May 30, 2011

Local Colleges React to Changes in the Yellow Ribbon Program

Effective August 1, 2011, the Yellow Ribbon program will undergo major changes affecting benefits available to student-veterans enrolled in local colleges and universities.

The Post-9/11 Veterans Education Assistance Improvements Act of 2010 effectively simplifies tuition and fee rates for those attending public schools and creates a national maximum for those enrolled in private or foreign postsecondary institutions.

Eligible student-veterans can now look forward to receiving:

  • all public school in-state tuition and fees OR

  • up to $17,500 per academic year for a private school.

Under the Yellow Ribbon Program, institutions voluntarily enter agreements with the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to make funds available without additional charge to GI Bill entitlement. Colleges specify both the amount available and total number of students covered by their programs—typically on a first come, first served basis. The VA then matches the agreed-upon amount and makes payments directly to the institution.

For the 2011-12 academic year, colleges and universities have the opportunity to fund tuition expenses exceeding $17,500 per student. For 2010-11, the rate was $7,100.

And the new rules will be huge for some students. For example, thanks to the revised payment schedule, almost all student-veterans in George Washington’s Yellow Ribbon program will be earning their degrees tuition free.

While tuition has been fully covered for undergrad student-veterans at GW since 2009, this fall most GW grad students will also be able to attend the university tuition free. Between the base rate and the maximum amount GW will contribute and the VA will match, grad students will be able to receive a total of up to $27,740 in tuition support—well above the average Columbia College of Arts and Sciences graduate program tuition.

For undergrads, GW will contribute up to $17,500 per student per year, which will be matched by the VA and added to the base rate of up to $17,500 per student per year.

This year, more than 500 student-veterans enrolled at GW, including more than 260 who are taking advantage of the Yellow Ribbon program. In the fall, there will be no cap on the number of graduate Yellow Ribbon students the university will support. There will be a 150-student cap for undergrads—a number well above projected enrollment.

With the implementation of the new GI Bill changes, the George Mason Yellow Ribbon program will provide up to $1000 in contributions on a first come, first served basis to a maximum of 50 out-of-state undergraduate and graduate students (excludes law students), which will be matched by the VA. All in-state students will have their tuition and fees paid in full by the VA.

The VA recently announced a preliminary list of participating programs for 2011-12 and continues to process and update the list as additional institutions sign on.

In Virginia, Bridgewater College, Eastern Mennonite University, Ferrum College, GMU, Marymount University, Shenandoah University, Randolph-Macon College, and VCU are among the schools with active Yellow Ribbon programs. Additionally, Catholic University, GW, Trinity Washington, Goucher, the Johns Hopkins School of Nursing, St. John’s College, Hood, and Mount St. Mary’s University have approved programs.

For more information and the complete list of participating institutions, visit the VA website and search for the Yellow Ribbon program.

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

May 28, 2011

Virginia Tech’s School of Architecture & Design Continues to Rank Highly with DesignIntelligence

Once again, the Virginia Tech School of Architecture & Design was among a select group of programs recognized in the 12th annual America’s Best Architecture & Design Schools study conducted by DesignIntelligence in conjunction with the Greenway Group.

In the only national college rankings focused exclusively on design, Tech’s Landscape Architecture undergraduate program tied for third among programs accredited by the Landscape Architectural Accreditation Board (LAAB). Tech’s graduate program in Landscape Architecture—offered both in Blacksburg and the National Capital Region—tied for fourth with the University of Virginia, Cornell, and the University of Pennsylvania.

The DesignIntelligence survey tapped professional practice leaders who have direct experience hiring and evaluating the performance of recent architecture and design graduates. For the four professions surveyed—architecture, landscape architecture, industrial design, and interior design—a total of 226 organizations participated included in the study which analyzes which college and university programs have best prepared students for professional practice.

“At university, students’ experiences can significantly enhance or diminish their interests as well as their likelihood for success,” said James Cramer, chairman of the Greenway Group. “This gives schools both tremendous opportunity and huge responsibility, since what happens in them has the potential to change the careers of individuals as well as the architecture profession as a whole.”

Tech’s architecture program once again ranked fourth among undergraduate programs accredited by the National Architectural Accrediting Board (NAAB) and figured prominently in all areas of the independent architectural skills assessment.

In addition to the undergraduate program, Tech also offers an MS in Architecture and a PhD in Architecture and Design Research. The school also offers continuing education courses in architecture and design for alums as well as summer workshops for high school students interested in learning more about the field.

The top ten undergraduate architecture programs according to DesignIntelligence:

1. Cornell University
2. Syracuse University
3. Rice University
4. Virginia Tech
4. California Polytechnic State University
6. Southern California Institute of Architecture
7. Carnegie Mellon
7. University of Texas at Austin
9. Pratt Institute
9. University of Southern California

And the top ten undergraduate landscape programs.

1. Louisiana State University
2. Texas A & M University
3. Virginia Tech
3. Purdue University
3. University of Georgia
6. Ball State University
6. Pennsylvania State University
8. California Polytechnic State University
8. Cornell University
8. Iowa State University
8. Kansas State University
8. University of California at Davis.

More information on the DesignIntelligence study may be found on its website.

Photo courtesy of Flickr:SharedFerret

May 27, 2011

A 'Second Chance' at the Easiest Scholarship Competition Yet

Any college-bound senior can enter. All that’s required is a ten-question multiple-choice quiz. And the quiz is “open book.”

Through one of the more unique national scholarship competitions still available for this year, the American Fire Sprinkler Association (AFSA) is offering a second “second chance” to win $1000.

Here’s how it works:

  • Start by reading the “Fire Sprinkler Essay” about automatic fire sprinklers.
    Hint: print out the essay for later use.

  • Complete the registration page by clicking on the “Take Test Now” button. It requires pretty basic information like name, address, birth date, high school, and year of graduation. Income or financial need does NOT count for this contest.

  • Take the quiz by selecting answers based on the essay you already read. Because this is an “open book” test, you can refer back to your printout or use the essay text online to find correct answers.

