic about the challenges and
excited about the journey ahead.

Written by Halley Shefler for IECA Insights 
Posted by Lindy Kahn, M.A., CEP for Kahn Educational Group, LLC

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

What to Expect When Your College Freshman Comes Home For The Holidays

Here are some tips about how to interact with your college freshman coming home for the holidays 

After three-plus months of living at school, your college freshman has gotten used to being on his or her own. And you’ve become accustomed to a quieter house. But now he/she’s coming home for the holidays, and your household routine is about to be disrupted.

Levester Johnson, vice president for student affairs at Butler University, says parents need to be prepared to navigate those waters. “Their student is going to have a stronger desire for independence,” he said. “He or she has had several months to figure out how late they want to stay in bed, how long they want to stay up at night and how late they stay out. Parents are going to see a changed individual as it relates to those daily habits. They should also notice more maturity, and more introspection, perhaps.”

To keep order – and structure – Johnson recommends that parents maintain rules their student would be used to and expects to come back to. Like curfew.

“But you don’t want to go to an extreme – being too strict or saying I don’t care,” he said. “Loosen the rules, but don’t get rid of them. Even though they want more independence, there has to be a pragmatic approach. It’s only been a few months they’ve been away. They continue to need structure.”

Johnson said parents also should make the most of this time to ask a lot of questions about what’s happening in their student’s life in four broad areas: day to day living; finances; health; and the future.

Day to day: He recommends asking: How are classes going? Tell me about faculty members. Talk to me about your grades, your friends, your activities. “You want to make sure they’re engaged in the campus community,” he said. “Because that’s really what’s going to keep them there: How did they make a connection and have they found that niche in their first semester?”

Finances: Your student is also starting to develop life skills, so you should ask: How are you managing your money? What major expenses are you expecting when you return to school? Are you considering options for earning additional funds such as student work or an off-campus job to off-set college expenses?

Health: Are they taking care of themselves? Eating right? Exercising? Studying late in the residence hall or library? “Get into well-being issues to make sure they’re taking care of themselves,” Johnson suggested.

The future: Ask: What’s coming up? How are your grades? What are you doing next semester? What are your spring break plans? What are your summer plans? Work? Internship? Coming home? “They need to start working on that as soon as they get back to school in January,” he said.

“During their first semester, students do a lot of testing of the waters, and they have probably learned some valuable lessons,” Johnson said. “Whether they’ll tell parents that right away, probably not. That’s the reason for the probing questions. Through that reflection and those conversations, that’s where you’ll hear the maturity. If you’re just looking at physical changes, those won’t be as apparent. It’ll be in the conversations and the probing of their experiences.”

But, Johnson cautioned, don’t expect answers in the first 24 hours.

“They’re probably going to sleep,” he said. “Give them time to acclimate to the room they used for 18 years.”

Written by Dr. Levester Johnson, Butler University
Posted by Lindy Kahn, M.A., CEP for Kahn Educational Group, LLC

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Social Media: New Ways to Pick the Best College for You

Social media sites are dramatically changing the way teens and colleges connect with each other to find the perfect match. Today, a teenager can take a tour of a campus, attend a class, chat with an admission officer and accumulate enough reconnaissance on a school to fill a book — all from thousands of miles away.

Three free sites in particular — Cappex, Zinch and the colleges’ fan pages on Facebook — let students reach out to particular colleges or hope that schools using the sites will discover them (or both). Beyond matchmaking, the sites have clever ways students can research schools: snazzy admission tools, videos, and information on scholarships and financial aid, all served up in easy-to-use formats.

“The traditional high school visits have passed us by,” observes Bob Patterson, deputy director of undergraduate admissions at the University of California, Berkeley. “I see more and more students interacting over the Web.” Berkeley is increasingly using social media to reach students, rather than having its admission reps parachute in to visit high schools.

Cappex and Zinch, which didn’t even exist three years ago, are especially useful in letting students and schools look beyond their regions to find each other. During the past admission season, for example, more than three in 10 high school students who contacted Kalamazoo College, a highly ranked liberal arts school in Michigan, came through Zinch or Cappex.

Facebook college pages are pretty much like any other Facebook interest page, letting you keep up with the latest news and chat with other fans. But Cappex and Zinch work more like matchmakers: Students create profiles on the sites to locate colleges that seem like good fits, while colleges tell the online firms the type of students they’d like to find. Schools might be looking for students with certain grade point averages or standardized test scores, or they may be interested in highly tailored searches. (For instance, a school could use Zinch and Cappex to locate minority teens from the Midwest who play an instrument, maintain at least a 3.4 GPA, and are looking for a medium-sized university near a city.) The sites share their matches with colleges, but the schools won’t know a student’s identity unless the teenager wants to share it.

Meghan Conroy, a college student who attended high school in Neptune, N.J., found Cappex, Zinch, and Facebook offered a huge boost in researching and reaching out to schools. “These sites have so much information in one location,” says Conroy. “It was easier than buying those huge books like the Princeton Review, and it was cheaper.”

Here are closer looks at Cappex, Zinch, and Facebook college fan pages as well as the most helpful features on them:


Cappex has about 3,000 schools in its database, including four-year colleges, online, and for-profit schools. Helpful features incude:

* Merit scholarships: Cappex has assembled information on roughly 79,000 merit scholarships offered by particular colleges. Merit scholarships are larger than private scholarships, which are often worth less than $2,000. When I typed in Washington University in St. Louis, I instantly obtained a list of 21 scholarships from the school (nearly all renewable) ranging from $2,500 for dance majors to more than $37,000 for humanities, architecture and science majors.
* Handicapping acceptance: The site’s What Are My Chances? Calculator can generate scattergrams for specific schools, showing their acceptance rates for students who participated in Cappex. The calculator also provides its own assessment of whether the student has a realistic chance of admission into a particular school. When I used it to see if my imaginary California junior could get into Wake Forest, the software concluded that she had just a middling chance of admission.


Zinch casts a smaller net than Cappex because it focuses on traditional four-year colleges. The 700-plus schools that participate include the likes of Yale, MIT, Wellesley, Johns Hopkins, Stanford and Vanderbilt, along with hundreds of lesser-known institutions. Among its advantages:

* Social networking: One of Zinch’s big selling points is that teenagers can network on the site so they can instantly discover other students interested in the same colleges and compare notes. A Zinch user can click on other students’ names (first names only) and find out where they attend high school, their profiles, and the colleges that have expressed an interest in them. Students can also screen for classmates from their own schools.
* ‘Shout outs’: College admissions staffers can only contact a Zinch user if the student has chosen to click on the college’s Zinch link and make a “shout out” to the school — sending in his or her own profile information, and getting access to You Tube videos and photos about the school, a discussion board, and other information. When UC Berkeley began using Zinch, the college wasn’t prepared for the avalanche of 1,000 “shout outs” it received in the first month.


Visit a college’s Facebook fan page and you’re likely to see virtual campus tours, You Tube videos, photos, comments from current and prospective students, and standard admissions information. Applicants can ask questions or post comments on fan pages; some schools even let them apply through Facebook, giving whole new meaning to the phrase “common app.” Nearly 90 percent of four-year colleges have Facebook fan pages, according to BlueFuego, a higher-ed media consultant.

Many college experts say Facebook fan pages are most beneficial for students who have finalized their list of schools they’ll apply to or ones who’ve been accepted. Before then, teenagers don’t want colleges intruding on their Facebook territory, which they consider their social refuge, says Shelley Krause, co-director of college counseling at Rutgers Preparatory School in New Jersey. Among the Facebook pages’ uses:

* Admissions access: Admission officers use their Facebook fan pages to quickly knock down rumors, correct misinformation in the ether, and to answer applicants’ questions. You can see a lot of errors, for instance, on College Confidential, a popular site with discussion boards about individual colleges.
* Meet and greet: Accepted students can begin their acclimation to college early by participating in their institution’s Facebook fan page. Through this forum, teens can begin meeting their classmates online months before freshmen orientation. That just might make them more chipper at home and more likely to talk with you, which is a nice side benefit.

