This is a time of year when parents and students are starting to worry about college applications, especially if you are a junior. There are certain things that you cannot control at this point, such as your GPA and to a certain degree your ACT or SAT scores. But you have absolute control over the college essay.
And this is where a lot of students make some major mistakes.
In my private college consulting practice, about 90% of what I do is essay review. Although every essay is unique, with a combination of unique strong points and distinct challenges, I have noticed four significant problem areas with the vast majority of students I work with. These are all correctable. Let me explain these problem areas.
This is the time of year when many high school juniors look forward to summer “vacation.” Who can blame them? After all, images of going to the beach or lakeshore, socializing with friends, and simply hanging out are very attractive. And frankly, for many highly-stressed high school students, a nice break in the summer is something to rightfully look forward to.
I’m certainly not someone who is anti-fun, but let me strongly recommend to all high school students that using your summer wisely has become an integral part to improving your college application.
After concluding my 15th year of working with high school seniors, with many of them getting admission letters into Ivy League schools, including Harvard, Princeton, Dartmouth, Brown, and Yale – it’s becoming increasing apparent that top students are obsessed with the Ivy League. For many parents and students, admission into an Ivy League school is a stamp of approval of their hard work in and out of the classroom. In many instances, students and parents see an Ivy League admission letter as a punched ticket to success for future aspirations. I often joke with my students that getting into an Ivy League school today is like unwrapping the golden chocolate bar from Willie Wonka’s Chocolate Factory.
I don’t think I’ve read anything more appalling in recent memory regarding fraternities and sororities than what happened last week at the University of Oklahoma. Members of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon (SAE) fraternity chanted racist comments regarding African-Americans. That this happened at a flagship state school and with a terrific university president – David Boren, a former United States senator – makes it all the more shocking and appalling.
I’ve given much thought to what happened on that bus, and about fraternity culture in general, and I think two points need to be made here. First, it’s always a dangerous idea to paint with too broad of a brush. Obviously most fraternities and sororities in the United States do not condone or cultivate this sort of environment. To its credit, the national SAE organization quickly shut down the University of Oklahoma’s chapter even before the University took action. Whether or not this is something that happens at other SAE houses around the country is something that I cannot speak to, but I take the organization at its word that this is an isolated incident.
Perhaps the greatest attraction of teaching at a college or university is the possibility of obtaining tenure. What is tenure? For all intents and purposes, tenure means lifetime job security for those few faculty members who publish extensively, and have networked successfully enough, to gain sufficient votes from other tenured faculty and administrators. Notice I did not mention teaching evaluations – they are part of the process, but in practice, they rarely match the importance of a professor’s publishing record.
Professors seeking tenure (note: they all want it) will do virtually anything to obtain tenure, because once it is obtained they become untouchable. It is extraordinarily difficult to fire tenured faculty, and the pressures of publishing and the importance of teaching (especially undergraduates) diminishes considerably.
And that’s really the problem.
Over the weekend, I had the great pleasure of hosting a family in the Twin Cities with a student attending a top private school. Over dinner, we were discussing how we, as parents, decided where to send our children to school. Our friends noted that at a number of elite private schools they considered, a key selling point was how many of their students went to the Ivy League. Those schools were essentially saying, “Come to our school, and you’ll have a terrific chance to get into Harvard, Yale, and Princeton.”
We all agreed at our dinner that this sort of approach really has no place in higher education. I don’t like it when schools establish their bona fides by telling you about the elite colleges their students get into. I say this as a Harvard graduate, which may be surprising. Nonetheless, I would be exceptionally careful of any school that validates its program by bragging about how many students it sends to the Ivy League.
Let me explain.
Many years ago, someone coined the term “Public Ivy League School.” The phrase was meant to refer to state universities that have such high academic standards and international stature that they approximate – if not equal – anything the Ivy League has to offer.
Not many public universities can claim this. However, three undoubtedly do.
In fact, one of the most common questions I get from my clients is what are the top state universities in the USA. I think it’s a very good question. Obviously every state in the nation has publically-funded universities. But just like private universities, not all public universities are created equal. There are real differences in the academic rigor, alumni loyalty, endowments, and selectivity between state universities.
Here are my top three institutions:
One of the most frequent questions I get from the students I work with is whether or not they should spend their summers going to faraway places to enhance the college application. In fact, the number of students who have been asking about this has grown exponentially in the last 10 years.
As a general rule, I counsel my families to not spend inordinate amounts of money on travel just for the sake of enhancing the college application. There are five considerations I think you should consider if you are only travelling internationally to enhance the college application: