Universitas Blog

A Visit to Lewis & Clark College

Tuesday, October 01, 2013
Right after my visit to Reed College,  I went to Lewis & Clark College (www.lclark.edu).  Located on top of a hill in Portland,  Lewis & Clark is probably the "woodiest" campus I've ever seen.  It's a bit like going to school in Baguio in the middle of the trees and such. [caption id="attachment_1236" align="aligncenter" width="300"]walk around lc This gives you an idea of how it's like to walk around the Lewis and Clark campus. Doesn't it seem like you're going to school in a forest? But you're only a free shuttle bus ride from downtown Portland.[/caption] Lewis & Clark is a small liberal arts college (undergrad enrollment: 2,000) in Portland, Oregon.  Besides the undergrad College of Arts and Sciences, Lewis & Clark also has a law school and a Graduate School of Education and Counseling.  The Admissions Office is in the Frank Manor Building, a beautiful mansion acquired by the college in 1942. [caption id="attachment_1238" align="aligncenter" width="259"]lclarkmanor The Frank Manor. The insides still look very much like a home and I was asked to wait for my guided tour in what would be the living room of the house. Beautiful![/caption]   What made Lewis & Clark stand out for me is the flexibility of their admissions  procedure.  Despite the fact that entrance to Lewis and Clark is competitive, it has a  test optional application path.  Instead of turning in test scores, a student can opt to submit an academic portfolio if he or she feels that his or her test scores don't reflect his or her academic capability.  This portfolio should include one sample of analytic writing (research paper, expository writing, essay exam) and one of quantitative/scientific work (lab report,  science test, etc.)  These should be coupled with references from a math/science teacher and a social studies/English teacher. Lewis & Clark is especially well known for international relations.  More recently, they have put together a neuroscience minor (psychology + biology) and entrepreneurship.  While they don't meet full need, international students can apply for financial aid but be aware that doing so makes it more difficult to be admitted. Lewis & Clark strikes me as a rigorous liberal arts college that would be a worthy destination for the motivated student.  Another big plus for it is its location near a major metropolitan area: Portland is easily overshadowed in the eyes of international students by cities like New York, Los Angeles, Boston, etc.  But it would be a mistake to dismiss Portland, a medium sized city, beautiful and cosmopolitan with a character of its own. As an interesting postscript, several weeks after I visited,, their admissions rep (Bridget Flaherty) came to Manila to visit ISM and British School.  It was my pleasure to welcome  her to Manila and repay her gracious hospitality when I went to visit Lewis & Clark.



A Visit to Reed College

Tuesday, September 17, 2013
[caption id="attachment_1205" align="aligncenter" width="300"]DSC_0081 A display just inside the entrance to Reed is a helpful map. Note that I am reflected on the glass.[/caption]

Last September 5, I was in Portland, Oregon and was fortunate to be able to visit Reed College.  The subject of a previous post on on this blog, I had never stepped foot on campus until that day.  I wondered if what I would see would live up to what I had written.

I arrived at the Admission Office a bit early for my 9:30 am information session.  I sat and chatted with the friendly receptionist until we (I was joined by two prospective students from California and their parents) were led to the "third largest classroom at Reed" by Crawford Marr, an admissions representative and Reed College Class of 1990.  The so-called third largest Reed classroom was on the second floor of Eliot Hall where the Admission Office was located and was not much larger than a typical college classroom which would seat about thirty students.  Third largest?  Indeed.  The large majority of Reed classrooms were seminar rooms which sit ten to twelve students for discussion (not lecture).  Crawford didn't bring a laptop with the usual PowerPoint presentation...all he brought were a couple of books which were required reading for freshmen (Gilgamesh and Homer's Odyssey) as well as a few senior theses which he promised he would let us look through but never did.  Sitting in the classroom, Crawford expounded on the academic life of Reed.  He spoke enthusiastically about Reed's liberal arts tradition, intermixed with its strong math and science programs.  He talked about the senior thesis which all students were required to write in order to graduate.  Call me crazy but he spoke in almost reverential tones when it came to the thesis.  It's what "students come to Reed for..." and "the thesis is a tradition that binds all Reedies past, present, and future together..."  That and Humanities 110 (or Hum 110), a class all freshmen take regardless of major.  Hum 110 delves into the foundations of Western thought and civilization.  Crawford said they used to start with Homer's Iliad but now they go back even further several thousand years to the Epic of Gilgamesh which dates to the dawn of civilization itself with the Sumerians.  Hum 110 is taught in lecture but then broken up into discussion sessions with the teaching faculty.  It is said that this class teaches Reedies how to read, think, write, and reason like a Reedie.  Throughout this time, Crawford spoke with a soft yet passionate voice and it's obvious that he's proud to be a Reedie.  He was relieved to see some changes in the college since his time...there are a lot more support services for students.  Back in his time, Reed was more of a sink or swim kind of place.

