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It’s that time of year again when colleges start accepting applications for admission. This August most colleges will begin accepting and reviewing applicants based on test scores, GPA, H.S. report cards, teacher recommendations, student essays, extracurricular and outside activities, experience, etc. What’s most important to these schools? How do you get accepted? Well that all depends on the school and who you are. Don’t be naive, you can well exceed the standards for admission and have a better resume than the admissions officer and yet still not get accepted. Many other “hidden” factors come into play. Let me enlighten you…
My experience is with the S.T.E.M. schools and Ivy League Universities. These are the toughest schools for a young, white, male to get into. On the other hand, if you are a female of any ethnicity, your chances are extremely good. S.T.E.M. schools, in particular, are desperately searching for female candidates to admit. Most of these schools have males outnumbering females 3 to 1. A female with a strong math and science h.s. curriculum, good test scores and good grades will most likely be admitted. It’s a lot tougher for the males. Males have much more competition and are up against diversity quotas. Universities regularly deny that there is ethnic bias when reviewing applications, but that is not so. All schools want diversity and ethnicity obviously must be considered. This is evident at both the S.T.E.M. and Ivy league schools. So for the males, it becomes a numbers game. If you are a white male, you have the strongest competition. My advice to you (white males) is if you know what you want to do and where you want to study, apply for early admission. I would also advise that you use your essay to present a diverse range of knowledge, experiences, travels, talents, etc so that you show that you represent diversity beyond a typical white male.
Applying to school programs outside of the math/science fields evens the tables a bit. Most colleges strive for a 50/50 ratio of males/females. Even so, if applications are equal, the admissions person will likely choose the candidate with the most unusual essay. Again, they are looking for diversity and something extraordinary that the candidate will bring to their school.
The Ivy League schools definitely strive for ethnic diversity. I personally know of big name schools who denied candidates with near perfect test scores, diverse experiences, who were highly awarded, valedictorians/salutatorians, eagle scouts, first chair orchestra students, etc. Yet they accepted lesser qualified candidates who were more ethnically diverse. I’m not saying it’s a prejudice, but quotas do exist! It’s undeniable! It happens every single year. After all, a big part of education is learning to live and study amongst persons with diverse cultures, experiences, talents, etc. It’s not a bad thing as long as the accepted, ethnically diverse, student meets and/or exceeds the standards for admissions. Yet I have also seen instances where this is not so, and that is a sad fact.
Finally, I always thought that academic merit would trump athletic ability for admissions. Boy was I naive! If you can be the best at a sport at your school and rank highly in your state, you will be accepted over a valedictorian every time. Why, you ask? Because you can bring the school money. Great athletes are in high demand because they bring patrons to games and meets. If you have this kind of talent, sell it!
Did you know that none of the Ivy League schools offer merit scholarships? Makes me wonder a bit about the values of these institutions which are so highly regarded for their academics. Zero scholarships which are solely based on merit. I suppose every valedictorian in the country applies to these schools hoping to get in. The reality is, you may not be able to afford to attend even if you do get accepted. These schools top out at $60+K a year with room & board. Yes, they do offer need based scholarships to those who qualify. They also offer athletic scholarships in effort to attract the best players to their sports teams. But if you are not an athlete or have “qualified” financial need, be prepared to shell out a quarter of a million dollars for a 4 year education at one of these highly regarded, private, academic institutions.
“Remember, whether you are crying tears of joy or sorrow about your admissions decisions, you are not defined by the institution that awards your college degree. Getting in doesn’t mean life’s doors are now open to you without effort and drive. Being rejected doesn’t mean your dreams are suddenly and forever dashed. Sure, celebrate or mourn for a bit, but then realize that the truly important stuff — the love of family, the support of close friends, the desire to learn and explore — really hasn’t change at all. No matter what your envelopes say, you have survived a lengthy and often exhausting process of self-reflection and you should be commended. Well done. The world eagerly awaits your contributions.”
Throughout my kids years in elementary, middle and high school, my friends always asked “who’s the best teacher?” for their grade of interest for that year. I used to subscribe to the thought that one teacher is better than another, but I really don’t any more. Many years ago I learned that the best teacher is the one that best fits your child. I have 3 children, all very different, and they require different things from their teacher to learn.
My oldest is highly gifted, learns easily, and is personally motivated to be successful. But, god bless him, he often lacks common sense. He’s all logic, but misses some of the obvious because many things in this world just do not make sense. He’s highly disciplined and likes rules, doesn’t break them (except maybe at home) and he likes to be in control. He loves math and science, but hates any kids of creative writing or literature. His personality is dynamic in the sense that he dabbles in many things and keeps himself constantly busy. He’s an Eagle scout, a first chair musician in the symphony, a champion debater, a varsity athlete, national honors society member & participant, an “A” graded honor student (all his life, never received a grade other than an “A”), he’s received numerous awards and won several national contests. Basically, he’s a nerd!
