Thursday, August 30, 2012

Show Me the Money!!!!

Every year the question becomes more persistent and pervasive with parents.

Where is the money?

That's code for merit-rewarding schools.

I understand.

The cost of college continues to rise.

That's where I often point again to the pyramid.

The US college landscape is still sharply bifurcated between schools that are need-centered and merit-centered.  Almost all schools, however, have some form of both, it's just that some schools have more of one to offer students.  The good news is that the majority of schools still offer more scholarships based monies based on GPA, test score, leadership, community service, etc.  The bad news is that the minority of schools at the top don't.  They have a lot more of the other.

Take Stanford, for example.  Click here and you will find Stanford's annual Common Data Report.  Scroll down to the financial aid section and you will discover that Stanford had $141 million to give in "need-based" aid, compared to only $6 million in merit-based aid.

Now click here to compare with SMU's Common Data Report.  You will discover that SMU had $59 million to give in "need-based" aid, but $29 million to give in merit aid.

So what kind of merit package can you expect from schools?

The NY Times Choice blog recently provided a list of major colleges and universities that included the 1) cost of tuition/fees, 2) the % of freshman who received a merit aid, and 3) the average merit award.

It's interesting to note how our flagship university, the University of Oklahoma, for example, costs $8,021 (tuition/fees).  12% of the incoming freshman received merit aid, averaging $1940.

Take Baylor, as another example.  Baylor charges $31,658 (tuition/fees), 34% received merit aid, averaging $12,943.

Or Tulane.   Cost $42,729.  36%, however, got a merit package, averaging $20,521. 

Often times our students and families will discover that private institutions (particularly liberal arts colleges) are often able to provide generous merit packages that can make a private education almost as affordable as a state public.

It comes down in the end to "value" decisions.

If a family values the prestige (name) of a school, then they have to be willing to pony up for that brand.  There is enough of a high demand and low supply for that brand name, that families that "want more" merit money are going to be passed over.  Too many people are willing to pay.

If longevity and "stretching out your buck" (undergrad + grad school) is your premium value, then it's wise to look for schools where your student is not only admissible (mid 50% range test score and GPA) but also competitive (top 25% in terms of test score and GPA).

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Harvard, 3-D Glasses, and 2 Challenges for the New SchoolYear

A couple days ago I had a chance to give the UD student body a bit of a pep talk.

Of course my topic was COLLEGE.  shocker.

I started by quickly touching on our program, showing them the flow from start to finish, and how we try to get our students in the pipeline as freshman.

Our mission and aim has been the same the last five years.

To partner with families to discern for each student the best college fit.

This mission always involves a process.  And there is a fluid element to it.

Adolescence are the epitome of fluidity, aren't they?

One day they prefer hip hop music, wear neon Converse, and want to study to become music producers for JZ.

The next day they are into country music, sporting cowboy boots, and aspire to become oil/gas lawyers who wear large cowboy hats and smoke fat cigars like JR on Dallas.

One day it's a small lib arts college in the northeast.

The next day it's a big rah-rah university in the heart of SEC football land.

The end product is not the goal.

It's the process of exploration, discovery, and discernment.


I then switched gears and tried to bring it home (in the 5 minutes allotted) with two challenges.   

First challenge.  Give your teachers visions to narrate in their recommendation letters. 

We forget reasons.

We remember visions.

Ideas drain out of our brains.

Pictures stick like Velcro.

The former appeals to the mind as a debating hall.

The latter appeals to the imagination as a art gallery.

The best letters of recommendation ultimately are from teachers that tell stories that capture moments where the student demonstrated capacities, character, and depth.

It's the student who got a C- on the Billy Budd American literature final in December, but then worked tirelessly to improve their understanding of the literature, and ultimately earned a B+  on the Hawthorne-to-Salinger final in May.

It's the A+ student who took the C- student under the wing after the Billy Budd exam and helped them rally in the second part of the year, going so far as to reading long passages from Steinbeck's Grapes of Wrath as the Joads lurched across Route 66.  

