‘Tis the season for paper and whining…

…and for my regular, always much anticipated, blog post on submitting your application materials successfully.


If you follow any of the other admission blogs (no reason you would, since you’ve discovered this one, other than morbid curiosity) you’ll see post after post complaining about all the mail us poor overworked admissions officers receive this time of year as application deadlines approach (cue violins).  If you’re anything like me, your natural response to this is, “stop whining, put on your big boy pants, and go open some mail instead of typing on your blog.”

Unfortunately, the chaos can have a negative impact on you.  Colleges seem to be getting worse and worse at matching documents you send in with your application.  This seems to have several sources:

A)    Most material used to come in with your application, but now that most of you apply online, most transcripts, recommendations, and even many essays come in separately;

B)     This is complicated by the lack of social security number – as a universal identifier, SSN was great. All the identity theft stuff caused universities to stop using them. As a result, we have to go by name, leading to more confusion since;

C)    You all have nicknames, multiple spellings, and worst of all – some of you share the same name!!! Yes, it’s true – you may not be quite as unique as you think.


All of that is compounded by the rapid increase in application volume.  I’ve written about this before, but all the hype about how INCREDIBLY COMPETITIVE college admissions has become has led many of you to apply to more schools, making the process look even more competitive, leading you to apply to MORE schools…you get the idea.
The bottom line is that colleges misplace documents ALL THE TIME.  I hear about this constantly for my own institution, and believe me I understand.  Even though our error rate is incredibly low (yes, I’m enough of a geek to track these things) every lost document leads to round of anxiety for students, parents, and guidance officers.  In the spirit of Thanksgiving, here are a few things to help you avoid these situations:

1)      Submit your application before you start sending other documents. This means you need to get your application in well before any deadlines (Mason’s December 1 deadline for scholarship consideration is almost here! Don’t Panic!).  That may be harder than you think.  Most high schools want you to request your transcript (and teachers want you to request your recommendation) well before the deadline.  Many of these great educators are so on top of things, they get the transcripts/recommendations, etc. right out to us, even while you’re still procrastinating right up to the deadline.  Then your documents come in before your application and go into some scary file called “orphan documents” (shudder), which we check regularly as best we can, and where periodically some employee goes to look for the document your calling us frantically about, sometimes never to be heard from again… This can be fixed if you get your application in well BEFORE the deadline.  Once you’ve gotten that application in, you’ll still have plenty of time to request your other documents, and you can implement idea number two:

2)      If the college or university gives you any kind of student number during the application process, include it on any (and EVERY) document you send.

3)      Try to make sure the name on your application is the same (including first and last name in the same order) as the one that you give for the SAT or ACT and the one on your transcript. If they don’t match, they might not be found.

4)      If you do have different names (hyphenated last names, changed order, used a stupid nickname when you took the SAT) include the other names as Previous Names on your application.

Of course, keep copies of everything you send and a record of the data you sent it, and check in with the college to make sure they get them (please give them TIME – Mason will receive over a million documents around our deadlines – it’ll take a few days to catch up – AT LEAST!!!).

Follow these rules and you’ll be all set – to be considered. Then you just have to worry about being good enough to get in!

Be seeing you.


Reader response – why does tuition go up and up?

If you check out the recent comments, you’ll see a post asking why tuition is increasing so fast in higher education, whether its related to Federal Aid or buildings, and what is likely to happen next.

