Let's say you are throwing a party for your closest friends. You arrange for everything at your house, buy chips and drinks, and plan fun games, hoping to impress everyone who shows up. Soon after the party gets started, a friend of a friend corners you and promises that he can make your party "even better!" He tells you about new fun games that will make entertaining easy, chips and drinks that will dazzle the tastebuds of every guest, and new ways to arrange furniture that will "totally get you noticed."
You agree to try his stuff out. What do you have to lose? It's not like he can make the party worse...
So he moves in all kinds of new toys and proceeds to take over pretty much everything. Your food gets pushed to the back to make room for his dishes. Your games get put aside to focus on his activities. After a few hours of this you look around and realize that all the stuff your new friend supplied isn't supplementing your party, it's swallowing it whole. And worse, everyone seems to be having a terrible time!
And then you realize that while you wanted your party to be awesome, you never needed this guy. Sure, he's got charts and graphs showing that some people sort of like his fancy chips and neat toys, but you can easily look around and notice that you aren't throwing a better party than the ones you've thrown in the past. This guy just scammed you by promising to help when he had no intention of helping at all...
This week, the National Association of College Admissions Counselors came to the same stunning realization about standardized testing. They note:
Although many colleges find benefit in using admission tests in admission decisions, it is the view of the Commission that there may be more colleges and universities that could make appropriate admission decisions without requiring standardized admission tests such as the ACT and SAT. The Commission encourages institutions to consider dropping the admission test requirements if it is determined that the predictive utility of the test or the admission policies of the institution (such as open access) support that decision and if the institution believes that standardized test results would not be necessary for other reasons such as course placement, advising, or research.
Let's sum that up: The NACAC, a widely respected group of college admissions officers, is advising all colleges to drop the SAT and ACT unless they have a specific reason to continue to require them.
I can't tell you how big this announcement is for the world of college admissions. For the last few years, I've continually stated that I believe colleges will be able to move past the ACT and SAT and focus on the parts of the college application that have been proven to matter (GPA, Extracurriculars, etc). Even as the score optional movement has gained momentum and continued studies proved that the SAT is worse at predicting success than GPA, I never believed the NACAC would take such a strong stand against standardized testing.
Mark this day on your calendar. Whatever domination the SAT and ACT have had on the world of college admissions is starting to slip. The NACAC isn't the first to criticize the testing industry, but this report is a devastating blow to the belief that every college needs standardized testing.
Someone finally pointed out that the SAT and ACT are ruining the party...
What do you think? Is this the beginning of the end for standardized testing? Let us know in the comments!
This last week I had the pleasure to sit down with Matt Cobb, parent, fellow college admissions blogger, and creator of Admissions Directory,
a Digg-style college admissions aggregator. We talked about his
college experience, his interest in college admissions, and his
endeavors on the web to make information more accessible to students in
need of information!
This is the second part of the interview. The first part can be found here.
Can you tell me a little more about Admissions Directory and what prompted you to start it?
I think the main motivation was that, as I got involved in trying to figure out how to help my son get into a good college, I realized that there's a ton of information on the internet about college admissions. But when I say, "college admissions," I'm talking about it broadly, from the very beginning of the process, when you're thinking about taking an ACT or an SAT test, or when you're thinking about what schools you might be interested in, all the way to the end of the process when you're looking for financial aid and scholarships.
There's just a ton of information on the internet, but it's not organized at all. It's very hard to tell what's good, what's bad, or what's helpful. And it's very hard sometimes to just find good content, because there's so much of it. And so I saw a need for a web site that could help organize that information.
How does Admission Directory function?
The idea is that we're building up a community of people that are interested in college admissions and encouraging them to submit resources that they find helpful in the admissions process. So, everyone's out there, scouring the internet, looking for information on how many AP tests they should take, or what scores are good scores, or how to best prepare for the ACT, or how to write a good essay. We're encouraging our community members to submit that onto the site, and then it gets organized and catologued so it gets put into certain categories so it's easy to find.