[caption id="attachment_1223" align="aligncenter" width="300"]DSC_0079 Typical Reed classroom. I took this picture from a distance but you can see how small the classroom is and the predominant form of instruction here is the discussion, not the lecture. Definitely not for the faint of heart is the Reed experience.[/caption] Eventually we had to leave our classroom (a line of patiently waiting students were going to use the room next) and we were handed off to Wendell for the campus tour.  Interesting guy, Wendell.  Lanky and African American, Wendell is a tall drink of water with his jaunty hat set at a rakish angle.  A native of Kansas, he said he originally came to Reed as a political science major but eventually fell in love with--and is now majoring in--Chinese literature.  He is a senior. At the end of the tour,  I tried my rudimentary Xavier Chinese on him and he gave me a big smile and replied in kind.  Wendell spoke about the Honor Principle.  He took us to three places on campus and worked those places into his Honor Principle spiel.  He first took us to the library and showed us the famed Thesis Tower.  Filed by graduating class, the theses of every Reed graduate is bound, preserved and made available here for general perusal.  Again,  the talk of the thesis and how it was now his turn to write his opus.  He said that in the beginning, he was frightened to death of the prospect of having to write a thesis but now after being at Reed for three years or so (he had spent time in China immersing himself in the language and the culture) he is actually looking forward to it.  He took us next to the dorms and explained how the Honor Principle extends there too...how one's behavior is not governed by rules in a book but by adhering to an Honor Principle that respects the rights of others.  Finally, he took us to the Gray Campus Center, the main hub on campus where the cafeteria is located and where one of the largest private comic book collections is housed.  So if you want, you could have your Nicomadean Ethics with a side of Fantastic Four.  Wendell said that for a Reedie to come in with an idea to improve life on campus for his or her fellow Reedies and not act upon that idea is acting dishonorably (at least according to Wendell).  So if you feel that the Honor Principle is pervasive on campus, you would be right.  As a matter of fact,  when I stepped out of the Admission Office and looked down, the words "Long Live the Honor Principle!" were carved into the sidewalk concrete. [caption id="attachment_1206" align="aligncenter" width="300"]DSC_0073 The famed Reed Canyon which divides the campus into two parts. Every year, students, staff and friends gather for Canyon Day, the annual cleaning of the Canyon.[/caption] By this time, the noon hour was upon me and with the end of the tour, I moseyed over to the cafeteria to sample the culinary delights of this institution and perhaps catch a few of the natives and engage them in conversation.   Typical college fare but with vegetarian, halal and vegan options.  I sat down with some students, introduced myself and found that my companions were all first year students.  Cole was from New York and the two girls he was with (can't remember their names now) were both from California.  Interesting tidbit:  only 10 to 15% of Reed students are from the states of Oregon and Washington.  State with the largest representation?  California!  What struck me after talking to these freshmen is that in spite of only being in the third day of class, they were really enthused and were really and truly glad they were there. Reed is indeed a small college, the Gray Campus Center is really tiny and doesn't hold a candle to the leviathan student unions of the larger universities I had visited before like UBC or Waterloo.  The range of food choice on campus isn't anything to brag about.  But you get the impression that students chose to be there and Reed was few people's second or safety choice.  They're not sitting there pining and wishing they were at Stanford.  Reed is not terribly selective (admission rate is presently about 50%) but is selected.  Students come here because they want to be here. [caption id="attachment_1204" align="aligncenter" width="300"]DSC_0080 The Hauser Library[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1203" align="aligncenter" width="300"]DSC_0077 The Gray Campus Center Quad[/caption]

Why You Should Consider Canadian Universities

Tuesday, September 10, 2013
  Hello from warm and sunny Waterloo, Ontario in Canada.  I veer away a little bit from my usual US focus to write about universities in the Great White North.  I'm here bringing my son Tyler to college.  In a few days, he will begin his freshman year at the University of Waterloo.  He's in the middle of International Student Life 101 and I'm doing Parents Orientation.   The University of Waterloo is in a fairly large, well kept campus (404 hectares).  It is well known for its science, math and engineering programs as well as its cooperative education (co-op) program which is the largest in the world.  More on co-op programs in a later post. [caption id="" align="alignright" width="200"]University of Waterloo University of Waterloo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)[/caption] So why should you look at Canadian universities?   1.  They're cheaper than their American counterparts.  From the very beginning, my son's college search included Canadian schools primarily for this reason.  You'll pay about half of what you will pay to attend an elite American university with no drop off in quality.  And if you happen to be a Canadian citizen (as more and more Filipinos are) it's even cheaper.   2.  International students can work off-campus.  After six months studying in Canada, you can work the potentially more lucrative off-campus jobs.  In the US, international students need permission from Immigration to work off-campus.   3.  After graduating, Canada grants a 3 year work permit.  After graduation, you can be issued a work permit by the Canadian government to work in Canada for as much as three years.  You can then use this time to apply to become a permanent resident  In the US, you can work for only one year using your student visa (they call this "practical training") .  After one year, your employer must sponsor you for an H-1B visa.   4. Co-operative education is more of a fixture in Canadian universities.  This type of education, which sandwiches paid work terms with regular study terms, is much more widespread in Canada than it is in the US.  Since the students are paid real money, you can use the money you make to help pay tuition, making a Canadian education easier to finance.   University of Waterloo math & comp sci building
5.  Less liberal arts emphasis.  Depending on what you want from your college education, this may or may not be a good thing.  Canadian universities (following the British system of higher education) tend to skip over or at least minimize, the "junk" classes of American universities like English or political science.  If you want to study math, you get math, math, math, some physics, math, math, and maybe a little psychology thrown in your freshman year.  I think this is a terrible way of educating the college student, I'm a firm believer in the liberal arts tradition...but hey, what do I know, right? One big disadvantage of Canadian universities:  the weather.  Depending on where you decide to go, this can be a real issue.  If you choose to attend the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, you'll be in more temperate weather.  But if you go to school in Alberta or (like my son) the University of Waterloo, then pack some VERY warm clothes.  In January, the temperature is ALMOST ALWAYS below freezing in Waterloo.   Another big disadvantage for us Filipinos:  unless you are enrolled in an IB program or an American style or British style curriculum, Canadian universities will not admit you.  They're wary of our ten year pre-university curriculum (yes, I know you went to Grade 7 but still...)  Solution:  Attend a Philippine university for one year then apply to Canadian universities as a freshman.  You have to start over because those UP/Ateneo units will not be given Canadian college credit. Those two things aside, there's real reason to consider spending your university career in Canada.  For some reason, people get fixated on schools in the States.  At least keep Canada in mind.  You'd be stupid not to.        