Written by Lynn O'Shaughnessy for CBS MoneyWatch
Posted by Lindy Kahn, M.A., CEP for Kahn Educational Group, LLC

Preparing to Make the Most of Your College Tour

Every year, people spend a good deal of money to check out colleges, but rather than returning home with the information they were seeking, they often find themselves exhausted and more confused than before. This is especially disheartening for students who will have the opportunity to visit colleges that are far from home only once.

In my experience, the most productive college tours have been well thought out and reasonably planned. Here are a few simple things you can do before you ever leave home to hopefully make your college tour more productive - and pleasant.

Do your research. Before you decide which schools to visit, find out everything you can about them. Make sure they have the all the programs you are looking for and that you have a reasonable chance of being admitted there. While you’re on the schools’ websites, be sure to check out their information about visiting campus. Make sure to note whether you have to register for tours in advance, the phone number for Admissions, as well as the procedure for sitting in on a class.

Make a reasonable plan. Once you’ve done your research, decide which schools would be the most helpful to visit. I strongly recommend that you pace your college tour in such a way that you visit no more than two colleges a day. This will give you enough time to do more than just the standard tour, as well as help prevent all the colleges from blending together. If this will be your only chance to visit a campus, take the opportunity to sit in on a class - if allowed - and speak with someone in Admissions. These last two things may need to be set up well in advance of your arrival, so be sure to give them a call at least 2 weeks before you plan to be there.

Make a list of the information you want to get from each college. Take the time to consider what you would like to know about each college that you weren’t able to get from your research. (i.e. Do a lot of the more local students go home on the weekend?) Be sure to get your all your questions answered at every college you visit so you can compare them. Just a hint: don’t feel like you need to limit your questions to your tour guide or admissions reps. Go ahead and ask other students you may meet on campus. If your question can only be answered by a professor in a certain discipline, be sure to ask the people in admissions if they can arrange for you to speak with one of those professors. (This is another thing that needs to be set up well in advance.)

Make the most of your meals and lodging. As you plan your college tour, keep in mind that there’s more to college than classes and campus buildings. This can be an excellent opportunity to get a better sense of the atmosphere on and around the school. Choose lodging close to the colleges you are visiting whenever possible, so you can get a sense of the “flavor” of the area. When it comes to meals, be sure to have lunch in the dining commons of whatever school you’re visiting at the time. In the evening, make the effort to eat at a restaurant near a different campus on your tour to get yet another perspective on campus life. Not sure which restaurant to try? Try using the school’s Facebook page to ask for recommendations from current students.

Take care of the logistics. There are some things you can’t control such as flight delays or rental car snafus, but the better prepared you are for your college tour, the more likely the small stuff won’t ruin it. Here are a few of my logistical recommendations. Confirm all reservations. Check the weather forecast before you pack, so you have the right clothes with you. Have printed directions and a map with you- just in case the rental place runs out of GPS systems or it malfunctions. Allow enough time to find parking and locate the Admissions Office. Make sure you wear comfortable walking shoes for campus tours. If you have been dealing with a specific admissions rep, be sure to have their name and phone number with you in case you run into a problem.

Discuss expectations before you leave the house. A college tour isn’t exactly a vacation where everyone can do their own thing. In order to run smoothly, everyone needs to know what is expected of them. Parents and students should talk about what parts of the college tour they will do together (i.e. campus tour) and which ones they will not (i.e. eating in the dining commons). Discussing seemingly small things, such as what time you will need to get up each day, can be important in preventing unnecessary tension. The key is to clearly communicate expectations with each other in advance in order to avoid potential misunderstandings later.

Once you’ve done this, you’re ready to pack your bags and find out exactly what the colleges on your tour have to offer you.

Written by Julie Manhan
Posted by Lindy Kahn, M.A., CEP for Kahn Educational Group, LLC

Monday, November 22, 2010

More Professors Give Out Hand-Held Devices to Monitor Students and Engage Them

If any of the 70 undergraduates in Prof. Bill White’s “Organizational Behavior” course at Northwestern University are late for class, or not paying attention, he will know without having to scan the lecture hall.

Their “clickers” will tell him.

Every student in Mr. White’s class has been assigned a palm-size, wireless device that looks like a TV remote but has a far less entertaining purpose. With their clickers in hand, the students in Mr. White’s class automatically clock in as “present” as they walk into class.

They then use the numbered buttons on the devices to answer multiple-choice quizzes that count for nearly 20 percent of their grade, and that always begin precisely one minute into class. Later, with a click, they can signal to their teacher without raising a hand that they are confused by the day’s lesson.

But the greatest impact of such devices — which more than a half-million students are using this fall on several thousand college campuses — may be cultural: they have altered, perhaps irrevocably, the nap schedules of anyone who might have hoped to catch a few winks in the back row, and made it harder for them to respond to text messages, e-mail and other distractions.

In Professor White’s 90-minute class, as in similar classes at Harvard, the University of Arizona and Vanderbilt, barely 15 minutes pass without his asking students to “grab your clickers” to provide feedback

Though some Northwestern students say they resent the potential Big Brother aspect of all this, Jasmine Morris, a senior majoring in industrial engineering, is not one of them.

“I actually kind of like it,” Ms. Morris said after a class last week. “It does make you read. It makes you pay attention. It reinforces what you’re supposed to be doing as a student.”

Inevitably, some students have been tempted to see clickers as “cat and mouse” game pieces. Noshir Contractor, who teaches a class on social networking to Northwestern undergraduates, said he began using clickers in spring 2008 — and, not long after, watched a student array perhaps five of the devices in front of him.

The owners had skipped class, but their clickers had made it.

Professor Contractor said he tipped his cap to the students’ creativity — this was, after all, a class on social networking — but then reminded them that there “are other ways to count attendance,” and that, by the way, they were all signatories to the school’s honor principle. The practice stopped, he said.

Though the technology is relatively new, preliminary studies at Harvard and Ohio State, among other institutions, suggest that engaging students in class through a device as familiar to them as a cellphone — there are even applications that convert iPads and BlackBerrys into class-ready clickers — increases their understanding of material that may otherwise be conveyed in traditional lectures.

The clickers are also gaining wide use in middle and high schools, as well as at corporate gatherings. Whatever the setting, audience responses are received on a computer at the front of the room and instantly translated into colorful bar graphs displayed on a giant monitor.

The remotes used at Northwestern were made by Turning Technologies, a company in Youngstown, Ohio, and are compatible with PowerPoint. Depending on the model, the hand-helds can sell for $30 to $70 each. Some colleges require students to buy them; others lend them to students.

Tina Rooks, the chief instructional officer for Turning Technologies, said the company expected to ship over one million clickers this year, with roughly half destined for about 2,500 university campuses, including community colleges and for-profit institutions. The company said its higher-education sales had grown 60 percent since 2008, and 95 percent since 2006.

At Northwestern, more than three dozen professors now use clickers in their classrooms. Professor White, who teaches industrial engineering, was among the first here to adopt them about six years ago.

He smiled knowingly when asked about some students’ professed dislike of the clickers.

“They should walk in with them in their hands, on time, ready to go,” he said.

Professor White acknowledged, though, that the clickers were hardly a silver bullet for engaging students, and that they were just one of many tools he employed, including video clips, guest speakers and calling on individual students to share their thoughts.