My daughter is a beautiful teenager who appears to be quiet and shy, but this is actually because she has Aspergers. She is every teacher’s favorite student because she never talks in class, cause any trouble or gets in any trouble herself. She is also very bright, but learns very differently than most kids. She requires a highly structured environment with few distractions in order to learn. She has difficulty understanding concepts, but has an incredible memory. She is highly motivated, strong willed, and very independent. She works very hard to get good grades.
My third child is full of energy! He is tiny in size but his personality is giant sized. He learns best in a busy, hands on classroom where things are taught at a mile a minute without any down time for him to get bored. He’s a smart kid also, but he hates the busy work. Just wants to get it done and move on. He’d rather work in groups on big projects than learn a day at a time. He doesn’t have a lot of friends, but he’s very popular. Kinda like Norm on cheers…. everybody knows his name. It’s probably because he’s so loud (always making noise) and quite a clown.
As you can imagine, the so called “best teacher” at any school could not possibly be the right fit for all three of my children. The best teacher is always the one who’s teaching style and methodology fits the child.
The same is true when it comes to choosing a college or university. The Ivy league, top tier, prestigiously named schools are no better than any other if the teachers and environment doesn’t fit the student attending. I believe a lot of people are simply paying for the name and the “supposed” networking found at those schools. I don’t mean to diminish the big name schools, I want to simply point out that the best school is the one that nest fits the student.
Things to think about:
First, the obvious… the size of the school, the curriculum, the degree programs, the location, etc. MIT is a wonderful school, but it’s very big. The mere size may overwhelm some kids. NYU, Columbia, Harvard, and many others are big city campuses. Students from small towns will either love of hate the change. The climate or the area should also be a factor. Can the student stand extreme heat or cold? Yes, these are some of the many obvious concerns and factors being considered when choosing a college.
But what about the not so obvious? What does the school produce? Are their graduates top notch employees, professional students, scientists, entrepreneurs, philanthropists, etc. Check out what they feel bragging rights to. Do they rave on and on about all the research their students do during their education? Sounds great, but does your kid want to be a scientist? Does the college work closely with national and international businesses? Is there opportunity for the student to collaborate with these businesses? Are graduates getting jobs right out of college, or are they going on for even higher degrees? Does the school receive a lot of endowment funds from now successful alumni? If so, how are they spending that money? Is it being invested back into the student body or are they using it to create “high profile” or “pretty” campuses? Is a wealthy school spending $ create dynamics on campus and to fix up their dorms to incentivize students to remain residents for 4 years or are they quickly moving off the school property.
Don’t go running out and buying the latest guide to colleges and rankings “bible”. Those top 100 schools all come with opportunities, big price tags and a bunch of snags which I will get to in future posts. Being in the top tier is not what’s important. Finding a school that matches the student is what matters. The school may have brand new, extraordinary, beautiful, high tech athletic facilities, but if your kid isn’t an athlete, who cares? Or the university may have wonderful research opportunities and graduate students on the verge of curing cancer in lab rats, but if your student wants to be a journalist or a teacher, how does this kind of success benefit him/her? A great school is the one that inspires the student and offers the facilities and opportunities for them to explore beyond their expectations in their field of study.
The only real way to get a feel for the school is to visit. I made the mistake of waiting until senior year to start visiting college campuses with my son. I should have begun much earlier for many reasons which you will read about in the near future. It’s never too early to start looking and visiting schools. I suggest that you make personal appointments rather than visit on the big “perspective” or “admitted” student days. You want to get on the campus on a regular school day. Make appointments ahead of time and set up meetings with relevant department heads, deans, admissions personnel, and the financial aid office. All colleges have students who provide personal school tours. Usually the admissions office will hook you up with a student with similar interests. This is a much better way to visit the school than on those scheduled group tour days when you sit through presentations and prepared information with lots of other perspective students. Opt for the more personal, individual tour and appointments. You will get so much more out of your time there. It may not be as impressive, but it will be a “real” look at what happens at the college. Only then, can you truly determine if the school is a good fit.
This blog is all about the college admissions process, strategy, game, lessons learned and of course my personal rants and raves. I just went through this process with my son who is a high school senior. In this blog, you will hear the things that the counselors, books, rankings and so called “experts” will not. I’m not going to be politically correct of sugar coat my feeling and experiences. Accept my perspective if you want, or else just leave the page. It’s your choice.