Books to Read, Kudos to Extend, and a Brief Farewell

Tuesday, August 13, 2013
Today's post will be a three headed one.  I wanted to take this opportunity and this forum to recognize the incredible work some young people are doing.  I also wanted to post some book recommendations.  Finally, I want to say a brief farewell. [caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="286"]Image I want to acknowledge the great work done by the young people behind CAMP, College Admissions Mentors for Peers in the Philippines. They organized their first ever convention at UP last August 10. It was a resounding success.[/caption] Last Saturday, August 10, I attended the first ever convention of an organization called College Admission Mentors for Peers in the Philippines (CAMP Philippines).  CAMP is an organization of young Filipino students currently attending universities abroad (mostly in the US) who want to extend free guidance and mentorship to Filipino students who want to attend college abroad.  Obviously, CAMP and I share the same mission (as does this blog) and I attended the all-day workshop to meet the executive leadership of this organization.  I was astounded at the turnout...there were hundreds of students, parents, teachers and counselors at the event.  It was standing room only.  To be able to attract that kind of crowd, give them good information and have the event be as organized as it was is a tribute to these dedicated young people.  I tip my proverbial hat to them.  For more information on this group, I refer you to their website, www.campphilippines.org.  They also have a Facebook page. [caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="650"]Image Here I am holding court in front of some "enthralled" parents at the CAMP conference last Saturday.[/caption] I also want to direct your attention to three excellent books which I urge you to get and read.  These books approach the college admissions game from three different angles. [caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="275"]Image "Colleges That Change Lives" by Loren Pope, Penguin Books, New York. 1996, 2000, 2006. Revised by Hilary Masell Oswald 2012[/caption] If nothing else, this book truly delivers on its title.  It really did change the way I thought about colleges.  If you had to read only one of the three books I am recommending today, make it this one.  Loren Pope (he passed away in 2008) spent his professional life studying higher education in America.  The theme of his message:  forget rank, name, and prestige when looking at colleges and focus primarily on the student.  Look at what college fits the student.  If this philosophy sounds oddly familiar, it's because I've stolen it lock, stock, and barrel and made it my own.  This book is what got me going and made me seriously think about going into the college guidance business.  The forty or so schools he profiles in this book are all smallish liberal arts colleges.   To make the list, the school cannot be too selective (open to students with humbler academic backgrounds) but must pack a powerful academic punch that will transform B or C students into A-type scholars at par with their Ivy League classmates.  This is primarily the reason why selective liberal arts colleges like Amherst, Williams, Swarthmore, Pomona, or Oberlin are not included and why schools like Grinnell, Franklin & Marshall, and Bard were dropped:  they are...or became...very selective.  I suspect my favorite college, Reed, is headed in this unfortunate direction.  This book is so inspirational that shortly after Pope's death, a group of counselors banded together to form Colleges That Change Lives, Inc. (www.ctcl.org)  to perpetuate Pope's message and philosophy.  They tour the United States and Asia (including, I am happy to say, the Philippines) spreading the gospel according to Pope (sorry, couldn't resist!) One limitation with the book though is that it focuses on students who are looking for an intellectual and life changing college experience.  If your ideal college is the huge university where you can disappear into anonymity and can graduate without exerting too much effort then this book isn't for you.  But otherwise, invest time and money into this book.  If you limited your college search to these forty or so schools alone, you would come out with some excellent choices.  Some advice on how to read the book:  don't read the book cover to cover.  Read the first few chapters before the college write ups begin, you'll understand what the Pope philosophy is all about and that's enough. Read the college reviews ala carte as needed.  If you can get a copy of the 2006 edition, you can still read Loren Pope "in the raw" and get his no holds barred opinion on the Ivy League (he calls it "...gyp joints for the undergraduate")  The 2013-2014 edition has more updated college profiles and the Loren Pope bite is gone but it's still worth the read.  I have BOTH 2006 and 2013 editions, the only book I own twice! [caption id="attachment_1163" align="aligncenter" width="225"]gatekeepers "The Gatekeepers" by Jacques Steinberg. Penguin Group, New York. 2002.[/caption] The Gatekeepers by (former?) NY Times education editor Jacques Steinberg is a little dated for a college admissions book but it doesn't matter.  It's a breezy, fun book that looks inside the admissions process of elite Wesleyan University in Middletown, CT as seen through the eyes of former Wesleyan admission counselor Ralph Figueroa (now Head of College Counseling at Albuquerque Academy in New Mexico).  To research the book, Steinberg shadowed Figueroa through a single year and was a fly in the wall at college recruiting trips, reading periods, and admission committee deliberations.  You'll meet his friend Sharon who works as a college counselor at Harvard Westlake, an elite private school in Los Angeles.  You'll follow several students try to get into Wesleyan and other elite institutions like the Ivies.  Their stories have not been changed...and neither have their names.  Everything is true to life and is written like a summer novel.  I liked this book so much I want to get the author's next book which is about the iron men (and women) who participate in triathlons...and I have no interest in the subject whatsoever.  I just expect to be enlightened...and entertained...by Mr. Steinberg. [caption id="attachment_1162" align="aligncenter" width="225"]admission matters "Admission Matters" by Sally Springer, Jon Reider, and Marion Franck. Latest edition drops Franck and add Joyce Vining Morgan.[/caption] This one was actually a textbook for one of my classes but I enjoyed reading it so much that I had to put it on this list.  This is a more factual, "this is what you have to do and why" kind of book compared to the other two.  But it doesn't read like a textbook at all.  It reads easily and has a lot of good facts and has a nice epilogue for parents and students. The great thing about all three books is that they are all available on Amazon.com and Kindle.  Simply download onto your Kindle device or your Kindle reading app on your iPad or Android device and away you go!  I've never seen a paper copy of these books here in Manila except for the 2013 edition of the Pope book.   If you insist on having a print book, you'll have to order it from Amazon or (again!) more conveniently, via download onto your Kindle. Okay, the third thing.  I'm going to Canada tomorrow to bring my son to college.  I guess it's the last step on my own college application journey.  I'll be gone until the 12th of September or so and I may (or may not) be able to update this blog and if I do, it will certainly not be nearly as often.  Maybe little snippets, little updates.    The good news is that I plan to visit some colleges on my own so I hope to write about those experiences and bring back lots of pictures.  So thanks for reading my blog and we'll be back to full speed in mid-September.

