Episode 152: Choosing a College Because of a Major

Listen to the episode in the player, download it here, or subscribe on Google Play MusiciTunesStitcher, or TuneIn.

I come to our topic today with mixed feelings.  We have talked about it on numerous occasions and written about it in our books.  It’s a topic that lends itself to some data-based analysis, but I have to say that it also causes me to think about my own philosophy about academics and what is important and what isn’t.  So, this is a big topic, and it is college majors.

As I have been working with students during this round of college applications, I listen to them talk about choosing colleges to apply to because those colleges have good departments in this or that–whatever they think they want to major in, at this point in their young lives.  Often these kids want to become doctors–doesn’t everyone?–and I listen to them talk about the biology departments and the research opportunities that the colleges on their lists have.  And I wonder how many of them will still be pre-med by the time they are sophomores.  At the other extreme are the kids who believe they have a wide variety of academic interests and want to find colleges where they can pursue all of them.  One recent experience I had was with a student who talked with equal enthusiasm about chemistry, music, business, and one or two others I can’t even remember.  One of my most interesting students this year talked about majoring in Czech as a tribute to her grandfather’s heritage (by the way, she was already taking Czech courses outside of school at the local consulate); that is one of my favorite stories ever.

Rarely do I think their college major choices will stick (though I am secretly pulling for the Czech major).

Two articles I have read recently caused me to think about this topic from a couple of other perspectives, so let’s explore them.

1. Where Students Get Their Advice

Let me open with a premise from an article I read way back last September, an article which I have been saving for the perfect episode.  Writing in U.S. News & World Report, education reporter Lauren Camera opened with this:

When it comes to choosing college majors ? a crucial decision that lays the groundwork for future employment and earnings ? students often rely on the least reliable sources for advice: family and friends.

Work colleagues and employers are among the best sources of information for students seeking advice about choosing a major. But according to a new survey by Gallup and Strada Education Network, . . . they are the least utilized.

“This causes us to rethink the entire college advice mechanism,” Brandon Busteed, executive director of education and workforce development at Gallup, says. “There is a lot of pretty bad advice out there.”

When choosing a major field of study, the survey shows, students most commonly sought advice from “informal social networks.” In fact, more than half of adults, or 55 percent, with an associate degree, some college or a bachelor’s degree depended on their social network for advice about choosing a major, most frequently from friends and family.

The next most commonly consulted source of advice, which 44 percent of people reported considering, was college and high school counselors, as well as media-based information. The least consulted group, which 20 percent reported consulting, were work-based networks, including former employers and work colleagues. (quoted from the article)

None of this is surprising.  I think the data would be about the same if you asked people how they chose the colleges they applied to; most would say they relied on family and friends for advice–who, by the way, are equally unreliable as a source of appropriate colleges.

And, of course, how can high school seniors really consult with employers and work colleagues about the choice of a major when lots of them are not working at all and the rest are working part time, mostly in places they hope to get out of by going to college.  So, what does the report recommend?  Ms. Camera’s article says this:

The report recommends relying less on high school and college counselors, who are overworked and often responsible for an unrealistic number of students, and more on potential employers and faculty members.

“Taken together, the challenges facing the formal channels of student guidance suggest that retooling the traditional model of advising to fit the changing needs of students could bolster its effectiveness,” the report reads. (quoted from the article)

All of that is interesting, but I think it is more likely to work for students already in college than for high schoolers thinking about a future college major choice.  And, of course, the liberal arts enthusiast in me, which our regular listeners know from previous episodes, still wonders whether college does have to be all about getting a future career–though I have to admit that even I said to my student, “What would you ever do with that Czech major?”

Carol D’Amico, executive vice president of mission advancement and philanthropy at Strada Education Network, was quoted in the article as saying this:

 “We know your choice of major is not necessarily the choice of career, but it puts you on a pathway and commits you to a pathway. . . .  Most everyone who goes to higher education these days say they are going to launch a career. That’s a fact. So how do we become much more intentional about getting them to their desired career?” (quoted from the article)

I wish it weren’t so, but perhaps it.  I am certainly willing to put students on a pathway, but I am far less willing to commit students to a pathway.  I believe that most liberal arts majors give students a choice of many different pathways and that the student’s choice can change over time precisely because of that liberal arts background.  But that’s a different episode.

2. Changing College Majors

So, let’s move on to something that everyone always says to kids, but that I never saw any actual data about until recently?that is, how many kids change their majors once they are in college.  Last December, Doug Lederman wrote an article for Inside Higher Ed, which asked and answered the question posed in his headline:  “Who Changes Majors? (Not Who You Think).”  Here is the whole answer:

[A] brief report from the Education Department’s National Center for Education Statistics, drawn from the Beginning Postsecondary Students Longitudinal Study, finds that 33 percent of bachelor’s degree pursuers who entered college in 2011-12 and 28 percent of students in associate degree programs had changed their major at least once by 2014.

About one in 10 had changed majors twice. (quoted from the article)

Well, there you have it:  About one-third of college students change their majors, and that’s enough so that your kid shouldn’t feel uncomfortable about doing the same thing in the next year or two.  I am all for that, speaking as someone who changed her major in the first month of college (that shows you how well prepared I was, and I am quite sure that I never got any advice from anyone when choosing either my original major or my final major, perhaps more’s the pity).

For all the kids who think they want to be science majors, here are a few more statistics from Mr. Lederman’s article:

Students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics programs were likelier than those in non-STEM fields (35 versus 29 percent) to change majors.

And students who started out studying math were likeliest of all: 52 percent of those who initially declared as math majors ended up majoring in something else, followed by 40 percent of those in the natural sciences, 37 percent in education, 36 percent in humanities disciplines and 32 percent in engineering and general studies. . . .  (quoted from the article)

Truly, I am not sure that there is much practical significant difference  between 35 percent in STEM fields and 29 percent in non-STEM fields changing majors–or among 40 percent in natural sciences, 37 percent in education, 36 percent in humanities disciplines, and even 32 percent in engineering and general studies.  However, apart from relative comparisons of one major to another, it does seem like changes in majors by 52 percent of mathematics majors and 40 percent of natural science majors might be worth noting.  Mr. Lederman’s article gives a number of plausible explanations for the abandonment of mathematics, which you are welcome to go read.