So all of the test prep articles, for example, are easy to find with one click. And also, these things called 'tags,' that are over to the side where you can describe that resource in even greater detail. So maybe, "test scores required to get into Harvard," could be a tag so you could find that specifically.
And we're also encouraging and hoping that our community members, when they find one of these resources that are already on the admissionsdirectory.com site, they'll comment on it when they use it; to say whether it's good or bad, to affirm the original person's submission, to vote for it, vote it up or down. And so, what happens over time, the good articles, the good content, the good websites that are helpful will have higher scores and will be on the top of the results and they'll have comments associated with them, from a variety of people.
And you can read through the comments to see whether there's someone who's used this resource that's kind of like you, that has the same needs as you have, to help you decide whether you should spend the time to actually go to the website or use the service or the resource. I didn't invent any of these comments, if you go to the circuit city website and you're looking for a TV, for any particular model, there's a whole list of comments from people who have bought that TV. That's how I shop for a TV. I look for people who are kind of like me, who bought it and who liked it, and that gives me great confidence.
And then there are other sites, that are on the internet today - the most popular one is called digg.com, that uses the same approach to gather, organize, and rate news articles. And so the top news articles rise to the top. So if you're very busy and just want to read about the things that are the most intesting to everyone else in the community, you can just go in and pick the things off the top of the list.
So I'm essentially taking some of these techniques that have been used on the internet over the last few years and applying them to this very chaotic and disorganized huge mass of admssions resources and information.
The other questions I had are about your blog itself and sort of the idea of blogging about college admissions. Have you talked with Greg about using him as an example in your blog? Is that a discussion that happened before you started writing?
I mentioned it, and I certainly asked him if it was ok and he kind of didn't care. He had a fairly lackadaisical attitude about it, lackadaisical may be the wrong word, but he just wasn't engaged in the college admissions process quite as early as I was. And so, when I started this, it didn't really matter to him one way or the other. And any time I write something about him, I try to be cognizant of the fact that other people are going to read this and don't want to embarras him.
Right. We're always talking to students now about how their Facebook or Myspace page or personal blog may eventually influence their college admission, especially at a selective school like Harvard or Standford or any school that's an Ivy. They're going to Google that kid's name and see what else is out there. Have you given any thought to how you're actually impacting his college admission by blogging about him?
No, actually I haven't. But hopefully this will show that we're diligently trying to make sure that he's as prepared as he can be to go to a good school!
We see a lot of students who, during their freshman and sophomore years, come to our office just one time to talk, briefly, about what their path looks like. But it's junior and senior year when kids kind of wake up and get involved. So, it's neat to see that happening with Greg.
It's also interesting, I don't know if you have any experience with this, but I think there's a difference that I've noticed working with students on admissionsdirectory, between girls and boys. Girls seem to engage just a little bit sooner than boys do.
That's a truth extending very, very, very far into the college admissions process. We see a lot of schools where women are 60% of the population and men are 40% or lower. What you said, that girls are probably more involved, I have noticed increase during my time doing test prep and doing college admissions. Within the last 5-10 years, we have seen girls take the forefront.
I always joke with parents that, "Women are going to run the world, because they're going to be the only ones with college degrees. They're the only ones that are getting involved." And it's interesting that you've seen that same trend, working on the internet, which has traditionally been a very boy-friendly place.
I think the boys are all off playing World of Warcraft.
So they're using the internet for different things?
Fortunately, Greg is most interested right now in computer science, and the statistics favor boys in that area. So, he's at least got that going for him.
We visted a bunch of schools this summer, and one of them was Duke. And as I was sitting there, listening to the admissions director's presentation, and looking at the data that they passed out, it really seemed to me that being a male interested in engineering, as opposed to liberal arts, gave him a much better chance, on a percentage basis with all else being equal, than a girl interested in liberal arts, just based on statistics.
I'm kind of interested to see how the next four months play out, for me. And then, I have a freshmen in high school now, so the process starts over, although, I guess, not intensely for a couple of years.
