Friday, January 28, 2011

College Seminar: Cycle 1 - Myths and Misconceptions

The Myth of Procrustes

Casady college guidance does not operate like the Greek mythological robber, Procrustes.

We are not out to cut up our students to fit the highest ranked colleges in the US.

We don't measure our success by whether or not our kids get into or matriculate to colleges on the first page of US News and World Report: The College Edition.

At Casady it is a myth to believe that we have only one type of student that fits only one stripe of school.

One size, in other words, doesn't fit all.

Casady students, notably, have been admitted to 250 colleges the past four years.

* Stars represent schools Casady students have been admitted to 2007-2010.

The last thing we want our rising seniors to think is that we start and sustain the process via the rankings.

In contrast, we start with the student's thumbprint.

Where each concentric ring reveals their...







Learning style.

Matching each student's thumbprint with the right set of schools - that's our mission.

The Myth of Fit: There is ONE perfect college for me.

Truth: There is no perfect school.

It's easy to romanticize the college experience.

And think that there is ONE school out there.

One Romeo.

One Juliet.

This approach to the college search can easily lead to massive disillusionment.

It's not coincidence, I think, that our national college drop out/transfer rate (40-50%) and divorce rate (50%) are almost the same.

Our hope is that Casady students don't approach the college search with a "glass slipper" mentality.

But instead they approach it as a shopper looking for a new coat.

The coat may not fit comfortably at first. But with time one will grow into it.

(Click here to read an excellent article on the myth of fit.)

The Myth of the Good and Bad College

Truth: There are colleges that are good for you. And there are colleges that aren't.

Story Time: My dad went to the Air Force Academy. He thrived at the Academy and graduated at the top of his class with a degree in Aeronautical Engineering.

I, however, discovered on my campus tour that I was not cadet material.

I was not good at math or science; I didn't like keeping my room tidy; I had poor vision (forget flying); and I looked silly in a buzz cut.

In other words, the Air Force Academy was NOT a good college for me.

But I had to go through the application process to discover this...and have the courage to tell my father this.

A month later I visited Trinity International University, and I realized here was a small, liberal arts school where I could play basketball (aka scholarship), study literature, and hang out in Chicago on the weekends. This was a good college for me.

All colleges have something good to offer. It's just a matter if what the college offers is a good fit for the student.

Myth: Only high ranked schools produce successful people.

Blake Griffin. OU.

Sam Presti. Emerson.

Tom Hanks. Chabot College.

Steven Spielburg. Cal-State Long Beach.

Condolezza Rice. Denver.

Warren Buffet. Nebraska.
Truth: Success can come from anywhere. It's part of the genius of America. Just ask any of the people above.

Myth: Future Employers only recruit from prestigious universities.

Truth: Future employers are recruiting creative, problem solving, adaptive, imaginative, collaborative, and hard working 21st century employees everywhere.

The Wall Street Journal did an article on the top schools that corporate America recruits from annually. One would automatically think that the Ivies would top this list. Surprising as it may be to some, in fact, Penn State was #1. Unlike Harvard with a 6.9% acceptance rate, Penn State has 51% acceptance rate. None of the Ivies, in fact, were even in the top 5. The other top recruiting schools included Texas A&M (70%), Illinois (69%), Purdue (72%), and Arizona State (90%).

To see the full list click here.

Myth: Selective colleges are really only interested in the student's test score.

Truth: Selective colleges are interested in your test score, along with many other criteria (rigor and academic performance, resume, hooks, etc.)

* Click here to see the 800+ colleges that are Test Optional.

Myth: Selective colleges always choose the best well-rounded student.

Truth: Selective colleges always choose the best well-rounded class.

Most colleges make their admission requirements as visible and easy to understand as gazing at the Rocky mountains. At the University of Arkansas, for example, a student with a 3.25 GPA/24 ACT qualifies automatically for in-state tuition.
Some selective colleges, however, are as ominous and precarious as an iceberg in their admission practices.

And the truth is that at these schools there are underlying market forces and institutional agendas that affect admission outcomes.

We might call this the "hidden agenda".

The media then likes to work us all into a crazed frenzy over this small constellation of schools.

