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Articles / Applying to College / 2014 Highlights (Part I)

2014 Highlights (Part I)

Dave Berry
Written by Dave Berry | Dec. 22, 2014
It's time to look back over 2014, which is quickly coming to a close. I've chosen some excerpts from this year's past posts, some of which you may have missed. Hopefully, if you have missed some, perhaps these snippets will motivate you to check out the complete posts.

So, here we go …

Your Key to Unlocking College Admissions

This article is targeted mainly at high school freshman, sophomores, juniors, and your families. Of course, there will also be some value in what you'll read here for high school seniors, current college students, and just about anyone else who is aspiring to enter or deal with the world of higher education. That's quite a broad intended audience, but that's just how powerful my topic is. And exactly what is that topic? Well, it's the just updated and improved College Confidential discussion forum, which resides on the Internet's premier college information site: College Confidential, fondly known as “CC" to the throngs of students, parents, and others who enjoy its wealth of free information.

I've discussed the CC forum before, but today, I want to highlight a few of the new and improved aspects of this unique resource. If you have been a registered member of CC's forum community and haven't visited recently, you may be wondering how such a superior resource could have been made even more effective. The snapshot answer to that question includes the following points. The exciting new format will allow you to:

  • – Tag other users with the @mentioning feature
  • – Opt into Facebook/Twitter-integrated activity streams
  • – Use customizable avatars to put a face to your CC presence
  • – Organize discussions better with improved bookmarking
  • – Get advanced notifications on the news you need
  • – Safeguard your info with stronger password protection

That's just for starters and the enhancements haven't stopped. The team of designers and programmers who crafted this latest evolution in college knowledge aren't done yet. In the true spirit of giving CC members what they want, the forum builders have been gathering comments from members about what kinds of tweaks would be nice to have. The forum is a true evolutionary resource designed to serve as broad a base as possible. There are myriad discussion forums across the Web, but you won't find a more accessible, agreeable, or responsive forum team than the one managing CC's.

Let's take a look at the kinds of topics you can explore on the CC forum. …

Are You Unique?

The late American social philosopher, Eric Hoffer, once said, “When people are free to do as they please, they usually imitate each other." That's a “deep" thought that could apply to those of you ninth grade (or even younger) high school students who are beginning to think about your path to and through higher education. At least you should be starting to think about college, since it will play such an important part in setting a foundation for your journey through life.

Getting back to Hoffer, I might ask you a question: How do think of yourself? Do you go along to get along? That would be the way of the conformist. I think Hoffer was alluding to conformity when he said that even though we are free to do most anything (within the law and reasonable social norms, of course) with our lives, even as young people, we tend to be most strongly influenced by what others around us are doing. Thus, we tend to do many of the same things they're doing. One thinks of sheep being herded and lemmings jumping off cliffs.

But what about uniqueness? Are you unique? Even if you consider yourself to be a conformist, do you have any stirrings inside that call out to “do it your way"? Now here's where I'll probably lose you (you young high schoolers). A good many years ago there was a very talented entertainer named Sammy Davis Jr. Ever heard of him? Anyway, one of his signature songs was I've Gotta Be Me. The part of that song that speaks to my point of inner stirrings goes:

I'll go it alone, that's how it must be.

I can't be right for somebody else

If I'm not right for me.

I gotta be free, I've gotta be free,

Daring to try, to do it or die.

I've gotta be me.

If I can impose on highly dated popular musical knowledge once more, allow me to cite another partial lyric from a signature song of none other than “The Chairman of the Board," Frank Sinatra. In his legendary song, I Did It My Way, we hear him intone:

For what is a man, what has he got?

If not himself, then he has not

To say the things he truly feels,

And not the words of one who kneels.

The record shows I took the blows

And did it my way.

Are you still with me, despite my detour back into the Age of Golden Voices? If so, I'll now explain the connection between being unique and college admissions.

Did you ever wonder whether your skill in photography, sewing, or music would pay off? When you apply to college, it could. …

5.1% Acceptance Rate: How High The Climb?

Did you apply to Stanford University this year? Were you accepted? If so, overall, you were more fortunate than 95 other applicants in any group of 100 Stanford applicants. Three years ago I wrote about the emergence of the single-digit acceptance rate in my article Ivy League: The Year of Single-Digit Acceptance Rates. This year, six of the eight Ivies were in single digits. As Peter Jacobs notes:

Princeton admitted 7.28% of applicants, down slightly from 7.29% in 2013, and accepted 1,939 students out of 26,641 applicants

The University of Pennsylvania admitted 9.9% of applicants to the Class of 2018, down from 12.1% last year. The Philadelphia-based university accepted 3,551 of their 35,788 applicants.

Cornell University, which has the highest admissions rate in the Ivy League, dropped over a percentage point this year, with a 14% acceptance rate, taking 6,025 students from 43,041 applications. Cornell accepted 15.2% of applicants last year.

Brown University accepted 2,619 of 30,291 applicants, or an 8.6% acceptance rate. Last year, the university had a 9.2% acceptance rate.

Yale University was the last to release their admissions data, but also posted a lower acceptance rate than last year's 6.72%. Yale admitted 1,935 of 30,932 applicants for a 6.26% acceptance rate.

Other Ivies saw their acceptance rate rise from last year.

Dartmouth College took 11.5% of applicants to the Class of 2018, up from a 10% admissions rate last year. Dartmouth recieved 19,235 applications this year, and accepted 2,220 students.

Harvard University admitted 5.9% of applicants, up slightly from last year's 5.8% admissions rate. Harvard accepted 2,023 of their 34,295 applications.

Columbia University admitted 6.94% of applicants, up from a record low 6.89% acceptance rate for the Class of 2017. Columbia accepted 2,291 of their 32,967 applicants.

And Stanford tops all the Ivies with their staggering 5.1%. MIT came in at 7.7%, rounding out the famous HYPSM abbreviation string.

What can we make of this? On the surface, it appears that applying to The Ivies, Stanford, and MIT is apparently practically futile. If you were waitlisted at an Ivy this year, Nick Anderson at The Washington Posthas some further sobering news: …

College: Worth It or Not?

I've written before about whether or not college is worth it. Perhaps one way to look at it, to paraphrase a former United States president, would be to say, “It depends on what the meaning of 'worth it' is." Is college worth it strictly from a lifetime earnings perspective or worth it from a life-enrichment aspect? Or both? There are two kinds of “value," you know.

First, let's take a look at the value of college from an economic (earnings) and “opportunity" angle. When you search the Web for answers to the query “Is college worth it?" you get the usual avalanche of responses. I chose two from the “About 465,000,000 results [found in] (0.32 seconds)." The first is by Jill Schlesinger, business analyst at CBS News. Her article's thesis states:

As the Class of 2014 throws their caps into the air during this graduation season, many graduates must now face the stark reality of a mound of education debt. Given the still-tough job market, many families continue to wonder whether college is worth it. The answer is yes, with a caveat.

What's the caveat?

… don't go into hock up to your eyeballs — and parents, please don't raid your retirement accounts and borrow against your home — to do so.

That makes sense, obviously, but easier said than done, in my view. Anyway, what are some of Schlesinger's worth-it points?

– … the unemployment rate for young college graduates stands at 8.5 percent, much lower than the 22.9 percent for high school graduates.

– … household income of young adults with college loans is nearly twice that of people who didn't attend college ($57,941 vs. $32,528).

– … a new study from the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco shows that the average US college grad can expect to earn at least $800,000 more than the average high school graduate over a lifetime …

– … Priceonomics blog pegs the 30-year wage premium at $200,000 of extra income ($6,667 a year) compared to that of a high school graduate's salary.