  • Click on the “submit” button. You will receive immediate notification of questions answered incorrectly and a chance to correct your answers. Do it.

  • Click on the “submit” button again.

Once you submit your answers, you will receive final score notification. For each question answered correctly, you receive one entry into a drawing for one of the scholarships. Ten entries are possible if you answer all questions correctly. Really, it’s that simple!

Note that you will only be allowed to take the quiz once. Any attempt to try twice with a different name or address will result in automatic disqualification.

Winners are not selected based on financial need, and students intending to attend trade school or a 2-year accredited associate degree program are welcome to apply. But all entries must be received by no later than noon on August 24, 2011.

In addition to the online competition, several state AFSA chapters offer additional scholarships through separate essay contests. The Virginia Chapter annually awards 6 prizes totaling $3050.

This year’s prizes went to Kelsey Tripp of William Byrd High School, Morgan Middlefield of West Springfield High, and Cindy Han of Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology.

The bottom line for the AFSA is that you learn something about fire sprinklers. The scholarships are just a sweet incentive.

May 25, 2011

Get a Grip on Senioritis

It usually strikes some time shortly after seniors receive college acceptance letters. For those with early decisions, it may occur mid-December. But for most, symptoms of senioritis coincide with the first spring flowers and reach fever pitch by the time the last Advanced Placement test has been completed.

And judging by the level of activity in my suburban DC neighborhood—before, after, and during school hours—it seems that a significant number of local college-bound seniors are succumbing to advanced stages of what can be a crippling disease.

Although easy to catch, senioritis is hard to cure. Symptoms include skipping class, neglected homework, failed tests, and way too many lapses in judgment or integrity. You can chart outcomes on a graph: as absenteeism increases, grades decline.

In extreme cases, a strong dose of discipline is required as students mindlessly indulge in troublesome behaviors including but not limited to pranks, truancy, and substance abuse.

And there are consequences. Colleges accept students on the condition that grades and behavior will remain acceptable.

Decision letters contain carefully worded statements that usually read, “Your admission is contingent on continued successful performance,” meaning the last official part of your application process will involve a review of your final transcript as well as a report from your guidance counselor. Failure to live up to expectations can have a number of very painful results such as

  • a rescinded offer of admission,

  • placement on academic probation before you even start college, or

  • a reduction in merit-based financial aid.

No kidding, it happens.

The National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) reports that 1 in 5 or about 22 percent of colleges surveyed revoked offers in 2009—up from 21 percent in 2008. And the average number of offers revoked more than doubled from 10 to 23 per school in 2009.

Sadly, colleges have more incentive than ever to take back an offer. With record-breaking applicant pools, unexpectedly high yields, and huge waitlists, schools have lots of enthusiastic applicants happy to take the places of previously-admitted students who dropped key academic classes, let grades slip, or otherwise got in trouble.

UVa invited several thousand students to be on their wait list and not all have been released yet. You can bet a bunch of those kids would jump at the opportunity to grab a spot regardless of how it becomes available.

Most seniors will finish the year knowing they’ve completed a job well-done. This warning is not for you.

For those who haven’t quite managed to turn in your last three English assignments, please come home from the beach now…

May 23, 2011

College Advice that's Not Exactly Unbiased

It seems that everyone wants a piece of the college advising action. The New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Forbes—virtually all the print media giants have dedicated well-paid staff to patrolling the college beat for tidbits of news and sources of advice.

But it’s not always too easy to discern the motivations behind all the media attention to the college admissions process, particularly when financial entanglements stand to bias information provided.

Take, for example, how the relationship between Hobsons and College Confidential has begun to have an impact on the nature of the reporting and advice provided by the site.

In recent years, College Confidential (CC), a wildly popular website dedicated to colleges and admissions, began the process of morphing from a global message board fueled by the angst of millions of college-bound students to a seemingly respectable source of college news, information, and advice.

Seeing a potential marketing niche, professional staff started churning out columns which attract a huge and loyal readership already driven to the site by the College Confidential online chat rooms.

But somewhere along the line, College Confidential drifted from being an unbiased source of expert advice to becoming the tool of a much larger and more profit-driven corporate conglomerate. It happened along about the time that Hobsons, a higher education marketing and enrollment management conglomerate, purchased the site.

Last week, CC’s “Ask the Dean” column addressed the issue of which form a student should use to apply to college.

“In days of yore (i.e., about a decade ago, maybe even a couple), 'The Dean' used to insist that a student who really wanted to attend a particular college should use that school’s own application instead of the Common App,” said The Dean with a cute smiley face. “But I’ve long since about-faced on that stance.”

Under the guise of discussing the importance of “demonstrated interest,” The Dean provides a thumbnail explanation lauding the status of the Common App in the application industry and freely calls out exclusive users like Princeton, Stanford, and Yale (note the absence of Harvard which has a long-standing policy of supporting market competition).

The Dean wants students to understand that colleges promise to honor the Common Application “as their own” and describes a situation in which The Dean once “blew the whistle” on a college which seemingly failed to uphold their promise.

In the end, The Dean advises, “In spite of some evidence that not all colleges fully honor their sacred vow to give equal treatment to the Common App, I typically don’t encourage students to use a college-specific application when the option exists.” And why might that be?

Maybe because the Common Application uses Hobsons application technology platform and is just as tied to the company as College Confidential.

Sadly, “The Dean” fails to disclose that both College Confidential and the Common Application have clear financial ties to Hobsons, which controls and patrols social media on behalf of both entities. The advice was hardly unbiased and should have come with one of those conflict-of-interest statements like what NBC usually provides when reporting on General Electric.

The lesson is clear that students and their families need to be smart consumers of information when it comes to college advice. Every now and then, a wolf slips by in sheep’s clothing.

May 21, 2011

2 Area Guidance Counselors among Those Recognized as ‘Counselors That Change Lives’

Just in time for the kick-off of this year’s tour, The Colleges That Change Lives (CTCL) Board of Directors has announced awardees in the third annual “Counselors That Change Lives” program.
Ginger Patron, School and AVID Counselor at Patapsco High School, and Karen Tcheyan, Program Director for CollegeTracks at Wheaton High School, were among the ten public school guidance counselors recognized for their dedication to the college counseling profession.

“We know that these outstanding counselors support our mission to help students frame their search beyond college ratings and rankings,” said Maria Furtado, Chairperson of the CTCL Board and Director of Admissions at Eckerd College. “Too often media stories focus on the negative aspects of the college admissions process and not enough on the individuals who are true to the counseling profession and change the lives of students each and every day.”

Counselors were nominated by colleges in the 40-member CTCL organization. Each nominee was considered in light of the work he or she does to help students and families in the college admissions process.

“Karen Tcheyan embraces the spirit in which CTCL was started—finding the right fit for hardworking students,” wrote Heidi Reingel of McDaniel College. “Karen doesn’t stop caring after her students finalize their college choice. She helps them with their summer reading assignments and keeps in touch with them throughout their college careers to ensure a healthy transition and ultimately, academic success!”

Other counselors receiving special recognition include Emily Berty, Kirkwood High School, MO; Steffanie Gentile, Clark Montessori School, OH; Daniel Gin, Niles West High School, IL; Adam Kendis, North Star Academy Charter School of Newark, NJ; Stacy Lightfoot, Chattanooga School for The Arts and Sciences, TN; Jim Montague, Boston Latin School, MA; Margaret Smith, Chattanooga School of the Arts and Sciences, TN; Jeff Stahlman, New Albany High School, OH; and Jean Whalen, Pine Richland High School, PA.

The awardees will be recognized on the CTCL website and at a special reception at the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) annual conference, which will take place in September.

May 20, 2011

Private Colleges are Diverse, Affordable, Involved, and Offer Personal Attention to Students

The National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities (NAICU) recently published a “national profile” of the more than 1,600 independent colleges and universities in the United States. And not surprisingly, they’re all about the advantages of a private postsecondary education.

For the record, this group includes traditional liberal arts colleges, major research universities, church- and faith-related institutions, historically black colleges and universities, and women’s colleges as well as schools of law, medicine, engineering, art, business and other professions—an interesting mix of which may be found within the 10-mile boundaries of the District of Columbia.
Here are a few facts compiled by NAICU:

  • More than 1,600 independent colleges and universities in the US enroll 3.7 million students

  • These institutions range in size from fewer than 100 to more than 45,000, with an average student population of about 2,300

  • Approximately one-third of all undergrads at 4-year private colleges are minority students—about the same as at public institutions

  • 43% of all private nonprofits are located in either the mid-Atlantic (22%) or southeast (21%) regions of the US

  • 75% of these schools are located in cities (51%) or suburbs (24%)

  • In 2010-11, the average annual tuition and fees for private colleges and universities came to $27,293—more than a quarter posted average tuition and fees between $10,000 and $20,000 per year

  • According to the most recent data available, 89 percent of students attending private postsecondary institutions received some form of financial aid, and the average aid for these students was close to $22,000

  • Average student-faculty ratio is 12:1 as opposed to 16:1 at public 4-year institutions

  • Each year, more than 1.7 million undergrads at private colleges and universities volunteer in their communities

  • Although independent colleges enroll almost 20 percent of all students, they award nearly 30 percent of all degrees

  • 79% of students receiving a bachelor’s degree from a 4-year independent college or university were able to complete in 4 years or less as compared with 49 percent of grads from public institutions

  • 70% percent of students who are the first in their families to attend college earn a degree within 6 years at a private institutions as compared to 57 percent at a public 4-year college or university

  • Independent colleges and universities produced two-thirds of the 32 American Rhodes Scholars for 2011 and 60% of the US Fulbright Fellows

Much of this is worth considering if you’re among those students just beginning the process of sizing up colleges and universities for that all-important “fit.”

You may download the entire report or order a free copy of the print edition, by visiting the NAICU website.

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

May 18, 2011

List of Colleges Still Accepting Applications for 2011 Grows to 354

Sometimes institutions miscalculate enrollment numbers and sometimes late applications are built into a “rolling” system of admissions. Regardless of the reason, 354 of the 1200 members of the National Association for College Admissions Counseling (NACAC), report that space is still available for freshmen or transfer students in the fall of 2011.

Up from an original list of about 280, the current group of colleges and universities represents a wide array of academic interest, size, and geographic location, including several in the DC area. And many also have housing and financial aid available.

If you continue—for whatever reason—to be considering additional college options, take a look at a few of these wonderful schools:

  • Bridgewater College, VA: Offers a minor in Equine Studies through the Department of Health and Exercise Science. An equestrian team practices in a fabulous year-round riding and training facility.

  • Cedar Crest College, PA: Considered one of the top 10 women’s colleges in the country by Forbes Magazine. And the Cedar Crest forensic science program is one of VERY few accredited by the American Academy of Forensic Science.

  • Centre College, KY: Hot glass blowing classes are conducted by Stephen Powell, an internationally acclaimed artist and member of the faculty. The studio—a converted railroad shed—features a furnace that heats clear glass to more than 2,000 degrees. You don’t have to be an art major to take his classes!

  • Drew University, NJ: Located on 186 wooded acres in suburban Madison, this campus is just 30 miles from New York City where students routinely engage in amazing internship opportunities. The semester in New York program provides for-credit seminars that immerse students in Manhattan’s most sought-after career fields.

  • Eckerd College, FL: Many residence halls are located right on the waterfront and water sports—sailing, windsurfing, canoeing, kayaking or kiteboarding—are a short walk down a sandy beach. Marine Science and Environmental Studies are HUGE here! Students are definitely invited to THINKOUTSIDE.

  • Fairleigh-Dickinson, NJ: A former Vanderbilt estate nestled in the residential suburbs of north central New Jersey, the College at Florham offers majors in film & animation, entrepreneurial studies, hotel and restaurant management as well as criminology and creative writing.

  • Hood College, MD: Located within the Frederick-Washington-Baltimore triangle, Hood offers amazing internship opportunities in both government and the corporate world.

  • New College of Florida: Faculty members assess (grade) coursework, independent study projects, tutorials, and other activities for academic credit through narrative evaluations. And it works! This year, NCF has six Fulbright Scholars, one of whom hails from the DC area and studies giraffes.

  • Rider University, NJ: Offers an interdisciplinary program in global supply chain management. Students gain hands-on experience through a required co-op or internship experience. And graduates are very much in demand.

  • Ringling College of Art and Design, FL: All students receive a brand new, high-end notebook computer for the duration of their studies which is fully loaded with software and supported by IT staff. In addition to more traditional art and design pursuits, Ringling offers instruction in computer graphics, 3D modeling, animation, digital imaging, and multimedia production. Pixar actively recruits from among these grads.

  • Ripon College, WI: One of Ripon’s most valued teaching environments, the Ceresco Prairie Conservancy offers 130 acres of native prairie, oak savanna and wetland habitat for study, research, and recreation. And the cycling team received $25,000 Pepsi Refresh grant to construct single-track mountain bike trails in the wooded sections of the Conservancy.

  • Shenandoah University, VA: In addition to amazing undergrad programs in nursing and respiratory care, Shenandoah houses a world-class conservatory. And every undergrad gets a brand new MacBook Pro!

  • Susquehanna University, PA: One of the many facets of the new Central Curriculum, is a required cross-cultural experience. Some students fulfill their Global Opportunities (GO) requirement by studying abroad while others may choose to take shorter trips or devise their own programs.

  • Trinity Washington University, DC: Founded over a century ago as the nation’s first Catholic liberal arts college for women, Trinity is enriched by the resources of our nation’s capital—from internships in Congressional offices to research at NIH. Students are welcome to take classes at any of the major area universities through the DC Consortium of Universities.

  • University of Tampa, FL: The National Council of State Boards of Nursing named UT a No. 1 nursing program out of 1686 in the country based on NCLEX-RN results—100% of UT’s grads passed on the first try!

  • University of Mary Washington, VA: The Historic Preservation department offers an interdisciplinary Museum Studies Minor. UMW’s three museums support this minor with internship opportunities or students are free to travel into DC and work at any of the Smithsonian’s many museums for credit.

The NACAC “Space Available” list will remain on the NACAC website until July 1, 2011.

May 17, 2011

Local Colleges Receive Presidential Recognition for Community Service

The much-anticipated 2010 President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll was announced last week by the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS). And many local colleges and universities were among the 641 recognized for their support of volunteering, service-learning, and civic engagement, including Virginia’s Emory & Henry College—one of only 11 national “Finalists” for the highest award.

“As members of the class of 2011 cross the stage to pick up their diplomas, more and more will be going into the world with a commitment to public service,” said Patrick A. Corvington, chief executive officer of the CNCS. “We salute all the Honor Roll awardees for embracing their civic mission and providing opportunities for their students to tackle tough national challenges through service.”

More than 850 institutions applied for the 2010 Honor Roll—a nine percent increase over last year. CNCS, which has administered the Honor Roll since 2006, named 511 colleges and universities to the Honor Roll based on their impact on community-based issues ranging from literacy and neighborhood revitalization to supporting at-risk youth.

Among these, only six schools were named Presidential Awardees including Augsburg College, San Francisco State University, St. Mary’s University, Rollins College, Loyola of Chicago, and California State University.

One of the 2010 “Finalists,” Emory and Henry earned the Presidential Award in 2009 for a series of projects designed to increase living standards among residents of surrounding rural communities. The college has continued its commitment to civic engagement and service-learning with an emphasis on “empowering individuals and groups to generate solutions from within the community.”

On campuses all over the country, millions of college students are engaged in innovative projects to meet local needs, often using the skills learned in classrooms. They also bring with them an increasing dedication to volunteerism inspired by high school community service activities.

In 2009, 3.2 million college students dedicated more than 307 million hours of service to communities across the country, valued at more than $6.4 billion. Undergraduate volunteers provided meals, created parks, rebuilt homes after disasters, conducted job training, ran senior service projects, and much more.

Area colleges named to the Honor Roll with Distinction included Mary Baldwin College, the College of William & Mary, and Washington and Lee University.

American University, Georgetown, George Washington, the University of the District of Columbia, Loyola of Maryland, St. Mary’s College of Maryland, Towson, UMBC, the Maryland Institute of Art, James Madison University, Marymount University, the University of Mary Washington, Hollins University, Virginia Commonwealth University, Virginia Tech, the University of Richmond, Bluefield College, Lynchburg College, and Roanoke College were among the local schools earning Honor Roll status.

CNCS oversees the Honor Roll in collaboration with the US Department of Housing and Urban Development, Campus Compact, and the American Council on Education. Honorees were chosen based on a number of factors including the scope and innovation of service projects, the extent to which service-learning is embedded in the curriculum, school commitment to campus-community partnerships, and measurable community outcomes.

For a full list of recipients and descriptions of their service, visit the CNCS website.

May 16, 2011

Staying Ahead in the Financial Aid Game

Even though the clock is ticking down, there are still ways to stay ahead in the financial aid game. With a few properly-executed “plays,” you can definitely have an impact on what financial aid is offered and how close it comes to meeting your needs.

  • Complete the FAFSA. Even if you missed state and/or institutional priority deadlines, you should still complete a FAFSA as soon as possible. Yes, most schools have already allocated their funds. But if there is anything left over, they may try to accommodate late filers. And even if a school has distributed all its own aid, applicants remain eligible for federal loans and Pell grants. Do it NOW. If you need a little help beyond the information provided on the FAFSA website, check out 7 Easy Steps to the FAFSA produced by UC Santa Barbara. It’s a wonderful resource!

  • Submit Corrections. If you completed your FAFSA based on estimates, you should update immediately using tax information from 2010. Although colleges distribute financial aid packages based on estimates, they expect corrections to be made as soon as final information is available. Be aware that they may amend your package if revised numbers vary significantly from the estimates you provided—but this can certainly work to your advantage if your income estimates were high.

