Oberlin: Funky intellectual community with lots of music, art and co-ops

Oberlin has a distinct history of challenging intellectual and social conventions. It was the first to adopt a policy to admit students of color and the first to educate women in an undergraduate program. This history shapes the diverse student experience today. Individuality is valued at Oberlin, which fosters strong bonds among an eclectic community of bright and talented students from around the world. Interestingly enough, much of the domestic student body hails from New York and California.oberlin music

Oberlin is an intellectual community where students explore ideas because they are inspired to learn, not for the sake of grades. Since 1920, more Oberlin graduates have earned Ph.D.s than have graduates of any other predominately undergraduate institution. Wow!

Acceptance: 33%

Freshmen from out of state: 95%

Most popular majors: politics, biology, music

Housing: All freshmen live on campus. Only seniors can live off-campus. The varied housing options include co-ops, several of which focused on foreign languages. For $5, students can rent up to two original works of art to decorate their room (what a deal!). Every dorm has a piano.

4-year Graduation rate: 73%

Academics: Oberlin has been a leader among liberal arts colleges that promote their science offerings, with biology and chemistry being two of their strongest departments. Undergraduates can also major in interdisciplinary programs like neuroscience and biopsychology.

There is no core curriculum but students must take classes humanities, social sciences and natural sciences. Oberlin offers a winter term, which allows independent study in January. Undergrads must complete 3 winter terms to graduate.  75% study abroad and 65% engage in research with faculty mentors.

A nice perk to having a conservatory on campus is that private lessons are free when you take a music class for credit.

Social: Music is big on Oberlin’s campus. My tour guide boasted that there are 2-3 music events held on campus every day. Some of the most popular events feature music performances, such as orchestra concerts, jazz ensemble concerts, opera and theater productions, Friday Night Organ Pump concerts, and Hip Hop Conference. Student radio is the second largest organization. Students actively participate in 200 student groups and 70% engage in service projects.

Oberlin College & Conservatory

Financial: Oberlin offers merit aid and need-based financial aid, with 100% of need fully met.  Although the tuition and fees are $67,000, the average financial aid package is $37K. 83% of students receive scholarships. Oberlin offers both need-based and merit aid. Oberlin meets 100% of need.

What do you think about Oberlin? What about this college is a good fit for you? Please post your comments below.

Why attend Swiss college prep boarding school

Throughout the year, I tour college prep boarding schools. It’s an opportunity for me to learn about schools that could potentially be a fit for my students, meet new colleagues, and stay current on what’s happening in the boarding school community. I have previously worked with students who attended school in Switzerland, so traveling to visit college prep boarding schools there was particularly intriguing. After an intensive week of touring campuses, hearing new languages and accents, driving through mountains, riding on trains and boats, and eating cheese and chocolate to my heart’s content(!), I understood more about why families around the world choose to have their teen attend school in Switzerland.

The Swiss schools that I visited included:

Aiglon College, Brillantmont, Ecole d’Humanité, Le Rosey, Leysin American School, Rosenberg, TASIS, Zuoz

Each school offered a unique experience. In future posts, I will share more about individual school offerings. Overall, the Swiss college-prep boarding schools have much to offer families who may be seeking a premier education in Europe.


Why Swiss schools

In my conversations with students, faculty, administrators, and alumni, there were several common reasons noted for why they chose to attend high school in Switzerland:

Curriculum offers – There were several curriculum options among the Swiss schools. Diploma offerings included International Baccaulaureate, Advanced Placement International Diploma, French Baccalaureate, and British A Level. Depending on a student’s aspirations after high school, these academic programs can meet a range of interests.

Opportunities to travel – Given the proximity of other countries and the cultural freedoms in Europe, students attending Swiss schools had ample opportunities to travel throughout Europe. It was not uncommon to hear students discuss their trips to Italy or France during the weekend or taking service trips to ___ during Spring Break.

