Monday, December 10, 2012

(RE: The College Educator Interview) The Answers

So ... here we are, finally with the answers to the (RE: The College Educator Interview) A Call for Questions post I put up like months ago. Sorry it took me so long to get to this, but life and work have been extremely busy. Anyway, this post is already going to be super long (over 2500 words, so feel free to skip down to your question if you're in a hurry), so I'll just get right to it.

Natalie asked:

Do you think it's better for kids in science to pick a smaller school where they might get more lab and publishing articles experience before getting their masters or a big, well-known college if they get in there? I'm struggling with this for my daughter especially with the tight job market for college grads.


One of the benefits of smaller private liberal arts colleges are the relationships that students can develop with their faculty. There are often opportunities for undergraduates to do research with their faculty and to attend conferences, and most importantly, significant support for the graduate school application process. These environments often offer richer educational opportunities which prepare students for research roles and/or further graduate study.

Natalie continued:

Also, how hard is it for kids to juggle college sports like swimming and all their classes and homework? Is it better for them to do a team sport or get involved in more clubs related to their field to build their resume for masters programs? Thanks so much for the advice.

Sarah's response:

I have found that students who are involved in athletics, particularly Division 3, tend to lead very successful and satisfying years in college. Institutions with Division 3 programs are well versed in supporting students in achieving a healthy balance. Athletic participation offers an important outlet for students and a well rounded overall experience. It also creates important structure and discipline to what can otherwise be very disorienting chunks of ‘free time’. For students who have had athletic participation as a big part of their high school experience it is especially helpful in their transition and acclimation. The team and coach provide built in support and motivation to succeed. In my experience, students who participate in athletics also develop critical life skills which serve them well in the workplace.

Christina asked:

I'd love to know what college admissions boards do when a student is obviously talented in one specific subject - let's say art - but doesn't have the necessary SATs, math grades, etc. Does an excellent portfolio or other such talent override the more standard requirements all students need if it's clear that this particular student will follow a fine arts path?

Do extracurriculars that tie into the fine arts, including volunteer work, kind of make up for the other standardized test scores that don't meet the scores required?

Hi Christina, 

While high standardized test scores still seem to be the coin of the realm, a number of schools are moving to making SAT scores optional, recognizing that test scores are not the most essential indicator of a student’s ability to succeed in college. That said, most college admissions boards have a general cut-off for minimum standardized test scores required. In my own experience, we like to look at the whole picture, academic success and consistency in high school, outside of the classroom activities and interest, civic involvement, etc. Personal statements are also important and offer a window into who the applicant is and what is important to them. A compelling, well written personal statement or a dynamic portfolio or artwork or other pieces can make the difference.

Kimberley asked:

Are you finding a change in kids' work ethic in recent years? We hear a lot about 20 somethings that struggle in the work place when they first graduate. I wonder if you see a change at the college level too?

Hi Kimberley, 

This is an interesting question. I don’t see so much a decline in work ethic as I see a challenge in students’ ability to focus and manage their time, given that much of this has been organized for them for much of their lives. There is a big difference between high school and college with respect to what is required and the level of challenge—transitioning to a self-directed experience can be tough. I find that students who have full lives, that is, they go to class, are involved in extra-curricular activities and have a part-time job, tend to be more successful and disciplined. Parents have a big role to play in helping their students to become independent, learn to advocate for themselves, and learn to direct their own lives. I do believe the experience of having a summer job or part-time employment while in school is very helpful in developing skills and experience.

In general, I think this generation is much more inclined to take care of themselves and to safeguard their leisure time. This can play out in the workplace in interesting ways, particularly in intergenerational settings. Who said working a 70 hour week demonstrates a great work ethic anyway? What about quality of life?

Leigh asked:

What does Sarah see as one of the main, recurring mistakes entering freshmen are making these days? (Or maybe a Top 3 "things to not do"?)

Hi Leigh-how about four?

1) Do not blow off your orientation-not only will you miss out on important information and resources that will help you transition successfully, you will miss out on meeting many of your classmates and getting a leg up socially.

2) College brings with it independence and an opportunity to experiment. Have fun safely, and be sure you remind yourself regularly what is most important to you.

It is easy to lose of your goals and priorities with so many options in front of you.

3) If you have a pre-existing health condition or disability for which you receive accommodations or treatment in high school, it is important that you not disrupt the support you have had in place when you go off to college. I have seen a number of students who wanted a “fresh start” and entered college without any support at all—the majority struggled significantly and a number did not complete their first year in college. Be sure to set yourself up for success, otherwise, it’s a set up!

4) Do not fall prey to the many credit card offers that will be presented to you as a college student—these can be your undoing financially—I have seen many students get into considerable debt by signing up for high interest credit cards.

Donna asked:

How do kids qualify for financial aid?

Hi Donna,

Any student who is interested in receiving financial aid from an institution they are interested in attending will need to complete what is called a “FAFSA” (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) which includes all family financial information. This is then evaluated and a determination is made the “EFC” (Expected Family Contribution). There are several kinds of financial aid families can receive to fund a college education. Here is a link to the website which can answer more specific questions:

Note: We've had to skip some of the admissions specific questions, because admissions is not Sarah's area of expertise, and none of her colleagues we able to get back to her in time for this post.