  • Answer your mail. Watch for correspondence related to your FAFSA or other school-based financial aid requests. And keep in mind that colleges are required by the federal government to randomly select some applications for “verification.” If you are asked to provide additional information or to clarify any of your answers on application forms, respond immediately.

  • Keep financial aid offices informed. Be sure to make financial aid offices aware of any significant change in family circumstances, such as an unexpected layoff, a salary cut, a divorce, or the death of a parent or guardian. Most colleges are very understanding and will make every effort to respond promptly and with great compassion. It’s better to be upfront about situations over which you have no control than to let a problem fester until neither you nor the college can solve it.

  • Educate yourself about student loans. Since July 1, 2010, all new federal education loans are being made through the Direct Loan program and your college’s financial aid office with funds provided by the US Department of Education. Although federal loans typically offer lower interest rates and more flexible repayment plans (including some loan forgiveness opportunities), it’s up to you to be a smart consumer. Check out the information provided on the FinAid website and contact your financial aid office with any additional questions you may have.

  • Continue the scholarship hunt. Admittedly pickings are getting a little slim. Nevertheless, continue checking with scholarship websites like Cappex or FastWeb, and register to receive up-to-date information on competitions or other scholarship opportunities. Also, don’t hesitate to ask about the availability of additional or future scholarship money at your college or university.

  • Keep your grades up. Colleges reserve the right to rescind merit scholarships if grades drop below the point of eligibility. On the other hand, strong senior year grades may push your overall GPA to a level high enough to qualify for additional money. Even a tenth of a percentage point could make a difference in dollars received. Again, it never hurts to ask.

If you have questions concerning FAFSA on the Web, do not hesitate to contact the Federal Student Aid Information Center at 1-800-4-FED-AID (1-800-433-3243) or 1-319-337-5665. You can also contact the Center by email or request "live help" by clicking a button located on the FAFSA website.

Most importantly, remember that even at this late date, it’s worth playing the game to win.

Photo courtesy of Flicker:ellievanhoutte

May 14, 2011

The 2011 ‘Colleges That Change Lives’ Tour Gets Into Gear

Next weekend, the annual Colleges That Change Lives (CTCL) tour gets into full gear with an opening event in Orlando, Florida, followed by a quick trip up the coast to Washington, D.C.

On Sunday, May 22, the 40 CTCL schools will host hundreds of students from the DC area for two sessions—one in the morning and one in the afternoon—at the Marriott Bethesda North Hotel and Conference Center. And you’re invited.

You say you never heard of these colleges? That’s partly the point.

When NYT's education writer Loren Pope originally came up with the CTCL idea, he was concerned that too many college choices were made based on misperception, misinformation, or even a total lack of information. And bad decisions lead to bad outcomes such as higher dropout, transfer, or failure rates.

To support a better college search process, Mr. Pope looked for colleges and universities that encourage a lifelong love of learning and provide “the foundation for a successful and fulfilling life beyond college.” He incorporated their descriptions into a best-selling book titled, The Colleges That Change Lives, which became the inspiration for the CTCL tour.

Loren Pope passed away in 2008, but his message lives on through the tireless efforts of CTCL executive director Marty O’Connell and her staff.

As a group, the CTCL schools share common characteristics including

  • low student-to-faculty ratios that foster collaboration, engaged learning, and personal attention

  • a commitment to undergraduate education focusing on the liberal arts and sciences

  • a living and learning environment that is primarily residential and emphasizes the benefits of community, personal growth, participation, and involvement

  • smaller student enrollments

  • out-of-classroom learning opportunities including participation in internships, study abroad, service to others, and special interest activities

  • holistic admission policies including several with “test-optional” routes to admission

  • alumni networks that stand ready to help graduates with professional and career development opportunities

In her speeches around the country, Marty O’Connell challenges students (and parents) to reconsider the notion that “a college can’t be any good if I’ve never heard of it.”

Using examples of “famous” people, she suggests that “the name and visibility of a college choice has much less to do with success in life than do the experience and opportunities students take advantage of during their college years.”

And where better than at one of the Colleges That Change Lives.

For more information on the Colleges That Change Lives and the 2011 tour, visit the CTCL website.

May 13, 2011

Stanford to Offer ‘Optional’ Interviews to all Freshman Applicants

Stanford University announced yesterday that the pilot Alumni Interview Program will become permanent in coming years.

While meeting with some school-based controversy, Stanford administrators believe the benefits for the University outweigh concerns about the validity or usefulness of alumni evaluations.

“Applicants will meet with Stanford affiliates in their own hometowns, alumni interviewers will have the opportunity to share their knowledge of and passion for Stanford, and their interview reports will provide our admission officers with another layer of context in our holistic admission process,” said Richard Shaw, dean of undergraduate admission and financial aid.

The decision to fully incorporate the program in the undergraduate admission process comes following a three-year pilot activity, which slowly expanded to include the availability of optional interviews in 12 areas: Atlanta, Denver, London, Minneapolis/St. Paul, New York City, Philadelphia, Portland OR, Raleigh/Durham, Washington DC, Maryland, Massachusetts, and Virginia.

Proposed new areas for the 2011-12 admission cycle include Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Seattle, Singapore, and the states of Oregon and Minnesota. The ultimate goal is to implement an international program with a focus on refining Stanford’s “infrastructure to support global expansion.”

In keeping with the terms of the pilot program, alumni interviews will be optional, with no penalty for applicants who choose not to meet with alumni or to whom an interview is not available. Applicants may not request an interview—contact must be initiated by Stanford alums.

According to Dean Shaw, the alumni interview serves two purposes—evaluation and outreach. “Our goal is an exchange of information between applicants, alumni and admission officers that will help lead to the best fit between university and student,” commented Shaw.

Starting with only 378 interviewers in 2008-09, the program has grown to include 1,061 interviewers who last year interviewed roughly 3,000 students. By three years from now, Stanford expects to be able to offer all applicants an alumni interview.

Without seeming too cynical, the Stanford announcement begs the question of why a university receiving more than 34,000 applicants would want to add another layer to its admissions process.

