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flyingiguana

Admissions person's rant

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http://www.roxandroll.com/2014/11/parents-let-harvard-go.html

 

"Parents: let Harvard go

 

As a former admissions officer for two "elite" schools -- one Ivy and one West Coast Ivy-equivalent -- I am in a unique position to offer some insights for parents that may be of help in raising healthful teens..."

Exactly how I feel, even coming from a family filled with Ivy League and "elite" college grads. I am so sad for some of the kids I know.

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I like the suggestion to do the math. One of the Ivys in commute distance sent us a lot of unsolicited material...but the one that had me toss all of it in the trash was the postcard that stated a factoid indicating that 69% of the student body were minorities by skin color. I am looking for a school that notices my son's background academically and interests, not his skin color, when deciding on student body. If they had said 69% have taken the highest level of math offered in their high school, I would have had further interest. I live in a diverse area, and my son is in a diverse high school. We dont have the means to keep up with the sons of the royal and highly ranking families of the world, which is what my former colleague who went to that school is. So, 69% minority plus the athlete slots combined with keeping male to female ratio around 50 percent means there are not a lot of open slots to be filled from the general admission crowd.

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I find the MIT AdCon's essay on Applying Sideways to be similar but much more affirmative, http://mitadmissions.org/blogs/entry/applying_sideways

 

You can't fake it. Parent's need to let it go... But, likewise kids need the room to soar. Kathy's kids ended up a top school pursuing their passions. Regentrude's daughter found a great elite fit. Noone should subsume their self to meet some School's ideal. That is dehumanising and probably won't work.

 

 

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I think there's a big difference between tossing out an app to a "reach" school which may or may not be an Ivy, and filling your high school years with stuff that isn't "you" in order to appeal to colleges.

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My issue with the ivies is that their reputation is based very much on income after graduation, which is more strongly linked with parental connections. They can be a great way to break into elite circles, but only if that is what you go there to do. In terms of innovative technology, in terms of contributing to humanity and enjoying the creative process--you can do it anywhere.

 

More top science prizes went to state schools than the Ivies, even if you only count those awarded to the top 15 state schools.

 

Not to mention, it's very hard to get a list of graduates' outgoing GRE scores. I'd love to see which universities better prepared their students to get good GRE scores and perform well on international tests of subject material, rather than the pseudo-statistics we have now on "employment" (including Starbucks) and income, which is more linked to where you live and who you know, even if you don't have a degree, than anything else. A trust fundy can have a job as an artist and make more than someone who owns two businesses. And yet, rankings are based on income and not actual knowledge produced.

 

It's very irritating. Harvard surely has a lot to offer but the treadmill to get that stamp of approval from the elites is absurd. It's a club school, they have some really great research, but a monopoly on higher learning it is not.

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More top science prizes went to state schools than the Ivies, even if you only count those awarded to the top 15 state schools.

 

Statistics, please.

I do not believe there is any state school that surpasses the top schools on this list of Nobel laureates (and it does not get more "top" as far as science prizes is concerned)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Nobel_laureates_by_university_affiliation

 

 

 

My issue with the ivies is that their reputation is based very much on income after graduation,

 

I think this is the case only in select fields. It is probably true for business and law, but in many other fields, the ranking of the school does not have much to do with starting salary, nor do salaries vary that greatly depending on the origin of the degree.

 

This said, I agree that Ivies do not have the monopoly on giving students a strong education.

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I'm irritated because this ate my reply.

 

As for prizes, you know, you're right. I omitted the Nobel Prize not because I don't think it's important, but because it's a lifetime prize and it's in my mind as a kind of recognition of joint effort in some cases.

 

I was thinking of the innovation prizes we see from Science magazine, prizes for competitions. I don't have a statistic--there are a million ways you could pick and choose what is important, and based on that, at least 10 different institutions could come out on top.

 

The Ivies attract top talent and people who strive, so they are going to produce. But they also have alums sitting in all the peer review committees, which is going to affect how much they are published. Having alumni to fund your projects to completion is going to be a huge, huge, huge factor in your success.

 

Starting salaries at start ups vary considerably based upon who you know and whether you can get funding for your first three failures to get you through to a functioning business. And that comes from knowing old money. You can't get start-up capital like you can in Boston, in Detroit, you just can. not. There is easy money to be had in some networks, like shockingly easy, and yes, that counts in computer science.

 

Again, I am not trying to suggest it does not take insane amounts of work and talent to get into Harvard. What I want to say is that the success that a lot of Ivies are measured on depends very much on metrics that are heavily influenced by the graduates' networks.

 

I have no doubt that, given what it takes to get into an Ivy, that those individuals would measure up quite well in IQ against others.

 

However, I do have strong doubts that if you took out connections and networks from the Ivy League equation--from peers to peer-review and choose to publish your paper, to start-up capital to jobs in the biz--that they would continue to appear to be worth the trouble for the vast majority of even highly talented students. Their main draw would be research equipment, but again, that's money.

 

Actually--you know what I might do. I might look at annual budget per student, budget per faculty, and see how that affects output.

 

Not that I'd tell my own child, "Don't apply to Stanford. They only do well because they have craploads of money." No, I'd tell her to go for it. Craploads of money is a good thing. :)

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Statistics, please.

I do not believe there is any state school that surpasses the top schools on this list of Nobel laureates (and it does not get more "top" as far as science prizes is concerned)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Nobel_laureates_by_university_affiliation

 

First, that's not a complete list.

 

I know this because my college has one and he's not on there -- it's a small college, so they likely left it off because it wasn't "important".

 

Second, just because college has a lot of affiliated Nobel laureates doesn't mean the undergrad students will get the benefit of that.  And this is a conglomeration of affiliations: student who once went there, faculty who got recruited to the place after they'd gotten famous, etc.  And if it's faculty, getting a research prize doesn't say anything about teaching ability.

 

Not really sure it means much to a student who's just there to get a solid education.

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 But they also have alums sitting in all the peer review committees, which is going to affect how much they are published.

 

It has not been my experience that the peer review process for publications works like this, at least in physics.

You don't select the reviewers for your own papers - the editor does. The reviewers have to be part of the narrower scientific community in your field in order to have the expertise to review your paper; this trumps any affiliation to a network or an institution. They are also isolated individuals who do not know the identity of, or cooperate with, the other reviewers. (This is also the case for peer reviews of grant proposals.)

I see that good researchers at little known institutions get their papers published in the top journals, simply because they do great work - without the help of alumni networks.

Plus, if your paper is shoddy, they will rip it to shreds on arxiv (where everybody puts their paper before formal publication in a peer reviewed journal, to facilitate free exchange of ideas).

 

I do not doubt that there are areas where alumni networks can be a tremendous advantage (especially in the business world) - but publishing in peer reviewed scientific journals does not seem to be one of them.

 

Now, private funding of research does, of course, make a difference.

 

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Assumptions lead to disappointments. My DD is currently applying to 12 colleges. Some colleges are reach Ivies and others are safety state colleges. DD is well aware her chances to get into an Ivy are slim at best. Last year a friend of hers with a near perfect SAT score, a full load of AP classes, and extracurriculars any parent would be proud, of got into only one college of the 14 she applied to, and that college was her local college. So yea parents, let go of the fantasy that your child will be  admitted to an Ivy. Letting go of that fantasy takes the pressure off the kids who are already stressed. 

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When I first saw this article I laughed, be cause my friend posted it on Facebook and made some comment like right on target or something like that agreeing with the article.

 

I went to high school with this friend. He was accepted to MIT with a substantial scholarship. Both of his parents went to Yale. A couple people noted these facts in responding to his post. It was funny to have him agreeing with the article when he's not the example.

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When I first saw this article I laughed, be cause my friend posted it on Facebook and made some comment like right on target or something like that agreeing with the article.

 

I went to high school with this friend. He was accepted to MIT with a substantial scholarship. Both of his parents went to Yale. A couple people noted these facts in responding to his post. It was funny to have him agreeing with the article when he's not the example.

But that was what I was trying to say up thread. Those who went Ivy tend to know it's not as big a deal as folks make it out to be. I sent it to my SIL who has degrees from Yale, Georgetown and Harvard and she agrees with it. One of her (and my brother's) best friend at Yale worked admissions after college and he told them that after the initial screen he felt you could just throw all the applications in the air and then pick randomly and have just as good a class with kids that would be just as successful at Yale as using any other method. She and my brother have decided not to be the pushy parents she sees all around them. (I am NOT saying that only children with pushy parents get into Yale--just that that is not the route she (or I) have chosen-pinning all our hopes on an elite college).

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Again, I am not trying to suggest it does not take insane amounts of work and talent to get into Harvard.....

But the kids who I have seen get into Harvard and Yale and other Ivies did not put in an insane amount of work.  Nor were they especially talented.  Just your run of the mill bright kid who didn't have anything WOW about them.  The kind of kid you might expect would go to Harvard, but that we've all told probably won't get in.

 

Either it's a crap shoot and those kids won the roll of the dice.  Or they were legacies and the dice were more loaded in their favor, (but they still had to win at the more favorable gamble).

 

Whatever the reason -- and whatever game these kids I've known were entered in, getting into an Ivy is mostly pretty random.  So while the college may draw from a pool that is the "brightest and best" that's certainly not where the vast majority of the "brightest and best" end up.

 

The blog post I linked to originally gets at some of this, but I don't even think she completely understands the forces at work.  She's been too long in that system and has had too much contact with pushy parents.  She doesn't understand that a parent can perfectly reasonably work with a child to set goals and tell them what they need to do to achieve those goals -- and let the child figure out if it's worth it.

 

But she may not be completely cognizant of the fact that a kid does not need to kill themselves to get into an Ivy.  They just need to win the lucky draw, and nothing they do in high school can do any more than put them in the running.

 

And "in the running" does not mean a huge number of AP classes or starting one's own business (unless one wants to).  It just means good grades, challenging coursework, a thoughtful essay, solid recommendations, and some extracurriculars that it's obvious the student really enjoys.  Which is what you'd need to apply to any decent college.

 

Applying to 20 schools is a reasonable approach to the game, given the number.  It's the student's choice.  Not that admissions person's choice.  If the student wants to get better odds by opening the field up, then that's what they can do.  It's not craziness.  It's just recognizing the statistics.  It's doing the math, as the blogger suggests.

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Watch videos on edx or whatever of lecturers at Ivy institutions.  Then compare to what you would get at any other decent college.

 

What I see is larger classes, lectures that cover the same basic material as any college would cover in those courses, and the usual dumb stuff that professors do when floundering -- some do it more than others. 

 

The Ivies do not have better lecturers/professors.  And as professors have a tendency to teach to the students they have (not the ones they wished they had), I think you can get a pretty good idea as to how smart those students in the Ivy league classes are.  As the lectures seem to teach just about the same as any other college class I've ever been in, this suggests to me that the three colleges I've attended have had students who were about on par with the average student at an Ivy league.

 

This is not to say that there aren't colleges out there that aren't up to this standard.  In fact, I know my husband has taught at one that wasn't (and he had to slow down his course material to get anyone to learn anything).  But the majority of decent LACs and state universities/colleges are probably going to fall in the category of "just as good" as the Ivies when it comes to student intelligence and motivation.

 

Did my kids apply to Ivies?  No -- the application fees were 50 dollars.  That was too high a price for that lottery ticket.  If the Ivies go to free applications, the number of applications is going to skyrocket -- and result in them being even more "selective".  The same way the state lottery is "selective".

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Not to mention, it's very hard to get a list of graduates' outgoing GRE scores. I'd love to see which universities better prepared their students to get good GRE scores and perform well on international tests of subject material

 

That statistic would be meaningless unless SAT/ACT scores of incoming freshman were controlled for. Schools with high GRE scores among their graduating seniors may not have done much aside from admitting smart kids with high test scores.

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  But the majority of decent LACs and state universities/colleges are probably going to fall in the category of "just as good" as the Ivies when it comes to student intelligence and motivation.

 

Sorry, but this is completely untrue. My BFF from high school went to the local state college because (A) her family was well-off enough to not qualify for financial aid but not rich enough to actually afford private college tuition ( B ) she bombed the SAT's because she had severe test anxiety so merit scholarships were out and ( C ) the local school actually had a strong multimedia design program that was her area of interest.

 

One time when I was visiting her I sat in on her general ed classes. They were a complete joke. I may not have thought all that highly about the freshman writing course at Stanford, but at least we weren't sitting around reading paragraphs and underlying the thesis statement like the freshman writing course at the state school. This was not a remedial course but the normal one that all students were required to take for graduation.

 

The average SAT at my friend's alma mater is 1150. The average SAT at my alma mater is 1480. Are you seriously going to claim that the average student intelligence at my friend's school is "just as good" as at mine?

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Agree with Crimson Wife.

 

The flagship state school would probably be different, but I went to a University of State - Rural Town school to save money and because I always heard that it didn't matter where you did your undergrad. There are lightyears of difference between what my courses covered (even in the major) and the types of thinking we were asked to do versus what they're asked to do at high-end schools. Half the students in my major wouldn't have made it through at the more high-end schools, and most of the rest would have been the struggling C students vs. the coasting A students. If the internet had been around, I might have been aware of this difference.

 

There are definitely plenty of schools outside the Ivy League which are just as good as far as education goes -- I could come up with a fair list for mathematics, for example -- but the idea that most state schools are going to be just as good is just plain wrong. Schools without a graduate program (master's is usually enough) in the area tend to not be able to offer upper-division electives simply because they just don't have enough students to fill them. I would say that most flagship state schools would be just as good.

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I want to preface this by saying that I agree with the gist of the article, and that students can get a solid education at non-Ivy schools. I need to comment, however, on this:

 

Watch videos on edx or whatever of lecturers at Ivy institutions.  Then compare to what you would get at any other decent college.

 

What I see is larger classes, lectures that cover the same basic material as any college would cover in those courses, and the usual dumb stuff that professors do when floundering -- some do it more than others. 

 

The Ivies do not have better lecturers/professors.  And as professors have a tendency to teach to the students they have (not the ones they wished they had), I think you can get a pretty good idea as to how smart those students in the Ivy league classes are.  As the lectures seem to teach just about the same as any other college class I've ever been in, this suggests to me that the three colleges I've attended have had students who were about on par with the average student at an Ivy league.

 

My DD's experience at a top ranked school is different.

The first semester honors physics class she is taking is way above the level of the calculus based physics class I teach at a public university of strong reputation (and the course has a reputation as a hard class).  My DH and I, who are both physics professors, have to think really hard about DD's problems. Her school can offer a calculus class which is completely proof based and extremely challenging - and the students LOVE it. That course is light years above a regular calculus 1 course.

 

We could not run a class like this at our school, because we would not have enough students of that caliber. And the students would complain that it is too hard - whereas she observes a culture of students who revel in taking challenging coursework and take pride in working extremely hard. A definite difference in attitude - and in level. She has the direct comparison, having taken, and aced, classes at our university at age 15/16 and even tutored, and now being in a class where this is nothing special and they are all that smart, and smarter.

 

Not all professors at top universities are stellar. But it would be false to ignore that there are differences in coursework. Not all colleges are created equal. We find that we definitely get our money's worth (and it's a lot of money) by sending her there as opposed to having her attend our university for free. And I do not think it is because the prof is a better instructor than she would find here. He probably is not, but the level of classwork, the expectations,  and the atmosphere challenge her and force her to grow.

 

And I am not saying that there are no extremely smart students at a public institution. Of course there are. But we would never be able to offer coursework at this level, because these students are a minority. As you correctly say, the professors teach the students they have. So, I teach so that the majority of my 500 students can succeed. And I always feel bad that I can not offer the brightest students the challenging coursework they would be capable of. But there are no resources to offer an extra class for the 3 students who would be capable of that level.

 

 

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As I keep reading these threads, I feel more and more like my head will explode.

 

What are the right decisions and choices?  I feel no matter what we do (or have done) to counsel our DS, we have messed up.  Encourage him to apply to the elite schools - no chance of getting in.  Stay in state and attend schools whose average SAT scores are 300 points lower than his but where he might get decent merit aid- we're doing him a disservice.

 

Most of the time I am running to catch up with DS (have been since elementary school) and there are few local resources for academically talented students. Counseling for the top students at his high school is a joke.  Whatever resources are available are meted out to students who hail from the higher economic brackets or whose parents are tied to the school system. The rest of us are left to our own devices and it is a struggle.

 

DS is getting so frustrated he mentioned that he is thinking about giving up on college and enrolling in the military.

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Please don't read it that way, scoutermom.

 

Of course he should apply to elite schools if he is near or above their median. It is a crapshoot and he might get in. He just shouldn't make his entire high school career about trying to make himself someone that the elite schools want.

 

Some of the Illinois state schools (based on your name) are also very good. I'm not sure what he's interested in but in my field (math) UIC and UIUC are quite good and would definitely be able to challenge an above-average student, and many schools with doctoral programs wouldn't be too bad either.

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As I keep reading these threads, I feel more and more like my head will explode.

 

What are the right decisions and choices? I feel no matter what we do (or have done) to counsel our DS, we have messed up. Encourage him to apply to the elite schools - no chance of getting in. Stay in state and attend schools whose average SAT scores are 300 points lower than his but where he might get decent merit aid- we're doing him a disservice.

 

Most of the time I am running to catch up with DS (have been since elementary school) and there are few local resources for academically talented students. Counseling for the top students at his high school is a joke. Whatever resources are available are meted out to students who hail from the higher economic brackets or whose parents are tied to the school system. The rest of us are left to our own devices and it is a struggle.

 

DS is getting so frustrated he mentioned that he is thinking about giving up on college and enrolling in the military.

I started to feel this way too. After my head started to pressurize, I thought back to my classmates at state engineering school. The kids that needed challenge found it in their dept, and ended up at places like Stanford for grad school or U Chicago for law school. C students had a hard time finding employment during the recession I graduated in, and ended up in teaching or going into the military.Then I thought about colleagues. Colleagues were from MIT, Columbia, NYU, on down to CalBerkely, Georgia Tech etc.....so I dont feel the need for son to go to MIT for undergrad....other schools are producing fine undergrads that are accepted to the top graduate schools for science and engineering.. and he isnt interested in studying in a place where 1/3 of students are just there chasing $, ending up on Wall St. after graduation.

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Great article! I must say that I know plenty of successful, even wealthy people, (not old-money Harvard money, mind you, but wealthy nevertheless), and not one of them went to an Ivy-league school. They've done just fine with their state college degrees. I don't want to put that sort of pressure on my children.

 

ETA: I don't mean to imply that the only reason people go to Ivies is so they can get rich. Certainly there are people who have an intellectual need to go there. But I think the people about whom the author of the article were complaining were either hoping it was a path for their kid to get rich, to win some sort of contest of prestige, parental pride, something other than an intellectual need for that kind of education.

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As I keep reading these threads, I feel more and more like my head will explode.

 

What are the right decisions and choices?  I feel no matter what we do (or have done) to counsel our DS, we have messed up.  Encourage him to apply to the elite schools - no chance of getting in.  Stay in state and attend schools whose average SAT scores are 300 points lower than his but where he might get decent merit aid- we're doing him a disservice.

 

If he is the right academic caliber, of course encourage him to apply to top schools. I think the point of the article was that one should not make the student's entire high school career revolve around the elusive possibility that he might get into one of these schools.

The right choice is to offer him the best high school education you can, according to his abilities and interests - and then see where this takes him. It would be wrong to tailor this education solely with an eye to how something will look on the college application. He should get the education he wants to get, take the advanced courses he is interested in - and then, give it a shot and see what happens.

 

Extraordinary students who do not go to top colleges can carve out special opportunities for themselves at state schools. In the end, the student decides how much to get out of his college education.

My DD applied to a variety of schools. She was lucky to get into the one she is attending. She would be fine at each of the schools she applied to - because the student can make a lot happen.

 

And please note, this is not a contradiction  to my earlier post that emphasized that not all schools are created equal. A top student at my public university can take take advantage of his abilities by doing a double major, doing undergraduate research, being involved in

engineering competitions, taking up a few minors just because he is interested.

A talented and motivated student will find his way.

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I've got to comment regarding the comparison to state schools. It would be wrong to suggest all state schools are just as good as elite private universities. However, there are some elite state universities. I went to one. When you look at the profile of the average student they admit today, you wonder where they find enough students like that to fill a freshman class.

 

There are two schools like this in my state. But my state has several state supported universities. There is at least one in which having a pulse seems to be the only admissions requirement. Any math course below calculus would be considered remedial and would not be taught at the two elite schools. All other schools offer precalculus. Some even offer college algebra. Gen Ed courses which are a joke are nonexistent at at least one of the elite schools. The other elite school does have D1 sports (I am suspicious of D1 athletics, maybe unfairly--that's another topic). Someone who did not do amazing on the SAT would not likely be considered for admission to an elite state school.

 

Some states may not have a public universities where having SATs over 700 on all three parts (if not near perfect), all A's on the transcript and a MINIMUM of 8 AP/IB/Cambridge/DE courses (minimum, they would like more) is needed to have the admissions committee start to look at the application, but my state does. When that is the base of the student population, the university designs its courses to a high caliber of student. This is true at any school that has a student profile like this whether Ivy League or an elite public school. If the state flagship does have this high a profile for its admitted students, then the level of coursework will not be the same.

 

The offerings in all states are not equal and all state universities are not equal.

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As I keep reading these threads, I feel more and more like my head will explode.

 

What are the right decisions and choices? I feel no matter what we do (or have done) to counsel our DS, we have messed up. Encourage him to apply to the elite schools - no chance of getting in. Stay in state and attend schools whose average SAT scores are 300 points lower than his but where he might get decent merit aid- we're doing him a disservice.

 

Most of the time I am running to catch up with DS (have been since elementary school) and there are few local resources for academically talented students. Counseling for the top students at his high school is a joke. Whatever resources are available are meted out to students who hail from the higher economic brackets or whose parents are tied to the school system. The rest of us are left to our own devices and it is a struggle.

 

DS is getting so frustrated he mentioned that he is thinking about giving up on college and enrolling in the military.

I had my ds read your post. He can so relate. He said he even thought about giving up and enrolling in the military!! Looking back at the process, he is glad he went through it, but he is equally glad that he didn't let stereotypes and USWNR rankings influence what he determined was a good fit for him personally.

 

Based on his experience, I think the idea that students can only find a peer group or great academics at top schools is an illusion. He has found a wonderful group of friends who are all dedicated, talented students. At large publics, there is such a broad range of students that just b/c the avg applicant has lower scores does not mean that the campus is devoid of really top students. In the honors program ds is in, the avg student ACT score for the 2013 freshman class was 33.9 with a mean GPA of 4.2 (I couldn't find the stat for his class) while the university's avg admission stat is 26.

 

This is the advice he stands by: what are the issues that really matter in order for your ds to reach academic success? Those are the real questions he needs to ask himself. Ds had a list of questions that he wanted answered. He interviewed depts b/c he wanted the answers b/c they were important to him. Those contacts made a huge difference and really influenced his decision making. The core questions that really mattered to him were

 

1-course offerings (since he had already completed multiple in-major requirements he wanted to know what his options were)

2-undergrad research opportunities

3-where did undergrads from that institution go to grad school

4-scholarship opportunities.

He was accepted at schools which are ranked much higher than where he is currently attending, but the undergrad research opportunities at a couple were more limited, at one the dept was completely eliminated b/c of their attitude toward their undergrads, and several were eliminated due to cost. Research opportunities and cost were the determining factors for him.

 

Honestly, I think that his university pampers the kids in his honors program. They have the entire first floor of the honors college. They have their own computer lounge, study lounge, 3-D printers, guest speakers, incredible alumni base, great mentoring system, guaranteed research, and an amazing peer group who hangs out in their lounge all the time. And, it is all fully paid for by merit $$. He has no $$ stress. It is nothing but pure him time. He loves it and wouldn't change schools for anything.

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on down to CalBerkely, Georgia Tech etc.....

 

I don't have strong feelings about this article, either way--I mean, what's the point?  But I can't let this go--"on down" to Georgia Tech?  That's old news, Heigh Ho!  Tech is now consistently rated as one of the top five engineering schools in the country, and that is with having to have their student body comprised of 51% in-state students (or so I have always heard--not entirely sure the 51% number is accurate).  So you take that back, Missy.   :toetap05:

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I don't have strong feelings about this article, either way--I mean, what's the point? But I can't let this go--"on down" to Georgia Tech? That's old news, Heigh Ho! Tech is now consistently rated as one of the top five engineering schools in the country, and that is with having to have their student body comprised of 51% in-state students (or so I have always heard--not entirely sure the 51% number is accurate). So you take that back, Missy. :toetap05:

Thanks for the update! I was thinking more of overall national rankings rather than just engineering though.

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Please don't read it that way, scoutermom.

 

Of course he should apply to elite schools if he is near or above their median. It is a crapshoot and he might get in. He just shouldn't make his entire high school career about trying to make himself someone that the elite schools want.

 

Some of the Illinois state schools (based on your name) are also very good. I'm not sure what he's interested in but in my field (math) UIC and UIUC are quite good and would definitely be able to challenge an above-average student, and many schools with doctoral programs wouldn't be too bad either.

When we compare stats, yes he is definitely above the median.  Unfortunately, DS does not want to stay in IL. We are transplants and IL just isn't home to him.  He wants to leave the state.  This is problematic in two ways, it means no in-state tuition for other state schools and, at this point, there is no way he could conceivably complete an application for UIUC before the deadline on Monday (if I could convince him to do so).

 

I started to feel this way too. After my head started to pressurize, I thought back to my classmates at state engineering school. The kids that needed challenge found it in their dept, and ended up at places like Stanford for grad school or U Chicago for law school. C students had a hard time finding employment during the recession I graduated in, and ended up in teaching or going into the military.Then I thought about colleagues. Colleagues were from MIT, Columbia, NYU, on down to CalBerkely, Georgia Tech etc.....so I dont feel the need for son to go to MIT for undergrad....other schools are producing fine undergrads that are accepted to the top graduate schools for science and engineering.. and he isnt interested in studying in a place where 1/3 of students are just there chasing $, ending up on Wall St. after graduation.

 

DS isn't interested in the money either.  He is really looking for a peer group, which is something that has been lacking in his life (not only due to the difference in academics).  He was hoping that being in an environment with a bunch of other high achieving individuals would allow for more interaction and understanding, IYKWIM.

If he is the right academic caliber, of course encourage him to apply to top schools. I think the point of the article was that one should not make the student's entire high school career revolve around the elusive possibility that he might get into one of these schools.

The right choice is to offer him the best high school education you can, according to his abilities and interests - and then see where this takes him. It would be wrong to tailor this education solely with an eye to how something will look on the college application. He should get the education he wants to get, take the advanced courses he is interested in - and then, give it a shot and see what happens.

And this is where I/we have struggled.  When DS entered public high school, he was told to plan his schedule and his activities from senior year downward so that he would meet the requirements for the top tier schools.  As a freshman, he was already scheduling his senior year AP classes.  The local high school is on the block plan (four, seventy-five minute classes that switch every 9 weeks) and there is no wiggle room for kids on the honors/college prep track.  It's been crazy, absolutely crazy. Add in budget cuts, reduction in staff and the elimination of many high level classes (in favor of holding on to remedial courses with higher registration levels), it's been even more fun.  Three weeks ago, DS's schedule was changed (again).  He had registered for Zoology and the class was cancelled.  The counselor put him in another AP class. Second semester he will have nothing but AP classes.

 

I had my ds read your post. He can so relate. He said he even thought about giving up and enrolling in the military!! Looking back at the process, he is glad he went through it, but he is equally glad that he didn't let stereotypes and USWNR rankings influence what he determined was a good fit for him personally.

 

Based on his experience, I think the idea that students can only find a peer group or great academics at top schools is an illusion. He has found a wonderful group of friends who are all dedicated, talented students. At large publics, there is such a broad range of students that just b/c the avg applicant has lower scores does not mean that the campus is devoid of really top students. In the honors program ds is in, the avg student ACT score for the 2013 freshman class was ]33.9 with a mean GPA of 4.2 (I couldn't find the stat for his class) while the university's avg admission stat is 26.

 

This is the advice he stands by: what are the issues that really matter in order for your ds to reach academic success? Those are the real questions he needs to ask himself. Ds had a list of questions that he wanted answered. He interviewed depts b/c he wanted the answers b/c they were important to him. Those contacts made a huge difference and really influenced his decision making. The core questions that really mattered to him were

 

1-course offerings (since he had already completed multiple in-major requirements he wanted to know what his options were)

2-undergrad research opportunities

3-where did undergrads from that institution go to grad school

4-scholarship opportunities.

He was accepted at schools which are ranked much higher than where he is currently attending, but the undergrad research opportunities at a couple were more limited, at one the dept was completely eliminated b/c of their attitude toward their undergrads, and several were eliminated due to cost. Research opportunities and cost were the determining factors for him.

 

Honestly, I think that his university pampers the kids in his honors program. They have the entire first floor of the honors college. They have their own computer lounge, study lounge, 3-D printers, guest speakers, incredible alumni base, great mentoring system, guaranteed research, and an amazing peer group who hangs out in their lounge all the time. And, it is all fully paid for by merit $$. He has no $$ stress. It is nothing but pure him time. He loves it and wouldn't change schools for anything.

 

Your son's program sounds wonderful.  I am happy he found a good fit.  I am becoming concerned about DS's search.  He has only completed three applications and claims he is finished.  He hasn't worked on scholarship essays or supplementary essays or anything else in two weeks.  Deadlines are here; some are Dec. 1 others are Dec. 15.  He has been accepted to the Honor's program for one state school (that I forced him to apply to as a backup to his backup) with a 25% merit award and an offer to apply for the President's scholarship.  The due date for that application is in two weeks and he hasn't even looked at it.  We can't afford the tuition without more merit aid and if he chooses not to apply for the pres. scholarship he can't attend that school (and it's not a top rated state uni as it is).  He also put all but one of his eggs in one basket by applying REA to his #1 school (an Ivy).  The third school he applied to isn't an Ivy but it's right up there with them.  He had until Dec 1 to complete an interview and he didn't do it.  This school offers significant merit aid to a select group but the interview was a must.  Since he didn't complete the interview, he is no longer in the running for the merit aid and even if he is accepted there is no way we can pay for it.

