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


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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