Thursday, April 28, 2011

The College Admission Game

Last night we had Peter Van Buskirk with us, former dean, inspirational speaker, and author of the Winning the College Admission Game.

Mr. Buskirk is also now a regular blogger for the US News and World Report.

Below you will find my video summary of what Buskirk shared with us.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Regular Admission Results

Regular admission results continue to trickle in for the Casady class of 2011.

In spite of a historically competitive year in college admissions, our seniors continue to experience great success.

Our 82 seniors have now been admitted to over 120 colleges and universities.

That's the largest number of schools a Casady graduating class has been admitted to in quite some time.

Perhaps a visual will help us all appreciate this accomplishment.

What diversity, huh?

With acceptances from small, liberal arts schools.

To old, tradition-rich historical black colleges.

From major, public research universities.

To everything in-between...even international universities in England.

Now our seniors face the curse of choice.

At Casady we value choices - plural.

We want each of our students to have at least two options.

With May 1 looming, many seniors are taking their final college visits,

weighing pros/cons,

talking finances with parents, sending in the deposit check,

then celebrating with hats, sweatshirts, and car decal stickers!

Here is an updated list of the spring college acceptances:

Allegheny College
Auburn University
Austin College
Baylor University
Belmont University
Boston University
Cameron University
Centre College
College of Wooster
Colorado College
Colorado School of Mines
DePauw University
Denison University
Drexel University
Duke University
Emory University
Eugene Lang College
Hampshire College
Hendrix College
Juniata College
Knox College
Laguna College of Art and Design
Langston University
Lewis and Clark College
Louisiana State University
Loyola Marymount University
Loyola University (Chicago)
Macalester College
Marymount Manhattan College
Maryland Institute of Art and Design
Northern Oklahoma College
Newman University
Northeastern University
Occidental College
Ohio State University
Oklahoma Baptist University
Oklahoma City University
Oklahoma State University
Oklahoma Wesleyan University
Philander Smith College
Prairie View A&M
Randolph College
Reed College
Rhodes College
Rice University
Rollins College
Saint Louis University
School of the Art Institute of Chicago
School of Visual Arts
Sewanee: The University of the South
Southern Methodist University
Southern University and A&M College
Southwestern College
Southwestern University
St. Olaf College
SUNY Purchase
Texas Christian University
Trinity University
University of Arkansas
University of California at Berkeley
University of California at Santa Barbara
University of California at Santa Cruz
University of Colorado at Boulder
University of Georgia
University of Illinois
University of Kansas
University of Liverpool
University of Manchester
University of Michigan
University of Mississippi
University of North Carolina - Chapel Hill
University of North Carolina - Greensboro
University of Oklahoma
University of Oregon
University of Puget Sound
University of San Diego
University of Sussex
University of Texas - Austin
University of Virginia
University of Wisconsin - Madison
Vanderbilt University
Vassar College
Washington University in St. Louis
Wittenberg University
William Jewell College

Congrats to all our seniors on finding their college thumbprint!

Monday, April 18, 2011

UVA Top Twitter Posts

Ever wonder what admission officers at highly selective schools are thinking while they are reading thousands of applications?

Well, now you some filtered degree.

The University of Virgina has provided us such a portal through Twitter.

Just start following @UVaDeanJ on Twitter and it won't be long before you read some colorful and quite revealing threads.

Here are some of my favorite. (Please note the sarcasm underneath.)

A student who didn't apply to UVA is spreading a story about pledging $100K and being admitted...

Family member of an applicant who's still waiting for a decision just accosted one of the other reps.

Another day's worth of files done. First day without an essay about 1984 in a while. Well done, applicants!

This is interesting. I'm reading an app for a student at a school where the lowest GPA in the senior class is a 3.0

Just read an interesting app. Student ranked #1 in a class of 300. Applicant shared #1 rank with 299 others. Trophies for everyone?

Came across an applicant from a school where 38% of seniors have GPAs over 4.0. They have GPAs we didn't even dream of as kids!

Looking at a school with 500 seniors and 200 of them have a GPA over 4.0

It's a day for firsts. Previous record for most recommendations letters sent in was 37. New record: 56

If suddenly drop from a 3.6 GPA to a 2.3, you should really consider an explanation...I promise you it's noticeable

Looking at a 16 page resume with pictures embedded. How many hours did this take? Wish they had just filled out the @CommonApp chart

I know what AP Study Hall is, but I still chuckle when I see it on a transcript. :)

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Chicken Little Part 2

Earlier in the week I wrote a blog post on the inevitable Chicken Little moment.

Need a humorous refresher?

Not long ago I was visiting with a potential candidate for our Associate Director position.

This candidate asked me about how I deal with student and parent disappointment over not getting into a top choice school.

I explained to this person that when you put yourself in the shoes of the students and parents during this process, you begin to understand why some of them go Chicken Little.

Here is my working thesis.

The degree of our response to any goal is determined by the depth of our investment in the process.

Let me explain.