“Everyone learns differently,” he said. “Some learn watching stuff. Some learn by listening. Some learn by reading. I try to mix it all into every class.”

Many of Professor White’s students said the highlight of his class was often the display of results of a survey-via-clicker, when they could see whether their classmates shared their opinions. They also said that they appreciated the anonymity, and that while the professor might know how they responded, their peers would not.

Last week, for example, he flashed a photo of the university president, Morton Schapiro, onto the screen, along with a question, “Source of power?” followed by these possible answers:

“1. Coercive power” (sometimes punitive).

“2. Reward power.”

“3. Legitimate power” (typically by virtue of one’s office).

“4. Expert power” (more typically applied to someone like an electrician or a mechanic).

"5. Referent power” (usually tied to how the leader is viewed personally).

To Professor White’s seeming relief, a clear majority, 71 percent, chose No. 3, a sign that they considered his ultimate boss to be “legitimate.”

And then, to his delight, the students emerged from their electronic veils to register their opinions the old-fashioned way.

“They can be very reluctant to speak when they think they’re in the minority,” he said. “Once they see they’re not the only ones, they speak up more.”

Written by Jacques Steinberg for The New York Times
Posted by Lindy Kahn, M.A., CEP for Kahn Educational Group, LLC

Thursday, November 11, 2010

6 College Admissions Tips for Artistic Students

If your child wants to major in musical theater or some other performing art, go ahead and blame it on Glee, American Idol or America's Got Talent.

Television shows make performing look fun, but the process of applying to colleges as a prospective visual or performing arts major is anything but. For these students, the admission process can be even more nerve wracking and time consuming because of requirements for auditions or portfolios.

To learn more about what's involved in being a prospective visual or performing art major, I talked with Halley Shefler, former dean of admissions at both the Boston Conservatory and the School of Music at Boston University. She is now a college consultant at The Arts Edge, which works with students who want to major in music, theatre, arts, and dance.

Here are six of Shefler's suggestions on how artistic students—and their parents—can navigate the admission process:

1. Don't apply where everybody else is. Ambitious students who are aiming for the same elite schools that are on everyone's short list will usually be disappointed. These schools are overrun with applications and will reject most students. In musical theater, for instance, applicants tend to flock to the University of Michigan, New York University, Boston Conservatory, Carnegie Mellon University, and the College-Conservatory of Music, which is part of the University of Cincinnati.

Other wonderful school in musical theater, Shefler suggests, include Syracuse University, University of the Arts, Elon University, Otterbein College, Point Park University, Millikin University, Montclair State University, and Florida State University.

"You don't need to go to Juilliard, NYU, or the Cincinnati Conservatory to make it in the arts," Shefler emphasized.

2. Solicit opinions from experts. It's a reality that many stage parents believe their teenagers are far more talented than they are. With inflated opinions of their abilities, Shefler has seen countless teenagers apply to highly selective schools where they have no hope of attending. Families should ask outside experts to critique their students' talent.

3. Look for joint auditions. Going to auditions can be expensive, which is why some schools in the art fields hold joint auditions.

Some schools that offer a bachelor of fine arts program in theatre get together every year to hold a "National Unified Audition." In 2011, the audition will be held on different dates in February in New York, Chicago, Las Vegas, and Los Angeles.

For visual art and design majors, there is "National Portfolio Day." Representatives of schools will review artwork and offer feedback for the students who attend.

4. Consider traditional universities or colleges. For lots of students, art schools and conservatories are going to be unaffordable. Many of these institutions are expensive and yet the financial aid students receive is often modest compared to traditional colleges and universities that offer a broader array of majors.

The Savannah College of Art and Design, for instance, only meets 20 percent of the typical student's financial need, according to College Board statistics. This is a school costs more than $41,000. The New England Conservatory of Music in Boston, where tuition with room and board costs $47,050, typically covers 59 percent of a student's financial need. The Boston Conservatory meets an average of 40 percent of a student's need. In contrast, many elite colleges meet all or nearly all of students' financial need.

5. Be prepared for the audition. When you are at an audition, don't wear a T-shirt and jeans. You should also not wear anything that would draw attention away from your performance. You don't need to buy a suit, but consider choosing an outfit that you would wear on a first date, Shefler suggests.

You should also perform appropriate material during an audition. A 17-year-old, for instance, shouldn't perform a piece that requires her to pretend to be a middle-aged woman.

6. Parents, take a chill pill. In this time of high unemployment, more parents than ever seem to be hoping that their children major in something practical like business or engineering. But art majors end up with many desirable skills such as being able to present in front of a group, taking constructive criticism, and being equipped with excellent speaking skills. Remember, what's most important is that students graduate with a degree!

Written by Lynn O'Shaughnessy for U.S. News & World Report
Posted by Lindy Kahn, M.A., CEP for Kahn Educational Group, LLC

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Study Finds Teens' Late Night Media Use Comes at a Price

Staying up late to play video games, surf the Internet and send phone text messages may lead to learning problems, mood swings, anxiety and depression in children, a pilot study suggests.

The research, conducted at the Sleep Disorders Center at JFK Medical Center in Edison, N.J., found that children who snuck time on their cell phones, computers and other electronic devices after supposedly going to sleep had a greater chance of sleep disorders that cause other difficulties.

"These activities are not sleep-promoting, like reading a novel or listening to music. They stimulate the brain and depress normal sleep cycles," said study author Dr. Peter G. Polos.

His team was scheduled to present the findings Monday at the American College of Chest Physicians annual meeting in Vancouver.

The study was based on a survey of 40 boys and girls with an average age of 14. The researchers focused on their activities after they had gone into their bedroom for the night and were supposed to be sleeping.

Participants reported an average of 34 texts per night after bedtime, and an average of 3,400 night-time texts per month. These texts occurred from 10 minutes to four hours after going to bed. The average participant was awoken once a night by a text.

Girls were more "text happy," while boys were more likely to stay awake playing video games, said Polos, a physician at the hospital and a clinical instructor at its Sleep Disorders Center. All of the participants had gone to the center for help with sleep problems.

The research found correlations between late-night electronic media use and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, mood swings, anxiety, depression and poor cognitive functioning (thinking skills) during the day.

About half of the parents of study participants didn't know what the kids were up to, said Polos. The others knew, but had a fatalistic attitude.

"They [parents] thought, 'This is the world we live in, what can you do?'" said Polos. But parents need to monitor electronic media use, he said, because "at the end of the day, the parent is still the parent, the child is still the child."

Polos said doctors need to start asking children and teens routinely about night-time media use and talk to the child, along with the parents, about the negative consequences of poor sleep.

Calling America a "sleep-deprived culture," Polos noted that teens get little enough sleep "with sports, homework and getting up early for school." Late-night media use "really isn't helping," he said.

Expert Richard Gallagher said another reason parents need to monitor media use is to know what is going on in their children's lives.

"Parents need to take the perspective of what their own lives were like growing up," said Gallagher, director of the Parenting Institute at the Child Study Center at NYU Langone Medical Center in New York City.

Parents used to know who their children were talking to on the phone or hanging out with because it was all done in the real world when families typically had one or two phones, he noted.

"Parents knew if someone came to the door to see their daughter or son," said Gallagher, an associate professor of adolescent psychiatry at New York University, adding that "children should have some privacy, but parents need to make it more comparable to when they were growing up."

Parents need to set rules such as no computers in the child's bedroom, no phone calls during mealtimes, and establish a phone use curfew.

"Then have the kids turn over the phones," said Gallagher.

Gallagher also noted that the effect of media can be good for some children who have "more contact with others than they might normally have had" as a result. But parents also need to be aware that all the messages sent back and forth "aren't necessarily friendly, or about things they want their kids to constantly think about," he said.