3. Choosing a College Because of a Major

So, what’s the point?  It is simply that I want your kid to be very careful this spring when choosing a college to attend.  Where did your kid get his or her idea about what to major in?  Was it a well-informed choice?  Does the major have a future, either in a specific career field or in something that can serve as the underpinning for many career fields? Given the statistics, basing the choice of a college on a potential major (assuming your kid is lucky enough to have some good options available once the acceptances come in) might not be the best thinking.  In other words, choosing to attend one college over another largely because of a great biology department, when you think you are going to be pre-med, might not be the best decision.

I know we all have struggled with the college application questions that ask for a kid’s major–and sometimes even for a back-up major!  I know we have struggled with the college application essays about why that major is particularly interesting to the kid.  I have certainly helped lots of kids write lots of those essays.  Here is what I always said to them:  This essay is an exercise in presenting yourself in an appealing and persuasive way to this college.  You should not think of it as an irrevocable promise that you are going to pursue this major that you are writing about.

And so, help your kid understand that he or she might want to change that major, perhaps more than once, and that making such a change is okay with you and even okay with the college.

What are the exceptions, and there are always some?  Obviously, there are kids who have applied to a specialized school, like a music school in a larger university, or kids who have auditioned for and applied to a specific arts-related school or program, like dance or studio art.  These are kids who have devoted a lot of their young lives to their talent and, if they are accepted, are very likely going to choose a college because of that particular program.  That is perfectly reasonable.  But, as it turns out, even those kids can change their minds; and, if they do, being in a specialized school within a larger university might be useful if it comes time to reconsider their choices.

Find our books on Amazon!

Ask your questions or share your feedback by…

  • Leaving a comment below on the show notes for this episode
  • Calling us at (516) 900-6922 to record a question on our USACollegeChat voicemail if you want us to answer your question live on our podcast

Connect with us through…

Episode 151: What About a College’s Grading Practices?

Listen to the episode in the player, download it here, or subscribe on Google Play MusiciTunesStitcher, or TuneIn.

Today we are going to talk about a topic that I bet you and your high school senior have not given any thought to.  And yet, it’s a topic that you and your high school senior have done nothing but think about for the past year or so, just from a different perspective.  That topic is grades.  Or more precisely, today’s topic is grading practices, which is not exactly the same as your kid’s grades.

Probably the most you have thought about your kid’s high school’s grading practices is whether the school uses a weighted system for figuring a grade point average (GPA)–that all-important GPA that might get your kid into a great college or keep him or her out of one.  There has been a lot of debate about that in the past few years, with no real resolution pro or con.  And, certainly, there has been talk among your kid’s friends (and perhaps your friends, too) about which teachers are easy graders and which teachers are hard graders and whether your kid should select high school electives accordingly.

Well, high school is essentially over, and your kid is going off to college.  How much thought have you both given to the grading practices at the colleges on his or her list?  Yes, those colleges your kid just applied to.  It’s not too late to start thinking now?before your kid makes a final choice in the spring.

1. Some Background

When Marie and I wrote our fantastic book How To Explore Your College Options: A Workbook for High School Students (available at Amazon and a perfect gift for any younger kids you still have at home), we said that kids and their parents need a lot of information about colleges before deciding whether to put a specific college on the kid’s list of college options.  We also said that most of you never get most of the information you need–which is a shame, because it’s hard to make a life-changing decision without having all of the information that is available to you.  The book explains the 52 questions that your kid really should get answers to before deciding whether to apply to a college–much less actually enroll there.  Those questions cover a wide range of categories of information about the college:

  • History and Mission
  • Location
  • Enrollment
  • Class Size
  • Academics
  • Schedule
  • Housing
  • Security Measures
  • Activities and Sports
  • Admission Practices
  • Cost

In the section on Academics, we ask this, among other questions:

Does the college have a traditional numerical or letter grading system for assignments, exams, and final course grades?  If no, jot down the way that students are graded (e.g., with written narrative evaluations where professors comment on strengths and weaknesses).

Here is what we said in the book to explain this question:

We bet that grading practices are not something most students consider before choosing a college?perhaps because they assume that colleges are quite traditional when it comes to awarding final course grades.  Most colleges do, in fact, use some kind of numerical scale (typically, with a 4.0 as an A) or letter scale (typically, from A through F).  These traditional grading practices might seem just fine to you.

However, there are some colleges that are anything but traditional when it comes to evaluating student progress.  For example, take Hampshire College (an excellent and innovative private college in Amherst, Massachusetts), where students receive written narrative evaluations from professors on their assignments and as their final course grades.  No numbers and no letters!  Or, take Bennington College (a great private college in Bennington, Vermont), where students receive narrative evaluations at the end of each course, but may request letter grades; students interested in graduate school are encouraged to request letter grades for at least two years so that a GPA can be calculated for their graduate school applications.

Colleges that use narrative evaluations instead of traditional grades praise their value in teaching their students more about their own strengths and weaknesses, in getting their students to focus on their learning instead of on their grades, and in building better and more stimulating relationships between their students and their professors.  That’s probably something you never thought about before.

Well, Marie, if we had written the book today, we could have added some additional innovative grading practices that a relatively small number of colleges are using, ones that might seem quite attractive to 2017-2018 current crop of applicants.

The question here is not necessarily whether your kid would have applied or would not have applied to a college because of its innovative grading practices, but rather whether he or she (and you) should weigh those grading practices in the scale when you all are ready to make a final choice of a college this spring.  Grades will continue to be a big part of college life for your kid–just as they were in high school.  This is especially true, as Bennington College knows, if your kid intends to go on to graduate school, medical school, or law school.  And, by the way, that’s true whether graduate school comes right after the undergraduate years or, in fact, many years later.  Those undergraduate grades will matter.  So, let’s look at a couple of new grading practices, and you think about what they might mean for your kid.

