Sunday, April 25, 2010

Great Books Colleges

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I just returned from my first visit to a "Great Books" college ie. St. John's College in Annapolis, MD. "Johnnies" follow quite a demanding curriculum that includes studying Greek and translating original texts. They study many great authors of the Western tradition both at the Annapolis Campus and at the Santa Fe campus. The students seemed very engaged in their study and none of those that I spoke to wanted to go to college anywhere else. There is not enough room in the curriculum to study any non-western traditions but you can follow a "great books" non-western curriculum as a graduate program on the Santa Fe campus. All classes involve discussion and discovery. The tutors or faculty are more facilitators than lecturers. This distinctive curriculum was developed by Scott Buchanon in the 1930's as a way to distinguish the college and boost enrollment.

This new curriculum was also related to the Hutchins Plan developed at the University of Chicago and currently followed by Shimer College in Waukegan, IL. Thomas Aquinas College in Santa Paula, CA also offers a four year "great books" education.

As you can imagine, there are few transfers in or out of this program because it is so unusual. The fact that students are following a common curriculum has a positive effect on course discussion because everyone has taken the same sequence. This approach seems to foster more philosophical discussions over dinner than I have heard at other colleges

Friday, April 16, 2010

Evaluating Financial Aid Offers

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These last few days, I have been receiving calls from families to help them compare aid offers. You have to get out your calculator and do the math. The offers are not always easy to compare because colleges sometimes use different terms for types of aid and they don't publish the college's cost of attendance (COA) on the letter. So, you must go back to the literature or to the college website to find that cost of attendance figure. COA is a key number to keep in mind.

Here are the things that families need to think about when comparing offers.

1. Is this college a good academic and social fit?
If it is a poor fit then it is a poor deal no matter how good the financial aid package.

2. Does the offer apply to all four years?
Some colleges sweeten the pot for the first year only.

3. What amount remains for the family to pay in cash and in loans? This amount is the cost of attendance (tuition + fees + room/board) - (sum of all grants).

3. Will outside awards apply to the family contribution or only the student's?

4. How much work study is offered?

5. How much will it cost to travel to and from the college?
This can be significant when you add in holiday and summer breaks

Don't accept a college's aid offer with the expectation of re-negotiating next year.
Remember, that colleges allocate a certain amount of aid per incoming class. This means that it is very difficult to get more aid for a sophomore unless you have had a dramatic misfortune such as a job loss or a death in the family.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

College Visits in Albany, NY

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Seniors are out making those final visits before deciding where to go to college next year and I was out visiting with them. It was sunny and over 80 degrees when I visited Siena College, Students were out on the lawn sunbathing and playing frisbee. It could have been a magazine shoot. I saw several of the Franciscan friars who live on campus interacting with students. I was very impressed with the business and the pre-med programs at Siena.

On Friday the weather was cloudy and blustery as I made my way to SUNY Albany, for a tour. The SUNY schools have become increasingly hard to get into. According to the admissions counselor, they accepted less than 45% this year. The new nanotechnology program is drawing a lot of funding and students. The Albany campus has a consistent architectural imprint based on designs of Edward Stone. One parent said, "I bet there is as much concrete here as in the Pentagon". I don't know if that's the case but there is a lot. Great for the skateboarders I saw though.

Friday afternoon I made my way to the College of St. Rose
which is within biking distance of SUNY Albany. This campus has eclectic architecture with modern brick buildings interspersed with Victorian buildings painted in the signature white and yellow motif of the Golden Knights of St. Rose. The students were especially friendly and laid back here. The campus is filled with gorgeous art that reflects its terrific art program. My guide was a music industry major which is not common to a lot of colleges. I was quite impressed with the new facilities available for those working in digital music, TV etc. The Education Dept. is also strong here with an on campus nursery school available for student teaching and learning.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

College Acceptance-Rejection Week

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This is the end of about 10 days of cheers and tears as the most selective colleges sent out their decisions.

No matter how well worded the rejection letters are they still sting and in many cases they sound very impersonal. If you are admitted to one of the ultra selective, be kind to your less fortunate classmates. If you didn't get in, the best strategy is not to take it too personally (this is hard)and check out your other options. The Ivy League, Duke, Stanford, Northwestern etc. could fill their classes many times over with talented, wonderful students. Each college has its own institutional needs and these are not public so any consultants or counselors who "guarantee" admission to the ultra-selective colleges are making promises they can't keep.

It is now so easy to apply to multiple colleges through the common application that the average number of applications submitted by students is 7. So, in the next few weeks some students will be rejecting multiple colleges to choose 1. This has a trickle down effect as spots open up at the rejected colleges and students are admitted off of their waiting lists. This uncertainty creates college openings beyond waitlists in May for students who are dissatisfied with their choices, but it is hard to know which colleges will have these openings because it changes from year to year. Super selective colleges like Cornell, Harvard, and Princeton do not have openings beyond the waitlist. In some years, they don't even admit off of their waiting lists.

Friday, April 2, 2010

A New Beginning.......

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It seems very fitting to begin blogging in spring when everything is fresh and new. Spring is on fast forward since it was 83 degrees today in Ithaca, NY.

It is also the beginning of a new admissions season as well, since most (but not all) admissions deadlines have passed. I am very excited to share ideas, news and my travels in order clarify the college and graduate admissions process.

This week is a school break in many areas and it's a great chance for students who just can't decide to make that last visit to campus. Colleges are not on break and so it's a great time to evaluate how comfortable you feel in the college environs of your final choices. I say, spend some serious time in the dining hall, at the student center, and at the fitness center to strike up a casual conversation or just do some people watching. I would check out the college surroundings as well for favorite hangouts like restaurants, coffee shops, malls etc.
Happy trails!

Book of interest to art students

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Sarah Thornton's book, Seven Days in the Art World gives a glimpse of different art experiences to potential art students. Those who think that being an artist is "easy" might change their mind after reading this.