Because many kids are messaging or texting throughout the day, "there is no break from any kind of drama," or peer-related problems their children might be having, said Gallagher.

Both experts said the long-term effects of children's constant use of technology is unknown and needs more study. Also, they both emphasized the need for parents to talk with their children, and start early.

Citing the example of a parent who resorted to turning off the router at night, Polos said it's important to get a jump on things before it becomes a big problem.

"By then, the horse is out of the barn," said Polos, when parents delay getting involved.

Written by Ellin Holohan for HealthDay News
Posted by Lindy Kahn, M.A., CEP for Kahn Educational Group, LLC

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Early Action Could Aid in Admission

It is a question on the minds of so many high school seniors at this time of year: How can you raise your chances of getting into your No. 1 college choice?

A report released Wednesday by an association of guidance counselors and admissions officers could be worth a look. It provides new evidence for those who believe that applying to college early in the academic year — or, more specifically, submitting applications under binding early-decision programs — increases the likelihood of acceptance.

Nearly three of every four students who applied last year under such programs, which are offered by many of the nation’s most selective colleges, were accepted, compared with just over half who applied to the same colleges in the main application round, according to the annual report, “The State of College Admission,” by the National Association for College Admission Counseling.

All told, the percentage accepted last year in the early-decision round, in which those accepted are compelled to withdraw all other applications and enroll, was 15 points higher than in the main phase. And that gap is rising, the authors said. In fall 2006, 61 percent, on average, were accepted early, compared with 53 percent in the regular pool.

Critics of early-admission programs argue that they represent a way for well-off and connected high school students to game the system. But colleges that offer them counter that the acceptance rates are often so high because the quality of students is particularly strong.

The report suggests that these figures “may rekindle debates about the effects of early-decision admission, particularly as it relates to access for underrepresented populations.”

To that end, the report provided new measurements of how the nation’s poorest high school graduates, as well as those who are black and Hispanic, continue to lag behind their peers in going to college. Only 58 percent of high school graduates from the bottom quarter nationally, as ranked by family income, went to college in 2008, compared with 87 percent from the highest-earning bracket, according to the report.

And while black and Hispanic students represented 33 percent of “the traditional college-aged population” in 2008, the report noted, only 25 percent of the students enrolled in colleges and universities that year were black or Hispanic.

If one figure in the report might give anxious applicants, and their parents, some solace, it is this: nearly one of every three colleges reported a decrease in applications in 2009, compared with the year before. That is the largest proportion of four-year colleges reporting such a drop in nearly 15 years. The authors said the sluggish economy could be a factor. More students may be applying to fewer colleges, as well as to community colleges and other two-year institutions.

Written by Jacques Steinberg for The New York Times

Posted by Lindy Kahn, M.A., CEP for Kahn Educational Group, LLC

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Mobilizing Bystanders to Stop Bullying: 6 Teachable Skills to Stop a Bully

This past week I attended an educational conference where I had the pleasure of listening to nationally renowned speaker, Dr. Michele Borba. October is Bullying Awareness Month, therefore, I would like to draw attention to this crucial matter facing our nation's children.

Bullying is a learned behavior, and it is on the rise. One third of middle and high school students were bullied during the school year. Previous studies estimated the figure as one in seven students. Bullying appears to be far more intense, more frequent and beginning at younger ages than in years past.

Make no mistake: Bullying is a cruel, intentional act that is usually repeated, and can have serious impact on children. And every bullying episode really has three victims: the bullied (or target), the bully, and the bystander.

* The bullied or target: Repeated bullying can cause severe emotional harm, and can be so serious that some school-age victims have committed suicide.

* The bully: Nearly 60 percent of students identified as chronic bullies in middle school had at least one criminal conviction by the age of twenty-four.

* The bystander: New research suggests that students who witness their peers endure verbal or physical abuse could become as psychologically distressed, if not more so, by the events as the victims themselves.

And the consequences of bullying seem to finally be recognized. States are passing anti-bullying laws; schools are implementing zero-bullying policies; pediatricians are posting warning signs, and parents are increasing worried about their children’s safety. But in all our endeavors to stop peer cruelty, we are largely overlooking the most effective bully-reducing solution: mobilizing student bystanders to speak up. The fact it, students witness 85 percent of bullying episodes and usually during times when adults aren’t around to help.

Last week I reported to Brian Williams on NBC Nightly News that studies show that bystanders can do far more than just watch.Peers can reduce the audience that a bully craves, mobilize the compassion of witnesses to step in, support the victim, and be a positive influence in curbing a bullying episode. In fact, when bystanders intervene correctly, studies find they can cut bullying more than half the time and within 10 seconds. The key is that students must have the right guidance so they know when to step in, be taught how skills that offer the right kind of help, and know when to get aid.

This month I worked with NBC’s Dateline’s correspondent, Kate Snow on a special entitled, “The Perils of Parenting” (which aired Monday, September 13). Producers asked me to teach middle school students–when bullying peaks–specific bystander strategies. I developed the techniques after reviewing hundreds of research articles on the “Bystander Effect” and have trained hundreds of educators in how to use them with students. The moment that one twelve-year old girl stepped in and spoke up to a boy to stop bullying another child was extraordinary. She was calm, compassionate, courageous and glorious. She also used every one of the six bystander skills — and used them better than most adults. There also wasn’t a dry eye on the set–we all wiped away tears. [More about the bystander effect and that episode in a future blog].

Mobilizing the compassion of bystanders with specific bystander skills is largely overlooked in bullying prevention, but it may well be our best hope in creating safe and caring school climates. The best news is that child advocates and parents can teach kids these same bystander skills. Doing so empowers children with tools to stop cruelty, help victims, feel safer and reduce bullying. Here are the skills I shared on Dateline.

Dr. Borba’s Bystander Bully B.U.S.T.E.R. Strategies

Chances are that your child will witness bullying. Here are six strategies to teach so kids know how to intervene safely and when to report. Each strategy must be rehearsed or role-played, until kids can use it alone. I’ve had schools have students role-play these in assemblies, make them into chart-reminders that are posted around the school, and even have students create mini-videos of each strategy to share with peers. There are three steps to teaching bystander skills:

STEP ONE: Teach the Difference Between Tattling and Reporting

Kids must realize that safety is always the primary goal. So stress: “If someone could get hurt, REPORT! Emphasize: “It’s always better to be safe than sorry.” Then teach the difference between “Tattling” and “Reporting.” Also identify specific trusted adults children can go to and report bullying incidents.

• TATTLING is when you trying to get kids IN trouble when they aren’t hurting themselves or other.

• REPORTING is when you’re trying to help keep kids OUT of trouble because they may get hurt (or they are). Report bullying to an adult you trust. If the adult doesn’t listen, keep reporting until you find one who does.

STEP TWO: Teach What Bullying Looks and Sounds Like

Next, teach what bullying behaviors look like so children will know when they should step in (and not when the behavior is mere teasing). Explain: “Bullying is a cruel or aggressive act that is done on purpose. The bully has more power (strength, status, or size) than the target, who cannot hold his own. The hurtful bullying behavior is not an accident, but done on purpose. The bully usually seems to enjoy seeing the victim in distress and rarely accepts responsibility and often says the target “deserved” the hurtful treatment.” Then teach (depending on the child’s age) that bullying can be…

1. Physical: Punching, hitting, slamming, socking, spitting, slapping,
2. Verbal: Saying put downs, nasty statements, name calling, taunting, racial slurs, or hurtful comments, threatening
3. Emotional: Shunning, excluding, spreading rumors or mean gossip, ruining your reputation
4. Electronic or cyber-bullying: Using the Internet, cell phone, camera, text messaging, photos to say mean or embarrassing things
5. Sexual: Saying or doing things that are lewd or disrespectful in a sexual way

STEP THREE: Teach the Six Borba Bully BUSTER Bystander Skills

I teach the acronym BUSTER to help kids remember the skills. Each letter in the word represents one of the six bystander skills. Not all strategies work for all kids. The trick is to match the techniques with what works best with the child’s temperament and comfort level and the particular situation.