2. No More F’s

Let’s start at the University of Maine at Presque Isle (UMPI).  Given that UMPI is in northern Maine near the Canadian border and that it enrolls only about 1,200 students, my guess is that your kid has not applied there and that many of you have never heard of it, though it was founded over 100 years ago and is one of the seven campuses in the public University of Maine System.  UMPI was in a situation not unlike a number of other public universities:  a remarkably low 11 percent graduation rate in the traditional four years and only a 30 percent graduation rate in six years and a location in a county that was losing population just when its region needed more college graduates to fill jobs that required a college degree.

An article in The Hechinger Report, written in January by Robbie Feinberg, education reporter for Maine Public Radio, has a catchy headline:  “In rural Maine, a university eliminates most Fs in an effort to increase graduation rates.”  Mr. Feinberg writes:

One of the biggest changes has been the near-elimination of the failing grade. In most classes, if students fail a test or project, they can redo it until they’ve proven they know the material.

If students are still failing at the end of the semester, many won’t receive an F, but instead a grade of “not proficient” or NP. Under the system, students then sign a contract with their professor outlining the work they need to do over the next 45 days to boost that grade to a passing mark. University officials said the system doesn’t work for everyone; some students still end up with F’s. But they hope the added flexibility will help students pass classes the first time so they don’t have to spend extra time and money to retake them. . . .  [UMPI] President Raymond Rice said he’s most encouraged that about 60 percent of students who received a “not proficient” grade eventually converted it to a passing mark. (quoted from the article)

Not having to spend time and money to retake courses has to be a game-changer for a lot of students–certainly for that 60 percent.  And, clearly, keeping F’s out of figuring into a cumulative GPA for one’s undergraduate years has got to be a game-changer for any student who cares about his or her GPA (especially anyone interested in graduate school).  We actually did something similar at the high school that Marie and I co-founded in Brooklyn, where we gave a grade of NC (no credit) to kids who would otherwise have failed; so, they didn’t get credit for the course, but they didn’t have the deadly weight of an F pulling down their GPA forever, either.  I think it “saved a lot of lives,” and I imagine it could be having a similar effect at UMPI.

While the implementation of the new system is not going perfectly at UMPI (you can read Mr. Feinberg’s full article for the details), the policy about giving F’s only as a last resort is one that I find very persuasive.  And, if I had a child getting ready to go to college (not that I would expect that child to get an F–ever), this is a policy that would still make me happy, as a parent.

3. How To Earn an A

Appearing in The Hechinger Report in January (as well as in U.S. News & World Report) was a column by Jill Barshay about a new grading practice at the University of Michigan, that state’s truly excellent public flagship university.  Ms. Barshay writes:

At the University of Michigan campus in Ann Arbor, about 8,000 students have earned their ordinary course grades in an unusual way. They start out the semester with a zero, but each has the opportunity to earn an A by racking up points. The professor determines how many points each assignment or test is worth, and there are various ways to get to an A. If students botch an assignment, they can try something else. Each student can track his or her point tally online and see options for earning more points.

Since developing this system, named “GradeCraft,” five years ago with two colleagues, education professor Barry Fishman gleefully admits he’s awarding many more A’s. He estimates that he’s doling out A’s to 80 percent of his students now, compared with 50 percent or 60 percent beforehand. But, he claims, his students are working a lot harder.

“Colleagues say I’m not rigorous enough,” said Fishman. “I think rigor should be about how challenging the material is, not how hard it is to achieve a certain outcome.”

In surveys conducted by GradeCraft’s inventors, students reported that they worked harder and felt more in control of their class performance.

. . . Fishman argues that conventional grading systems can undermine learning. That’s because if you fail the midterm, and it’s worth 30 percent of the final grade, you might realize that you’ll never be able to claw your way back up to an A, and stop trying. “You moderate your behavior and try less hard to maintain a B average. You see it all the time,” said Fishman.

The opportunity to earn an A, even late in the semester, keeps students engaged, Fishman argues. And it encourages students to take risks, knowing that they can repair the damage later if they fail at first.

In one undergraduate class, Fishman offers a menu of 1.4 million points. Students need to reach 900,000 to get an A. “You could never earn a good grade just by doing dumb stuff,” he said.

In another graduate seminar, Fishman assigns only one paper. But students can revise and resubmit it over and over again to earn an A. (quoted from the article)

For the gaming-like history of GradeCraft’s development and for some perspectives by professors who don’t like it, read Ms. Barshay’s full column.  Nonetheless, I have to say that this grading practice seems pretty appealing to me:  the harder you work, the better grade you are going to get.  Perseverance is rewarded.  Clearly, learning takes place.  Is this system appealing to your kid?  If your kid applied to the University of Michigan, he or she should know that about 100 professors in 28 programs and departments there have tried GradeCraft and have used it more than once.  Would that make the University of Michigan a more attractive option than another great public flagship university?  It might.

4. The Moral of the Story

The moral of the story today is that grading practices can be very different–way more different than you and your high school senior probably thought.  And it’s not too late to find out whether the colleges your kid applied to have done anything innovative on this topic–before you all make a final decision later this spring about where to enroll.  What have you got to lose?

Find our books on Amazon!

Ask your questions or share your feedback by…

  • Leaving a comment below on the show notes for this episode
  • Calling us at (516) 900-6922 to record a question on our USACollegeChat voicemail if you want us to answer your question live on our podcast

Connect with us through…

Episode 150: College Acceptance for the Spring Semester?

Listen to the episode in the player, download it here, or subscribe on Google Play MusiciTunesStitcher, or TuneIn.

Today’s topic is something I have never thought much about at all.  And that’s true even though my oldest child was in this situation, and no one seemed to think much about it when he was accepted to Berklee College of Music a dozen years ago.  When Jimmy applied to Berklee (the college we like to say that offers the best contemporary music education in the world), he was admitted for the following spring semester rather than for the fall.  I looked at that as a great opportunity for him to study abroad for a semester.  I found a great fall semester program sponsored by the American Institute for Foreign Study (everybody should check out AIFS’s huge variety of excellent programs).  I knew he would still graduate on time since he had college credits from courses he had taken while in high school, and I figured that he would have even more from studying abroad.  It sounded great to me!

