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Colleges Have Adjusted Their Supplements

Does your applicant know what to do?


For seniors and their parents, going back to school makes the college process very real. I have also challenged them to finish up applications and get on with the other business of senior year. And underclassmen? They know the year is something to take seriously. Whatever your situation, there's always something to learn. So here's college admissions, back-to-school style.

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The Supplement: Never More Important If a college has a supplemental essay of any decent word count, especially about their curriculum, mission or community, you bet it's important. With the recent Supreme Court decision on affirmative action, many colleges have adjusted their supplemental essay questions to understand how students have overcome hardships and made contributions to their communities. At Northwestern, the supplements are clearly more important than the Personal Essay - so much so that Huskies have made the Personal Essay optional, not the norm for a highly selective university. Leave it to Northwestern to flip the model:

โ€œWe also know there may be information or qualities not covered in our supplemental questions that you see as important to your application. To that end, we welcomeโ€”but by no means expectโ€”your submission of a personal essay or additional information in the Common Application.โ€ Northwestern, by the way, accepted just 7 percent of its most recent applicant pool.

"We want to be sure weโ€™re considering your application in the context of your personal experiences." -Northwestern Admissions

Legacy Admissions: Who Said Anything Was Fair? In the last post, I mentioned how tired we all are of hearing about legacy admissions, not to mention how misinformed writers seem to be about the practice. This Forbes article draws attention to the vast wealth of colleges like Amherst and Hopkins that have denounced legacy privilege and made a point of promoting programs for lower-income families. However, as Forbes points out: "Without state funding, private universities are more reliant on tuition and private donations and investment income from their endowmentsโ€”which represent past donor gifts, compounded by investment returns." We learn that Penn is now downplaying legacy status on its site; instead of saying that legacies get the โ€œmost consideration,โ€ they now tell us: โ€œLegacies who apply to Pennโ€”like all applicantsโ€”receive thorough consideration in the application process." We don't suppose Penn tells legacy parents their acceptance rate . . . The title of the article: "Kids of alumni get special treatment at 80 percent of America's top colleges." This is a sweeping generalization. Not all legacy children - and legacy applicants - are treated equally.

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Planning a Wedding? Don't Forget the Mascot! What would a wedding be without a bride, groom . . . and college mascot! According to the Wall Street Journal, those wearing fuzzy suits earn about $300 an hour to do the special off-campus gigs. By the way, there's a Mascot Hall of Fame, the recent inductees to which include Syracuse's Otto the Orange, who made appearances at 800 on- and off-campus events last year. Sometimes the student wearing the costume doesn't get the cash; it may go toward costume upkeep or school spirit initiatives.

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What's $10,000 to an Undergrad? Is it worth it for colleges to pay students to sit out a semester? Lovely Middlebury thinks so. Apparently, the volume of students going back to the Vermont campus after Covid just got too big to handle, so Middlebury offered 30 upperclassmen $10,000 to take fall semester off. However, the decision didn't sit well with faculty, who voiced concerns about students missing opportunities to take courses or losing their motivation entirely during their paid leave.


No supplemental essay for Middlebury, which took a record-low 11 percent in 2022-23.

Flagship Spending Goes Wild!

Who's watching the bottom line at many of the nation's flagship universities? Recently the WSJ looked into spending at public research universities and found that spending was up an average of 38 percent from 2002 to 2022. Moreover, the cost for an average student was up 64 percent, "far outpacing the growth in most big household expenses." The Journal cited spending in all sorts of categories, including technology, dorms, stadiums and, yes, administration. (Salaries and benefits rose 40 percent during the period.) After scholarships, in-state students at Penn State's University Park apparently paid the most.



Give it up for the Nittany Lions!

After the WSJ report, some flagships called for more transparency. (How about they appoint extra administrators to financial committees?)

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Omaha! Who's Your Favorite Professor of the Practice? I became acquainted with the title Professor of the Practice during my spring trip to Brown. I met two Incredible Brown alums with that title who had returned to Providence; one who teaches the most popular course on campus and runs the Nelson Center for Entrepreneurship and the other leads a course about organizational decision-making. Little did I know that my favorite QB, Peyton Manning, would receive that very same title from his alma mater, the University of Tennessee. In a release, the Volunteers reported that Manning will team with faculty in Tennessee's College of Communication and Information. Manning already supports a Tennessee scholarship and donated $1 million for experiential learning in 2018.



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Pay to Play (Literally) I'm often asked, "What should [my student] be doing for college?" In its Personal Finance section, the WSJ shared that "Spending on sports, coding classes, music lessons and other pursuits has risen not just because of inflation, but the need to stand out among peers." This raises issues about planning, budgeting and, of course, inequity. But here's the thing: How much do those extracurriculars really matter? You know my answer, which is that no student needs a long resume featuring high-cost programs and activities. Instead, your student should find their niche and do what they love, whether or not it's related to their perspective major.

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Happy Labor Day! Thanks for working hard to support your students. And for application or back-to-school advice, set up a meeting.



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