B-Befriend the Victim: Bystanders often don’t intervene because they don’t want to make things worse or assume the victim doesn’t want help. If witnesses know a victim feels upset or wants help they are more likely to step in. And if you befriend a victim, you’re also more likely to get others to join your cause. Show comfort: Stand closer to the victim. Wave other pees over: “Come help!” Ask if the victim wants support: “Do you need help?” Empathize: “I bet he feels sad.” Clarify feelings: “He looks upset.”

U-Use a Distraction: The right diversion can draw peers from the scene, make them focus elsewhere, give the target a chance to get away, and may get the bully to move on. Remember, a bully wants an audience, so reduce it with a distraction. Ploys include: A question: “What are you all doing here?” A diversion: “There’s a great volleyball game going on! Come on!” A false excuse: “A teacher is coming!” An interruption: “I can’t find my bus.”

S-Speak Out and Stand Up!: Speaking out can get others to lend a hand and join you. You must stay cool, and never boo, clap, laugh, or insult, which could egg the bully on even more. Stress that directly confronting a bully is intimidating and it’s a rare kid who can, but there are ways to still stand up to cruelty. Show disapproval: Give a cold, silent stare. Name it: “That’s bullying!” Label it: “That’s mean!” State disapproval: “This isn’t cool!” Ask for support: “Are you with me?”

T-Tell or Text For Help: Teach “Reporting (Trying to stop someone from being hurt) vs. Tattling (Trying to get someone in trouble).” Stress: “If someone is in harms way, report and get help.” Call from a cell, send a text, find an adult, or call 911. Bystanders often don’t report for fear of retaliation, so make sure they know which adults will support them, ensure their confidentiality and give the option of anonymous reporting. Find an adult you trust. If you have problems, keep going until you find someone who believes you.

E-Exit Alone or With Others: Bullies love audiences. Bystanders can drain a bully’s power by reducing the group size a few ways. Encouraging: “You coming? Asking: “What are you all doing here? Directing: “Let’s go!” Suggesting: “Let’s leave.” Exiting: If you can’t get others to leave with you, then walk away. If you stay, you’re part of the cruelty. Leaving means you refuse to be part.

R-Give a Reason or Remedy: Bystanders are more likely to help when told why the action is wrong or what to do. Review why it’s wrong: “This isn’t right!” “This is mean!” “You’ll get suspended.” “You’ll hurt him.” Offer a remedy: “Go get help!” “Let’s work this out with Coach.” The right comments can make peers stop, think, consider the consequences, and even move on.

Written by Dr. Michele Borba
Posted by Lindy Kahn, M.A., CEP for Kahn Educational Group, LLC

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Bully-Proofing Our Kids

This past week I attended an educational conference where I had the pleasure of listening to nationally renowned speaker, Dr. Michele Borba. October is Bullying Awareness Month, therefore, I would like to draw attention to this crucial matter facing our nation's children.

Some of the toughest problems parents must deal with happen right on the school playground where teasing, bullying and mean-spirited kids abound. There seems to be an epidemic of mean-acting kids these days. In fact, the National Education Association estimates that 160,000 children skip school every day because they fear being attacked or intimidated by other students. While we can’t prevent the pain insults can cause, we can lessen our kids’ chances of becoming victims. I tell parents the best thing to do is teach our kids how to deal with their tormentors. Doing so will show them there are ways to resolve conflicts without losing face or resorting to violence and will boost their confidence. So the next time your child is upset from teasing, here are a few ideas I suggest you do:

1. Listen and gather facts.
The first step is often the hardest for parents: listen to your child’s whole story without interrupting. Your goal is to try to figure out what happened, who was involved, where and when the teasing took place, and why your child was teased. Unfortunately, teasing is a part of growing up, but some kids seem to get more than their fair share of insults. If your child appears to be in no immediate danger, keep listening to find out how she reacts to the bullying. By knowing what reaction didn’t stop the bully, you can offer your child a more effective option.

2. Teach a bully-proofing strategy.
What may work with one child may not with another, so it’s best to discuss a range of options and then choose the one or two your child feels most comfortable with. Here are six of the most successful strategies to help kids defend themselves:

* Assert yourself. Teach your child to face the bully by standing tall and using a strong voice. Your child should name the bullying behavior and tell the aggressor to stop: ?That’s teasing. Stop it.? or ?Stop making fun of me. It’s mean.?

* Question the response. Ann Bishop, who teaches violence prevention curriculums, tells her students to respond to an insult with a nondefensive question: “Why would you say that?” or “Why would you want to tell me I am dumb (or fat) and hurt my feelings?”

* Use “I want.” Communication experts suggest teaching your child to address the bully beginning with “I want” and say firmly what he wants changed: “I want you to leave me along.” or “I want you to stop teasing me.”

* Agree with the teaser. Consider helping your child create a statement agreeing with her teaser. Teaser: “You’re dumb.” Child: “Yeah, but I’m good at it.” or Teaser: “Hey, four eyes.” Child: “You’re right, my eyesight is poor.”

* Ignore it. Bullies love it when their teasing upsets their victims, so help your child find a way to not let his tormentor get to him. A group of fifth graders told me ways they ignore their teasers: ?Pretend they’re invisible,? ?Walk away without looking at them,? ?Quickly look at something else and laugh,? and ?Look completely uninterested.?

* Make Fun of the Teasing. Fred Frankel, author of Good Friends Are Hard to Find suggests victims answer every tease with a reply, but not tease back. The teasing often stops, Frankel says, because the child lets the tormentor know he’s not going to let the teasing get to him (even if it does). Suppose the teaser says, “You’re stupid.” The child says a rehearsed comeback such as: “Really?” Other comebacks could be: “So?,” “You don’t say,” “And your point is?,” or “Thanks for telling me.”

3. Rehearse the strategy with your child.
Once you choose a technique, rehearse it together so your child is comfortable trying it. The trick is for your child to deliver it assuredly to the bully--and that takes practice. Explain that though he has the right to feel angry, it’s not okay to let it get out of control. Besides, anger just fuels the bully. Try teaching your child the CALM approach to defueling the tormentor.

* C - Cool down. When you confront the bully, stay calm and always in control. Don’t let him think he’s getting to you. If you need to calm down, count to twenty slowly inside your head or say to yourself, “Chill out!” And most importantly: tell your child to always get help whenever there is a chance she might be injured.

* A - Assert yourself. Try the strategy with the bully just like you practiced.

* L - Look at the teaser straight in the eye. Appear confident, hold your head high and stand tall.

* M - Mean it! Use a firm, strong voice. Say what you feel, but don’t be insulting, threaten or tease back.

Final Thoughts
Like it or not, most kids are bound to encounter children who are deliberately mean. By teaching kids effective ways to respond to verbal abuse, we can reduce their chances of being victims as well as helping them learn how to cope more successfully with future adversities. Of course, no child should ever have to deal with ongoing teasing, meanness and harassment. It’s up to adults and kids alike to take an active stand against bullying and stress that cruelty is always unacceptable.

Written by Dr. Michele Borba
Posted by Lindy Kahn, M.A., CEP for Kahn Educational Group, LLC

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Tips for Choosing Extracurricular Activities in High School

Are you a contributor or just a joiner? What meaningful contributions have you made to the community? How well do you manage priorities and your time? Can you maintain a long-term commitment? What are your non-academic interests, and what diversity will you bring to your new school or company?