– Researchers at Georgetown predict that in the next six years, the share of jobs requiring post-secondary education will likely increase to 64 percent by 2020 …

Need more convincing? Let's extract the main pro-college points from Anthony Carnevale's testimonial about college's worth. …

Your Rising-Senior Summer: Taking Stock

August is on the horizon and will soon be here. All you rising high school seniors know what that means: school looms. Many of you have been actively involved in the college process already, having worked with your counselors to craft a meaningful and challenging course schedule. Your planning may have begun as far back as junior high school.

Most of you who are planning applications to competitive colleges, or even so-called “elite" colleges, no doubt began your planning in 9th grade, the beginning of your high school career. Your planning may have already included college visits and detailed research regarding finding the best match between your needs and colleges' abilities to meet them. I've written at length here and on College Confidential about the preparation cycle, those actions that well-prepared applicants should take to make their college decisions count.

Speaking of preparatory actions, one of the best actions rising seniors can take, as you head toward the end of summer and the start of senior year, is to take inventory of where you are and where you've been with your overall academic and extracurricular profile. So, what I'd like to present today is a kind of “roundup" form into which you can put all the important data that comprises who you are as a potential college applicant.

The purpose of this End of Summer Inventory (pioneered by College Confidential's Sally Rubenstone) is to give you a comprehensive overview, on one page, of what you have accomplished so far in your high school career. It also serves the dual role of showing you what you haven't done and likely will need to do early on in your senior year.

So, if you're motivated to take my advice and assess your accomplishments to date, copy the following form and paste it into a Word document. Once you have done that, you can begin to compile your data.

After you've finished entering all your information and double-checked it for accuracy, you may want to print out the finished form and give it to your school's college counselor for his/her information. Granted, your counselor has access to all this information, but it is not likely available in such a convenient, concise format. This will also exhibit your proactive attitude toward your college goals. That may endear you to your counselor who, as you may recall, will be responsible for providing your school's “flagship" recommendation for all your college applications. That certainly can't hurt.

So, here's the form. Consider its advantages and fill it out as completely as possible. …

Three Words of Wisdom for College-Bound Students

Are you headed to college this month or next? Parents, do you have a son or daughter who will leave the nest and fly to a campus somewhere? If so, those college-bound young people should ponder and remember a few wise words during their pass through higher education.

No, those words are not eat, drink, and be merry. According to keynote speaker, business author, sales and marketing strategist, and former dean of student affairs, Jeff Beals, writing in LinkedIn, those words are responsibility, authority, and accountability.

How do Beals' three words relate to those going to college for the first time? What do I have to say about them (if you're interested in my opinion)? If you want to know, read on.

Responsibility. I like that word. Taking a broad look at our society today, we can see a paucity of responsibility in many areas. Beals says:

… The keys to college success are quite similar to those of the professional world … In order to succeed, each individual must take total responsibility for his or her own life. You must graciously accept credit when it is due, and more importantly, you must be the first to stand up and take the blame when you have made a mistake.

If you get an “A+" on a term paper, it's because you did the necessary work, not because you got lucky. If you're late for class, it's your fault, not because you got stuck waiting at a railroad crossing (you should have left earlier). People who adopt this belief are almost always more successful than those who make excuses.

Every individual has responsibility for himself or herself. Nobody else can or should make decisions for you …

Blaming others for our failures or shortcomings is merely plastering the buck onto those around us who, many times, don't have the opportunity to defend themselves. Harry Truman recognized responsibility and advertised that fact with a little statement that rested on his desk in the Oval Office. It said, “The buck stops here." Where does your buck stop?

I think a good indicator of your (I'm speaking to about-to-be college students here) Responsibility Index, if you will, would be to look back over your high school days and even to your work experience, if you have had the advantage of employment during your past several years. When things went wrong, did you immediately look for excuses as to why you failed? “I didn't get enough sleep!" “My calculator batteries died!" “The test curve was too punishing!" Or, did you have the objectivity to proclaim something like, “I didn't study enough for this"?

And what about authority? Beals comments:

… Fortunately, each of us has the authority to carry out that responsibility. Nobody has the right to take away the power you have over your own life. Finally, we are accountable for the decisions we make – good or bad. You live with the consequences of your decision-making and actions.