Absolutely! The process starting over is the best part about working with parents with multiple kids, watching them become experts as it goes on. You know so much now that you didn't know originally, and unfortunately, Greg's only got four months left for you to use it. Your second kid will have a much better range of resources to draw from, not the least of which is your own website.
Great! Well, I really enjoyed talking with you and reading your blog and I look forward to continue communicating.
Well thank you! I'm excited that there does appear to be a community forming. I think that the advent of your program, and other blogs that I've seen start to pop up, mean that people are starting to see blogging as a way to get out this information and keep it current. And I'm really excited to see what we see, as the community, over the next couple of years in terms of resources.
Big thanks to Matt for agreeing to the interview! If you've
got questions for Matt, please leave them in the comments...
This last week I had the pleasure to sit down with Matt Cobb, parent, fellow college admissions blogger, and creator of Admissions Directory, a Digg-style college admissions aggregator. We talked about his college experience, his interest in college admissions, and his endeavors on the web to make information more accessible to students in need of information!
Thanks for joining us, Matt!
Thanks for having me, Mark.
What is your background, coming to the table, for college admissions? Where did you go to college and what made you interested in admissions?
I'm a bit of a college snob, partly because i went to Stanford twice.
I got into Stanford as an undergrad, and then went back and got an MBA there. This was decades ago. In fact, this year was my 30th reunion year for Stanford.
I got into Stanford back when it was easier to get into the elite schools. And I'm also from Florida, so I figure that I must have met some kind of geographic distribution quota back then. I certainly did OK in school, I had good extracurricular involvement and good grades, but I wasn't a stellar student. So I was always just a little surprised that I got into Stanford, but nonetheless, I really enjoyed that.
After I got out of undergrad, I worked on Wall St. for a number of years and then went back to Stanford Business School. So I have a couple of degrees from Stanford, and I was actually born and raised in the Bay Area, so that was a little bit like going home since I was living in Florida at the time. And so i have a great appreciation for a good college education, as a result of that experience.
What would you say you had at Stanford that was a good match for you and that did provide you with something extra that you would not have received at a non-Ivy school?
I certainly got a great education from great professors. To this day, I think back fondly to some of the introductory courses I had from world-class professors. In fact, the other day, my younger son, a freshman in high school this year, was taking an introductory psychology (psych) class, and he was looking for a study that he could use. And I said, "You know, a really neat study is the Standford Prison experiment by Phillips Zimbardo. And that came up recently, with the Abu Ghraib mess in Iraq, as one of the academic studies that kind of explained the behaivor of those soldiers.
I actually took a Psych 1 class from Philip Zimbardo, and he covered that experiment just a couple of years after he had ran it.
I had a similar experience taking an economics (econ) 1 course from a guy named George Bach, who was the grand daddy of econ teachers and had the best selling general econ textbook, back in those days. And, in fact, it was that course that made me decide to become an econ major, which then led me to become a business major and kinda launched me on my current career trajectory.
What brought you back to the college admissions table, to looking at these issues again? Obviously, you're not looking into going back to school...
Mostly it's the fact that I have a son now, who's a senior in high school, and I wanted him to get into the best school he could. Or, at least, have plenty of options that he could choose from. When I started thinking about this, and as I've mentioned before, I'm a bit of a college snob, since I went to a good school. I have this higher regard for selective schools, rightly or wrongly, and I realize that it may be over inflated, but that's just the way I feel, since I went through that experience.
So, I started paying attention when my son, Greg, got into high school, and realized that it was a lot harder these days to get into college...into any college really, but especially the selective colleges. That made me realize that Greg was going to have to pay a lot more attention to this, or should pay a lot more attention to this, than I ever had to.
I read some of these stories recently about people of my generation, or even people a little later than me, their whole preparation for the SAT was making sure they had two sharpened number two pencils and that they got there on time.
Right, right. And that was my preparation as well. I didn't do anything else for it.
Yeah, and you took it once and that was it, and you know, it wasn't that big of a deal. And obviously the world is very different now, and it was just sorta focusing on what he, or what it was going to take for Greg to get into, you know, whatever the best schools were that he could get into. Then I started researching it and learning about it, but I'm also an internet consultant and so I have a professional interest in this as well.