An incredibly complex question, but I’ll give it a go.  It’s unclear that the availability of aid has much to do with tuition increases, since the increases have continued to go on even when aid fails to increase from states and the fed (although there some obvious parallels since students can access more of the subsidized loan aid if need increases as a result of the tuition expansion). 
Aside from that, what’s behind the increases?  I’d suggest there are at least three major factors:
1) Universities are very different from manufacturing organizations in that their product is human capital.  As a result, the vast majority of resources go into personnel, particularly teaching faculty.  The main index of inflation, some argue, is misleading since it’s really designed around inflation in products.  There are some measures that have been designed for higher education, but I’m in no position to judge their accuracy.  What I can say is that the correlation to the increase in a car price and the price of an education is misleading.
2) Other economists argue that tuition could rise much faster.  The argument goes that the value of an education has expanded far more rapidly than any other product.  That isn’t becuase a graduate makes so much more (which can be argued) but because the bachelor degree has become such a staple requirement for many jobs.  As that requirement increases and demand for the product rises dramatically (check out the Department of Education’s NCES site for the incredible expansion of students in higher education over the past decades) price elasticity increases
3) students want more from education than ever before, and appear willing to pay for it.  Exercise facilities, athletic fields, dining services, etc.  are now considered a basic requisite for a successful campus.  I’m sure any reader could name dozens of other examples of non-education related programs that campuses now “must” offer, not to mention the increasing cost of security, both physical and electronic.

I’ve been hearing since I entered higher education that tuition increases are unsustainable, and perhaps it’s true. On the other hand, it’s possible that the cost hasn’t leveled off at what students are willing to pay, as every increase in tuition appears to link to an INCREASE in application and enrollment. 

Mason joins many schools (the others, of course, not nearly as wonderful) in an odd position.  As a younger institution we have a smaller endownment, and we have always kept our tuition very low, particularly for the D.C. region and the high cost of living for our faculty and staff. If we take the same percentage increase as some other schools in the area, those with MASSIVE endowments they cling to and equally MASSIVE tuition, we make a far smaller dollar increase each time, since we’re starting from a smaller base.  It’s always seemed odd to me that the anger focuses so much on the percentage issue across the board, rather than on the schools with the largest dollar increases, since we all have to buy the same fuel, compete for the same faculty, etc.

For public instiutions you can’t minimize the impact of state funding on the model.  When I came to Mason the state was funding about 65% of the cost of educating our students.  Currently the state funds only about 35%, and that share is reported to soon decrease even further.  If an institution is already fat, this shouldn’t be a problem, but if the institution ran lean, kept costs down, did everything a responsible school should, unfortunately that burden inevitably falls on student tuition.

There’s also a ton of data on the impact of tenure (which I support, but it’s a factor) and the need for schools to develop third stream revenue (apart from the government and tuition).  I think the suggestion that we add a casino was interesting, but we’ll probably hold off on that project for now.

Finally, and just to complicate this impossibly complex discussion, bear in mind that operating dollars and capital (building) dollars aren’t the same thing.  Adding buildings at a time when construction costs are declining and interest rates are low is VERY smart for schools and states.  Mason has very high demand for more housing – we now have 5,000 spaces and for several years have guaranteed housing to all freshmen for four years.  We can’t, however, meet transfer, graduate, and npn-resident current student demand.  If we can afford the initial debt on housing, in the long term that benefits everyone, as huosing (like student unions, parking, athletic facilities, etc) must pay for itself in Virginia.  So your tuition isn’t actually impacted much, if at all, by the construction, and may even be brought down (one of the new buildings, for instance, is cutting edge in that it will incorporate our Engineering program AND has a floor of rental space for businesses that want to work with  – and recruit – our faculty and students.  That creates REVENUE from the building and opportunity for students in the long run. Those kind of partnerships are a hallmark of how Mason has kept pushing forward while keeping costs far below our competition.

So what’s going to happen next?  I think the REALLY expensive schools are in a bit of a panic, and are likely to make some very public moves (MORE AID!  HOLDING THE LINE ON OUR OUTRAGEOUS TUITION) that will have very little actual impact but will get a lot of press.  For Mason I think you’ll likely see some continued increases, but as before with a huge dedication to allocating a portion to student aid so that student debt levels can be held steady and access can be maintained.  i don’t see any sign that campuses will get more austere – in fact, demand seems very steady for all the “perks” even as the economy weakens.  If next year students all start demanding private jacuzzis and a personal masseuse, expect a new round of tuition jumps to keep up with the competition.  I’d write more, but my butler tells me it’s time to read some more applications while I soak in my private jacuzzi.  Be seeing you.

I’m back and bloggier than ever – and how about that Facebook thing?

OK, I’m back.  Sorry to be gone so long right when you all were in the midst of your applications, but hey, it happens.  I was off in Japan and Korea where Mason is incredibly popular, and came back to a FLOOD of early action applicants screaming for attention.  Also, thanks to over 4,000 of you who attended our Fall Showcase (and especially to those of you who took the time to thank me for the blog, and especially the family who stood in the rain just to tell me they like it, and no your matching sweatshirts weren’t as geeky as you thought they were!).  Coming soon to the blog – updates on early action, loads of paper in admissions, how to get your documents matched, can you submit stuff late, what to do if you get denied, what to do if you get waitlisted, and answer to all of life’s questions…and yes, I’m just that good). 

Before I get to all that useful stuff, however, the powers that be at admissions.com/monster.com have been bugging me to write “something about facebook and how it gets used in admissions.  And maybe you could make it funny.”

You hard core readers will, of course, recognize that I already wrote that article over a year ago.  On the other hand, that makes it FAR easier to write it again, since I can just copy myself.  Better yet, the post on the blog was really just a copy of a similar discussion in the Washington Post forum, Admissions 101 (www.washingtonpost.com, go to opinions, discussion groups, Admissions 101).  Here’s what I wrote:

“As a dean of admissions, I have yet to find an institution that is trolling myspace or facebook routinely as part of the admissions process. Three reasons:
1) Admissions offices are already overwhelmed by the volume of materials they receive without going out to search for more
2) Even if they wanted to, most don’t know how to search them well -have you tried to find a specific person on myspace without already knowing everything about them?
3) There is no way to know whether the information on a student’s site was posted by them, or is in any way accurate.
I know of a handful of cases where websites or social site pages showing clear legal violations and/or hate speech were brought to a schools attention, and results of these have been mixed. The lack of lawsuits on the issue is a good testament that this is not a prevalent occurrence by any stretch of the imagination. Admissions offices, on the other hand, have always rescinded about 5% of their offers. This is usually a result of a student having a significant downturn in academic performance in their senior year. In my six years at my current institution I can think of only one case where anything but academics was involved in our decision to rescind an offer.”

Bear in mind, there have been some really disturbing articles about admissions folks finding stuff in Facebook since I wrote my last post.  This problem seems to occur in three ways: 1) incredibly bright students stupidly link to a friendly admissions officer or dean, and forget that they’re linked, or are too dumb to realize that in Facebook world even the pictures your friend’s tag will pop up in anyone’s home page that you’ve friended, and so accidentally force the admissions officer to see you doing keg stands, facing said admissions officer with a choice about whether to do anything about it. 2) Scary helicopter parent actually sabotages you by encouraging admissions officers to check out your Facebook page and see all the depravity evidenced there, or 3) Creepy admissions officers stalk you. 

I find this all especially disturbing since the admissions office, in a fit of self interest, is unlikely to open themselves to liability by actually TELLING you they saw anything, and may not even bother to find out if the picture is legitimate.  Since anyone can post and tag a picture of you, real or fake, this poses some serious problems.  A few officers I’ve talked to will call you if they are alerted to something objectionable and give you a chance to defend yourself, but not all.

What’s the result – make your Facebook PRIVATE and don’t link to creepy admissions officers.  And delete any tags as fast you can since not only do you not want them to affect admissions, you really don’t want them out there later when you try to run for president (although by then, maybe that helps?).  And in the end, don’t worry too much – we really don’t have time to be stalking you on Facebook.  At least we shouldn’t.  Now I have to go – I haven’t updated my status in HOURS!  Be seeing you!