Of course, I now realize that is not how many students–who just applied to college under Early Action or Early Decision plans and were admitted for next spring instead of next fall–likely feel.  Some of them–perhaps many of them–and their parents are clearly disappointed with their recent news.

So, let’s take a look at spring admissions and how families should feel about that decision, regardless of how you feel about it now.

1. Tulane University’s Spring Scholars

A couple of weeks ago, we quoted from a blog written by Jeff Schiffman, the Director of Admission at Tulane University, a great school in the even greater city of New Orleans.  At the time, he was giving some advice to students who had applied early and been deferred till the regular decision round.  When I was reading Mr. Schiffman’s blog, I noticed another post from December 18, and I’d like to read some excerpts from it now.  This is about spring admissions at Tulane to a program Tulane calls Spring Scholars (feel free to go to his blog and read the whole piece):

The most common question I get from Spring Scholars is, “Why was I admitted for the spring?” The answer has to do with how we review applications and the increase in popularity Tulane has seen over the past few years. Our admission office is very big on the holistic review process. That means we spend a great deal of time creating a class of students based on everything you present to us in your application. Spring Scholars have excellent applications in nearly all regards. There are amazing alumni interviews, great “Why Tulane?” statements, and outstanding letters of recommendation in every application. When reading your application, we knew immediately that you want to come to Tulane and that you would be a great fit here. That said, Tulane has become an increasingly popular university and that has made it more and more competitive to gain admission here.

I suspect that our overall admit rate this year will be lower than last year’s which was around 21%. Unfortunately, that means that over 80% of the students who apply to Tulane this year will not be admitted for either the fall or spring. By the numbers, we also saw our strongest Early Action pool in history, with a middle 50% range on the ACT between 31-34 and SAT between 1440-1540. These are by no means cutoffs, but it does give you a sense of just how competitive Tulane is this year. We can’t take every academically qualified student who applies, but for a small group who we believe will be fantastic fits, we admit them as a part of our Spring Scholars program.

With those facts in mind, I have some suggestions for next steps to take if you have been admitted as a Spring Scholar. First, take some time to think about it. I know your preference would be to start class in the fall, but the Spring Scholars option is a final decision?it’s non-binding and you have until May 1st to decide. There will be no Spring Scholars switched to the fall semester at any point. Before you reach out with questions, take some time to read the FAQx for the program; there’s some great info in there about housing (we guarantee it!) and Greek life (you can still go through the recruitment process!) (quoted from the blog)

Okay, so let’s look at the numbers.  These are some pretty impressive numbers for Tulane (and they help explain why some students I know did not get in under Early Action, even though they were great students with all the necessary qualifications).  And, these numbers underline again what we said two weeks ago:  Expect a bumpy road for the next couple of months if you are waiting for admission decisions from very good and great colleges.  The numbers are not very student friendly.

And then, Mr. Schiffman makes some good points to the Spring Scholars:  You have absolutely been admitted, you will absolutely have campus housing even though you will be arriving in the middle of the year, and you will absolutely be able to go through fraternity and sorority rush (which you actually cannot at some colleges with this spring admissions plan, and it is very important to some students and is more important at some colleges than others).

What Mr. Schiffman does next in his blog is downright fascinating:  He prints a full-color photo of The American University of Paris, with a caption that reads, “Your other fall campus option!”  What?  Here’s my view:  One of the only cities in the world that is lovelier than New Orleans is Paris!  How clever is that!  Here is what Mr. Schiffman wrote:

Next, consider your options for the fall. We’re so excited about the fall abroad programming we offer Spring Scholars in both Rome and Paris. You’ll have the option to spend your fall term with a cohort of Tulane students at one of two incredible universities abroad: The John Cabot University in Rome or The American University of Paris (AUP). Schools like Northeastern, Cornell, Miami, Delaware, and the University of Southern California also have freshmen at these campuses during the fall. . . .  If you’d prefer to stay stateside, you can take classes as a non-degree-seeking student at a school of your choice, participate in a gap semester program, take a semester to work, or maybe participate in service. It’s really up to you! (quoted from the blog)

Here is what Mr. Schiffman wrote next:

Next, plan a visit to campus during one of our two dedicated Spring Scholar Destination Tulane dates. The dates you should plan on coming are either February 17th or April 21st. This event is tailor-made for Spring Scholars. You’ll be able to meet other students admitted into the Spring Scholars program this year, hear from current Spring Scholars, and attend presentations from both John Cabot and AUP. . . .

If Tulane truly is where you see yourself, we’d love to have you join us in January 2019. Currently, we have 75 Spring Scholars excited to start at Tulane in just a few weeks!

Oh, and expect a visit from me in Paris or Rome in the fall. I’m not joking! (quoted from the blog)

It sounds to me like Mr. Schiffman has made the best possible overture to the new Spring Scholars and has offered them a super-attractive plan for what to do next fall, which might sound even better to some students than starting at Tulane in the fall.  Smart move!

2. Where Else?

Well, of course, it’s not just Tulane.  As it happens, my own alma mater, Cornell University, posted this on its website about its First-Year Spring Admission program for its College of Arts and Sciences and its College of Agriculture and Life Sciences:

Over the past decade, Cornell University has experienced a more than 100% increase in first-year admissions applications. For this year’s class, Cornell reviewed close to 47,000 applications for a class of 3,275 new first-year students. In order to allow more students to benefit from a Cornell education, the university has developed an exciting option. In January 2018, Cornell University will welcome approximately 60 freshmen to begin their Cornell experience starting in the spring semester. . . .

Students selected for spring semester enrollment are exceptional candidates whom we are unable to admit for fall because of on-campus space constraints. Students with a record of academic achievement and who exhibit the important qualities of leadership and initiative have been selected for this special program. . . .

