Wednesday, September 29, 2010

On the road again

Note: I wrote this more than a week ago on my way to New York City.

It’s fall and a Sunday so I must be going somewhere. Back from spending several weeks in Asia last month and my travel last week on the West Coast, today I’m bound for New York City for high school visits in the Bronx, Manhattan, and Brooklyn. Though I haven’t visited schools in New York in several years, this is familiar ground and I’ve spent many a recruitment trip in the City in the past. The admission staff is similarly dispersed at this time of the year, searching for adventurous and talented students throughout the country and the world. I’m looking forward to seeing who Grinnell attracts this year.

Why do I travel this way? With the internet providing nearly unlimited access to information - the ability to connect with current students, faculty, and alumni through email, Facebook and discussion boards, virtual tours, Flicker shows and so on – it would be easy to assume the high school visit is a relic and no longer necessary with the widespread dissemination of digital age information. Yet there is something advantageous in meeting students in person, walking through a school’s hallways, taking a bite in the cafeteria, and talking with the high school counselors. Something tangible, even memorable, that provides helpful context during the long days and nights of file review in the winter. Admission is ultimately a human process and the more I and the admission staff understand the students applying to Grinnell, where they come from and what their environments contain, the more informed our decisions will be.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

T minus 24

Letters to the first-year Class of 2014 will make their way to the post office today to be sealed and stamped before dispersing tomorrow to the far corners of the country and the world. For everyone anxiously awaiting a decision, we’re just as anxious to give one to you. The Admission Committee has spent the last four and a half months reviewing, discussing, agreeing, disagreeing, and ultimately deciding on who will receive a space in this year’s class.

For the numeric-minded, here’s how the process shaped up: Grinnell accepted 1211 first-year students this year for one of 400 spaces in the freshman class. A total of 48 states and 50 countries are represented in the admit pool this year. Domestic students of color make up 27% of the admit group; international students make up another 9%.

Good luck making your college decision in the next few weeks. If you were not admitted, you might be interested in this timely Wall Street Journal article on college rejection. It’s a good reminder that success is determined not by what institution you attend, but by what you choose to do with the opportunity to educate yourself.

Monday, December 14, 2009

The mail has left the building

Letters go in the mail today to the 176 students who applied under the Early Decision Round 1 program at Grinnell. After spending the last three weeks learning about the applicants through their applications and discussing their merits in review sessions, the Admission Committee made acceptance offers to 90 Early Decision 1 candidates. By comparison, Grinnell accepted 107 of the 175 applicants last year in the first round of Early Decision.

A word of advice if you are deferred to Regular review. Chances are it was because the Admission Committee wants to see full semester or even third quarter grades for your senior year. Try to maintain or even improve your performance, especially if you are being challenged in a course or two, to show the Admission Committee that you can succeed at a high level. Contrary to some advice I’ve heard given to deferred students, don’t storm your teachers or employer or 2nd grade baby sitter asking for additional letters of recommendation. The Admission Committee would be happy to look at additional information but it will only strengthen your application if it provides compelling new information that was not available to the Admission Committee in the Early Decision review.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Dim Sum, Webcasts and a Snow Storm

It is good to be home! After four months of on and off travel, I arrived back in Grinnell on Friday, finished with planes, trains and automobiles for the year.

Summer was still in the air when I left on my first trip in early August, a ten day odyssey in China with colleagues from eleven other liberal arts colleges. The five city tour was put together by an entrepreneurial group of recent Chinese graduates from several of our institutions (including Grinnell). This was my second trip to the middle kingdom and in spite of a drenching rain that greeted us in Beijing, a brush with a typhoon in Shanghai, and the ever present temptation to eat too much of the wonderfully prepared regional Chinese cuisine, we had a memorable experience promoting the distinctive qualities of liberal arts colleges to the world’s most populous nation. Leaving China, I made a brief stop in Japan with a colleague to visit students in Tokyo.

Arriving back in the United States, I headed out a few weeks later on a semi-annual trip with the Eight of the Best Colleges, with stops in Chicago, Cleveland, St. Louis, Kansas City and Denver. Including our activity this fall, the group has now addressed over 35,000 people in 32 states and 6 different countries. A day after stopping back in Grinnell I was off to Baltimore’s Inner Harbor for a week of meetings and conversation at the National Association of College Admission Counselors’ annual fall conference. I lived in Baltimore for 13 years so the week was a homecoming of sorts.

I saw my first snow in the mountain passes around Aspen, Colorado in early October while taking part in a week-long series of college fairs held throughout the state. Back in Iowa for a few days I enjoyed the Indian summer that hung around the Midwest this fall and promised a cold winter.

The second half of October was spent in Europe, visiting schools in Italy, the United Kingdom and Switzerland and lodging for a night in the tower room of a Welch castle, home to The United World College of the Atlantic. Returning state-side, I headed east to Philadelphia in early November to visit local schools for a week. With early admission season in full swing, there was a lot of talk about students applying earlier this year, confirming what I’d heard on both sides of the Atlantic during my other trips.

Less than two weeks ago I joined seven other deans and directors in a novel webcast on college admission put together by the Wall Street Journal and UNIGO and hosted at Wesleyan University in Middletown, CT.

I wrapped up my travel this fall with trips to Los Angeles and Washington, D.C. to select Grinnell’s newest Posses. I almost didn’t make it to D.C. The large snowstorm that hit the Midwest last week forced a change in plans and I flew out early from Cedar Rapids in advance of the worst of the storm and before flights were entirely cancelled. Turns out that was a smart move.

And so another fall ends. It’s time to enjoy terra firma and get back to shoveling my driveway.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Common mistakes lead to common applicants

I finished up a week and a half in Colorado with a selective college presentation the other night at The Colorado Springs School. Families come to these presentations to learn; but so many of them are already familiar with the college admission process. So instead, I told them what NOT to do. These are mistakes we see every day that can easily be avoided with a little knowledge.

Top 10 Ways to Not Succeed in the College Admission Process

10. Let your parents play the role of prospective student, not you!

9. Only apply to reach schools.

8. Don't provide an explanation for the “bumps” in your high school record or other credentials.

7. Write what you think we want to hear on the essay instead of writing what you want to say.

6. Approach the “why this school question” exactly the same way for all schools you’re applying to.

5. Overwhelm us with a laundry list of activities you’ve participated in since pre-kindergarten, and start with the oldest first. Similarly, send in mountains of supplemental information.

4. Tell your interviewer you really want to go to another school.

3. Take fewer or less challenging courses senior year because you need a break.

2. Use one-liners to answer all questions on the application.

1. Use your application to tell us what makes you just like everyone else and omit what makes you special and distinctive.

Let me repeat. This is what NOT to do in the process and is all common sense. Approach the college application process as a journey of self-knowledge, not as a test to endure, and you’ll navigate the process just fine.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

FAFSA Light?

A government plan to simplify the current financial aid application process was reported by the New York Times yesterday. The aim of this new plan is to reduce the number of questions on the Free Application for Financial Aid (FAFSA) form to make it easier for families to apply for financial aid.

While simplification is a laudable goal, the plan does nothing to address the affordability of higher education. Need calculations will remain the same, limiting the number of families who qualify for federal assistance and, by extension, institutional assistance as the FAFSA is the yardstick most institutions use to determine family need. As I posted earlier this month, Grinnell’s President Osgood recently wrote an op-ed for The Chronicle of Higher Education on the need to fix the FAFSA.

Making the financial aid process more user-friendly is a step in the right direction but without reworking the calculation of need we’re simply putting a new cover on an old story.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The skinny on ‘13

You might be wondering why I’ve been strangely silent the last month in SethAllenSays-land about the incoming class. It’s not because the admission office and I were on vacation (though that’s a tempting thought!) but rather because we activated our waitlist during the month of May.

So what does the incoming class look like? You remember from earlier posts that our planned for first-year class number was 385. Currently, we’re at 383 students and if history repeats itself we’ll likely be at 375 members in the Class of ‘13 by the time September rolls around. Coupled with a strong pool of enrolling transfer students, we seem to be on track with our enrollment this year.

For those of you who want the numbers, here’s a partial profile of the first-year class as of June 12, 2009:

· 66% of new students reporting rank are in the top 10% of their high school class.
· The first-year class has the same male/female ratio as last year's class at 46%/54%.
· Domestic students of color make up 25% of the entering first-year class.
· International students make up 13% of the incoming first-year class.
· Incoming students are from 43 states and 29 countries.

On a related note, I was happy to see that The Chronicle of Higher Education picked up an op-ed by the president of Grinnell College, Russell K. Osgood, on the need to fix the FAFSA. Economic conditions this year may have exacerbated many families’ need but it’s clear that for higher education to remain viable for most families, the current system of determining need must change.