The Nitty Gritty: The College Application Essay Part Two

Saturday, August 10, 2013
[caption id="attachment_1122" align="alignleft" width="300"]college_essay_clip_image001 How about that?? You fill in the blanks and boom! Instant college application essay. Unfortunately, it isn't that easy.[/caption] Today is my 48th birthday and to celebrate, I'm going to continue my previous post on writing the college application essay.  While the last post was about the "big picture" of writing the college application essay, I'm going to post more "nitty-gritty", close to the earth stuff.  In other words:  the do's and the don'ts of the application essay. 1.  Watch your grammar and spelling.  This is really obvious stuff but people usually forget this because they're rushing to get the essay out after having delayed and procrastinated forever.  Have your English teacher or guidance counselor or an adult with good grammar and spelling look through your paper.  Good grammar and spelling won't, by itself, save  your ship but bad grammar and spelling will surely sink it.  A professor of mine once said "A great paper written with poor mechanics (grammar and spelling) is like serving a gourmet meal on dirty china."  I could not have said it better!  So take the time to have your masterpiece edited and re-edited...even if you're already a grammar guru.  An extra pair of eyes is always helpful in catching little misteaks (haha!) 2.  Make your essay something only you can write about.  What I mean here is that your essay should be personal.  Do not write about stuff that's already on your application like your grades, accomplishments, and activities.  You may, of course,  reference your school or school activities as background but the meat of the essay should be something about you.  Remember that one of the purposes of the essay is for the commitee to get to know you.  Don't write a generic essay about helping out with Ondoy victims...more interesting would be what you learned from corresponding with a Muntinlupa inmate sentenced to life in prison.  Make the essay personal!!   [caption id="attachment_1123" align="aligncenter" width="300"]lamb_sml Watch your spelling and grammar. A good essay written with poor mechanics is like serving a gourmet meal on dirty china. But if the gourmet meal includes lamb, I'd be willing to overlook the stained silverware. :)[/caption]    

3.  Avoid discussing your romantic or sexual experiences.  Remember the goal here is to impress the admissions counselor, not to make him/her uncomfortable.  Yes, I did say make the essay personal but not to the extent that the person reading it gets squeamish.  Similar topics to avoid:  discussing a volatile religious or political issue like same sex marriage especially if you feel particularly strongly about one side or the other.  The reader may not agree with you and subconsciously take it against you.  Same with talking about topics that imply an elevated social standing:  like taking that trip to Europe or volunteering in Thailand.  Admissions counselors take a dim view of what they might see as an application from a rich, spoiled, snooty little brat.  Oh and drop that idea about writing how you become a level 80 warrior on a video game.

[caption id="attachment_1126" align="aligncenter" width="284"]twilight Don't talk about your love life in your college essay. But even if you do, it's still a better love story than Twilight[/caption]  

4.  Avoid cliche topics like "What I Learned When  I Won (or Lost) the Basketball Championship".  What's wrong with that bittersweet story of your youth when you sank/missed the winning free throws to win the league championship?  Nothing.  Except it's everyone's bittersweet story of their youth.  You want to stand out in some way and not blend in the background noise of thousands of applicants clamoring to be heard.

5.  Keep your audience in mind.  You are not writing to the Queen of England so avoid stilted or overly formal language.  Think of your guidance counselor or English teacher as your audience, i.e. people who are friendly and willing to listen to your story but they're not your kid brother or sister that you can just write any old thing in any old way you want to.   [caption id="attachment_1121" align="aligncenter" width="265"]NARROW_YOUR_FOCUS_01 Sound advice.[/caption]   6.  Answer the question!  Read the prompts carefully and address them directly.  An old essay prompt went something like, "Talk about how a certain person or historical figure influenced your life".  A lot of essays went on to talk about the applicant's mother or father, a teacher,  or Jesus Christ.  That's all very nice but if you read carefully, it says to talk about the influence the person had in your life...not the person itself.  The colleges are not looking to admit Mom, Dad, your 3rd grade English teacher, or Jesus Christ, they're looking to admit YOU. 7.  Finally, don't procrastinate.   I know that I discussed this in the previous post but it bears repeating.  A good essay is never written...it is re-written.  Rewriting and editing takes time and the more of this you do the better the chances your essay will be quite good. Good luck with your essay.  Comments (and prospective college essays) welcome.