Students offered the opportunity to enroll in January will be asked to submit an enrollment deposit to confirm their place. During the summer, we will contact you to confirm your plans for the fall semester (e.g. taking classes, traveling abroad, participating in public service, working, etc.). Cornell will then contact you in September to confirm that you are indeed planning to enroll in January. Once confirmed, we will work with you to pre-register for courses for the spring semester and have you start other processes (such as applying for housing and dining options). You will participate in an orientation program when you arrive in January (a few days before classes begin) to ensure that you are ready for success. (quoted from the website)

Okay, Big Red, I have to say that doesn’t sound quite as exciting as Tulane’s Spring Scholars, and it certainly doesn’t have Mr. Schiffman’s hype (which I don’t say pejoratively).  Plus–and this is also true of the Tulane program–just how big a deal is this program when it is admitting 60 kids when the freshman class was over 3,000.  I have to say that I have not quite figured that out yet.  It should, on the other hand, make the spring students feel genuinely good about themselves and their qualifications because they are really part of a relatively tiny select group.  Would I advise a student to wait to attend Cornell until the spring if that’s the best admissions deal the student could get?  Frankly, I would . . . in a heartbeat.

And then there’s Middlebury College, an excellent liberal arts college in Vermont, perhaps best known for its outstanding language programs.  For about 30 years, Middlebury has been enrolling about 100 students for its spring semester, which begins in February.  Clearly, 100 students is a bigger proportion of the total of about 700 freshmen admitted at Middlebury at about 15 percent (compared to not quite 2 percent at Cornell and perhaps about double that percentage at Tulane).  Here is some background on Middlebury’s idea:

February admission is a program developed by former Dean of Admissions Fred Neuberger in a creative effort to fill dorm space that was empty during spring semester because so many Middlebury students study abroad. Rather than admit a large class of transfer students, the College decided to admit another class of first-year students, or “Febs.” (quoted from the website)

Okay, so that’s interesting.  February admission solved a problem for the college rather than a problem for the students.  Of course, that really isn’t suprising, but it doesn’t make it a bad idea.  The website continues:

February students are chosen from the same applicant pool as September students and all students are notified of their admission at the same time in late March or early April. Students may indicate on the application their preference for a starting date (September only, February only, or either), but this is ultimately an Admissions Office decision. Some students who indicate an interest in September may be offered a place in our February class. Many applicants now tell us they’d prefer to be “Febs,” and some even outline their plans for the fall in their applications. (quoted from the website)

Well, that’s not surprising, either, given the increasing interest by high school students in taking a gap year (feel free to go back and listen to our Episode 115 from last spring).  I guess if a program is well established at a college, the way Middlebury’s appears to be, that gives students one more reasonable option to consider during the whole application process.  The website continues:

Being admitted as a Feb is a full admission to the College community. We choose our Febs because we see in them students who will use wisely the time between high school graduation and their studies at Middlebury. “Febs” tend to be highly energetic leaders in their school communities, or students who have already sought unconventional and creative opportunities in their high school careers. Febs typically come to Middlebury ready to “hit the ground running.”

Before arriving on campus, Febs have several months that are entirely their own. The College does not seek to direct or recommend certain pursuits. . . . Some Febs work to save money and then travel. Other Febs pursue service opportunities or internships.

As February first-years, students enter in February and leave four years later in February–in their caps and gowns, but also on skis, snowshoes, or sleds at Middlebury’s own ski area, the Snow Bowl! The February celebration has become a hallmark of a Middlebury winter. February seniors and their families enjoy a full weekend of festivities on campus and at the Middlebury College Snow Bowl. February admission does not imply that students will graduate in three and a half years. Any student (September or Feb) may choose to use AP credits, or other transferable credit, to accelerate his course of study, but that’s not the intention of the Feb admission program.  (quoted from the website)

Middlebury has clearly made “Febs” an integral part of the College.

3. The Trends

So, what are the trends in spring admissions programs?  Here are a few.  Colleges are not trying to push spring starters out in three and a half years; spring starters are expected to be there for four full years, but are certainly welcome to get out in three and a half by taking some courses elsewhere or using college credits earned during high school.  Spring starters are going to live on campus, often with students of their own age.  Spring starters will participate fully in all of the extracurricular activities that colleges offer (including fraternity and sorority life, but perhaps on a slightly delayed schedule for that).  Spring starters who play on varsity sports teams will have four full seasons of athletic eligibility available to them.  And spring starters will probably get some kind of special orientation designed for them so that they can immediately feel at home in the college community.

So, what’s the downside of spring admissions?  Maybe not much at all?especially if it gets a student into a great school that he or she has at the top of the list.

Find our books on Amazon!

Ask your questions or share your feedback by…

  • Leaving a comment below on the show notes for this episode
  • Calling us at (516) 900-6922 to record a question on our USACollegeChat voicemail if you want us to answer your question live on our podcast

Connect with us through…

Episode 149: Colleges with Late Application Deadlines!

Listen to the episode in the player, download it here, or subscribe on Google Play MusiciTunesStitcher, or TuneIn.

Last year about this time, we did an episode on colleges with late application deadlines.  We would like to do that again today, realizing that some colleges have changed their deadlines, of course, since our episode last January.  It is amazing to me–still–that so many colleges have deadlines well past early January, even as we seem to focus our high school seniors every year on meeting a January 1 deadline for their college applications.  Apart from those colleges that have mid-January or late January deadlines, there are many colleges still accepting applications for next fall’s freshman class.  So, let’s take a look.

1. Watch Out!

As I recently watched kids getting rejections or deferments from Early Decision and Early Action applications gone awry, I wondered whether they might want to take a second look at their college list and see how happy they were with it now, given their new information.  For kids who had pinned their hopes to an Early Decision choice or to a couple of Early Action choices, even if those Early Action choices were just safety schools, a chance to take one last look at the college landscape might be just what they need.  It doesn’t mean that they will choose to apply to another college or two or three, but it might be that this last look serves as a pressure-release valve while they begin the long wait till March or April.