When we go see a Razzie nominated movie like The Last Song (that's code for very bad), we walk out and shrug our shoulders at how bad Miley Cyrus's performance is, but that is about as far as our response goes.

Oh well, we're out 2 hours and $10 bucks.

Who is up for Orange Leaf?

But take a different medium.

Like a novel.

Right now, for example, the juniors are reading Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath.

That sucker is 619 pages.

It's epic.

Now when our juniors finish that novel, are they simply going to shrug their shoulders.

Okay, some might.

But those are going to be the students who only read The Sparknotes version.

But for those who really read the novel,

there reaction will be much more visceral.

Some will absolutely love the last tableau that Steinbeck leaves us with.

Others will loathe it so much that they will start a Twitter thread with the hashtag #grapesofwrathbites.

Why is this?

Because these students read 619 pages!

They divested themselves of mental, emotional, and imaginative energies.

They coughed and spitted and crawled across Route 66 with the Joads.

They nurtured the dream of a cozy house with the white picket fence in the San Fernando Valley.

They came to care about the fates of Ma and Tom and RoseofSharon.

It's human nature, in other words, to react to the degree to which we have invested.

The same is true in so many other ways.

We study 3 hours for a Honors Chemistry exam, and we get an A - how do we feel?


We put in 10 minutes during A block before the vocabulary test, and bomb it - how do we feel?


I think back to moments where I've shown spontaneous bursts of emotion.

I think of the eurphoria of winning the state championship in basketball my junior year.

I cried tears of joy as I held the gold ball.

I think of the agony of losing the state championship my senior year.

I can still taste the salty tears I cried as the final buzzer sounded.

Why the tears?

Because distilled within those tears were my adolescent hopes, dreams, time investments, etc.

The same is true with college admissions results.

If we apply to a school that we have only investigated on Naviance,

or read about in Newsweek,

and then get denied - oh well, I am out a $60 dollar application fee ( my parent's are, not me) and a couple hours filling out the application.

But if I visit the school, and work my essays over ten times, and interview, and follow-up with email threads, and wear the college's sweatshirt to bed every night, and then get denied - it's a completely different reaction.

Therein lies the rub.

If we plunge our metabollic energies into the college research, selection, and admission process, we may discover in the end, that our efforts were seemingly in vain.

We took a great risk, and instead of a great reward, we suffered a great penalty.

On the flip side, we may experience the euphoria of gambling and hitting the jackpot.

But I guess that's just the deal.

In college admissions.

And in life,

Love anything with great intensity, and there is always the possibility of that love not being reciprocated.

Perhaps this is one of the taproot reasons why more students are looking for the easiest application, and the easiest route to a college destination, is because they fear the hard, the pressure, and the possibility of failure. They don't want to let their parents down. They don't want to see that illusion shatter into a thousand pieces.

So how do we avoid this?

It comes back, I believe to keeping first things first.

If we keep the student at the center of this process, then I submit that the fear will quickly give away to excitement.

Because when a student and family follows the "compass of right fit",

more times than not, the journey is a fulfilling one,

where initial anxiety is supplanted with sustained enthusiasm.

Therefore, it's important then to keep the end goal in mind.

We want our students to plunge themselves into the college process.

Because students who do this are always the most satisfied with the end results.

Where they will leave high school feeling validated for who they are,

and what they can bring to serve and enhance a college community.

Monday, April 11, 2011

The Inevitable Chicken Little Moment

Not long ago I got an email from a distressed colleague.

"What do you do," my friend asked, cutting to the chase, "when a senior comes in after she's been rejected from her top choice and believes her life is over?"

College counselors all dread these moments.

Because what you are dealing with is a minor apocalypse.

A lacerating revelation.

With a cataclysmic end.


No doubt, in those moments, there is nothing to say up front to mitigate the disappointment.

This student's world has orbited for the last year, heck four years, around that one particular school, like the earth revolving around the sun.

And now that sun has imploded,

sending her entire solar system into a state of chaos.

In this line of work, there will always be "chicken little" moments.

Moments where students and families will feel like the sky has fallen.

In late spring, we are showing our juniors and their parents the award-winning documentary film 500 words or less.

Here is the trailer for it.

This is a documentary about 4 seniors who go through the college admission process.

It's a must see for any student, parent, teacher, or coach that works with students in their senior year.

One of the most important questions the film poses involves how are we to responsibly handle the student who gets denied from their dream school.

What do we say?

And not say?

What do we do?

And not do?

Thinking through a positive response to a negative outcome is not something we really want to think seriously about.

All of us on some level would like to believe that we are beyond the vagaries of college admissions.

That our student doesn't have a chink in their armor.

Or a "kryptonite-like weakness".

That somehow all our time, money, and sweat will pay off.

That that A- in Honors Chemistry (the "road less travelled") will make all the difference.

That that project building a Habitat for Humanity home will earn an extra gold star.

That that expensive test prep course will reap benefits.

That our "contributions" or "connections" will come thru.