Perhaps the explanation may be found in minutes from a February 2009 Faculty Senate meeting during which Dean Shaw first introduced the pilot program. After initial resistance from faculty, Shaw outlined the 4 reasons he wanted to incorporate alumni interviews in the admissions process:

  1. Increase student interest in applying to Stanford (recruitment)

  2. Provide additional information to the admissions committee (improve selection)

  3. Increase alumni interest in the university

  4. Increase the yield—the “percentage of those students offered admission to decide to enroll in Stanford, rather than in another institution, like Harvard, Princeton, Yale or MIT”

Nothing in the original discussion suggested much in the way of benefits for students applying to Stanford. Instead concern centered on how much the University would get out of the program in the way of increased numbers and improved alumni relations (all of which coincidentally figure into USNWR rankings where Stanford recently slipped to #5 and tied with Penn).

At the end of the day, it was decided that number 4 was the “true goal” of the Alumni Interview Program, bringing us back to the “business” of college admissions and the competitiveness among schools lying just below the surface of every such decision.

May 11, 2011

News from the 2011 College Reception Circuit

Many colleges and universities hit the road this time of year to begin a recruitment process that actually gets into full swing in the fall.

Short of actually visiting a campus, these presentations offer opportunities for you to get basic information about a school as well as make yourself known to area representatives.

Although these sessions are usually open to the public, it’s generally a good idea to pre-register if the opportunity is offered. Otherwise, how are the college reps running the event going to know how many folding chairs to set up?

Exploring College Options: This is a special recruitment program sponsored by the undergraduate admissions offices of Duke, Georgetown, Harvard, the University of Pennsylvania, and Stanford. The tour has three stops in the DC area, with the first scheduled for Sunday, May 15th at the Tysons Corner Marriott, at 7:30 p.m.

Exploring Educational Excellence: Join Brown, Chicago, Columbia, Cornell, and Rice for an information session targeted to prospective students and families. Sessions include an overview of each institution, information on admissions and financial aid, as well as a chance to speak informally with admissions representatives. The tour hits DC on May 24th, at the Greenbelt Marriott. You must register to attend.

8 of the Best Colleges: Claremont McKenna, Colorado College, Connecticut College, Grinnell, Haverford, Kenyon, Macalester, and Sarah Lawrence invite students and families to learn more about these eight nationally recognized liberal arts colleges. Presentations will take place on May 17 at the Bethesda Marriott and May 18 at the Crystal Gateway Marriott.

Colleges That Change Lives: This year, CTCL will visit the Washington DC area on Sunday, May 22, at the Marriott Bethesda North Hotel and Conference Center. Plan to attend one of two programs scheduled (11:00 a.m. or 3:00 p.m.). Each program begins with a 30-minute information session followed immediately by the college fair.

Case Western Reserve University, Brandeis, and University of Rochester: A joint information session is scheduled for 1:00 pm, on Saturday, May 21, at the Ronald Regan Building and International Trade Center in downtown DC. Advance registration is recommended.

Fairfield University: Meet with admissions staff and learn more about academic opportunities, student life, and Fairfield’s beautiful campus on Monday, May 16, at Georgetown Preparatory School in North Bethesda. The program begins at 7:00 pm. RSVP by calling Alison Hildenbrand (203.254.4100 x2957) or emailing

Boston College: Scheduled for May 19 at the Hyatt Regency Bethesda, this informational program is designed to provide prospective students with an “Eagle Overview.”

Carnegie Mellon University: Admissions counselors will present a general information session to high school students who may be in the early stages of their college search. You can register now for the event scheduled for Sunday, June 5 at the Bethesda Marriott Hotel.

Northwestern University: Scheduled for June 7th at the Bethesda Marriott Hotel, this session is open to students and their families but advance registration is required.

University of Virginia: The UVa Admissions Office hosts evening programs in cities across the country arranged in cooperation with local alumni clubs. Two Virginia regional events are taking place this spring (UVa also travels in the fall with Harvard and Princeton).

Note that you're much more likely to receive advance notice of these events if you've registered for information or otherwise demonstrated interest to colleges on your search list.

May 10, 2011

Google Announces an International Field of Science Fair Semi-Finalists

Just as the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF) welcomed 1543 young scientists in Los Angeles, Google announced a slate of 60 semi-finalists in the first totally online international science fair.

Open to students 13 to 18, the Google Science Fair received over 7500 entries from more than 90 countries around the world, including a number from students in DC area high schools who beyond conducting experiments devoted hours devising online presentations and completing technical requirements for the fair.

To get the competition started, an international team of teachers was given the task of evaluating the projects on creativity, scientific merit, and “global relevance.” This was no easy assignment as projects covered a wide range of topics from cancer treatment to renewable oceanic energy to aeronautic auto-pilot algorithms.

And the projects are amazing. Semi-finalists included experiments on the effects of coffee on plant growth in the 13-14-year old category, an alternative optical analyzer in the 15-16 year old age group, and a project on Autism Spectrum Disorder in the 17-18 age group.

Although most of the 60 semi-finalists were from the US, there was also representation from the UK, New Zealand, Canada, India, Singapore, and South Africa.

Locally, Rishabh Mazmuder from Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, Saumil Bandyopadhyay of the Maggie L. Walker School, and Nicholas Montgomery of the Loudon County Academy of Science were named as semi-finalists. All three are seasoned science fair competitiors.

But the competition is far from over. Unlike more traditional science fairs, the public is being given a chance to weigh in on the projects.

Separate from the official judging, voting is now open for a $10,000 “People’s Choice” scholarship. You are invited to go to the Google Science Fair website, review the entries, and cast your vote between now and May 20. Individuals can vote once in each of the three age categories.

The People’s Choice winner will be announced on May 23, along with 5 finalists in each age category who will be invited to Google headquarters for the final round of judging. Grand prizes include a 10-day trip to the Galapagos Islands and a $50,000 scholarship.

And then there’s always next year. Google has already posted a sign-up sheet for the 2012 Science Fair.