The College Application Essay

Sunday, August 04, 2013
[caption id="attachment_1101" align="aligncenter" width="300"]College _Application_Essays It's difficult to believe that writing college application essays can be as enjoyable as the girl above makes it out to be. While I would not exactly describe the process as enjoyable, it can be made less arduous and perhaps even eye opening.[/caption] One of the most dreaded aspects of applying to college (here or abroad) is writing the college application essay.  For US colleges, the format and topic of the application essay is stipulated in the new Common Application (CA4) which comes online August 1st.  The topics have changed a bit from years past and the length is now strictly between 250-650 words (and yes, they count the words).  Following are the CA4 essay prompts: 1.  Some students have a background or story that is so central to their identity that they believe their application would be incomplete without it.  If this sounds like you, then please share your story. 2.  Recount an incident or time when you experienced failure.  How did it affect you and what lesson did you learn? 3.  Describe a place or environment where you are perfectly content.  What do you do or experience there and why is it important to you? 4.  Discuss an accomplishment or event, formal or informal, that marked  your transition from childhood to adulthood within your culture, community, or family. 5.  Reflect on a time when you challenged a belief or idea.  What prompted you to act?  Would you make the same decision again? https://www.commonapp.org/CommonApp/Docs/DownloadForms/2013/EssayAnnouncementFinal.pdf One key to remember in writing these essays is why these essays are being written to begin with.  For many admissions committees, it's a way to flesh out your application.  Consider that all the committee knows about you is in flat sheets of paper: your grades, your SAT scores, your list of activities.  Along with your letters of recommendation, your essay puts a human being behind your application.  They want to know what kind of person the applicant is.  The recommendations from your teachers and counselors will tell them about you in the classroom or in school but your essay should tell them who you are outside the classroom.  From the essay, they hope to glean hints about whether or not you'll be a fun person in the dorms, what kind of student you are and most importantly, if you are a good fit for their community.  Students aren't the only ones looking for fit!    It's important to write a good essay and an especially strong one should be able to get your application noticed above all the thousands of others.  Some admissions officers have been known to set aside essays which are especially funny, touching, sad or insightful and show them to their spouses.  If you are remembered for a particularly strong essay, it will leave a good impression and if your application goes to the committee, you will have an advocate pulling for your admission. Another important thing to remember is to give yourself lots of time to write the essay.  Write a little bit each day, a few thoughts, a few ideas.  The temptation to put off the essay until the very end is great indeed, what with the other  things like school, sports, social life and the all-important Facebook and Internet competing for your time.   But if you wait until the very last minute to write your essay, it will read exactly like that...that you put it together in the last minute.  Not a good way to impress the people at the admissions office.   Here's a way they brainstorm college application essays at International School (where you MUST attend essay writing workshops if you intend to apply to US colleges).   Take the first essay prompt above and just write ideas or things that come to your head:  names, dates, events, whatever!   Do that for about a minute or two.  Then go to the second prompt and do the same.  Rinse and repeat for all six prompts.  Then look at your results.  Which prompt got the most responses?  This could be the topic for you.    Then start writing a very rough draft.  Show it to someone like an English teacher, or your college counselor for their thoughts and ideas. [caption id="attachment_1099" align="aligncenter" width="300"]homer rewrites  his college essay Homer rewrites his college application essay after showing it to Lisa.[/caption] The application essay doesn't have to be deep and profound or highlight some great achievement --or great suffering--of yours.  The admissions officers know that the vast majority of their teenage applicants have lived quietly uneventful lives in loving, well adjusted families.  Nor have they gone out and discovered the cure for AIDS in their basement laboratory.   But what the essay MUST be is personal.  It must be written in your voice, using your words, based on your experiences.   My son Tyler's application essay wasn't especially deep or profound but I thought it was quirky and written exactly in his voice. It even had drawings and graphs (something you can't include anymore in application essays starting this year.)  After reading it, the committee would have a pretty good idea who they were dealing with.  And that's the purpose of a good application essay.  The best part is...that his essay was something he wrote a while back for his English class!  Yes, he turned in a recycled essay.  Perfectly legal, as long as the student wrote the essay.  So don't be afraid to dust off an old essay if you feel that it addresses a prompt above and that you wrote it yourself.  It can save you a lot of work! [caption id="attachment_1100" align="aligncenter" width="160"]how to write a winning college essay While I'm not endorsing this book in particular, reading books like these could get you going in the right direction.[/caption] In Part 2 of this post, we will discuss some nitty gritty essay do's and don'ts.     Here are some useful links about writing a college application essay. The College of William and Mary in Virginia came up with an excellent, award winning video about the college application essay https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bwxQ6J9_fLY Some college presidents eat their own dog food.  They take up the challenge of writing application essays themselves...with mixed results.  Personally, I think the Wesleyan essay was best, and Penn the worst. http://online.wsj.com/article/SB124155688466088871.html And finally, my son Tyler's application essay Tyler's college application essay

Inside the Admissions Office

Thursday, August 01, 2013
[caption id="attachment_1107" align="aligncenter" width="300"]admissions_office What goes on behind the closed doors of the Admissions Office? How exactly do they treat your application and how can I maximize my chances of a yes?[/caption]

You've finally completed your Common Application, written your killer application essay (more about this in a future post), gotten your school to forward your transcripts, your teachers have all sent in their recommendations and the College Board has sent your test scores electronically to the colleges you're applying to.  Now what?  Well, now you wait.  If you applied Early Decision (more about this later), you should get a decision before Christmas, if you applied Regular Decision (as most students do) you have to wait till the end of March.  But what happens to your application?  Who reads it and what do they consider?  Finally, is there a way I can get an edge?

When your application is received, a file is opened under your name and your electronic application is printed out (what??  Environmentally unfriendly!  Dislike!) and put in a folder along with your transcripts, recommendations, scores, and other assorted paperwork.  Depending on whether the university you applied to has a rolling admission policy (rolling what?), your file is either looked at immediately or it will be made to sit gathering dust until the application deadline has passed.  Colleges that have a rolling admission policy -- a lot of  big state universities like the University of Michigan do this (notable exceptions:  California and Washington) and a few less competitive colleges will review your application as soon as it's complete and give you an admission decision after about a month or two.  Application strategy hint no. 1:  if the university you're interested in has a rolling admission policy, it is a good idea to get your application in as early as possible.  Why?  Well. think about it.  If your application is one of the first through the door, the committee will be considering a decision when they still have thousands of seats in the freshman class to give out.  If you come in late in the cycle, there will be much fewer seats left to give out and they become much choosier on who gets those few remaining seats.   (interesting tidbit:  my son's chosen university, University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada, will not say they roll their admissions but they effectively do.  Maybe the Canadians call it something else.  But he turned in his application early and found out he was admitted just before Christmas.  Some of his friends did not get an admissions decision until March or April since they got their papers in late)  If your university doesn't roll their admissions, then they will look at your application--along with everyone else's--during the reading period.  What is a reading period?  It's when the admissions committee members sit down to read all the (thousands) of applications.  If you applied Early Decision, then it will be around October and November.  If you applied Regular Decision, then it won't be until January.