Who are these most selective schools and their admission rate? (Harvard 6.9% 30,000, Stanford 7.2% 32,000, Yale 7.5%, Princeton 8.18%, Brown 9.3%, Dartmouth 11.53%, Vandy 16.3%, Wash U 20%, NW 23%, Duke 14%, GT 20%, Chicago 18%, ND 29%, Amherst 16%, Williams 20%, Bowdoin 19%, Middlebury 20%, "Hot Publics - UT 40%, UNC 32%, UVA 24%, W&M 34%, Michigan 50%, Cal-Berkley 21.7%)

Here is the hard-edged truth:

At the top of the " selectivity pyramid" (admit rate % 6-25%)...

It's not fair.

It's not predictable.

And it's not about you (it's about them - their ranking, their bottom line).

The pursuit of the "well rounded" freshman profile then includes but is not exhausted to the following "hooks":

Gender, Geographic Location, Ethnic Minority, Sexual Orientation, Legacy, Athletics, Athletics, Fine Arts, Ability to Pay, under represented academic disciplines, etc.

It's a myth to believe that most colleges are looking for a reason NOT to admit you.

That's just not true.

Only 50 or so operate on this premise.

The majority of colleges, though, are looking for a reason TO admit you.

And don't forget this one unequivocal truth: the most selective party in the admission game is you.

Think about it.

You will apply to an average of 5 schools.

There are over 4,000+ colleges.

But let's just take the 250 colleges our students have been admitted to.

Do the simple math.

And what do you get?


That means that the University of You has a selectivity admit rate that is significantly below Harvard's at 6.9% or Stanford's at 7.1%.

The Myth of Marketing
: Selective colleges are sending you "snap apps" and materials to offer you admission.

Truth: Selective colleges are sending you snap apps and materials because they are trolling for your application.

Many of these schools pay .99 cents for each name from the College Board. Wash U, for example, buys close to half a million student names.

It's all part of an "attract to reject" marketing strategy.

The logic is as followed: The higher the application volume, the more the college can reject, which equals a lower acceptance rate, which in turn results in a higher ranking!!

The Times have closely chronicled the rise in application volumes. Here is one recent article.

The Myth of Big and Small

The big college experience (15,000-55,000) will provide me more opportunities.

The small college experience (1,000-2,500) will provide me fewer opportunities.

The big college experience will equate to greater anonymity.

The small college experience will equate to greater connectivity.

Truth: Small can mean Big in terms of Participation.

Highest % in Sorority/Fraternity = W & L (74%), DePauw (70%), Wofford 61%, Rhodes (52%)

Highest % in Study Abroad = Austin College, Centre College, St. Olaf, Elon, DePauw, Kalamazoo, Lewis and Clark.

Best Career/Job Placement Services: Northeastern, Claremont McKenna, Wabash College, Sweet Briar, Hampden-Sydney(The Princeton Review)

Truth: Big can mean Small in terms of Participation.

Big to Small: Sorority/Fraternity, Honors College, Clubs, Intramural Sports, Residential Hall, Study Abroad Program, etc.

Myth of the College Counselor

I am not the Godfather.

I am not Jerry Maguire.

Sometimes I am Reggie Bush.

Other times I am Gandalf.

The truth is though that YOU get yourself into college.
We simply offer some advice and write a letter narrating YOUR story.

The Myth of Undecided
: To be undecided means to be undefined.

Undecided does not mean undefined.

Nor that the student is somehow behind the back.

Or should start worrying because they don't have everything figured out.

It's okay if the only place you know where to start is by identifying what you don't want in a college.

What you are against will eventually evolve into what you are for.

In the end, we are all a bit undecided. We are all like 80's cinematic icon, Loyd Dobler, when it comes to our "future plans".

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Say Boom? What Nike and Casady have in common...

In my 9th grade English class, we talk a lot about the Boom factor.

The Boom factor is introducing your topic in an intriguing way.

It's grabbing your reader and pulling them in from the opening sentence.

It's writing your opening paragraph with this Nike commercial in the back of your mind.

At a school like Casady, where we are known as THE "college prep" school in the state, we traditionally love to wow people with our prestigious list of colleges and universities.