In my view, authority has a lot to do with self-image. Do you see yourself as strong or weak? Can you be assertive when circumstances call for that? There is a crucial difference between power and authority. …

Let's Invent An Essay Question!

If you're a high school senior applying to college, you've no doubt grimaced when faced with the prospect of writing those onerous application essays. The worst ones, in my view, are those that append their prompt with such guidelines as, “(1,000 words or less") or “Limit your response to 2-3 typed, double-spaced pages." First of all, I would like to inform the geniuses at the college that specifies “1,000 words or less" that it's “1,000 words or FEWER." But I digress.

I've always fantasized about writing application essay prompts. Some schools, most notably the University of Chicago, get their students involved in the essay-prompt business. This, of course, leads to all sorts of weirdness. For example, here's an essay prompt from a recent UChicago application:

In French, there is no difference between “conscience" and “consciousness." In Japanese, there is a word that specifically refers to the splittable wooden chopsticks you get at restaurants. The German word “fremdschämen" encapsulates the feeling you get when you're embarrassed on behalf of someone else. All of these require explanation in order to properly communicate their meaning, and are, to varying degrees, untranslatable. Choose a word, tell us what it means, and then explain why it cannot (or should not) be translated from its original language.

After some serious thought and careful consideration, my response to this prompt is an inspired, “Huh?"

Here's another one:

Were pH an expression of personality, what would be your pH and why? (Feel free to respond acidly! Do not be neutral, for that is base!)

Surprisingly, UChicago publishes the identity of the student who authored this prompt. I'm wondering if they increased his tuition as punishment for some of the lamest puns of the 21st Century. Geez.

The University of Chicago isn't the only school with odd essay prompts. Here are some others:

“What does #YOLO mean to you?" — Tufts University

“Describe your favorite 'Bazinga' moment." — Lehigh University

“Anna Quindlen says that she 'majored in unafraid' at Barnard. Tell us about a time when you majored in unafraid." — Barnard College

“What matters to you, and why?" — Stanford University

“To tweet or not to tweet?" — University of Virginia

“What do you hope to find over the rainbow?" — University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

“Describe yourself as fully and accurately as possible in 140 characters." — Wake Forest University

“Take a blank sheet of paper. Do with this page what you wish. Your only limitations are the boundaries of this page. You don't have to submit anything, but we hope you will use your imagination." — Texas Christian University

Well, you should be getting the idea by now. So … Let's invent an essay question of our own. …


Okay, then. Above are seven samplings from the 2014 Admit This!inventory to tease your interests. Coming right up: 2014 Highlights (Part II).


Check College Confidential for all my other admission-related articles.

Written by

Dave Berry

Dave Berry

Dave is co-founder of College Confidential and College Karma Consulting, co-author of America's Elite Colleges: The Smart Buyer's Guide to the Ivy League and Other Top Schools, and has over 30 years of experience helping high schoolers gain admission to Ivy League and other ultra-selective schools. He is an expert in the areas application strategies, stats evaluation, college matching, student profile marketing, essays, personality and temperament assessments and web-based admissions counseling. Dave is a graduate of The Pennsylvania State University and has won national awards for his writing on higher education issues, marketing campaigns and communications programs. He brings this expertise to the discipline of college admissions and his role as a student advocate. His College Quest newspaper page won the Newspaper Association of America's Program Excellence Award, the Pennsylvania Newspaper Publisher's Association Newspapers in Education Award, the Thomson Newspapers President's Award for Marketing Excellence and the Inland Press Association-University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Mass Communications Inland Innovation Award for the Best New Page. His pioneering journalism program for teenagers, PRO-TEENS, also received national media attention. In addition, Dave won the Newspaper Association of America's Program Excellence Award for Celebrate Diversity!, a program teaching junior high school students about issues of tolerance. His College Knowledge question-and-answer columns have been published in newspapers throughout the United States. Dave loves Corvettes, classical music, computers, and miniature dachshunds. He and his wife Sharon have a daughter, son and four grandchildren.

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