First I used my blog as a way to learn about blogging, because web 2.0 technology is the modern web technology is an area or part of my practice. So I wanted to have some hands on, practical experience, and I couldn't think of anything else I'd rather blog about than something I had some interest and passion in, which was college admissions, kinda in this time frame.
You started the blog as sort of a self contained exercise and college admissions was the first thing to come to mind?
It wasn't the first thing, but it was the thing that I most wanted to, or that I could see myself writing about on a consistent basis. It was an area of interest and I wanted to blog about something that I was interested in. And as you would notice if you were to go back and look at the history of the blog, I had a couple of false starts, where I posted for a little while and then there were seven or eight months lag. And even though I was interested in college admissions, the fact that I started when Greg was a sophomore, I think, it just wasn't an all-consuming enough topic to keep me focused on it with all the other distractions in my life.
Now that he's a senior, and it's like, T minus four months until all the applications are due, and he's now finally, himself, engaged in the process, it's something that it's much easier to do on a regular basis.
And it's evolved because I also have started Admissions Directory. So now the blog, in addition to helping me learn about blogging, is also a part of my business strategy for promoting that website.
Check back soon for more of my interview with Matt as we discuss his website, resources available to college applicants, and his son Greg! If you've got questions for Matt, please leave them in the comments...
As a college consultant, I spend a lot of my time speaking to groups of parents and students about the college admissions process. Although I try to focus on the entire college endeavor, I've noticed that parents and students are always eager to turn the conversation toward the financials of college...even if it's not the topic I'm scheduled to talk about.
Unfortunately, paying for college relies primarily on the government's Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and not on any secrets I can divulge. Through the FAFSA, schools estimate how much of the comprehensive cost of the student's education should be paid by the student and parent. The Feds and the school are supposed to cover the difference between that estimate and the established costs through loans, grants, and workstudy programs.
The FASFA can be a lifesaver for low-income students, but I've often found that it dramatically overestimates the amount of money that parents and students can put forth in the pursuit of a college degree. All students should fill out the FAFSA in the second semester of their Senior year, but they shouldn't be surprised if the financial aid packages they get from the colleges are a little lean.
In fact, middle-income students are the hardest hit by the lack of Federal aid. Low-income students will find that the majority of their college experience can be subsidized, but middle-income students may find that their parents make too much to get any grants, but too little to foot the whole bill.
So what can be done? Ya gotta get creative! Here are three ideas for paying for college when the "traditional" options dry up.
1) Get a private loan.
Until recently, I considered private college loans to be a devil's bargain. All too often, I have seen students struggle to pay down loans from mainstream banks with interest rates in the 10-15% range! Luckily there are some new tools on the market to help students find good loans from respectable institutions. Simple Tuition is a site that's leading the way in transparency, publishing interest rates, estimated monthly payments, and even summaries of what the loan will cost you in total.
2) Check out schools that are footing the entire bill.
This year, Congress is taking a close look at the endowments of many private colleges that are claiming to be "non-profits." They contend that rising tution costs are the result of the universities' willingness to pass the bill to students rather than pay out of the school's enormous endowment. This has prompted some schools, like Harvard, to declare within the last few years that they will be reducing costs for upper-middle income families...even going so far as to eliminate tuition completely for those students! So don't be scared by initial price tags. Instead, call the financial aid department and find out what the school is doing for families in your income range before you apply.
It's a risky strategy, I know. But it looks like it's working out pretty well for Max Stephenson, a student who sent an email to friends and family asking for them to chip in a few dollars for his $25,000 college tuition bill. He's accepting amounts as little as $2, collected almost $6,000, and ended up with coverage in a few larger media outlets that I'm sure netted him more cash. It's unlikely that you'd be able to replicate his success, but asking around if people can help you is never a bad idea!
Paying for college can be tough, but don't get bogged down! Got any ideas that didn't make the list? Let me know in the comments!