May 9, 2011

ISEF’s Opening Night in Hollywood

I was introduced to the thrill of high school science competition in 1967—17 years after the first National Science Fair took place in 1950.

DC area schools at the time were actively promoting and supporting student involvement in science as a response to the “sputnik” challenge, and like thousands of other budding scientists, I wanted a piece of the action.

My particular experiment involved yards of copper tubing, a “no-fail” mash recipe, and a Bunsen burner. Sadly, the fumes from the applejack I was distilling eventually resulted in my disqualification from the event and my career in science never took off.

Needless to say, much has changed since I cooked up a home recipe involving apples and yeast. A lit Bunsen burner would never be tolerated at a science fair, and the level of scientific sophistication among today’s high school students is almost beyond description.

But basic scientific curiosity and desire to compete on what has become an international stage for young scientists remain driving forces behind Intel’s International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF), which opened yesterday at the Los Angeles Convention Center. And unless you’ve been there, it’s difficult to imagine the rock star atmosphere that will accompany ISEF’s opening ceremonies.

Tonight, more than 1500 high school students selected from 443 affiliate fairs in 65 countries, regions, and territories will come together for the first time to hear Jeffery Katzenberg, CEO of Dream Works Animation, give the keynote address.

And I guarantee the place will be rocking.

Here’s a secret: ISEF is fun. It’s a week of drama, excitement, and new friends. It’s also the most amazing forum in the world for high school students to showcase their talents and be recognized for groundbreaking independent research.

Colleges and universities recruiting science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) students love the credential at any level of competition—local to international. They’re all looking for the next Nobel Laureates or Rocket Boys, and this is where they find them!

And, there’s serious money at stake. Dozens of sponsors offer prize money and really amazing scholarships from corporations, nonprofit organizations, a host of federal agencies, as well as a number of colleges and universities.

In LA, the top prizes include the $75,000 Gordon E. Moore Award given by the Intel Foundation in honor of the Intel co-founder and retired chairman and CEO. Two additional top winning projects will receive $50,000 each.

Best of Category winners will take home $5000 scholarships and $1000 grants for their school and the ISEF-affiliated fairs they represent. Grand Prize awards will be presented in each of 17 ISEF categories (and for teams) in increments ranging from $500 to $3000 for first place. In total, more than $4 million is up for grabs.

Local regional fairs including Montgomery, Fairfax, Arlington, and Prince Georges Counties, as well DC, Baltimore, and Richmond will be sending students to Los Angeles. Fairfax County alone has a slate of 12 competitors representing Chantilly, Fairfax, Langley, Paul VI, South County Secondary, and Thomas Jefferson High Schools. Montgomery County is represented by 4 students; the District of Columbia has 2 competitors; and the Prince George Area Science Fair is sending 2 students.

To keep the folks back home informed of events, the Society for Science and the Public (SSP) and Intel are piloting “streaming video” of the Opening Ceremony, the Special Awards Ceremony, and the Grand Awards Ceremony. This service comes with a cost, and details are provided on the hosting site.

You can otherwise keep up with daily events and get the first word on winners by logging on to the SSP homepage or the Inspired by Education website.

News is also available on the SSP Facebook page, and interviews with select ISEF finalists will be “live streamed” without charge from 10 a.m.-11 a.m. Pacific Time, on Thursday May 12.

May 7, 2011

CICV Announces Virginia Private College Week

The Council of Independent Colleges in Virginia (CICV) recently announced that Virginia Private College Week will run this summer from July 25 to 30 and will once again offer college-bound students the opportunity to tour schools and save.

Thanks to some creative thinking, CICV launched an incentive program designed to bring high school students and their families to Virginia’s private college campuses by giving away application fee waivers.

Literally hundreds of students take advantage of the offer each year as groups of families drive from campus to campus on summer vacations that double as traditional college tours.

It works this way:

  1. Decide which schools you want to visit. There are 25 from which to choose, and they are located in virtually every corner of scenic Virginia.

  2. Register for tours at each of the schools you plan to visit. Yes, register. It’s not required, but it really helps the schools plan for materials and tour guides.

  3. Organize your travel plans. Transportation information and driving instructions are available on individual college websites.

  4. Pick up a passport at the first college. It’s cute—a little like Disney’s EPCOT.

  5. At the conclusion of your tour, get the passport stamped.

  6. Once you accumulate at least three stamps, mail the passport to CICV, 118 East Main Street, Bedford, VA 24523.

Bingo! You’ve won three application fee waivers for any of the Virginia private colleges, and not necessarily the ones you visited.

For example, if you visit Marymount, Shenandoah, and Hollins, you can use your fee waivers at any of these three universities or at Bridgewater, Washington & Lee, or the University of Richmond. Your choice!

By the way, Virginia’s private institutions often get overshadowed by our strong public colleges and universities. I encourage you to take a closer look, as these schools offer wonderful opportunities for students with a variety of college criteria and interests. Much more information, including a very useful listing of colleges by majors, may be found on the CICV website.

Finally, I want to remind Virginia residents about the Tuition Assistance Grant (TAG). This amazing program offers financial awards to students attending any of Virginia’s private colleges or universities. The sole eligibility requirement is that you live in the Commonwealth of Virginia. It’s really pretty sweet.

If you have questions, you can call 540.586.0606 or visit the Virginia Private College Week website.

May 6, 2011

Virginia Tech Plans 5 New Undergraduate Degrees

After a university-wide call for new program ideas, Virginia Tech announced five exciting new bachelor degree programs in varying stages of development, according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

The proposed undergrad degrees are in meteorology, real estate, biomedical engineering, nanoscience, and computational biology.

Each of the new degree proposals are being reviewed by the Dean of Undergraduate Education and departmental committees within the university. Market research as well as detailed explanations of how the degrees would prepare students for the work force and/or academia are required.

With a go ahead from the University Council and the Board of Visitors, plans will be submitted to the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV), and in some cases to the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, for final approval.

Nearest to coming on line, the proposed meteorology degree will be the first of its kind in Virginia. The Commonwealth currently pays for meteorology students to study at Mississippi State University at in-state tuition rates offered through the Academic Common Market.