Let us say that there are still a lot of good colleges accepting applications.  Many of those deadlines are this month in February, but some are in March, April, May, and even beyond that.  I used The College Board’s website, Big Future, to look at a full list.  However, I found mistakes or, at least, miscommunications.  So, please double check the deadlines of any colleges that appear on any such list–The College Board’s list or any other compiled list–by going to the college’s own website, as The College Board itself advises.

Here are a few things worth noting, though I’m afraid that these points are going to be much more useful for parents with younger high school students still at home.  Let me start with the opposite of today’s topic of colleges with late application deadlines, and that is colleges with super-early application deadlines.  As I was doing the research for today’s episode, I stumbled across a number of good colleges with regular decision application deadlines well before January 1, such as December 1 for the Colorado School of Mines (see our virtual nationwide tour some episodes back for information about this excellent school known for its engineering and sciences).  So, pay attention, parents of younger high school students, before the fall of your kid’s senior year.

And, speaking of super-early application deadlines, sometimes the date given for the application deadline is actually a whole year before the year you want to enroll.  The Big Future website, under “Colleges with Later Application Deadlines,” lists the application deadline for Iowa State University, an excellent public university, as July 1.  But here is what Iowa State actually says this on its website (emphasis added):

Iowa State University operates on a rolling admissions basis. Admission of applicants for fall semester begins in July of the preceding year. Admission for other terms begins approximately 12 months prior to the beginning of the term. Admission offers are issued for a specific term and are valid only for the term specified. (quoted from the website)

Here is something else to pay attention to when looking at compiled lists of colleges with later application dates:  Sometimes the date given for the application deadline is actually for transfer students.  Or for graduate students.  For example, The Big Future website, under “Colleges with Later Application Deadlines,” lists the application deadline for Alfred University (a good private university in upstate New York, with publicly sponsored engineering and art and design programs) as August 1.  Actually, Alfred’s regular decision deadline is February 1 for new freshmen, July 1 for transfer students, and August 1 for graduate students.

And here is something even more distressing.  What comes up first on a Google search for Rollins College application deadlines is this:

Deadlines. Fall Semester Admission The application deadline for fall semester applicants is March 1 for Priority Consideration and April 15 for Regular Decision.

Application Instructions | Full-Time Undergraduate … – Rollins College

www.rollins.edu/admission/requirements-deadlines/index.html

But, that information is taken from the transfer student portion of the admissions information?not that a reader can tell that.  The deadline for first-year applicants was February 1, so you would have missed it!  And sometimes that information that comes up first is from U.S. News &World Report, and it is sometimes wrong as well.

Here is another thing to remember:  Sometimes different programs or schools within a university can have different application deadlines.  Or one school or program can have two application deadlines, such as a performing arts school within a university that has one deadline for the regular application and a second deadline for the audition.

And one last note of caution:  Sometimes the deadline for scholarship consideration is earlier than the actual application deadline. For example, at Kent State University, January 15 is the deadline to be considered for freshman scholarships, though March 1 is the deadline to submit applications for the following fall.  So, if financing is an issue for you–as it very often is–then apply as early as you can (this is especially important information for those of you with younger high school students at home).

Just to underline that, here is some important information from the website for the University of Arkansas (emphasis added):

Students interested in applying to the University of Arkansas for the fall semester are urged to apply before the early admission deadline of November 1.  By applying early, students can take advantage of priority scholarship, housing, and orientation privileges. However, applications for the fall semester will be accepted until August 1. (quoted from the website)

So, the moral of the story is, pay attention and trust no list or outside organization.  Go to the college’s own website only, and read the information on that website carefully.  Let me add, that–oddly enough and for whatever reason–it is not always a snap to find the application deadline information on a college website, though I can’t imagine why. Finally, we are going to say again, apply as early as you can–regardless of where you are applying–especially because of the number of colleges that say they have rolling admissions.

2. Colleges with Late Deadlines

We want to say again this year that there is no perfect way to generalize about the colleges with later deadlines, though I have noticed–again–that quite a few of them are the branch campuses of large public universities (e.g., University of Massachusetts Lowell, University of North Carolina at Asheville, University of Texas at El Paso, University of North Carolina at Greensboro, Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, University of Tennessee: Chattanooga, University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, University of Alaska Anchorage, University of Massachusetts Boston).

Other than those, you can find great public flagship universities, small liberal arts colleges, larger liberal arts universities, faith-based colleges, HBCUs (historically black colleges and universities), single-sex colleges, specialized colleges (e.g., fine arts, maritime) –really, just about anything.  They are large and small.  They are urban, suburban, small town, and rural.  They include some selective colleges and, perhaps not surprisingly, many not-so-selective colleges.  They include colleges in the North, South, East, and West (including in our 49th and 50th states).  The truth is that your kid could find a reasonable college choice from this list of late-deadline colleges if you all started the college search today.

As we did last year, let me read you a tiny sample of colleges with late application deadlines to peak your interest.  Here are just some of the colleges your kid could apply to by February 15 (and really that should be plenty of time to pull off some of these applications, if you all are interested):

And what about March 1?  You really have no excuse not to apply to one of these, if you are interested:

And I really can’t resist telling you a few of the colleges with an April 1 deadline (which seems truly far away):

And even May 1 deadlines (yes, really):

Okay, you get the point.  And some colleges have even later application deadlines than that.  In fact, one of our favorite colleges here at USACollegeChat has a July 1 deadline:  Richmond, The American International University in London.  If your kid is not captivated with what’s ended up on his or her list or where he or she finally gets in, think again and consider how much happier he or she might be in London at a truly one-of-a-kind university!

So, parents of high school seniors, if either you or your high school senior is truly questioning the choices you all have now, it’s not too late.  Again, the options that we have just read are a small sample of colleges still accepting applications (though I think I have probably read you a lot of the academically better options). If you and your high school senior are intrigued, take an hour or two now and have a last look at your kid’s list.  It might not make any difference in the final analysis, but you will both know that you left no stone unturned.

As always, call us, if you could use some free advice!

Find our books on Amazon!