Ivies like Dartmouth and Penn.

Public Ivies like UC-Berkeley and UNC-Chapel Hill.

Say Boom?

It's easy then at an event like this Open House for us to use Nike-like marketing tactics.

Because let's face it.

Talking about Ted M. and his American Idol future after he graduates from Vandy - can you say Boom!?

Or Olivia B. and her bright future as an intellectual in the field of philosophy/literature after she graduates from a school like the University of Chicago. Can you say Boom!?

But what this kind of marketing approach does is only reinforce the "Casady sterotype."

And that is...

We only teach and coach and counsel to the top.

We care more about prestige than people.

We have only one type of student who matriculate to one stripe of school.

And that we measure success by only one rubric - the US News and World Report: College Edition.

Now, yes, we do have students who experience success by getting into these top ranked schools.

But the Ted M's of our community don't apply there because of a ranking.

Ted applies to Vandy because he feels the fit. He has this gut sense that he'll flourish there.

So the truth is this:

We don't start the college journey with rankings.

We start the college adventure with your thumbprint.

Take a moment, in fact, to look at that fascinating slab of skin on your thumb.

What do you see?

Concentric rings that coil out - each centrifugal ring revealing a passion, a gift, a propensity, an ability, a potentiality.

What we do then at Casady involves matching your individualized thumbprint with colleges that believe you put a positive imprint on their community.

You see, while we are a college prep school, we are also a college match school.

And our overarching mission is to help each student find the best college fit.

Our statistics certainly speak to our mission's success.

Over the past four years, 100% of our graduates have been accepted to a total of 250 colleges and universities (220 private/50 public).

Overall, our acceptance rate has shot up in four years from 40% to 74%.

And our merit money has gone from $500,ooo to $3.6 million.

But, you know what, it's the stories that energize me.

Especially the narratives of the students who started the college process with fear.

The kind of fear we all face when we think about prom and the prospect of going stag.

But came late April, these same students have more prom date offers than they know what to do with.

They are suddenly cursed with too many college choices.

The story of Molly comes to mind, for example.

In one hand Molly holds her acceptance letter to Austin College.

There she can pursue her passion for Chinese in a Language House.

Travel abroad and study Chinese politics in Tienanmen Square.

In the other hand Molly has her letter and scholarship offer from Arkansas.

Her 3.25 GPA/24 ACT qualified her for in-state tuition.

At Arkansas, Molly can drink deep of SEC culture.

Pledge Theta.

Get a business degree in the Sam Walton School of Business where literally thousands of companies recruit.

And take road trips with girlfriends down to New Orleans for the Sugar Bowl.

Or it is the story of Big Brian.

To meet him is to love him.

He instantly reminds you of Jack Black's character in Kung Fu Panda.

Brian's passion is film.

Studying the old masterpieces like Citizen Kane.

Writing screenplays.

Directing, producing, photographing, and editing films.

Brian's college essay was on how 3-D movies are destroying the quality of film making.

How cool and original is that?

In one hand, then, Brain holds his acceptance letter to LMU.

From day one at LMU, Brian can work in the studio labs,

state-of-the-art edit bays,

carry a camera around,

with Hollywood in his back yard as a kind of sand box.

Or Brain could stay at home.

Making his momma happy.

Save money for graduate school.

Go to OU.

Join a frat.

Spend Saturday's in the autumn tailgating and cheering on his beloved Sooners.

Not to mention still get a degree in film from our flagship university,

while taking courses at O trip C where Brian can continue to study under Greg Mellott, a former USC film professor, along with Gray Frederickson, a producer on Godfather, where Brian could continue to use the Red Camera, a $250,000 camera used in films like The Book of Eli.

These are the stories and the predicaments that I live for here.

And in the end, it's the stories of Molly and Brian, along with the Ted's and Olivia's - these stories represent the BIGGER BOOM at Casady.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Let the Great Adventure Begin

Last Wednesday Mark and I met with the Junior class for the first time.

It was our opening ceremony, so to speak, for our new College Seminar.

Pulling out a tattered copy of The Hobbit, I opened to an early scene where Gandalf chooses Bilbo for the expedition.

Gandalf's choice is met with consternation among Gloin and the other dwarves.

"Let's have no more argument," Gandalf gently exclaims, "I have chosen Mr Baggins and that ought to be enough for all of you...There is a lot more in him than you guess, and a deal more than he has any idea of himself."

The college search is indeed an adventure.

A journey of self-discovery.

And hopefully self-validation.

Deep things reside within all of us.

And to be educated is to experience a connection with those passions, gifts, and abilities within us.

That's the kind of education that our College Seminar hopes to provide our juniors.

Visiting with the juniors, I shared with them that Mark and I essentially have four roles in the college search and admissions process.

We are servants. Like Sam Gamgee. We are always here to serve the needs of our students.

We are leaders. Like Aragorn. We hope to lead from behind as much as possible.

We are guides. Like Gandalf. We seek to provide a compass when the path disappears.

We are supporters. Like Gimli and Legolas. We will always have your backs.

And who might you ask are the Juniors?

They are the Bilbo's and the Frodo's.

They carry the ring of responsibility through the college search and admission process.

And they will eventually carry the weight of choice.

In the end we hope all of our seniors have at least two colleges to choose from. The majority, however, tend to have 4 or 5 excellent options.

So as we step outside our hobbit holes and leave the Shire, I remind you that the journey ahead will be fraught with uncertainty, difficult, and frightening moments. But rest assured that this adventure is not a solitary undertaking. It is and always will be a communal effort.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

I was Deferred - What do I do now?

This morning I had a senior come in holding a letter from SMU.

"It says I was deferred," the senior gentleman exclaimed, "what do I do now?"

An excellent question.

I immediately explained to this student that defer does not mean deny.

Not even close.

Some schools will shift the student's application from the early admission pool to the regular admission pool.

Certainly this will then involve competing in a larger application pool.

SMU, however, convenes a Defer Committee that usually meets in February or so to make decisions on deferred applications. This is usually a full month before Regular Committee.

But what it will allow the admission staff to do is re-evaluate the student's application with a strong emphasis on the student's performance in the senior year.

Simply put then, this student still has work to do. It's not time to succumb to senioritis. But the ball is in his corner.

I encouraged this student to reach out to our SMU rep. Schools like SMU, who admitted a strong early pool, with a 3.6 GPA/29 ACT, will experience inevitable melt. Many of these early admits will play the field at the top, applying to schools like Duke and Georgetown. If admitted to one of these top shelf schools, most likely they will matriculate. Which then triggers the melt. Which then could potentially open up a spot at SMU or many other schools.

However, as our SMU rep pointed out to me in a gentle email of correction, it's not always a 1:1 situation. As a more selective school like SMU sees prospects choose other schools, they will evaluate their numbers and percentages for existing admitted students, and potential wait-list offers down the line, etc. Seeing melt doesn't always help a deferred student; they must still demonstrate acumen so as not to be put in a situation where they wouldn't be successful at SMU.

It's important to remember that searching for the right fit goes both ways. SMU is also trying to discern if this student is a good fit. Believe it or not, the admission reps at schools like SMU want every applicant they review to experience success in college. It's a hard truth to swallow, but some rejection letters are really meant to prevent a student from experiencing crippling failure at their school.

So my final advice to this student went as followed:

Fill out the SMU Application Update, submit it expeditiously, and then follow up with a short email to our enthusiastic rep.

SMU will certainly weigh in their final evaluation whether not they believe this student has a high probability of enrolling if admitted.

So practically, I encouraged this student to write a short, pointed email to our SMU rep.

Highlight your strong academic start.

Narrate leadership moments - in athletics or the musical or within your youth group.

Keep it to a paragraph.

And end with a sentence like, "Please let me know what else I can do to help augment my chances at gaining admission into SMU this spring."

And then prepare for a loooong wait. It will be spring before you are probably notified.

Within an instant informational age, college admissions may be one of the last cultural artifacts that requires a season of waiting.

Thus waiting invites a posture of anticipation but also requires the virtue of fortitude.

You can do it! And don't forget, Mr. Hoven and I are both here to help advocate on your behalf.