 

I simply don't know what to do anymore.

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You know, a gap year would not be the end of the world either. Does he need a break from the treadmill of rush-rush-rush-rush-rush? Is there something non-academic that he'd be interested in volunteering for during the coming year? Could he apply for a visa to do one of those work-abroad-for-a-year programs? I'm just tossing out ideas at this point ... The issues with joining the military (if he's not very committed to it and is just doing it because he doesn't know what else to do) are the very real probability of getting shot at and having to shoot at someone else, and the fact that there's a minimum time limit on the commitment. A job or volunteer year avoids that issue.

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Your son's program sounds wonderful. I am happy he found a good fit. I am becoming concerned about DS's search. He has only completed three applications and claims he is finished. He hasn't worked on scholarship essays or supplementary essays or anything else in two weeks. Deadlines are here; some are Dec. 1 others are Dec. 15. He has been accepted to the Honor's program for one state school (that I forced him to apply to as a backup to his backup) with a 25% merit award and an offer to apply for the President's scholarship. The due date for that application is in two weeks and he hasn't even looked at it. We can't afford the tuition without more merit aid and if he chooses not to apply for the pres. scholarship he can't attend that school (and it's not a top rated state uni as it is). He also put all but one of his eggs in one basket by applying REA to his #1 school (an Ivy). The third school he applied to isn't an Ivy but it's right up there with them. He had until Dec 1 to complete an interview and he didn't do it. This school offers significant merit aid to a select group but the interview was a must. Since he didn't complete the interview, he is no longer in the running for the merit aid and even if he is accepted there is no way we can pay for it.

 

I simply don't know what to do anymore.

This scenario would concern me a lot. What are his plans if he isn't accepted at the Ivy? Is he willing to not attend school in the fall? Has he meet with depts, sat in classes, etc at other schools? Unfortunately, he is running out of time for many of the best opportunities for top students. A large university might be his best option for finding peers that share his interests (especially since you stated that the issue isn't purely academic.) Is he sure he will find peers at Ivys? (Ironically, our ds refused to apply to Ivys bc he didn't think he would fit in.)

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You know, a gap year would not be the end of the world either. Does he need a break from the treadmill of rush-rush-rush-rush-rush? Is there something non-academic that he'd be interested in volunteering for during the coming year? Could he apply for a visa to do one of those work-abroad-for-a-year programs? I'm just tossing out ideas at this point ... The issues with joining the military (if he's not very committed to it and is just doing it because he doesn't know what else to do) are the very real probability of getting shot at and having to shoot at someone else, and the fact that there's a minimum time limit on the commitment. A job or volunteer year avoids that issue.

 

The Gap year is one of the reasons he selected the school he did for REA.  That school has a great Gap program and DS really wants to apply to it knowing that he will be attending school the year after.

 

I honestly don't think he could be accepted into the military.  He has a medical condition that I think would preclude enlisting.  I know it's an automatic exclusion for the academies.

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Going off your last post it really sounds as if he doesn't want to go to school this year at all. Is this ok with you? Have you told him it's ok? I think (and pardon me, please, if I'm telling you what you've already done) that you all need to have a heart to heart about whether he actually wants to go this year and if he doesn't, brainstorm about interesting things he could do instead.

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This scenario would concern me a lot. What are his plans if he isn't accepted at the Ivy? Is he willing to not attend school in the fall? Has he meet with depts, sat in classes, etc at other schools? Unfortunately, he is running out of time for many of the best opportunities for top students. A large university might be his best option for finding peers that share his interests (especially since you stated that the issue isn't purely academic.) Is he sure he will find peers at Ivys? (Ironically, our ds refused to apply to Ivys bc he didn't think he would fit in.)

 

No, he has not sat in on any classes, met with depts, etc.  Since he isn't interested in state schools or anything nearby, there is nothing to visit.  We can't afford to take another trip to the East Coast so he can visit his top schools again.

 

The answer to your last question weighs heavily on our hearts.

 

Here's a quick story, ironically about Harvard (the school we are supposed to forget).  DS has Tourette Syndrome.  His tics have been varied and have disrupted certain aspects of his life.  While we were homeschooling, I took him to Boston to see the sites we had been learning about during our study of the Revolution.  He was ticcing (verbal and physical tics) the entire trip. On our last day, we visited Harvard.  He has dreamed of Harvard since he had first learned about it around the age of 8.  The minute he walked through that gate, he stopped ticcing. The entire time we were on campus he was smiling and relaxed.  He noticed the students reading, studying and having (what appeared to be) meaningful conversations.  He toured the Natural History museum and spoke to a curator about a possible work study job when he was a freshman.  As we left the campus, he told me that for the first time in his life he felt like he fit in.  He told me it felt like home.  He didn't tic for almost a year after that visit.  For those who knew him pre-Harvard, it was a dramatic change.

 

We don't own a Harvard flag and my license plates don't say HRVRD.  The only items we have from that first visit are a coffee mug that has a long crack down the side and the memory that for a brief period in time DS was truly at ease and had a dream that he could hold on to.  For that, I will always be grateful. 

 

This summer, I took him back to Harvard to do the official potential student tour.  Once again, he was relaxed and happy. He had a sense of belonging and ownership that I haven't often seen in him. I can see him succeeding there.  Maybe it's wishful thinking but that campus, that spot of earth with it's underground library and random chairs in the quad, it changes him. For the better.

 

 

 

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No, he has not sat in on any classes, met with depts, etc. Since he isn't interested in state schools or anything nearby, there is nothing to visit. We can't afford to take another trip to the East Coast so he can visit his top schools again.

 

The answer to your last question weighs heavily on our hearts.

 

Here's a quick story, ironically about Harvard (the school we are supposed to forget). DS has Tourette Syndrome. His tics have been varied and have disrupted certain aspects of his life. While we were homeschooling, I took him to Boston to see the sites we had been learning about during our study of the Revolution. He was ticcing (verbal and physical tics) the entire trip. On our last day, we visited Harvard. He has dreamed of Harvard since he had first learned about it around the age of 8. The minute he walked through that gate, he stopped ticcing. The entire time we were on campus he was smiling and relaxed. He noticed the students reading, studying and having (what appeared to be) meaningful conversations. He toured the Natural History museum and spoke to a curator about a possible work study job when he was a freshman. As we left the campus, he told me that for the first time in his life he felt like he fit in. He told me it felt like home. He didn't tic for almost a year after that visit. For those who knew him pre-Harvard, it was a dramatic change.

 

We don't own a Harvard flag and my license plates don't say HRVRD. The only items we have from that first visit are a coffee mug that has a long crack down the side and the memory that for a brief period in time DS was truly at ease and had a dream that he could hold on to. For that, I will always be grateful.

 

This summer, I took him back to Harvard to do the official potential student tour. Once again, he was relaxed and happy. He had a sense of belonging and ownership that I haven't often seen in him. I can see him succeeding there. Maybe it's wishful thinking but that campus, that spot of earth with it's underground library and random chairs in the quad, it changes him. For the better.

I hope he is accepted. I would be a basketcase if I were you. There is so much emotional investment in this application. I hope someone can offer you words of wisdom.

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I agree with 8fill.

 

I wonder if his reluctance to develop contingency plans is because he sort of feels as if he will "jinx" Harvard by planning for anything else?

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I hope he is accepted. I would be a basketcase if I were you. There is so much emotional investment in this application. I hope someone can offer you words of wisdom.

 

I am a basketcase because Harvard is not the school he applied to REA.  He chose another school as his early decision and Harvard has become his #2.  All I can do is support him, right? And drink chai.  I have been drinking a lot of chai.

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I agree with 8fill.

 

I wonder if his reluctance to develop contingency plans is because he sort of feels as if he will "jinx" Harvard by planning for anything else?

 

There is some of that but he hasn't completed his Harvard app.  It's one of the ones sitting there with an unfinished supplement (paid for, scores sent; it's all done except the supplement).  He applied REA somewhere else. 

 

Some days I just shake my head...

 

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There is some of that but he hasn't completed his Harvard app.  It's one of the ones sitting there with an unfinished supplement (paid for, scores sent; it's all done except the supplement).  He applied REA somewhere else. 

 

Some days I just shake my head...

 

 

Oh, I misunderstood, sorry.

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There is some of that but he hasn't completed his Harvard app.  It's one of the ones sitting there with an unfinished supplement (paid for, scores sent; it's all done except the supplement).  He applied REA somewhere else. 

 

Some days I just shake my head...

 

  

Oh, I misunderstood, sorry.

So did I.

 

Is Harvard really his number 2? I am confused. If he is finished applying, how does he perceive Harvard as his second choice if he hasn't even submitted his full application? Unless I am still misunderstanding, he has really only applied to 1 school, an Ivy. He can't count options that are unaffordable b/c they aren't really true options and he can't count incomplete applications.

 

Maybe he just plans on being really busy over Christmas break and finishing his apps? But, I would really encourage him to have a non-Ivy financially feasible option (and a lot of those have earlier deadlines.)

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But the majority of decent LACs and state universities/colleges are probably going to fall in the category of "just as good" as the Ivies when it comes to student intelligence and motivation.

 

 

Absolutely, positively NOT my experience with the majority of LACs and state Us.  Not even close.  But there are schools that are just as good.  Most will be in the Top 50 or so if looking at lists.  Other options will fall within majors.  Engineering is one that needs its own category rather than a generic list.  Marine Bio is too.  I'm sure there are others.

 

The school middle son is attending is FAR, FAR, FAR more rigorous than most of the schools out there - even more so than some of its "peers" if we're comparing tests (which he has done).  Youngest would not survive at middle son's college (any major).  He's doing fairly well at the school he's chosen.

 

My DD's experience at a top ranked school is different.

The first semester honors physics class she is taking is way above the level of the calculus based physics class I teach at a public university of strong reputation (and the course has a reputation as a hard class).  My DH and I, who are both physics professors, have to think really hard about DD's problems. Her school can offer a calculus class which is completely proof based and extremely challenging - and the students LOVE it. That course is light years above a regular calculus 1 course.

 

We could not run a class like this at our school, because we would not have enough students of that caliber. And the students would complain that it is too hard - whereas she observes a culture of students who revel in taking challenging coursework and take pride in working extremely hard. A definite difference in attitude - and in level. She has the direct comparison, having taken, and aced, classes at our university at age 15/16 and even tutored, and now being in a class where this is nothing special and they are all that smart, and smarter.

 

Not all professors at top universities are stellar. But it would be false to ignore that there are differences in coursework. Not all colleges are created equal. We find that we definitely get our money's worth (and it's a lot of money) by sending her there as opposed to having her attend our university for free. And I do not think it is because the prof is a better instructor than she would find here. He probably is not, but the level of classwork, the expectations,  and the atmosphere challenge her and force her to grow.

 

And I am not saying that there are no extremely smart students at a public institution. Of course there are. But we would never be able to offer coursework at this level, because these students are a minority. As you correctly say, the professors teach the students they have. So, I teach so that the majority of my 500 students can succeed. And I always feel bad that I can not offer the brightest students the challenging coursework they would be capable of. But there are no resources to offer an extra class for the 3 students who would be capable of that level.

 

Liking your post was not enough.  You explained it very well.  It has been our experience as well.

 

Some of middle son's classmates took summer courses at other places.  Not a single one said the course was even close to identical.  They were "having fun" with the comparisons.  They were also smart enough not to take these additional courses where it counted - only to fill in what they needed elsewhere so they could take more of what they wanted.  (Many are working on double majors or similar.)

 

As I keep reading these threads, I feel more and more like my head will explode.

 

What are the right decisions and choices?  I feel no matter what we do (or have done) to counsel our DS, we have messed up.  Encourage him to apply to the elite schools - no chance of getting in.  Stay in state and attend schools whose average SAT scores are 300 points lower than his but where he might get decent merit aid- we're doing him a disservice.

 

Most of the time I am running to catch up with DS (have been since elementary school) and there are few local resources for academically talented students. Counseling for the top students at his high school is a joke.  Whatever resources are available are meted out to students who hail from the higher economic brackets or whose parents are tied to the school system. The rest of us are left to our own devices and it is a struggle.

 

DS is getting so frustrated he mentioned that he is thinking about giving up on college and enrolling in the military.

 

I've read your other posts, but am going to comment on this one as it really does hit many people with academically talented kids.  Meanwhile, I wish your guy luck with getting his acceptance!

 

My best suggestion to these students (including my middle son) is to look at schools just below the Top 20 (or so).  Those schools are often still quite good and offer decent merit aid to attract these top students.  I've known a few who attend them now (not just my guy's choice) and absolutely none have been disappointed.

 

State flagships can also be good - esp if they have an Honors program.

 

Top students I've known who have been disappointed attended schools far below their capability (usually because those schools were free or close to it).  They come home wondering what the heck is all that great about college.  The reason why is there just aren't enough peers and the classes are WAY too easy for them. Profs can only teach to the students they have - not the students they wish they had.  These students will still succeed in life (graduate and support themselves), but they do miss out on a bit along the way IMO.

 

We did not have my guy apply to schools way below his caliber for that reason.  One of his peers did so and is a straight A student at his college.  I'm positive he'll make it into med school, but when the two are home together, he'll freely admit he wishes he'd gone middle son's path instead as his peer just doesn't have the same opportunities to choose from.  It makes me feel sorry for him.  The two schools are pretty equivalent in size, but one is a Top 30 National U and the other is a Top 30 Regional U.

 

To get potentials (not guarantees) for merit aid and a top notch education, look just below the top schools.

 

ps  Middle son did not apply to any Ivies.  I left the decision up to him, but where we live Ivies are looked down upon as elitist and he didn't want that to haunt him here at home.  He's doing superbly where he is and I know his desire is to make it into a Top 10 med school (Ivy or not).  That would NOT be looked down upon here.  Only undergrad is.  Whatever his decision is (where to apply, etc) - I support him.  But we did not want him to go to an undergrad school too far below his capabilities.  We wanted him to have the challenge he loves and we are willing to pay what we can toward it.  Fortunately, so far, we have not needed any parent loans.  He does have basic student loans, but I doubt he'll regret them when compared to the opportunities he has.  He absolutely loves his school.

 

pps  The other schools are definitely right for their caliber of students.  As mentioned before, youngest would not survive at middle son's school.  He is doing well (I think!) where he is and WILL have a chance to succeed there.

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Oh, I misunderstood, sorry.

 

No, you didn't misunderstand.  None of this situation is clear and frustration is abundant.  We were shocked when DS opted to apply REA to this other school.  Yes, he says Harvard is his number two.

 

Here's the quick rundown:

DS has applied to three schools:  one Ivy (not even on the radar until this summer); a large state uni (ranked 194; I forced this app as a backup because we heard merit aid was generous); a top 20 LAC.

 

Apps started (common app submitted, fees paid, scores submitted; most are waiting on supplements): Harvard and two LACs in the top 20

 

6 apps - 3 complete, 3 incomplete

 

To link back to the thread about Elites and sending info.  99% of his mail was from elite schools.  Many of the schools we had never heard of and would look them up and discover they were in the top 20 (of unis and LACs).  His mail was a veritable Who's Who.  He narrowed them down to what he thought were 2 Reach schools, 2 Hope Fors and 2 Safeties.  Now he thinks that all except the State Uni are Reach schools with little chance of acceptance or merit aid (3 of the five don't offer merit aid but are generous with need based aid). 

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No, you didn't misunderstand.  None of this situation is clear and frustration is abundant.  We were shocked when DS opted to apply REA to this other school.  Yes, he says Harvard is his number two.

 

Here's the quick rundown:

DS has applied to three schools:  one Ivy (not even on the radar until this summer); a large state uni (ranked 194; I forced this app as a backup because we heard merit aid was generous); a top 20 LAC.

 

Apps started (common app submitted, fees paid, scores submitted; most are waiting on supplements): Harvard and two LACs in the top 20

 

6 apps - 3 complete, 3 incomplete

 

To link back to the thread about Elites and sending info.  99% of his mail was from elite schools.  Many of the schools we had never heard of and would look them up and discover they were in the top 20 (of unis and LACs).  His mail was a veritable Who's Who.  He narrowed them down to what he thought were 2 Reach schools, 2 Hope Fors and 2 Safeties.  Now he thinks that all except the State Uni are Reach schools with little chance of acceptance or merit aid (3 of the five don't offer merit aid but are generous with need based aid). 

 

Is he really satisfied with that state university as his safety?   Is he willing to attend there?  (it doesn't even sound like it offers that much merit $$ anyway based on your description of 25%.)   There are plenty of schools which offer more merit $$.  He could apply to higher ranked schools and end up with much better merit offers.

 

What does he want to major in?  I think I missed that info.

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Sorry, but this is completely untrue.

 

I think you missed the word "majority" in my previous post.

 

Also, I'm unconvinced that average SAT scores say a whole lot about a student body.  I've been at schools with both high and middling averages.  The teaching tends to be about the same and there's the usual mix of students who don't bother along with students are doing well.  And not all those students who are doing well are those who scored high on the SAT.  Not all those who are doing poorly scored badly.

 

The percentage of bad universities may well vary by state -- but that may be more a function of the K-12 educational system in that state.  As most kids end up going to colleges in the same state (or a neighboring state, and I would guess there's a good correlation between neighboring states), universities in states with bad K-12 systems are going to have to deal with the incoming, deficient students some way or another.

 

If you happen to be in an area with a bad K-12 system, you might also be in an area where more of the colleges have to cater to the students that come out of that system.

 

 

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(((ScoutermominIL)))

 

I am so sorry that things are so stressful in your home right now. It sounds as though you ds is suffering from a bit of "paralysis." I agree with the other poster that he may be fearful of "jinxing" his number 1 choice. It is disheartening that he cannot embrace his in-state safety, but I completely understand that if y'all are transplants. I agree with others that you need to sit down with him and have a heart-to-heart talk about all options should he not get into his REA school. Unfortunately, this can escalate the stress level, as you don't want him to think he *can't* get in. So, it has to be done in a delicate way. The other thread about elite schools sending viewbooks, e-mails, etc. to students who aren't qualified is one thing. The reality is that elite schools also reject MANY students who ARE qualified. Would he be willing to sit down with you and develop a plan of action to get at least a few more things taken care of prior to the REA announcements? If you approach it like a little business meeting and help him get a plan of action/timeline for getting in some other apps/scholarship apps in? Particularly the scholarship apps. One of my many mantras is, "Better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it." My guess is he has two weeks before the REA decision comes out. If you had a calendar and helped him plan out a reasonable amount of application work during those two weeks it might help distract everyone from the looming "big day." I certainly hope he gets into that #1 school! He also needs to realize that a deferral may happen as well. Many Ivies (unfortunately) defer a lot of their applicants which only prolongs the angst. I totally get where you are coming from - I was a complete basket case as well. The reality is that the REA school box has been checked off and no amount of worrying will get the decision here faster or affect what it is. I say this as a complete and total hypocrite! I am a person who can prove that worrying works: 95% of what I worry about never happens! Ha ha! Yes, I realize that is a logical fallacy. My ds was deferred from a top school that defers very few applicants, but he did gain admission in the RD round. With Harvard, MIT, and others deferring 70-something percent of their applicants, that isn't always the case and, that reality needs to be presented as well. I can only offer what my friend whose daughter had been through the admissions process a year before my son told me last year: Next year's holiday season is going to be so much more enjoyable for your family. It is so true.

 

It has been awhile since I first read that article, and I was too lazy to re-read it. Some kids choose to aim high, not because their parents push them into it, but because they push themselves into it. My ds attended a summer program at his current school the summer after his sophomore year in high school. That became the "dream school." It's hard to keep your kids from having one, no matter how hard you try. And really, once they latch onto it as a "dream," it is hard not to have that dream with them. So, we looked at what it might take to achieve that, and ds did what he could within the areas he could control - course selection, grades, test scores, high achievement in ECs, striving for leadership positons where he could. However, I do think it is important to be matter-of-fact and pragmatic about choosing all the schools one applies to. "Well, Junior, I really hope you get in to Dream School U, but if you don't, let's think about what else we might do." Looking at the math is helpful because it is objective. Your odds (EVERYONE'S odds) are LOW. When you look at results threads on CC (granted one can't know the quality of essays) it's easy to see that NO ONE can call what is going to happen. The parents need to be objective but supportive. The challenge is that too many parents cannot be objective and vicariously tie their children's academic successes to themselves. It is important to balance big goals with reality. For some students, those top schools are fantasy. But for some students they are reachable. If they want to aim for it, they should be supported in that endeavor, IMO.

 

I whole-heartedly agree that not all state flagship schools are created equal! There is no way that our state flagship could compare to Michigan, UNC-Chapel Hill, UVA, Cal, etc. I know what it takes to get in there, and it isn't much. The standards for receiving our state's lottery scholarship are appallingly low. Yes, we have an Honors College, but not all of those are created equal. In comparing it to ds's other two Southern flagship schools where he applied, our Honors College was by far the least impressive. It's just a label for kids that have a certain GPA and ACT score. The type of work ds is expected to do at his school does not compare at all to what is expected of the kids at our in-state flagship. The rigor, expectations, and critical thinking required are all vastly higher.

 

I also agree that one doesn't need to go to an Ivy/top tier school to get a good education and have successful career - however that is measured. As long as the potential exists at a school, a student willing to avail himself of opportunities will do fine. But not all schools have the same level of potential. They just don't.

 

ETA: @ScoutermominIL - I think you need to throw on some other safeties. Maybe some big state U's that offer generous merit money to kids with high stats.

 

Edited again to (hopefully) fix all my errorrs. Ack! I really should not post until after that second cup of coffee!!

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I want to preface this by saying that I agree with the gist of the article, and that students can get a solid education at non-Ivy schools. I need to comment, however, on this:

 

 

My DD's experience at a top ranked school is different.

The first semester honors physics class she is taking is way above the level of the calculus based physics class I teach at a public university of strong reputation (and the course has a reputation as a hard class).  My DH and I, who are both physics professors, have to think really hard about DD's problems. Her school can offer a calculus class which is completely proof based and extremely challenging - and the students LOVE it. That course is light years above a regular calculus 1 course.

 

There is variation in schools.  However, I don't believe that one has to go to a famous school, or one with a high average SAT.  Or even one in the top 50 or 100. 

 

Although those things may be one marker of the sorts of things your daughter wanted, there are plenty of schools accomplishing what you're talking about that do not have any of these markers.  A lot of these schools do not have graduate schools (or only do in limited fields), so they tend not to be as famous.  The research that comes out of those schools drives a LOT of the name recognition, but it often isn't terribly relevant to the undergrads.  A few undergrads may get to participate, but the majority won't at most of these schools (unless the school is doing things to make it more likely).

 

On the other hand, you can find plenty of LACs with lower SAT scores where most of the students are getting to do research (many of them getting published) and where the science courses (at least) are rigorous.  These schools may actually be better for an undergrad student than the big names with the grad schools and the huge research programs.  I did what passed for undergrad research at a big name institution.  It was a joke.  I was a flunky.  I then supervised undergrads at a different big name research institute.  Same story.  My daughter then went to a small LAC without a big name and did her very own research project that she presented at several meetings -- which the top names in the field were very interested in hearing about.

 

But, these small LACs with decent undergrad research don't have the name recognition.  (The one my daughter went to isn't probably even in the top 300 of any list -- but just about every student graduating out of the physics dept there is in HIGH demand at grad schools around the country.  They get in everywhere they apply.  The kids who decide to go to work afterwards don't do too shabbily either.)

 

The trick is finding them.  But I don't think they're all that rare.  They're just all hiding in plain sight.

 

I'd look for a school that has most of their undergrads involved in research, where the faculty can point to at least a few papers that have come out with undergrads as authors, where the undergrads routinely go to science meetings to present results (these may not result in actual papers, so there will be more of this than of publications), where the college financially supports these trips to scientific meetings, where a good portion of the undergraduate classes include research or projects in the classwork.  This last point may be harder to assess. There's projects and then there's projects.  Some can be pretty rinky dink and it's hard to tell, from the outside, whether they're useful for teaching or just something to make the course look better.

 

You can ask to see homework assignments and projects, although if it's not a field you're in, it might be difficult to assess the rigor.  (Also, it's hard to know what kind of rigor is best for YOUR student.  They may not need rigor and lots of proofs, but a solid understanding.)

 

My kids have been at 3 different colleges and there is a difference in rigor in the homework assignments -- in how much students are expected to know and how much understanding is required (vs just copying).  Of those three colleges, the two with the most rigorous homework were the one with the highest average SAT score and ... the one with the lowest.  So, go figure....   Both, I think, were acceptably rigorous to result in students learning at a high level of understanding.  However, here's the funny thing, the one with the highest SAT scores had the most students lolling about complaining about how everything was too HARD.

 

SAT score averages may not be a good way to assess a college.  There are a number of colleges that do focus on admitting kids with those high test scores, and they may get a student body ready to handle rigorous work because of this (although they may get a student body that says it's all "too hard" -- see above).  And then there are a lot of other colleges that don't focus on these scores and will admit kids with low scores who just seem like they're a good gamble.  They end up with a low SAT average, but often a class that can STILL do the rigorous work.  Why would this be?  Because they're admitting kids who may have had disadvantages or who just didn't have their act together in high school. 

 

And just comparing SAT/ACT scores, you can't distinguish a school that is actively recruiting students who are going to go on and overcome their difficulties and likely end up overshooting where the kids with lots of advantages (and therefore high SAT scores) end up.  The college will be teaching to the sort of kid who wants to get ahead through hard work. 

 

There are all sorts of colleges out there.  If you do a bit of searching around, you may find a lot better college (with a lot better financial deal) that fits your child better, that just happens to have lower SAT scores and just happens to not end up in the top 50 ranked schools.

 

And then I have to add that I know nothing about the humanities, so none of this advice may be relevant for those fields.

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DS is getting so frustrated he mentioned that he is thinking about giving up on college and enrolling in the military.

 

If he's interested in the military, I would encourage him to apply to the service academies. Many of our friends are graduates of West Point and Annapolis and they are just as smart as our friends who graduated from the Ivies, Stanford, MIT, Duke, etc. It is definitely a very different college experience but he'd graduate without any monetary debt and the military offers brand-new college graduates fantastic leadership opportunities. Not too many organizations would put a 22 y.o. in charge of a dozen people and millions of dollars' worth of equipment. That leadership experience is why top MBA programs love former military officers (my DH's school reserves roughly 10% of its class for former military).

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 The teaching tends to be about the same and there's the usual mix of students who don't bother along with students are doing well.  

 

You don't go to an Ivy caliber school for the teaching. You go for the credential and the social connections you make there. Today when many if not most jobs are never publicly advertised, whom you know is equally or more important than what you know. On my cynical days, I think of college like a country club with a six figure initiation fee. 

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If he's interested in the military, I would encourage him to apply to the service academies. Many of our friends are graduates of West Point and Annapolis and they are just as smart as our friends who graduated from the Ivies, Stanford, MIT, Duke, etc. It is definitely a very different college experience but he'd graduate without any monetary debt and the military offers brand-new college graduates fantastic leadership opportunities. Not too many organizations would put a 22 y.o. in charge of a dozen people and millions of dollars' worth of equipment. That leadership experience is why top MBA programs love former military officers (my DH's school reserves roughly 10% of its class for former military).

 

This was bandied about for awhile. He even contacted one and began the application process but found out that Tourette Syndrome is an automatic exclusion.

 

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The research that comes out of those schools drives a LOT of the name recognition, but it often isn't terribly relevant to the undergrads.  A few undergrads may get to participate, but the majority won't at most of these schools (unless the school is doing things to make it more likely).

 

On the other hand, you can find plenty of LACs with lower SAT scores where most of the students are getting to do research (many of them getting published) and where the science courses (at least) are rigorous.  These schools may actually be better for an undergrad student than the big names with the grad schools and the huge research programs.  I did what passed for undergrad research at a big name institution.  It was a joke.  I was a flunky.  I then supervised undergrads at a different big name research institute.  Same story.  My daughter then went to a small LAC without a big name and did her very own research project that she presented at several meetings -- which the top names in the field were very interested in hearing about.

 

But, these small LACs with decent undergrad research don't have the name recognition.  (The one my daughter went to isn't probably even in the top 300 of any list -- but just about every student graduating out of the physics dept there is in HIGH demand at grad schools around the country.  They get in everywhere they apply.  The kids who decide to go to work afterwards don't do too shabbily either.)

 

The trick is finding them.  But I don't think they're all that rare.  They're just all hiding in plain sight.

 

...

 

There are all sorts of colleges out there.  If you do a bit of searching around, you may find a lot better college (with a lot better financial deal) that fits your child better, that just happens to have lower SAT scores and just happens to not end up in the top 50 ranked schools.

 

And then I have to add that I know nothing about the humanities, so none of this advice may be relevant for those fields.

 

I wish you would name some of these colleges as the experience I've seen around here does not match what you are talking about with rigor or research.

 

At middle son's college, roughly 80% of undergrads participate in published research and there are oodles of options.  At his peer's school a handful of students participate in published research and there are just a few options.  At most LACs there are just a few options (comparatively) - good if those are the opportunities that interest the student - not so good if they find they'd prefer something else.  At lower level (in the major) LACs there are even fewer options from what I've seen.  At higher level, there can be more.

 

And the classwork definitely differs.  

 

Student apathy can vary in a school, but every student I've heard from (we're talking in the hundreds for this question) has said that there is more of an "academic" vibe in higher level schools.  Some variance is there between those who prefer party and those prefer academic, so that should be watched, but even those who party at higher level schools tend to be more academically capable for a baseline.  Top students have always told me they felt they found their niche when visiting some top (type - not just Ivy) school or another that fit them.  They felt like lower level schools were more like high school.

 

But there are PLENTY of colleges between #1- 20 and #194.  I would not use just those two extremes personally.  Esp if #194 doesn't give more than 25% aid.

 

And success (supporting oneself after graduation and/or grad/prof schools) can come from many options, but the path to get there is not identical.

 

SAT scores to not tend to correlate the greatest because the SAT is limited in what it tests and doesn't test work ethic at all.

 

Nonetheless, in general, students at my high school who score a 2000 on their SAT are far more academically talented than those who score 1500.  Whether they use that capability or not will make a difference - or whether that type of capability is even needed for their major.

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