Ask your questions or share your feedback by…

  • Leaving a comment below on the show notes for this episode
  • Calling us at (516) 900-6922 to record a question on our USACollegeChat voicemail if you want us to answer your question live on our podcast

Connect with us through…

Episode 148: College Deferment and a Letter of Appeal

Listen to the episode in the player, download it here, or subscribe on Google Play MusiciTunesStitcher, or TuneIn.

Hello, again!  When we signed off in mid-December to take an end-of-year break, we thought that we would be back with you the first week of January.  But, you know what they say about the best-laid plans?.  So what happened?  The flu, the snow, and the unexpected week-long extension of a business trip I was on in Alaska on the shores of the Arctic Ocean!  I am taking full responsibility for our absence, and let me say that these few weeks are the longest we have been off the air since we started our podcast over three years ago.

So, now that we’re back, what’s going on with current high school seniors, who have submitted their college applications, for the most part, and are biting their nails?  Well, here’s one thing that’s going on, including with the kids I have been working with myself:  the deferment and the consequent letter of appeal.  Now, I am not referring to an appeal for better financial aid from colleges that students have been accepted to, though that letter of appeal certainly exists–and may be down the road a bit for some of you.  Rather, in this episode, we are going to talk about a letter of appeal for students who had applied under an Early Decision or Early Action plan last fall and who were deferred into the regular decision applicant pool, with a decision still ahead this spring.

1. What Happened with Early Decision and Early Action in 2018?

You will recall that we have spoken with you about Early Decision and Early Action admission cycles a lot of times, including in 2017.  We looked at statistics of how many students applied under these early admission plans and how many got accepted.  We said that early admission applications were on the rise and that a surprising number of colleges filled up a surprising number of their freshman seats with these early applicants, including as many as 50 percent of them!  We urged you to have your kids apply under the Early Action banner wherever possible, because it was nonbinding on the student and there was simply no downside.  We urged you to have your kids find a safety school or two to apply to Early Action so that everyone in your household could relax.  We urged you to have your kids apply under the far-more-restrictive Early Decision banner if your kids had really made up their minds and you agreed with them and could afford to worry only a little bit rather than a lot about financing the college years.

Well, here’s where we are now.  Here is a glimpse of the situation, as written up by Josh Girsky on December 20 in the best college newspaper in the U.S.–that is, of course, The Cornell Daily Sun, which used to be Ithaca’s only morning newspaper and which I covered sports for, back in the day.  The headline reads, “Cornell Early Decision Admission Rate Drops for 3rd Year in a Row.”  Josh writes (with my emphasis added):

For the third year in a row, Cornell received a record number of early decision applicants for the Class of 2022.

Out of 6,319 applicants, 1,533 were admitted, for an early admissions rate of 24.3 percent, down from an early admissions rate of 25.8 percent for the Class of 2021 and [down from] 27.4 percent for the Class of 2020, according to a press release from the University released on Wednesday.

Cornell’s early decision applicant pool has increased by 83 percent in the last decade, the release noted.

Other Ivy League schools also saw lower early decision admissions rates.

The University of Pennsylvania’s early admissions rate dropped to 18.5 percent, while Harvard and Yale had early admissions rates of 14.5 percent and 14.7 percent, respectively. Brown’s early admissions rate was 21 percent while Dartmouth’s was 24.9 percent.  (quoted from the article)

Suffice it to say that, as long as great colleges offer early admissions options, average, good, and great students are going to apply early.  And, evidently, more students are going to do it every year, as more and more families see the trends in these early applications and acceptances and the percentage of seats already filled before ever getting to the regular decision date.  And, therefore, early admission rates are going to keep falling, for obvious reasons, as colleges have more and more and better and better students to choose from in November and don’t have to wait till January.  Why should they?

There are plenty of anecdotes about all this, and more statistics will undoubtedly be published in the next month or two.  Princeton University had the largest single-choice Early Action applicant group in the last seven years (an 8 percent increase over last year).  Georgetown University‘s Early Action applicant group was the largest ever for the University, resulting in an early acceptance rate of just 12 percent.

Yes, these are all great universities, but there has also been spillover to colleges with somewhat less prestige.  Where will it all end?

Well, it will end with outstanding students who do not get into the top choices on their lists when they apply Early Action or Early Decision.

2. What About Being Deferred?

For students who applied Early Action or Early Decision and got deferred (that is, had their application moved into the regular decision round rather than being outright rejected), let us pass along some advice from Jeff Schiffman, the Director of Admission at Tulane University.  You might recall from our virtual nationwide college tour many, many, many months ago, that Tulane is a very good, highly competitive university in the great city of New Orleans.  Frankly, I am not sure whether Mr. Schiffman’s advice will make you feel better or worse.  My guess is, some of both.  Here is Mr. Schiffman’s explanation of deferment and what it all means from his insightful official admission blog:

. . . [W]hat does being deferred mean? In essence, being deferred means that we need a bit more time before making a final decision on whether or not to admit you. There are two major factors that will come into play from here on out; one is in your control and the other is not. Your application will come back to the admission committee in the spring and will go through the same review it went through in Early Action, this time however you will be up against the Regular Decision pool of applicants.

The first factor, the one outside of your control, is the way the rest of the applicant pool shapes up. We will do a full re-review of your application with the regular decision pool. Depending on the competitiveness of that regular decision pool, we will make a new decision on your application before April 1st. If the regular pool is much larger and stronger than we expect, then it will be more of a challenge for deferred students to be admitted. However, if it is closer to what we saw with Early Action, we will be able to offer admission to a number of deferred students. We won’t know more about this until after the January 15th Regular Decision deadline.

I think it is also worth mentioning that Tulane saw a pretty substantial increase in applications this year. Bottom line, we could fill up multiple freshman classes with students who are academically qualified to attend Tulane. We could fill up multiple freshman classes just with students who would be great fits here and genuinely want to be at Tulane. The problem is we can’t admit all of them, even if we wanted to.

