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This Holiday, Will Applicants Get What They Want?

It's December. In two weeks, many of my senior cohort will know the results of their Early applications. Some are realistic and have their possible work for January already done. Others will wait and see. Yes, December is full of anticipation. As counselors and parents, we're bombarded with messages about college, often conflicting. Last week, I listened in on a webinar that addressed the frenzy over elite admissions - and how parents should deal with their applicants. (See below.) Every year, I counsel many high-achieving students, and I don't want them making assumptions about their future based on a decision by a committee. After all, so much of admissions is fueled by situations and priorities that are far out of their control.


Early Notifications: What to Look For Sometime between now and the holidays, but most likely the week of December 10, thousands of applicants will find out out Early results. Most decisions announced in December are for Early Decision (or ED I) and not Early Action, with some notable exceptions, including Georgia, Tulane, Fordham and UChicago. The applicant's job is to watch their portal for word on when decisions will be released and otherwise stay distracted. The parents' role is to show support and not fuel anxiety. That's what matters! (See below.) Every year is different, as I always tell families. Colleges that have cut top applicants in December one year may seem to defer many the next. We have to remind ourselves that they're running businesses, taking chances but wanting to fill seats as soon as possible with the best students they can get. If your applicant is deferred, have them reach out, and I'll help them understand when and how to communicate with admissions.


(A Smattering of) Mattering The other night, I joined an audience of about 3,000 listeners for "Rethinking Achievement Culture and the College Search." In the webinar, education journalist Jeff Selingo interviewed Jennifer Wallace, author of Never Enough: When Achievement Culture Becomes Toxic - and What We Can Do About it. I had been reading about Wallace, noting the irony of a CNBC release not too long ago. After all, she's an educational specialist who's labeled a "Harvard-trained parenting expert," but her message is to not get caught up in brand-name colleges! On the webinar, Wallace discussed how she downplays colleges with her three kids, including a senior applicant. Are we to expect that the son of a Harvard-trained author will be deferred or denied from his top-choice college? Cynicism aside, some of the discussion could not have been more relevant to unCommon and area families, who have sky-high expectations for their students. Wallace's important points included:

  • “To get curious, not furious, when it comes to [not engaging in the] college search.” That comment is geared toward parents who see their student's college-related efforts as lacking energy or follow-up. (Counselors deal with this, too, believe me!)

  • How to go to college” not “where to go to college.” Now that's great advice by Wallace. Students arrive on campus, but are they prepared for the experience, let alone ready to maximize it?

  • How to matter on campus - interesting! What parent wants to see their child lost in the crowd and not using their strengths while taking advantage of the many opportunities?

Now if we could please end the use of that awful word (i.e., mattering as a noun)?


On Wisconsin! Takes on New Meaning During the webinar, Selingo, Wallace and those in the chat were discussing what colleges CEOs attended. We were informed that the most popular college among U.S. executives was a favorite of this blogger: the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

You've heard me say it before: U Wisconsin-Madison just might be the happiest campus around. So it's no shock that out-of-state enrollment has soared 57 percent since 2015, when the state lifted the enrollment cap. Administrators should be jumping around!


Liberal Arts and Careers: Not Mutually Exclusive Should students at elite liberal arts institutions not be overly concerned about career prep? Now, even Brown is saying no way. As featured in Hechinger, Bruno has a new Center for Career Exploration staffed with twice as many advisors as it used in the past. It's come a long way from the library-style browsing some of us did.

At William & Mary, the career center also doubled its staff, while WashU has “career communities” focused on “business; arts, design and media; healthcare and sciences; government policy and social impact; technology, data and engineering; and 'career exploration,' for students who haven’t yet settled on a field.” With the focus on careers, an important component of the liberal arts, world languages, isn't faring so well. In AXIOS, we learn that enrollment in language programs dropped over 16 percent between 2016 and 2022! Mon dieu! As the article explains, language fluency is associated with creativity, job access and interpersonal communication. Among the few winners is Korean, up 38 percent, while German is down the most, with 33 percent fewer enrollments.


Are CS Programs Crashing? STEM the Tide! We hear it enough: the world needs more talented STEM students. But there's a problem: the majors at some colleges are overcrowded, and applicants just might get cut! According to Inside Higher Ed, great institutions like Michigan are responding by adding faculty and requesting that CS majors do a separate application. U-M is looking to evaluate holistically, noting its criteria: “dedication to service, an ability and desire to work collaboratively on teams, and consideration of the impact of computing in the context of the broader world.” Meanwhile, Northeastern only allows qualifying students access to higher-level courses. While other universities try to figure out an approach, the mighty University of Florida just opened the $150 million Malachowsky Hall for Data Science & Information Technology, thanks to funding from Nvidia and the State of Florida.

As noted in Venture Beat, "It will serve as a hub for advancing computing, communication, and cyber technologies and further support UF’s work to integrate AI across the curriculum."


Transferring? WashU All in on the Liberal Arts Kudos to WashU. This university known for premeds and researchers is showing its commitment to the liberal arts in another way. Starting in 2024, WashU is accepting spring transfers but only if students are set on attending its College of Arts & Sciences.

Also, WashU - can they get enough good mentions in a single blog post - is bolstering student writing. I recently stumbled across some great writing workshops that are part of Arts & Sciences, including Writing for the Conversation, "an excellent opportunity to practice writing for general audiences," and Writing About AI for General Audiences.


Small Talk Proves No Small Task for Students According to the Wall Street Journal, today's college students don't understand the art of conversation. We find out that "colleges are teaching elementary chitchat skills to students who are woefully behind in the basics." Author Tara Weiss interviewed profs at Caltech, Richmond and others to find out about interventions, including writing cover letters, delivering elevator pitches, and even practicing the art of the business lunch. Bon appétit!


Happy Holidays (from Your Friends at Open AI) Recently, I read a Forbes article by Brendan Barnard, the director of college counseling at Khan Lab School, about the reality of using AI in college admissions. Barnard looked at a study by Penn and CU Boulder researchers, who found that when AI was used to review 300,000 admissions essays, "human ratings and computer-generated likelihoods of personal qualities were similar across subgroups.” Yet the study's authors, along with admissions people Barnard interviewed from Rose-Hulman and Dickinson, believed that AI would continue to supplement and not replace the human touch. State the researchers, "No algorithm can decide what the goals of a university’s admissions process should be or what personal qualities matter most for that community.” Meanwhile, a former Michigan administrator saw potential of AI to "increase capacity [of admissions reviews]."


The holidays are for you and your family, but January is a great time to meet! Don't hesitate to get in touch.


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