These are questions being asked by college admissions boards and prospective employers as they look over the applications and resumes they receive. Thoughtfully choosing the extracurricular activities you will participate in during your high school years will help you in answering these questions.

Extracurricular activities are a great way to spend free time. You can have a lot of fun with them. But extracurricular activities can be much more. They can help you pursue a hobby and find friends who share your interests. They can offer opportunities to participate in community service projects. They can be an avenue for exploring your future career options and developing networks. When deciding which of the many opportunities to grab, think about the following tips, and get yourself going in a direction that will be good for you now, and in the future.

1. Decide on at least one activity that you want to continue for the full four years of high school. This could be a community service organization, such as Habitat for Humanity. If no Habitat group is available at your high school, the local organization would be more than happy to help you start one. Building homes alongside other volunteers and the future occupants will provide a real sense of belonging and commitment to community. You will also learn construction skills that can be applied later either on the job or in maintaining your own place.

Other community service organizations to consider might be hospital volunteers, literacy tutors, or humane shelter volunteers. So many options are available, this is only a dabbling of the possibilities. The key to maintaining a long-term commitment is to be sure the organization you choose both meets your interests and provides a meaningful outlet for your energies.

2. Don’t overload. Being in a lot of different organizations will mean you can’t really focus on any one of them. You will not be able to maintain too many commitments over time. Choosing a couple of things to do, and spending enough time to make a significant contribution, will be much more satisfying. You will make friends more easily, and they won’t be upset because you have to back out. You can always add another activity if you find you have extra time.

3. Choose at least one activity that will help you stay physically active. Regular exercise is important both for maintaining good health and for controlling weight. Finding a sport that you enjoy can help you stay fit. Finding one that you will continue after high school is one of the best things you can do for yourself.

4. Be true to yourself. If you are very shy, the drama club may be a great place for you. Most actors are actually quite shy. They come alive on a stage or in front of a camera. Their introspective personalities allow them to delve under the skin of the people the portray, and understand what is going on there. It may seem counter-intuitive, but shy people often belong in the spotlight.

5. Figure out what organizations best suit your interests and personality, and you have a winner. You will be able to stick with it. You’ll be able to contribute in a meaningful way. You’ll be able to shine.

Whatever you choose, relax and enjoy the experience. Your high school years will be gone before you know it. Make the most of them.

Written by Carol Smock
Posted by Lindy Kahn, M.A., CEP for Kahn Educational Group, LLC

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

10 Costly Mistakes in College Admission

It’s panic time for more than a million high school seniors and their parents. It really shouldn’t be, but it is: competition for admission to the nation’s “top” colleges has never been tougher. A huge cohort of kids combined with more qualified, full-tuition-paying foreign students – all of them applying to more colleges – makes the odds of getting in simply awful.

To complicate matters, too many kids – spurred on by ill-informed parents and over-worked guidance counselors — unwittingly make the situation worse. Here are 10 mistakes that can be easily avoided.

Mistake 1: Keep that college search narrowly focused. – College admission is really a buyers market – once you get beyond the “top” 50 or so schools. That means that really good “name” schools typically accept more kids than they reject. But it also means that kids and parents have to look beyond the most famous brand names you’re probably familiar with. But with more than 3,000 college and universities in the US and Canada, there are more than few that will be a good fit for a student.

One of the most common mistakes kids make is the size of the colleges they consider. The vast majority of high school seniors limit their initial search to either large universities or small colleges. The reasons for this self-imposed limitation are understandable – and yet wrong. A high school student’s frame of reference is pretty limited, and their perceptions of what big-vs-small colleges offer is usually at least half-wrong. (Large universities almost always offer small seminars and small liberal arts colleges typically require students to take a few large lecture classes.)

The single most important mistake a student can avoid is not visiting enough colleges – large and small.

Mistake 2: “Top” college lists matter. But for mostly the wrong reasons. Just this week I picked up three different magazines that had published their “top” college lists. I’ll probably buy three more next week. And I will marvel at how subjective, skewed, and misleading the lists are. But that’s not to say that they aren’t important. Because they are in one very significant way: they reinforce a college’s “brand” value. No one should pretend that a “name” college doesn’t help open doors in the job (or social) market. It does. Name recognition counts. But it should only be one of several factors used when choosing a college. And by no means should a family discard a possible college because it “ranks” a dozen places below a competitor.

Mistake 3: Colleges are looking for the well-rounded kid. They are looking for the well-rounded class. Kids – egged on by their parents – think that they need a laundry list of extracurricular activities, sports, and a summer experience volunteering as a latrine-builder in Belize in order to get into a top college. Absolutely not true. Colleges put together their entering class as a mosaic: a few great scholars for each academic department; a handful of athletes; some musicians, dancers, and theater stars; a few for racial and economic diversity; some potential club leaders, etc. Colleges want a kid who is devoted to – and excels at – something.

Mistake 4: The essay better be perfect – and seriously substantive. It might be all those things; or not. What it must be is the kid’s own. Admission officers, who typically read more than 50 sets of essays a night — can see through those written with “just a little polishing” by parents or counselors in a heartbeat. The essay should answer the question asked, and provide insight into what makes the applicant tick. Whenever possible, kids should stay away from the “3-D’s”: death. disease, and divorce. While grandma’s death may have been important to the applicant, it too often comes across as an (unsuccessful) attempt at sounding profound. Similarly, the essay that focuses on the applicant’s trip to Belize where he helped build that latrine may seem unique to the student. But to the admission officer who has read thousands of such essays, the only thing the AO is wondering is why there isn’t a latrine stretching from the Atlantic to the Pacific. (I suggested to my younger son that he write about what he really did on his “service” trip: he helped the local Rastafarian farmer harvest his marijuana crop. My son had the good sense to ignore me.)

Mistake 5: Get those VIP recommendations in early. There is a well-established saying in the admission world: the thicker the folder, the thicker the kid. Do not ask VIP’s – Congressmen, corporate CEO’s, members of the college’s board of trustees – to write recommendations for your kid. Unless your child has actually worked for that person in a real and substantive context. Colleges want teacher recommendations. – teachers who can provide insight into the student’s interests, strengths and growth.

Mistake 6: Ignore the interview; it doesn’t really count. Although most colleges don’t require personal interviews – too many kids applying; and too many who live too far away – if they are offered, take advantage of them. And yes they count – sometimes a lot. (And that includes alumni interviews.) Which means kids should be prepared to speak articulately about themselves and knowledgably about the college they are visiting.

Mistake 7: Nobody is going to check my Facebook page. Don’t count on it. More and more colleges are setting up Facebook pages and want to friend potential applicants. So students should show some discretion about what they post.

Admission officers also take note of little things, like a student’s e-mail address. I’ve heard more than a few stories of admission officers deciding to reject a candidate “on the bubble” because of an e-mail address such as “hotchickatthemall @hotmail”.

Some online services – such as which I have a relationship with – can provide a “safe” and mutually productive technology link between students and colleges.

Mistake 8: Colleges are flexible about deadlines. Ha! No way! Be forewarned: do not miss a deadline.

Mistake 9: We can’t afford Big Name College. There is a lot of money available for college. Some of it is scholarship money; most of it is loan money. And while parents and kids may have an understandable aversion to taking on debt, access to money is almost never a barrier to attending a college.

Applying for financial aid can affect one’s chances of admission – if the college is not “need blind” in its admission policy. But virtually every college is candid about its linkage of admissions and financial aid, and posts its policy on the college website.

Mistake 10: Focus on finding money. The money is out there, and parents simply have to apply for it. But “simply” is a misnomer. The process is run – in parallel — by the federal government and the individual colleges. And you have to deal with both. Applying for financial aid – starting with the government’s FAFSA form and often including the College Board’s “Profile” form – the process is much like root canal without anesthesia. But if you want any sort of scholarship or low-interest loan, you have to deal with it.