That brings me to the second factor that comes into play now that you have been deferred, and this is the one that is within your power. This has to do with what you can do from here on out now. There are a number of things that you can do to strengthen your application to Tulane, and a few things you shouldn’t do. (quoted from the blog)

I actually think that is a pretty straight explanation of the situation, and I am sure it is similar at many other good colleges across the U.S. this month.  So, what now?  Here are some of Mr. Schiffman’s dos and don’ts, also quoted from his blog (I have added some emphasis, indicated in bold, to point out things that I found especially noteworthy):

DO: Consider switching your application to ED II. This is for deferred EA applicants only (and for first-time applicants.) . . .  The deadline is January 5th.

DO: Be in touch. Contact your admission counselor and let him or her know you are interested in Tulane. . . .  You’ll want to shoot them an email in the coming weeks (not necessarily today . . . let the dust settle and your emotions subside) letting them know that you have been deferred and that you remain strongly interested in Tulane. . . .  It will be nearly impossible to be admitted to Tulane if you do not, in some form, reach out to us. We’d like to only take those students we know want to enroll here.

DON’T: Over-contact your admission counselor. One email to your counselor over the course of the spring semester will help, especially if you have some bigger news for us (you retook the SATs, a major (major) advancement in your extracurricular activity, etc.), but do not send us a weekly email update. It will not help your cause. Major profile in your local paper’s community section? Send it in. Promoted to secretary of the National Honor Society? No need to send; we already have a nice list of your extracurricular activities you sent us when you applied. Also, be honest. If you’ll enroll at Tulane if you are admitted, tell us, but only if that is the truth.

DO: Send us an essay about why you are interested in enrolling at Tulane, if you have not already done so. See the Why Tulane? prompt on the application for admission. Tell us why you would be a great fit here, and why Tulane is a great fit for you. Do some research. Many times, we defer students who are academically qualified to be admitted, but we are unsure of their interest level. So reach out and let us know.

DON’T: Feel pressured to come down and visit. We know money is tight these days, and New Orleans is a big trip for many of our applicants. If you feel the need to come down to express your interest in Tulane in person, you are definitely welcome to do so, however if this is not possible (for financial or any other reasons) do not fret. . . . .

DON’T: Compare yourself to others. Calling the admission office or emailing your counselor to inquire why “Diane and Jack who have lower scores and lower grades and fewer extracurricular activities were admitted but I was not” will never, ever help your cause to be admitted at Tulane. . . .  You may not be aware of what is in other students’ recommendations, essays, etc., or what we are specifically looking for. . . .

DO: Send us some additional materials. You are welcome to send us a new résumé, essay, your first semester grades, an art or music portfolio, a new SAT or ACT score, etc. While some of the smaller things may not make a big difference, an increase on your SATs, or a well-written essay about your Tulane visit can go a long way. Mid-year reports are recommended for deferred students. Again, keep in mind, unless it’s a major change in extracurricular activities, it won’t change too much (same goes for additional teacher recommendations). The biggest changemaker will be new test scores. . . . (quoted from the blog)

3. What About a Letter of Appeal?

So, here is what we want to say about the notion of letting the college admissions counselor at the deferring college know that you are still really, really, really interested.  We will call this a letter of appeal.  It should be one typed page.  It can be sent by email, but should be followed up in print by mail.  What goes into the letter?

First, just as Mr. Schiffman alluded to, I think a student has to say that the college is his or her first choice and that he or she will attend, if admitted.  Mr. Schiffman would like that to be the truth; we would, too.  However, my guess is that a lot of kids are saying something like that in letters being written all across the country right now, even if it is not exactly the truth.  Your family will have to make your own moral judgment here.  I did just recently encourage a student not to send a letter to a college that she was deferred from when I thought she was not likely to go to that college anyway.  At the same time, I did encourage her to tell another college she was deferred from to say that the college was her first choice when it was, more likely, simply one of her top two or three choices.  That’s as close as I am going to get to a moral judgment.

Second, a student should show a solid understanding of the academics of the college and of how he or she will fit into the academic world there.  Naming a specific department, specific major, specific courses, and specific research opportunities are a good idea.  Make sure your kid knows exactly what the name of the department and major are inasmuch as they are different at every college, for some reason.  Talking about his or her readiness (that is, high school background, including AP courses and Early College or dual-credit courses) for study in that specific field is an intelligent move.  Emphasize the notion of “fit” between the student and the college.

Third, a student should restate (since this information is likely in the original application or application essay) how he or she might fit in with specific extracurricular activities, including volunteer or service opportunities, performing music and drama groups, and sports at the college–again, drawing on experiences in high school that make these interests seem genuine.  This part of the letter should be sharp and focused, not a general recounting of a whole bunch of random high school activities.  Again, emphasize the notion of “fit” between the student and the college.

Fourth, as Mr. Schiffman advised, a student should mention any major accomplishments since the original application was submitted, especially new SAT or AP test scores or academic honors (for example, a student of mine was selected to exhibit her artwork in a highly competitive senior art show).  (Don’t forget that SAT scores have to be submitted officially from The College Board and that mid-year senior grades should be submitted by the high school.)

Fifth, a student should mention any close family connection to the college–including parents or grandparents who went there and/or siblings who went there or are there right now.  This mention should ideally explain what the student has learned from those personal connections and why that makes the college so much more attractive to him or her.  I believe that including this information in an understated way helps the college believe that this student is really more likely to enroll, if admitted.

Finally, I think that the tone of this letter might be hard to get right.  It can’t be sad or disappointed; it can’t be cocky or overconfident; it can’t be annoyed or frustrated.  I rather liked the final paragraph of a letter I just worked on with one of my students.  It went like this:  “I hope this letter reinforces why I believe that I belong at The University of ___________. Thank you for reviewing my application not once, but twice. Your time and consideration mean the world to me.”

Here’s hoping that she gets in.

Find our books on Amazon!

Ask your questions or share your feedback by…

  • Leaving a comment below on the show notes for this episode
  • Calling us at (516) 900-6922 to record a question on our USACollegeChat voicemail if you want us to answer your question live on our podcast

Connect with us through…