It's the student who rarely speaks up in class, but when they do, everyone holds their breath in hushed reverence to absorb their insight into Hester's heroic virtue or Gatsby's tragic flaw.

Stories resonate.  Word pictures stick.  Narratives detonate, explode, and impact us like grenades.

So write the stories through your words and deeds that your teachers will narrate.

Second challenge.  Embrace this special place.

There is a symbiotic relationship between the individual and culture.

At all moments, the individual is making and shaping the culture they live in, while the culture is simultaneously making and shaping them.

At Casady, we have a long, venerated tradition since 1947 of educating mind, body, and spirit.

Our DNA involves three strands.

We are, in other words, a culture that creates and shapes a three-dimensional kind of person.

The kind of person that when an admission officer reads a Casady student's application, they have to put on 3-D glasses to absorb the breath and width and depth.

For we are scholars.

Lovers of words, ideas, stories, numbers, theories. 

For we are participators.  

In athletics.  In the fine arts.  In student government.  In our civic spheres.  And religious ones. 

And we are architects of repair.

Head-in-heart kind of people who have the courage and compassion to go where injustice has broken things down and bring forth order from chaos.

At the Harvard Institute this summer, Bill Fitzsimmons, the dean of admission at Harvard, provided a room of 500+ college counselors a rare "behind the scenes" look into the significant patterns that emerged in their admission cycle this last year.

In 2012, 34,302 applied to Harvard.

2,032 were admitted.  (Click here to read more about Harvard's admission statistics.)

Of the 5.9% admitted, 60% were in Fitzsimmon's words, "well-rounded" applicants.

3-Der's, in other words.

Mind, Body, and Spirit.

It's always encouraging to be reminded that our DNA, which has only been around since 1947, matches Harvard's DNA, which has been around since 1636.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

College Essay AIMS: The S Stands for...

The S stands for Surprise.

Too often admission officers go into the application with preconceived stereotypes in their minds about an applicant.

High school experiences, coupled with the myriad of teenage pop culture icons from movies like American Pie and hit shows like MTV's Teen Wolf, all color the lens through which we read and filter an application.

We unconsciously reduce, peg, squeeze in, and categorize people.

Especially when an admission officer is reading thousands of applications from teenager students.  

Take for example any application from a student who attends Casady School.

We are an independent school.

What automatically comes to mind? 

Independent School  = spoiled rich kid with helicopter parents who will drop a $1K on test prep and tutors and coaches and specialist.

Independent School = a bubble world of privilege and entitlement.  

Or take the kid whose extracurricular activity chart is rife with athletic accomplishments. 

Athletic = non-intellectual.

Someone who bought their English paper over the symbolic meaning of the letter A in Scarlet Letter from some nerd's blog on the Internet.

Which brings up another stereotype.

The nerd.

That kid who has a full collection of comic book/action hero t-shirts in their closet, reads the dictionary for fun, and spent prom night in the basement playing X-box with their other "stag" buddies.

You get the idea.  (We didn't even broach the topic of racial/ethnic stereotypes - that will be another blog post).

To surprise your reader then is to shatter the stereotype. 

It means to be an iconoclast.  Take that preconceived icon (image) and take a baseball bat to it.

It's the applicant then who goes to the independent school, but has worked a number of mindless/mundane jobs, like the student whose first job involved pulling cow lungs from raw meat.

It's the kid who carries a field jockey stick and physics textbook to their locker every morning.

It's the kid who flies their "nerd flag" with pride, whether leading the cheers at the pep rally, decked out in school color body paint, or who spends their free time trying to develop a water filter with their science teachers, a kind of water filter that could help solve the water crisis in third world countries.

The most compelling and personal college essays always leave the reader saying, "Huh, I never would have guessed that about that kid."

Too often a student will read one-dimensional in their college application.

It will be a "flat, static read" from the first line of the application.

No element of surprise.  

To surprise your admission officer means you reveal that there is more to you than they can see just from test scores, grades, and activity flow charts.