Never, ever pay for a scholarship matching service! The vast majority of “weird” scholarships – along with government scholarships and low-interest loans – are administered through the college’s financial aid office. Simply apply for financial aid through the college and the school will figure out what you are eligible for.

The college admission process is rarely fun. But it can be tolerable and less stressful if you avoid these classic mistakes.

Written by Steve Cohen for on September 14, 2010
Posted by Lindy Kahn, M.A., CEP for Kahn Educational Group, LLC

Thursday, September 2, 2010


Many schools are holding orientations for anxious mothers and fathers of freshmen, attempting to teach them a lesson not contained in any traditional curriculum: Let go.

The UCLA meeting hall was standing room only as campus psychologist Susan Bakota delivered a message to about 150 parents gathered at an orientation session designed just for them.

"Take a moment to inhale and release your concerns and anxieties and release your student to this wonderful adventure," she told the audience, whose children are about to enroll as UCLA freshman. "And I suggest you too enjoy the ride."

That may be easier said than done for many parents who are dropping their children off for the first time at a big university in a huge city. But at this time of year, more and more colleges across the country are attempting to teach anxious mothers and fathers a lesson not contained in any traditional curriculum: Let go.

Facing a generation of text-messaging parents who are often intensely involved in their offspring's lives and academic careers, many schools are launching or expanding orientation events to inform parents about all sorts of details of university life. There are parents-only workshops on health insurance, dorm life, financial aid, academics, alcohol abuse and policing.

More important, campus officials say, is explicit advice aimed at easing the pain of separation for the older generation and discouraging intrusive habits that have earned some the title of "helicopter parents" for their habit of hovering.

Even in the age of cellphones and Skype, families of new college students have to learn that "life is going to change for both the students and parents," USC's orientation director, Thomas Studdert, said at a recent parent meeting at the Los Angeles campus. "It's no longer being a parent of a child, it's being parent of an adult."

Last year, 97% of U.S. and Canadian colleges and universities surveyed had held orientations for parents of incoming students, according to the University of Minnesota's National Survey of College and University Parent Programs, a study of 500 schools. That's up from 61% in 2003, the study showed.

Many schools are starting parent volunteer organizations and hiring staff to serve as full-time parent liaisons, sometimes to handle complaints, sometimes with an eye to fundraising.

Because of frequent text messages and e-mails home, parents today know significantly more about their college-age children's lives and problems than parents knew a generation ago. So, orientation officials say, they try to give parents information to help them refer their children to the right campus resources. The parents then are encouraged to let students do the rest legwork themselves.

That increased communication between students and parents — and parents and colleges — "is not either good or bad. It's just the way life is," said Marjorie Savage, parent program director at the University of Minnesota's Twin Cities campus.

Savage, the author of a guidebook called "You're on Your Own (But I'm Here if You Need Me): Mentoring Your Child During the College Years," said few parents become a serious problem for schools. Parental intrusions tend to decline after freshman year, she said.

Craig Mack, president of the National Orientation Directors Assn., said another reason for colleges to pay attention to parental anxiety is the growing price of college tuition. "A lot of parents are paying big tabs, and they want to have a more active involvement in where their money is going," he said.

The colleges also have a long-term financial interest in keeping them happy, Mack said. "If the student had a great experience and is gainfully employed after graduation, the parents are more likely to contribute to the school even if they are not alumni," he said.

Success is not universal. Educators tell of parents who refuse to leave campus at the appropriate time, even if orientation schedules now often include a specific time to say goodbye. Some impersonate their children in telephone calls seeking information from campus offices. And some can't stop protesting the federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, which keeps grades confidential unless students allow parental access.

Colleges keep trying. For example, some parents are surprised to learn during orientation at Washington University in St. Louis that they cannot participate in academic advising sessions at which students choose classes, said Danielle Bristow, director of first-year programs.

If the parents feel excluded, she explained, "we have to say, 'we are sorry but this is not for you.' "

At UCLA, parents recently attended workshops on financial aid, health insurance and "What about MY Transition into College?" Staff members urged parents to shift their attention to children still at home, refocus on personal interests and even rediscover their own romantic lives.

"This is as big a transition for you as it is for them," said Jacquelean Gilliam, UCLA's director of parent programs.

The message reassured Ron Eastwood of the town of Spreckels in Northern California, whose only child, Sara, will start at UCLA next month.

"When we were growing up, the world seemed to be a very different place," Eastwood said. "People didn't seem so worried about personal dangers. But our generation has been very protective of our kids as they grew up in the world. And what I think this is helping us to do now is to keep our helicopters on the ground more often."

Elizabeth Warren of Fremont said she appreciated advice about what one speaker described as "the difference between mothering and smothering, between fathering and bothering."

"I don't want to smother," Warren said of her relationship with her son Jonathan, a UCLA freshman. "Yet you are a mom and you want to keep in touch. So this whole process puts it all in perspective and relieves a lot of the anxiety we feel as parents."

At USC, the last of several recent orientation sessions was geared mainly toward parents of international students. The families peppered a panel of upperclassmen with questions about homesickness, safety, drunken parties, the wisdom of double majors and the drinkability of tap water in Los Angeles.

Pressed about campus cafeteria food, one young man reassured them: "I definitely miss my mom's cooking, but I've never starved."

Parents Terry and George Stockus of Victoria, Canada, said later that their concerns about crime were addressed in the session and said they also felt better prepared to part with their daughter, Sydney. "She's happy, so we're happy," Terry Stockus said.

Yet when the moment arrived, it was still hard to leave. "We were all very good up until the room was put together and Dad figured out the printer," Terry Stockus said. "When it was time to say goodbye, it was very emotional. But those were happy tears, excited tears."
Copyright © 2010, Los Angeles Times
Posted by Lindy Kahn, M.A., CEP

Thursday, August 12, 2010

AMERICA'S BEST COLLEGES: The best public and private colleges and universities, from the student's point of view

The best college in America isn't in Cambridge or Princeton, West Point or Annapolis. It's nestled in the Berkshire Mountains. Williams College, a 217-year-old private liberal arts school, tops our third annual ranking of America's Best Colleges. Our list of more than 600 undergraduate institutions is based on the quality of the education they provide, the experiences of the students and how much they achieve.

Williams rose to the top spot on our rankings, which are compiled with research from the Center for College Affordability & Productivity, after placing fourth last year and fifth in 2008. It's a small school (just over 2,000 undergrads) with a 7-to-1 student-to-faculty ratio, affording students the chance to really get to know their teachers and have a unique college experience.

"One of the things that we really embrace is that we are tiny and very aware of where we are in the world. This fosters an incredible sense of community," says Amanda Esteves-Kraus, a double-major in art history and biology in the class of 2012. "It takes a very specific type of student to go to Williams, and there is a quirkiness here that you can't find anywhere else. This all makes the fact that we are in the middle of nowhere totally irrelevant because you don't actually want to be anywhere else."

While Williams' tuition is relatively high at $37,640 a year, the school tries very hard to help its students financially. This spring Williams replaced all its loans with grants. And the school has one of the lowest average student debt loads in the country: $9,296.

Some of Williams' prominent alumni include Steve Case, cofounder of America Online; Edgar Bronfman, CEO of Seagram; Elia Kazan, the Oscar-winning director of films including On The Waterfront and A Streetcar Named Desire; Jay McInerney, author of Bright Lights, Big City; and James A. Garfield, 20th president of the United States.