But in this admission climate,

of record application volume,

and historic low acceptance rates,

there are simply no guarantees at the top of the food chain.

And therefore there will be inevitable heartbreak.

One of the things I've learned is that you have to be proactive and candid earlier and earlier with students about reach school.

When a student comes in with a list of dream schools, for example,

I try not to crush their spirits.

Nobody wants to hear, "You can't get into any of these schools!"

Instead I try to calibrate their expectations.

I encourage them to pick two of their dream schools.

Just not five.

And then I work to help each student shore up the middle.

The more "target" schools,

the better chance that student has not only of getting accepted,

but procuring significant scholarship monies.

It's always a delicate tight rope to walk with students and families,

balancing objectivity and subjectivity,

cautious optimism with veiled skepticism,

always trying to keep the focus squarely on the student

and the schools that are the best fit for them.

I had a mentor once tell me,"Part of your job is for students/parents to leave frowning in the fall (of the senior year) so that they are smiling in the spring."

This is not easy for me.

I'm a "golden retriever" type,

which means I hate those awkward conversations.

I want students and parents to like me.

I want my kids to have the courage to go for it.

But I also don't want my kids to get so mangled by this process that they go limping into college.

I do my students and families a great disservice if I don't speak the truth with grace and love.

The truth may sting early, but it could prevent a gaping wound later.

This student my colleague spoke of,

who earlier got denied from her top school,

she also applied to other schools on the front page of the US News and World Report.

If only she would have been willing to talk about the schools on the second page.

Ultimately, each student and family must decide the path they will take,

and when it doesn't work out as they expected,

that's where we enter back into the storm,

where there are no easy answers,

and no quick fixes,

and no formulaic responses to when a student gets rejected from their top school.

Some things just have to be endured.

But from experience, I've discovered that on the other side of that storm

is a new horizon of possibility.

A new world of opportunity.

And promise.

It's just takes time.

And sometimes an April campus visit to a school that did say Yes.

It's amazing how many times a student who was crestfallen in the spring,

returns in the fall as an alumni,

happy with their college choice,

loving their college experience,

that stormy memory having completely blown away.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Seinfeld and Ivy League Admissions

The word is out on the street.

College Confidential has gone manically viral.

The blogsphere, Facebook, Twitter - they are all burning it up.

And the media - they are devouring these anorexic statistics like ravenous vultures.

Here is one recent segment entitled "Ivy League Letters".

Harvard admits 6.9%.

Stanford 7.1%.

Yale around 7.4%

Even Dartmouth went single digits this year.

Ever seen the "Soup Nazi" episode on Seinfeld?

I can't help but think of this scene when I think of Ivy League admissions.

Why is it that the Ivy League schools grow their business every year through customer dissatisfaction?

It's totally counter intuitive.

Last fall we had Maria Laskaris, Dean of Admission at Dartmouth College, on campus for an event. She was absolutely delightful. She talked about her daughter, a senior in high school. And going through the process as a mom. And how much she loved reading essays from students about their mothers. Ahhhh! But that was in September. In March Laskaris's alter ego takes over. She becomes the "Admission Nazi". "No Ivy for you!"

All joking aside.

What always amazes me is the glaring irony.

Every year more and more students (and parents and college counselors and board members) fall in love with these schools.

And every year these schools do not reciprocate that love.

They spurn. We woo. They spurn. We woo.

And the more these schools spurn, the larger the line is the next year with wooers.

"Pick me!""Pick me!""Pick me!""Pick me!""Pick me!""Pick me!""Pick me""Pick me!""Pick me!"

Nope. Nope. Nope. Nope. Nope. Nope. Nope. Nope. Nope. Nope. Nope. Nope. Maybe.

To see acceptance statistics for Top 50 colleges/universities click here.

The numbers don't lie.

More applications.

Fewer admits.

I wonder now that most of the Ivies (minus Penn and Cornell) are admitting single digits,

how much longer will it be before the "New Ivies" will be admitting single digits as well:

schools like Duke, Northwestern, Wash U, Georgetown, etc.

When is it going to stop? I can't help but ask.

No doubt we're all frustrated.



College counselors.

School communities.

Heck, even alumni interviewers.

A recent Bloomberg article goes so far to interview alumni admission folk who are quitting.

In the meantime, we must all go about helping our students move on to embracing the schools that want them for what they can bring to that school.

And helping our parents find a new bumper sticker to put on their cars.

And helping explain to board members why Joe and Susie Casady with almost perfect ACT scores didn't get into these elite schools.

But ultimately I come back to this.

The Ivies are great schools. No denying that.

But there are so many excellent schools where our students can flourish.

And if you begin with the student and their thumbprint,

and proceed from there to schools and their thumbprint,

there will be many wonderful, validating matches.

Which is my definition of success.

And metric for measuring the health of Casady's college counseling program.

I am reminded today,

that as we near the end of another admission cycle,

we must go back to the beginning.

To remember our mission.

Our telos.

Our goal.

And that is to find the best college fit for each student.