[caption id="attachment_1106" align="aligncenter" width="280"]early decision Applying early decision may increase your chances of being admitted. But remember, early decision comes with strings.[/caption]

Early Decision?  What's that? And how's that different from Regular Decision?  Really briefly, applying under Early Decision means you want the university to consider your application early and decide before Christmas.   Applying Early Decision is easy to do...just check the appropriate box in the Common Application.   Sounds great, why doesn't everyone do it that way then?  There's a catch (of course).  If you apply Early Decision and you are admitted, you MUST attend that school.  You can't back out.  The only reason acceptable for backing out is insufficient financial aid and as international students, that's not a real issue for us.  So for all intents and purposes, as far as international students are concerned, Early Decision is a binding commitment.  Because Early Decision is binding, an applicant is allowed to apply Early Decision to only one college and this college is understood to be the student's clear favorite, their choice above all others.  Because applying Early Decision is essentially a declaration of love by the student for the college, the admissions people see that as a positive in considering your application, hence the enhanced chance of admission.  We'll discuss all this in more detail in a future post.

Reading season for the admissions committee for the regular decision pile starts in late January and ends in mid or late March.  The committee must go through thousands of applications, an individual admissions officer is expected to read anywhere from thirty to forty applications per day.   It is not unusual for them to bring  application files home to read on their kitchen table.  So here is application strategy hint #2:  given the volume of reading the commitee members have to do, it's not a good idea to give them more.  If they only ask for one recommendation, please do so and send ONLY ONE.  Don't give in to the temptation that if one is good, three or four must be better.  They don't want to hear from Senator So-and-so or Congressman Such-and-such, they're not impressed that your family hobnobs with Philippine politicos.  And giving them more than what they ask for leaves them with the unfavorable impression that you don't follow directions well.

 In most colleges, at least two, sometimes even three, people will read your application.  The first reader is chosen at random among all the members of the committee.  The second reader is usually the person in charge of international admissions.  This second reader is the person who travels to the Philippines to meet you at a college fair.  So application strategy hint #3:  make a good impression on the person at the college fair.  He/she will be the one reading your application,  Make a good first impression:  smile, firm handshake, show genuine interest in his/her school without sounding sycophantic (pwera sipsip please).  First reader goes through the file and makes coded notes on a workcard summarizing the highlights of the application: not just grade point average, test scores, essay impression, recommendations, etc. but also gender, state (or in our case, country) of origin.  Some schools will have readers assign a number from one to nine, or one to five, on perceived qualities such as academic strength, independent thought, leadership potential, etc. Some will compute an average from these numbers.  Finally, they make a tentative admission decision:  admit, defer (for Early Decision applicants only, it means to defer a final decision to late March), waitlist, or deny.  Some schools give admission officers the ability to give a grade of Admit-minus which means yes, we can admit but we have some reservations or Deny-Plus which means we would normally deny admission to this candidate but there are some circumstances worth considering.  The second reader, after reading through the same file, can agree or disagree with his/her colleague.  If they agree, then the file is passed to the Dean of Admissions who usually just rubber stamps their decision.  If there is disagreement, then the file is passed to the committee to be deliberated at large.   This pile of students is in admissions limbo, treading water until a final decision is reached.    Stanford calls these applicants "swims" because of the treading water metaphor. But at some point at the end of the reading period, the entire admissions committee meet and deliberate each file in the "swim" pile.   These deliberation days are especially long starting early in the morning and ending late at night with each file discussed, its merits and demerits debated. These discussions can be passionate, even heated, as an admissions officer will advocate for a particular candidate he/she might feel should be admitted (or not!)  Finally, a vote is taken to admit, deny or waitlist the candidate.

The final decisions made, the Dean signs each of the acceptances personally.  The rejections usually have a printed signature.  The letters are double checked, ascertaining that acceptances are sent to the right people and ONLY the right people.    Don't laugh, a few years ago, Vassar College sent acceptances to people who should have gotten rejections.   Vassar had to write an embarrassing letter admitting its mistake.  As expected, these people did not take the news well.  Very messy!

The acceptances are normally packed with housing information and applications, enrollment forms, a formal reply sheet accepting (or rejecting) the offer of admission and some assorted swag.  Reed, for instance, sent my son some confetti to throw in celebration; Santa Clara had a poster that declared "SCU Loves Me!"  As you can see, the acceptances usually come in large, fat envelopes.  Conversely, rejections come in an envelope alone, bereft of anything but the sympathetic words of the admissions office.  Along with the mailed acceptances, email is sent out to all candidates to check their applications online or the email itself will have the admission decision on it.  Consider the mailed decision the official decision.

As you go through this 2013-2014 college application cycle, may your future be full of fat envelopes and few (if any) thin ones!

[caption id="attachment_1105" align="aligncenter" width="225"]admitted students packets Picture taken at the Santa Clara University admissions office along with all the acceptance packets for the Class of 2017 prior to mailing. Big, thick, fat envelopes![/caption]

Here's a short video of the admissions process at Brandeis University.  It goes through a lot of what I just wrote.


Making a Great College List

Wednesday, July 24, 2013
[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="520"]Image Just like Santa Claus at Christmas, you have to make a well researched college list. Which colleges will make your "nice" list?[/caption] At some point,  you will need to sit down and make a list of about eight to ten colleges that will have the pleasure of receiving and considering your admission application.  There are over 3,000 colleges and universities in the US and though the Common Application makes it very easy (albeit very expensive) to apply to several hundred colleges, the number of recommendations that must be written for you and the number of supplements you have to fill out for each college makes a list of more than 10 impractical.  At this point, someone in the back of the audience will raise his hand and ask, "Why only ten?  With the intense competition for admissions these days, you should be applying to at least twelve (or fifteen, or twenty) schools MINIMUM." Well, if you do your homework and research your list carefully, you shouldn't need to apply to much more than eight or ten CAREFULLY selected choices.  And again, if you make your list carefully enough, you will be ASSURED admission into at least one, if not several, excellent colleges. At International School Manila, students are not allowed to apply to more than 10 colleges total (exception:  5 UK colleges are considered only one college for the purposes of this rule).    Xavier School is also putting a similar rule in place. The "ten maximum" rule also helps you because it demands that you do your college research.   This is very important.  Remember, you are looking for a school that will fit YOU.  Don't just apply to a college just because of its name or because of perceived prestige.  Don't apply to a school just  because your uncle who lives in the States swears it's a great school.   Don't get me wrong, your uncle's recommendation is a great place to start...to start your research.   In an earlier post (Where Do I Begin) I talked about using online college databases to cut down your choices.  You can search by your major,  your interests, or even your non-interests!  For example, if the fraternity/sorority scene (college publications call this the "Greek" scene.  They're called that because fraternities and sororities use Greek letters in their name) is not your cup of tea then you can specifically eliminate them in your search parameters.    When you've come to about ten or twenty schools, then you want to look at each more carefully through their website and by specifically asking for information about the college.  Go to a college fair, meet the representatives and make sure you get on their mailing list.  This also helps your admission chances because you have demonstrated interest in their school.  Visit the schools during summer vacation, if you can.  We here in the Philippines are at a distinct advantage because our summer coincides with spring in the US.  Classes are still in session and you can actually talk to students and possibly visit classes and talk to professors. Hopefully by the start of your senior year, you will have, or be close to having, your Final Ten (or fewer) so that by August 1, when the new Common Application comes online, you are ready to apply.  But how to choose your Final Ten? A time honored college application strategy is to spread your applications among college within a spectrum of admission chances.  This means you should have about three or four colleges on your list which your chances of admission are fairly certain.  These are sometimes called your "safety" schools.  If you can't get in anywhere else, you should be able to get into these.  Then you have your medium shots or your "possibles" where your chances of being admitted range from fairly likely to 50-50 to not too likely.  Finally, you can allocate two or three slots to your long shot colleges where your chances of admission are not likely but not impossible.  You can think of  it like a pyramid where you have more schools at the bottom and maybe one or two really long shots. A lot of people make the mistake of  applying to many long shot schools and very few safety schools which are usually afterthoughts.  Don't make that mistake!  There's a commandment in the college application game:  Thou shalt love thy safeties because you might end up going to one of them.  People end up with too many long shots usually because of shoddy research.   You're not trying hard enough to find colleges that you might not have heard of but are nonetheless excellent.  For example, let's say you want to study international relations.  Well, when you talk international relations, the first school that pops into my head is Georgetown University, the Jesuit university in Washington, DC.  Unfortunately, Georgetown is pretty competitive.  In the last application season (2013), Georgetown admitted only about 20% of its applicants.  Clearly, this is a long shot university for most students.  A little digging around will show you that even in just the Washington DC area, you have a number of excellent, less competitive alternatives:  George Washington University,  American University, Goucher College (in Baltimore).  Beloit in Wisconsin is excellent as is Brandeis University in Massachusetts.  My favorite college, Reed, also has a noted international studies program.  (Fiske Guide to the Colleges 2013 edition)  A knowledgeable guidance counselor is an excellent source of information regarding what colleges to look at or consider.  Unfortunately, for most Filipino students (the ones who don't study in the very expensive international schools), their guidance counselors know little or nothing about US colleges.  This is where an independent US college guidance counselor might come in handy. But how will you know what's a safety for you and what's a possible and what's a long shot?  The answers vary from individual to individual.  Depending on the strength of your academic record, one student's safety is another student's possible.  There is one very important rule though:  no matter who you are and how strong your record is the Ivies and their clones are ALL long shots.  Just because you have straight A's and perfect SAT scores, it does not mean you are a shoo in for Harvard or Stanford.  Those two schools turn away more than 90% of their applicants. They see--and reject--straight A, perfect SAT students all the time.  Besides, if you are a straight A, perfect SAT score student, don't you deserve a better undergraduate education than Harvard or Stanford? For a school to qualify as a safety, your grade point average (GPA) should be on the high end if not exceed the median GPA of the students they admitted last year.  Your total SAT score should significantly exceed (100 points?) the midrange of that school's SAT range.  Where do you find all this information?  It can usually be found on the college's website or simply Google it (What was the median SAT for freshmen applicants to Santa Clara University? Answer: 600-690 Math,  570 to 680 Critical Reading)  It will also be a good safety candidate if the college accepted at least half of its applicants.  For a possible or medium shot college, you should be in the middle of the range.  Note that these are all estimates and just because you have a 780 in your math SAT, it doesn't mean you're getting into Santa Clara automatically. Finally, let's look at my son's (Tyler's) college list in the recently concluded 2013 college application season.  He applied to six places:  Toronto, Waterloo, Reed, NYU, Santa Clara, and Harvey Mudd.  He researched and visited (except for Reed) all these colleges.  He liked all these schools and even if  he had a clear favorite (Waterloo) he would not have objected to attending any one of the six.   We evaluated Toronto and Santa Clara as safeties, Waterloo was a moderate safety, NYU was a medium, Reed was a medium long and Harvey Mudd was the long shot. 1.  Note that  he applied to only six schools, there was no point in applying to the big name schools that he didn't like anyway.  We were able to get a reasonable spread of admission chances across the board. 2.  His favorite, Waterloo, was a moderate safety, not a very competitive school admissions-wise.  Your favorite school doesn't always have to be the long shot.  Your favorite school should be just that...your favorite. In the end, he got into his first choice college and was also admitted to a good choice of alternatives besides.  Had he simply shotgunned his applications to the Ivies and other big names, he may not have had the pleasure of being admitted to his first choice and would have had to settle for second best.  But he didn't because he worked carefully to develop a well balanced college list which assured him of some admissions but also the possibility of getting into one or two long shots, all at schools he would have been happy to attend. So do your homework and do the research.  That way, at the end of the process, you will find yourself with several positive choices to make. Good luck.  Comments urgently solicited.