Andrew asked:

With the ease of self-publishing, how would your school look at a student who had published his/her own novel? Would anyone take the time to read it? Would the accomplishment of having written a novel, even if it's bad, have an affect on anything considering the amount of dedication it takes to write one? What if it was really good?

Hi Andrew,

We have had a few applicants that have self published and while I can say with honesty I don’t think anyone on the admission committee has the time to read any of the work, it certainly makes the applicant look unique and interesting. What it demonstrates is a passion and as you say, dedication in the student which can be quite favorable when piecing together a fuller picture of the applicant. Faculty on Admission Committees are very interested in looking at writing samples, so if you are self published, you may consider submitting an excerpt from your work or folding it into your personal statement.

Tara asked:

Are books changing over to e format? Hopefully lowering that expense!

Note: Sarah and I agreed this question must be referring to text books.

Hi Tara,

The E-book format is starting to emerge to replace text books and we are also seeing text book rentals which offer considerable saving for students. Text books continue to be a considerable expense for students and I wouldn’t be surprised to see more economic formats outpacing the traditional textbooks.

Ana asked:

I'm currently on a mind-melt trying to write my essay. How important is the personal essay in admissions, especially if you're a science major? Do you have suggestions as to what and what NOT to discuss in the essay?


I feel your pain—it can feel like such high stakes when you are writing something as seemingly important as a personal statement. What I can tell you from my own experience sitting on an Admission committee is that they are important, but what really matters is the whole package. I would try not to over think it, and do your best to bring yourself and your interests into your writing. If you are a science major, talk about what first interested you in science, tell a story about it. Was there a teacher who inspired you? What do you like about science? It is important to take the time to produce well written piece, but is also important and really worth making sure your essence shines through. Try to have fun with it.

Elise asked:

Can walking-impaired students be guaranteed classes that are wheelchair accessible?


The Americans with Disabilities Act requires college campuses to provide reasonable accommodations for all students with documented disabilities. In the case of a student with a walking disability or in a wheelchair, accommodations would be made to ensure the student had access to classrooms which are accessible. This is also true for residential accommodations and college events and activities.

Steve asked:

When I graduated, it was like they checked off a list and handed me a certificate, and I had no clue where to go from there. None of my classes had even brought up career aspects or how to go about researching what's out there.

So for the students of today, how might they become more aware of this and prepare themselves? How might they gain understanding and even experience in the various careers of their field long before they graduate?

Hi Steve,

Many colleges and universities are moving to ensure their students have an opportunity to explore career options and to build in internship or work opportunities outside of the classroom to offer important experience before graduation. This process can begin as early as freshman year where students can visit Career Education Centers, develop a resume, and take personal assessment tests to determine their principle strengths and interests. Within academic majors, faculty can be valuable resources to students as they consider careers and recommend internship opportunities or further graduate study. Some institutions will offer valuable student/alumni networking events which can create job or mentoring opportunities for graduates. In sum, there are a lot of opportunities on most campuses, the key is for students to be tuned into them and to take full advantage!

Josin asked:

You're in Boston, so you've got some pretty well known large colleges close to your own. Is there a different rhythm to campus life for a smaller institution in a college town vs a large one, or do the smaller campuses get swept up in the flow of the bigger ones? Likewise, is there a discernible difference in personality for a student who chooses a smaller school over a larger one.

Having some experience with one of those larger schools in the Boston area I wonder if the sudden sensation of freedom hits as hard with a smaller student body in a place that might start off as more close-knit. Because there's a definite "boomerang effect" on large campuses that leaves formerly stifled kids swinging to the opposite extreme with some "interesting" side effects.

Hi Josin,

I think there are definite benefits to attending a smaller school in the city—you get the best of both worlds—a close knit community nestled in a larger fun urban environment. It can be a lot less overwhelming and feel more comfortable. But you can also find a close knit feel on a larger college campus. This can be accomplished through being part of a cohort—these come in many forms—honors programs, residential theme communities, athletic participation, involvement in student organizations, etc.

Scotland asked:

In face to face interviews, if you guys have them, do people with visible piercings and/or tattoos get taken as seriously as those who do not?

Hi Scotland,

I would say it certainly doesn’t count against them. In general, student applicants who takes themselves seriously and take the time to prepare for a campus interviews are taken seriously.

Scotland continued:

What is the punishment if you are late to a class?

Sarah's response: 

In college, the main punishment is the embarrassment of walking in late and having all of your classmates gawk at you. Believe it or not, many faculty do not take attendance, and it is the responsibility of students to show up and stay on top of their work and assignments. You certainly will not do yourself any favors by being late. It’s a whole new ball game and you are in the driver’s seat. Scary, eh?

That's everything we could get to.

Sorry that we couldn't get to every question, but I'm sure you all agree this blog post is already long enough. Please discuss further in the comments, and don't forget to thank Sarah for her participation!


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