Originally a concentration within the Geology Department, the new meteorology program promises an innovative course of study using GIS (Geographical Information Systems) technology and would take advantage of the National Weather Service office in Blacksburg.

“Most meteorology programs focus on what we would consider classical meteorology, where you’re looking at the physics of the atmosphere,” said Dave Carroll, a geography instructor in Tech’s College of Natural Resources. “We’re specializing in the entire GIS process and blending meteorology into that curriculum.”

Tech’s new real estate degree is also nearing finalization. It will be structured so as to capitalize on Tech’s existing expertise in engineering as well as agriculture and business and would take more of an interdisciplinary approach to the study of real estate.

Similarly, the engineering, biological science and nontechnology degrees would emphasize interdisciplinary studies and undergraduate research with a long term view toward helping students prepare for graduate school or employment within the nearly 300 biotechnology, pharmaceutical, biofuels, and medical device companies based in Virginia.

More information on these and many new graduate level programs is available on the Virginia Tech website.

Photo courtesy of SharedFerret at Flickr.

May 4, 2011

Colleges Still Accepting Applications for fall of 2011

Back by popular demand, the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) annual “Space Availability Survey: Openings for Qualified Students” was released today. And a surprising number of wonderful colleges and universities throughout the country are continuing to accept applications for fall 2011 enrollment.

According to NACAC, at least 280 schools have space available for qualified freshman and/or transfer students, and many have financial aid and housing to offer.

“We still have room for a few great students,” said Susquehanna director of admissions Chris Markle, to a group of IECA member independent college consultants. “And yes, financial aid and many scholarships continue to be available for students enrolling this fall.”

The annual survey asks NACAC member institutions to provide information on the availability of space, financial aid, and housing as of May 1, 2011—after the close of the traditional college admissions season. In its 24th year, the survey is designed as a tool for counselors, parents and teachers as they work with students who have not completed the process for one reason or another.

Locally, Trinity Washington University is still accepting applications from prospective freshman as well as transfer students.

“Trinity continues to welcome applications from students who are interested in a dynamic college experience in the nation’s capital,” said Kelly Gosnell, Trinity’s Vice President for Admissions. “We have limited space for the fall, so students should apply now.”

In Maryland, St. John’s College, Morgan State University, Hood College, and Stevenson University indicate they will consider qualified freshman and transfer students, and UMBC describes remaining space, financial aid, and housing as “limited.”

The University of Maryland—College Park still has spots for transfer students with limited availability of financial aid and housing.

Ferrum, Mary Baldwin College, Radford University, Roanoke, Shenandoah University, and the University of Mary Washington also show space and resources left for prospective freshmen and transfers in Virginia.

In addition to the NACAC survey, colleges still accepting applications may be found by searching both the Common Application and Universal College Application (UCA) websites. As of today, the Common App shows 118 members still open to new applicants, and the UCA lists 62 member colleges and universities still accepting first-year and transfer students.

Note that the colleges and universities listed on the NACAC survey are subject to change. And it's entirely possible that more will be included as time goes on. Students must contact institutions directly for up-to-date application information, and admission will be contingent on each institution’s review of individual candidates.

May 3, 2011

Colleges with the Most Transfer Students

According to a recent survey conducted by US News and World Report, schools in Texas, Florida, and California were popular destinations for transfer students in 2009. In fact, 9 out of the ten colleges with the most transfer students were located in warmer climates. Evidently they had capacity to accept and enroll astonishing large numbers of transfers.

There are many reasons students choose to move schools. Often money issues are involved. Or sometimes it’s a question of academics or a desire to be closer to home. And community college students make up a huge percentage of students moving from one institution to another.

Even the Commander-in-Chief transferred during his college career.

Among the 1,700 colleges and universities surveyed by USNWR, over 566,000 students were reported as transferring.

Based on the surveys, Arizona State University enrolled 5,388 transfer students and ranked number one among the 1,286 schools providing transfer data. And three schools in the California State University system each drew more than 3,700 transfers and ranked six, seven, and eight respectively.

A quick review of local colleges and universities suggests a much more limited ability to accommodate transfer students. According to Common Data Set information, George Mason was among the more transfer-friendly institutions and enrolled 2452 transfers last year. The University of Maryland—College Park accepted 44 percent of its transfer applicants and enrolled 1,899.

Far fewer transfers were to be found at Johns Hopkins (37) and the University of Richmond (48). George Washington accepted 27 percent of its transfer applicants and enrolled 310 students, while Georgetown accepted 23 percent and enrolled 230.

The University of Virginia accepted 40 percent of those applying to transfer and enrolled 653, at the same time the College of William & Mary accepted 43 percent and enrolled 202.

Among the local colleges admitting the highest percent of transfer applicants were the University of Mary Washington and American University—both at 67 percent which is only slightly above the national average cited by USNWR of 61.9 percent.

The following is the USNWR list of 10 schools enrolling the most transfer students:

1. Arizona State University: 5,388 enrolled/84.4% accepted
2. University of Central Florida: 5,336 enrolled/61.3% accepted
3. Florida International University: 4,336 enrolled/71.2% accepted
4. University of North Texas: 4,012 enrolled/58.6% accepted
5. University of Texas—Arlington: 3,944 enrolled/91.9% accepted
6. California State University—Fullerton: 3,800 enrolled/45.7% accepted
7. California State University—Sacramento: 3,771 enrolled/78% accepted
8. California State University—Northridge: 3,706 enrolled/57.5% accepted
9. University of South Florida: 3,696 enrolled/68% accepted
10. Portland State University: 3,486 enrolled/82.3% accepted

May 2, 2011

10 Best Campus Recycling Videos for 2011

The University of Virginia might have been the big national winner in the RecycleMania video contest, but there were lots of other great entries some of which may have been eliminated for going over the one-minute time limit imposed by the contest.

But if you’re looking for evidence of student creativity and commitment to recycling, you need go no further than the following ten videos submitted to the RecycleMania competition on behalf of colleges across the country: