Is quarterlife your future?

So I’m in the midst of watching quarterlife, the new show on NBC – check it out at if you haven’t yet seen it. I’m fascinated by a show about a blog on a blog site about a show – but the show is also about all these twenty something college grads who still don’t know what they want to do with their life. Why don’t any of them go back to college – are they TRYING to make my job harder?!

It’s definitely true, however, that many college grads are still finding themselves and even more will switch careers, but you can use your time in college, even your time looking for a college, to help. The search process for college itself can be part of the solution. If you take the time to try to find a good match, you’ll start to explore the things that are interesting and exciting to you. If you find a good match, you’ll have an easier time exploring your interests, through courses, jobs, internships, study abroad, etc. You just very well might find a way to avoid the “quarterlife crisis”.

But in any event, it’s a really great show. And a great site. Check it out.


Boston Legal takes on high school stress

Phenomenal episode of Boston Legal on ABC tonight where a parent sued her daughter’s high school for failing to regulate stress levels. It raises some great issues of where to lay blame for the massive stress high school students face, such as:

The hype around the admissions process is premised on an assumption that getting into some particular school or set of schools increases student success rates (measured, I suppose, by job placement, income, and admission to graduate programs), however every study I can find on the subject says that this is entirely false. So if we KNOW that the school you attend isn’t correlated with success (that it correlates with your grades, your family income, and your excitement about/connection to your college – not which school you attend), why is there an apparent obession with students taking massive loads of AP, IB, clubs, service, tests, etc etc etc.?

Do students and parents feel the loads are really educationally beneficial? Or is it just about bragging rights? How many college courses do you really need to get done BEFORE you’re in college? Do, as the show suggested tonight, the high schools have some obligation to limit students’ courseloads and involvements? And would that even be possible? Is the push for more and more related to the increasingly lax attitude towards cheating and plagarism?

Of course, I’m a guilty guilty guilty part of the system. Just like our fellow competitive institutions, Mason weighs course load strength in our admissions decisions, and we use extra-curricular involvement as a measure of leadership and motivation. Is there any way we can value these factors without encouraging the kind of excess that prevents students from actually ENJOYING their time in high school?

My advice: if you genuinely have an interest and aptitude that guides you towards a massive AP/IB courseload, then have at it! But I really truly believe that you can find tremendous success without forcing yourself to be miserable. Let’s face it – high school has PLENTY of stress and drama without any help from the rest of us. Great colleges will admit not just hyper-involved perfect students, but also students whose success comes through balance.

The SAT Writing Test

Back in November ( I posted an overview of how (and why) colleges use the SAT and ACT tests in evaluating applicants. Since then a few more questions have come up about the SAT writing test.

First, I should note that I am not in any way convinced that the CollegeBoard, the folks who bring you the SAT, AP, etc, are anything but well intentioned. My university is a member, as are most institutions, and I’m an institutional representative to the Board. As I wrote in November, I’m not rabidly anti-test – I think they can be useful when used appropriately.

It appears the SAT changed to meet demands of the marketplace, especially the CollegeBoard’s biggest customer, the California University system. There was a very public threat that they would stop using the SAT, then a clarification that they felt the SAT II writing test was a better predictor of college success and they would start using that instead. Almost immediately after, the CollegeBoard announced their plans to “save writing” in the schools by incorporating a writing test into the general SAT. This mollified the California schools, and bascially the Board just took a long standing exam, the SAT II, and incorporated it with parts of the old Verbal section and, Ta Da, New SAT – longer, more expensive, and ready for use.

In general, the schools that used the SAT II in their admissions process are using the writing score from the New SAT. Most schools have it loaded into their systems since it just comes with the same data and would be harder to drop out than to leave, so many admissions officers will see your writing score, even at schools that aren’t using that section of the test. So far, the rankings companies, especially US News, haven’t included the writing score in their formulas, so most colleges still have a wait and see attitude.

I’m really not opposed to the writing test, again if used in context. I was really put out by the campaign the CollegeBoard used to launch the test, which claimed the test would, as I said, “Save Writing” and get it back into the curriculum. Mason is one of a handful of schools to be highly ranked for our Writing Across the Curriculum (WAC) program. The theory goes that in graduate school and in the workplace, even though you have deadlines, you aren’t usually given timed writing assignments. You also aren’t usually asked to write about random questions, but instead about specific topics related to your studies or work. WAC programs require researched, reflective writing across your primary courses. So when I teach my Communications 100 class, my students have to write a research paper on a topic of interest to them on which they will also do a speech, and the same goes for our other general education courses. That’s the kind of writing that will help you succeed. I’ll admit, students who do well on reflective, edited, researched writing may also do well on timed writing, but not necessarily. What seems obvious is that the best way to get a good grade on the writing section is to learn to write REALLY FAST, following all the required grammatical and stylistic guidelines. Unfortunately, that doesn’t require that your content be good, or even true. There may be some correlation between the writing test and college grades, as writing fast is likely of use in some classes, but on the whole it’s not the kind of writing we want to encourage, and I sure don’t think the test saved writing!

As a result, most schools aren’t using the test in the admission process. Many are collecting it to “test the use” of the scores in the future (you can also read that as “being prepared” in case US News starts using those scores!).

What does it mean to you? As with many things, check with the schools where you are applying. If they really aren’t using those scores (Mason really isn’t) then you might just relax a bit on that section of the test…although you might also check to see if they are using the scores in any other ways (like placement into English classes), just in case.

There have been dozens of articles on the test, and I’ll look for some of the links, but feel free to send additional questions in the meantime. Be seeing you.

Shameless Plug: Even a presidential visit is just a day a Mason

Former President and current candidate for First-husband Bill Clinton came to campus last night to campaign for his wife.  Signs of how completely connected Mason students are:

1) The students (college democrats) knew before the administration.

2) It only merited a small mention on the website that he was coming,, and just one note about it today, …largely because there was so much going on at the same time!

3) A Mason student (Grant Herring, president of the college Democrats) introduced President Clinton, not a campaign official, local politico, or campus administrator.

Maybe our students just have so much access that they’re not that easily impressed. Check out the article about the class following the primary – including pictures of them with the former first daughter and former mayor or New York/recovering presidential candidate –

 Be seeing you!

interesting admissions and financial aid web site has a database of the most admissions and financial aid resources I’ve ever seen.  If you have the patience to search through, you can find stuff on almost any admissions related subject.

Funny (well, kinda sad) stuff on applications and admission

In the past week:

The essay that explained all the reasons the student wanted to go…to William and Mary. Where, I hope, he will be very happy.

Our application asks whether the applicant has ever been convicted of a felony. One student said yes, but didn’t provide the required explanation. When we contacted him to follow up, it turns out he was actually just pulled over for speeding. He got a warning. Not quite a felony…

The applicant that sent in an appeal of her decision – BEFORE we made the decision!

Three parents calling to complain about all the trouble they had filing out the application – not their son or daughter, mind you – their offspring were far too busy to fill out the applications themselves.

Like most schools, this time of year we are deep in the thick of the process. We’ll have a large number of students who are on the bubble for decisions, and we’ll spend hours deciding which ones to accept, which to offer waitlist, and which will unfortunately be denied. A big part of the process is trying to determine which of our admitted students will end up enrolling so we can be sure we have the right sized class, so while students and parents try to predict our behavior, we’re also trying to predict yours. We’re also making scholarship and honors program awards. Of course, we also have Homecoming next weekend, and we’ve started sending those same admissions counselors that have to read your applications out on the road to attend the spring college fairs.

But soon the letters and awards will be out, the appeals will be reviewed, and then the real work begins – you have to pick which of the many many schools that admitted you to choose – your chance to make US sweat. So we’ll write you, email you, IM you, facebook and myspace you – we may even quarterlife, secondlife, or World of Warcraft you. If you thought it was annoying when we were getting you to apply, just wait until you see what we do trying get you to commit! Be seeing you – a lot!