Don't Just Visit the Big Name Schools

Monday, July 15, 2013
I wasn't really planning on writing on this topic but a friend inspired me.  He and his family are presently in the US, bring their daughter to a student leadership conference at Northwestern University.  They are taking advantage of this time to visit some prospective colleges for that daughter.  Wonderful!  This child is going to be an arm and a leg up next year when her college search season kicks off (she's a rising high school junior).  Given the support she is receiving from her family, I can already see that this child is going to have a successful and enjoyable college search process. But there's something interesting about the schools they are visiting:  they are all big name schools.  So far, in the  San Francisco Bay Area, they visited Stanford and Santa Clara while in Chicago, they visited University of [caption id="attachment_1089" align="aligncenter" width="300"]college-pennant-pillow-1 When we visit US colleges, we tend to go to the famous or popular ones. I think you should spread it out a bit more.[/caption]

Chicago and of course, Northwestern.  Don't get me wrong, they're great places to visit but I think if you go only to big name colleges, you'll miss an important aspect of your college visits: variety.

If there is one thing that the US does well, it's the variety of their colleges and universities.  They have tiny ones (enrollment: 26) to huge ones (enrollment: 60,000), technical institutes, art schools, performance schools, liberal arts colleges, co-op institutions,  work colleges, and research universities.  If you visit only the big or famous schools, you won't see the small Catholic college or that famous liberal arts institution.  If you concentrate only on the Ivies, you'll miss out on the plethora of liberal arts colleges that outperform them when it comes to undergraduate education.  Ideally, you want to get a flavor of different kinds of schools even if you have no intention of attending them.   Well...ok, I guess if you have absolutely no intention of going into performance, you can skip Juilliard or if science, engineering or math fields aren't your cup of tea, forget Caltech.   There are many diamonds in the rough out there and sometimes they get overpowered by their famous neighbors.  I won't pretend to give you a list of all the places to go in each city but if in

[caption id="attachment_1087" align="aligncenter" width="256"]Stanford pennant You would be wrong to begin and end your college tour of the Bay Area at Stanford. Look at Menlo, Santa Clara, St. Mary's, etc.[/caption] SAN FRANCISCO Visit Stanford,  UC Berkeley and Santa Clara but also: Menlo, St. Mary's and maybe San Jose and San Francisco State   [caption id="attachment_1090" align="aligncenter" width="300"]oxy pennant Obama attended Oxy...so you should at least look at it.[/caption] LOS ANGELES Visit UCLA and USC but also: Harvey Mudd, Claremont McKenna, Pitzer, Scripps, Pomona (The Claremont Colleges), Cal Poly Pomona, Occidental, Loyola Marymount, UC Irvine and if you're going further afield-- UC San Diego, UC Santa Barbara and maybe Cal Poly San Luis Obispo SEATTLE Visit University of Washington but also: Seattle University, Seattle Pacific University, Gonzaga (in Spokane), Evergreen State (in Olympia), Washington State (in Pullman),  Whitman (in Walla Walla) and Reed (in Portland, OR) CHICAGO Visit University of Chicago and Northwestern but also Beloit College (Beloit, WI), Knox College (Galesburg), DePaul, Marquette (Milwaukee, WI) and Hope College (Holland, MI) NEW YORK/NEW JERSEY Visit Columbia, New York University, and Princeton but also Fordham, Cooper Union, Rutgers, Vassar, and Marist. PHILADELPHIA Visit University of Pennsylvania but also Swarthmore, Haverford, Bryn Mawr(women's college),  and Villanova BOSTON Visit Harvard and MIT but also Boston College, Amherst, Hampshire, Wellesley (women's college), Holy Cross, Marlboro College (in Vermont), Bates, Bowdoin, Colby (all in Maine) [caption id="attachment_1088" align="aligncenter" width="300"]BC pennant President Kennedy once called Boston College the Jesuit Ivy.[/caption] Wow!  That's a lot of schools.  I am not saying that you should visit all of them but you should try to mix in a few of them and maybe drop a big name or two.  I mean....once you've seen a big UC, how many more do you have to see?  Once you've seen one Ivy you've seen them all.  So take advantage of your summer break and go visit a variety of colleges and since our Philippine summers run during the American spring semester, you'll be able to catch students and catch a class or two. Comments urgently solicited. (Personal anecdote:  Tyler and I did our college trip in the summer of 2012.  In the space of seven weeks, we visited 15 campuses in the US and Canada:  U of British Columbia, Simon Fraser, U of Waterloo, U of Toronto, (McGill got canceled), NYU, Fordham, Columbia, Rutgers, Princeton, Harvey Mudd, Caltech, UC Irvine, Stanford, Santa Clara, and UC Berkeley.  If you noticed we didn't take our own advice. :)  )

florida pennant

Monday, July 15, 2013

John Sy, President and Senior Counselor
Universitas College Counseling
203A CM Recto Street
San Juan, Metro Manila, Philippines

+63 (917) 833-3825

John Sy, President and Senior Counselor
Universitas College Counseling
203A CM Recto Street
San Juan, Metro Manila, Philippines


+63 (917) 833-3825

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