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Parents of College Applicants: Your Student's Road to College is Now Even More Confusing

With so much misinformation, how can your student construct a college list?


"Congratulations! You're an applicant now!"That's what I often tell high school juniors in their spring advisory meetings. After all, May 1 is officially National Decision Day, marking the end of most seniors' journeys and the beginning for students in the junior class. Unfortunately, many seniors around the country are still in limbo because of a federal disaster (i.e., FAFSA), making it impossible for them to compare offers of financial aid. At the same time, the process for juniors begins without much clarify, as I've reported in recent blog posts. And parents? They're bound to be confused, particularly if they read articles like those cited below. Let's see what all the confusion is about, unCommon style. 

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What's in a Name? Try Asking the Media.

Every meeting with a new family includes a conversation about the purpose of college. Specifically, are they looking for prestige, academic knowledge, networking opportunities or career preparation (or maybe all those things)? If you believe research reported by Bloomberg, "prestige doesn't always pay."


Their headline: "If You Didn't Get Into [name of Ivy college], a Public School is the Better Investment." It's Bloomberg's way of repurposing work done by Georgetown's Center on Education and the Workforce, which looked at salaries of professionals who had begun their studies 10 years prior and had received federal financial aid.


Their conclusion: many excellent private institutions don't offer as good a return on investment as public research institutions. (There happen to be 63 of these Hidden Ivies, as categorized in a 2016 book.) Readers are told that "elite private institutions like Vassar College and Oberlin College," respectively, "return 18% and a whopping 85% less than the median ROI of all public schools analyzed.” So parents, are you ready to steer your student away from some very incredible programs and instead toward public research institutions, knowing their application volume has skyrocketed? Moreover, should you believe an individual cited in the article who tells you, “If you get into an Ivy, the ROI is going to be great”? To be fair, Bloomberg does go on to interview more than just disgruntled students, including experts who look beyond branding and into programs rather than just the college. But you get the idea.


Vassar: a Hidden Ivy with a low ROI, or a center of interdisciplinary learning?

Equally as concerning is a piece I spotted the other day on forbes.com: Employers Are Souring on Ivy League Grads, While These 20 'New Ivies' Ascend. Tell me: what exactly is a New Ivy? (The Ivy League was made official in 1954 as a sports conference. Will the New Ivies competing against each other?) We learn that Forbes surveyed its own subscribers and found that 33 percent of those individuals were less likely to hire from the eight Ivies than they were five years ago.Moreover, the author asks: "So if the Ivies aren’t the Ivies anymore, which schools exactly are?" She develops her list in part by using standardized test scores from 2022, a test-optional year, resulting in Forbes' Public Ivies and New Private Ivies.My purpose in calling out Forbes is not to denigrate any reasonably named category, especially when it includes public institutions. When I use the phrase public research university, it's so families understand the ramifications of applying to hugely popular universities that restrict out-of-state students. 


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For the English Majors, What are the Payoffs? If you believe a subgroup of the Modern Language Association, which clearly wasn't interviewed by Bloomberg or Forbes, English majors are in a good place. Inside Higher Ed recapped a few reports that showed humanities majors' salaries just under other those of other majors and such majors. A survey showed that "84 percent of humanities graduates are satisfied with their jobs and 78 percent believe they are living their best possible life." But it asserts that "the responsibility of the [English] department' is "to help students navigate their early stage of careers and help them understand typical career trajectories for English majors.”


What's an English major without a library? At Davidson, they’re rethinking the future thanks to gifts of $60 million and $25 million from a nonprofit and philanthropist, respectively. As explained in Inside Higher Ed, the funds will address "the global question of how a library, with a deep collection of physical books, reimagines itself in a digital age."


Davidson seeks to create the library of the future.

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The ACT Strikes Back!

Since March, followers of standardized testing have focused on the new, digital adaptive SAT, sponsored by College Board, our favorite nonprofit. Somehow, we knew the battle for testing market share wouldn't end there. Fueled by investment from Nexus Capital Management, rival ACT is now a public benefit corporation. In a release, we learn that "ACT will be able to deliver holistic readiness credentials and more precisely connect students and job seekers to institutions of higher education and employers." 


As if they haven't bitten off more than they can chew, ACT is about to try out - you guessed it - a shorter, automated version of its classic test, telling us, "During the June 2024 test event, ACT will be conducting a special college-reportable study in online test rooms that will provide you an opportunity to take an ACT® test with fewer questions, and more time per question.” As if your students aren't already anxious enough about testing, they must "agree to additional conditions in order to test online."


Should your students take this version that ACT deems "college-reportable"? States Anna Gazumyan-Silverman, test-prep pro, "We will never see the shorter test format because they won't release it. I don't know the format so I don't know how to advise my kids on pacing. Until I have better info, not exploring or recommending it. There is no harm in a curious student taking the pilot ACT; it’s just not guaranteed that they’d even get that test since ACT will be randomly assigning it."


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Test-Optional or Not?

Citing research involving its own faculty, Harvard has joined the list of institutions mandating testing for 2024-25. In an announcement, Harvard responds to the criticism that requiring tests favors students with the means to afford prep by telling us, "But the data reveal that other measures — recommendation letters, extracurriculars, essays — are even more prone to such biases. Considering standardized test scores is likely to make the admissions process at Harvard more meritocratic while increasing socioeconomic diversity.” Thanks, Harvard, for taking a slap at teachers as you rationalize your mandates. Maybe you'll have fewer apps to read!



Meritocratic Harvard accepted 4 percent of applicants this year.

Then Cornell announced its new policy: test-recommended for 2024-25, then test-mandatory for 2025-26: Though standardized test scores are imperfect measures of a student’s aptitude and potential, the data suggests that when taken in context, these scores provide valuable insights into a student’s potential for academic success while at Cornell."

Tests are recommended for Cornell applicants.

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After this update and commentary, you may be exhausted. Let May breathe fresh air into your college process. For help along the way, be sure to reach out.

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