Last year's No. 1 school, the United States Military Academy (West Point), fell slightly to No. 4 on the list. The U.S. service academies, which offer high-quality education at zero tuition, all do well on our list: the United States Air Force Academy (No. 11), the United States Naval Academy (No. 29), United States Coast Guard Academy (No. 105), and the United States Merchant Marine Academy (No. 165).

Princeton University (No. 2), Amherst College (No. 3), and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (No. 5) round out the top five. Super-selective schools like Stanford (No. 6), Harvard (No. 8) and Yale (No. 10) also rank highly.

Whether they're in the top 10 or near the end of the list, all 610 schools in this ranking count among the best in the country: We review just 9% of the 6,600 accredited post-secondary institutions in the U.S., so appearing on our list at all is an indication that a school meets a high standard.

To our way of thinking, a good college is one that meets student needs. While other college rankings are based in large part on school reputation as evaluated by college administrators, we focus on factors that directly concern incoming students: Will my courses be interesting? Is it likely I will graduate in four years? Will I incur a ton of debt getting my degree? And once I get out of school, will I get a good job?

To answer these questions, the staff at CCAP gathers data from a variety of sources. They use 11 factors in compiling these rankings, each of which falls into one of five general categories. First, they measure how much graduates succeed in their chosen professions after they leave school, evaluating the average salaries of graduates reported by (30%), the number of alumni listed in a Forbes/CCAP list of corporate officers (5%), and enrollment-adjusted entries in Who's Who in America (10%).

Next they measure how satisfied students are with their college experience, examining freshman-to-sophomore retention rates (5%) and student evaluations of classes on the websites (17.5%) and (5%). They look at how much debt students rack up over their college careers, considering the four-year debt load for a typical student borrower (12.5%), and the overall student loan default rate (5%). They evaluate how many students actually finish their degrees in four years, considering both the actual graduation rate (8.75%) and the gap between the average rate and a predicted rate, based on characteristics of the school (8.75%).

And finally, the last component is based on the number of students or faculty, adjusted for enrollment, who have won nationally competitive awards (7.5%), like Rhodes Scholarships or Nobel Prizes.

CCAP also compiles a best-value ranking comparing school quality to cost. This year it's dominated by the U.S. military's service academies. The top nonmilitary school? New York's Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art, which awards full-tuition scholarships to undergraduates (valued at $34,600 for the 2009-2010 school year). Public schools also fare well on this ranking, as they typically cost less.

Some readers may disagree with the way we construct our rankings or the weights we apply to the data. Or they may want to consider other variables, such as campus crime rates or SAT scores. So we also offer a do-it-yourself ranking that customizes the process, allowing users to construct their own list according to personal tastes and preferences.

You can only learn so much from ranking schools; it's important to match the individual student to the place. A student who thrives at Williams might do terribly at Florida State, and of course it's possible to get an Ivy League-quality education at a big state school. But with tuition and fees up significantly in the last decade, college has become one of the biggest financial decisions families make. They deserve all the information they can get.

America's Top 10 Colleges
1. Williams College

2. Princeton University

3. Amherst College

4. United States Military Academy

5. Massachusetts Institute of Technology

6. Stanford University

7. Swarthmore College

8. Harvard University

9. Claremont McKenna

10. Yale University

Written by David M. Ewalt for on August 11, 2010
Posted by Lindy Kahn, MA, CEP for Kahn Educational Group, LLC

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Survival Guide for College Freshmen

Right now I imagine you are experiencing a mixture of feelings. One minute you dread the thought of leaving, and the next minute you want to leave immediately. Strangely enough, it's all part of the process of breaking away, and it's perfectly normal and traumatic, all at the same time.

Here are some tips on surviving your first six weeks of college. This information has been passed on to me by previous students and from other resources on surviving college life.

First, some facts: About 78% of freshman experience feelings of anxiety, homesickness, and loneliness during the first six weeks of school. No matter how cool most of your fellow freshmen appear, remember this statistic. You are not alone.


•For 18 years, adults have been around to warn you of consequences of your wrong actions. Now, no one will be around. Play it safe academically the first six weeks. Make a daily schedule of what you plan to do all week and stick to it! Study two or three hours for every hour in class. If you have a plan, your chances of good success increase. You can modify your schedule when you receive mid-semester grades.

•As soon as you arrive on campus, find out how to drop or add a class. What is the deadline for dropping? Do you need an advisor's signature? This is critical information. Many students need to adjust their schedules first semester, and you might be one of them.

•Don't eat alone the first six weeks! Instead, seek out those people who are sitting by themselves. You can learn a lot from meeting new people, and you'll definitely feel less lonely. Some freshmen have met so many people this way that they ended up running for freshman political positions and winning.

•Find out about health services at the beginning of the semester – before you get sick. Where is the health center? Hours? Any costs? Sometimes if you get sick first semester, it can make you homesick; so if you're prepared, you'll have it all under control and can take care of yourself.

•Before you leave home, make sure everyone in the family knows who is paying for what. Then everyone can budget his own funds (i.e. paying for fraternity fees, spring break, etc.)

•You should open a checking account at your college or somewhere close to campus.

•Begin signing your legal name on all documents with first name, middle initial and last name. Avoid nicknames because you are registered in your given name.

•Identify your support systems before leaving home. If you're feeling low, do you play your guitar, go jogging, attend church or synagogue? Take your support system with you to college. Get involved in intramural sports, the school chapel, etc. Sing in the shower. Wear your favorite old baseball hat. Keep your favorite stuffed animal from childhood on your bed or in your suitcase.

•If at all possible, don't take a car first semester! Everyone wants to feel popular, but when you have a car, you will be used (sometimes this is not intentional). You'll feel guilty when someone wants to borrow your car and you say "No", or when you need to study, but your friends want you to drive out for a pizza. There's pressure involved with a car, so if you do take it, have your policies ready for the first time someone approaches you.

•Professors are available for discussing class materials and other things. Find out when they will be in their offices (they'll usually give you their office hours the first day of class) and get to know them.

•Find out what tutoring facilities are available. Use them if you need them as soon as you find yourself falling behind or not understanding something your professor is covering.

•Once the first excitement of college begins to wane, be prepared for a letdown. Get involved in your work.

•Watch yourself for any excess in your behavior. Examples: apathy, all work and no play, changes in your sleep pattern such as insomnia or too much sleep, eating too much or too little. Check to see if you're doing too much of anything, like constant partying or no partying. If this happens, seek out other people and talk about it. Go immediately to you R.A., a friend and some other adult friend. Everyone who moves into a new adventure like college will have some feelings of self-doubt or fear of not succeeding.

•When you get to school, write your parents a letter thanking them for sending you to college. It will mean a great deal to them. It's an easy thing to do; you can find decent cards in the campus bookstore.

•When you go home for Christmas break, remember that you are idolized by your younger brothers/sisters. Save the beer drinking stories for others who have also left home.

•Ask your parents not to remodel your room your first year of college. They may not understand this, but it’s comforting to you to feel your roots when you come home.

•Establish some rules or guidelines with your roommate before you get to know each other, preferably the first or second day (i.e. smoking or not smoking, quiet hours, boyfriends/girlfriends in the room, etc.)

Good luck this Fall!
Lindy Kahn


I am an educational consultant in private practice advising families on day/boarding schools, college admissions, schools for teens and young adults who have emotional/behavioral problems, learning issues, neurological and psychiatric problems.

This blog is dedicated to the wonderful students and families who come to me for advice on school placement. I will try to post information that is related to Texas and national college admissions, as well as information related to topics of interest in the field of education. We will address a variety of issues and trends in college admissions, boarding schools or programs who serve students with special needs.

We hope to provide you with answers to frequently asked questions and current trends in the industry. For more information on the Kahn Educational Group, LLC, please visit my website. Thank you for your interest. Your thoughts and comments are always welcome.

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