Global community – The Swiss schools had incredible diversity among its student body and faculty. (I even met several staff and faculty from Ohio on the campuses . . . O-H!) The students remarked about the advantages for them to live in a community where they interact with and learn about cultures as varied as Russian, Chilean, or Saudi Arabian.

These are global experiences that are not easily matched during high school. I must admit though that I wondered . . . “If students have these kinds of experiences in high school, what does it mean for the types of experiences that will engage them in college?” What are your thoughts about such global experiences during high school?


4 Tips to Help your Teen Study Better

It is best to start building study habits in the middle school years because poor study habits will quickly come to light during high school when the demands of high school academics and homework load are much greater. Even if your teen is on the 12th, it’s too late for them to learn how to study better. The study skills they build in high school will greatly serve them in college.

Here are 3 time-tested tips that will make a difference in developing your teen’s study habits: (I’ve used them myself and know that they work!)

  • Help your teen set a daily study routine. This daily routine can be 4 to 6 pm for afterschool activities, 6-7 dinner time, then study from 7 to 10 pm. Part of setting this routine is making it realistic for how your teen is involved outside of school and in the community. To really stick with this routine, stay flexible. You can make adjustments when necessary on a week-by-week basis until your teen feels comfortable with knowing that if it’s Wednesday evening at 7:30, they should be studying and not watching a movie on net flicks.
  • Remind them to review their class notes each day. You may be thinking . . . I don’t have time to hover over them while they’re studying. I don’t mean to imply that at all. This means that from time to time, perhaps when they discuss a grade that was lower than expected, you suggest that they should consider reviewing their class notes each day. Another thing they can do if they have a study period is look ahead to what will be covered in class later that day.
  • Designate a quiet space at home (or library) to avoid distractions, i.e. texts, music, and friends who socialize. Designated space at home can be a desk in any room, a dining table, a comfy chair or couch as long as it’s free of obvious distractions. If studying at home isn’t an option, then perhaps suggest that your teen studies at the local library for a few hours.
  • Have dinner together. In all the research that’s been done on what makes the most difference with doing well academically, it’s having dinner together. This can be tough to schedule especially if you have more than one child, nevertheless, it’s been shown to have the greatest impact, even more so than doing homework.

Please let me know what you’ve tried that works.

Check out What Parents Need to Know about Testing for College-bound Teens!


What 9th graders can do now to get into Best College

Attention 9th graders, the college may feel like a long way away. In some ways, it is. But, in more ways than one, it’s really not. College-bound 9th graders are part of the college admissions process, whether they know it or not. In fact, our firm starts working with many teens in their freshman year of high school.

Long before students start receiving college mailings, they can get prepared. 9th graders can take these three steps to get into the best college for them:

  • Get to know yourself – At the same time that 9th grade may be an exciting time socially with making new friends at school, it’s also a great time for freshmen to explore and find new things that they like and enjoy doing. This may mean checking out a new club at school, starting a hobby, or trying out a summer program in a new subject area. Self-awareness is key in knowing what you want for college!
  • Plan your courses for all four years of high school – Setting your schedule ahead of high school graduation is a great way to build a strong foundation of coursework. It will also help you see where there may be courses missing. In those cases, perhaps you could consider an online or summer course. If your high school offers an Honors graduation, the four-year planning will help with determining if that’s a path you want to pursue.
  • Develop good study and organization skills – It’s not too early to find ways to improve your study and organization skills. The coursework in 9th grade is typically more rigorous than 8th grade, so consider how you manage your time after school or how you take notes during class. There are note-taking systems, time management tools, and organizing techniques to try that can help you develop habits that will serve you well throughout high school and beyond.

Ninth grade can be a great year to jumpstart success in high school and getting into the best college. The journey begins with the student!

What other suggestions do you have for 9th grade? Please post comments and questions below

Top 3 Must-haves at Hamilton College

New students at Hamilton College get 2 things – an adviser and a reference librarian. These two people

Hamilton College
Hamilton College

are important to the Hamilton student’s success because Hamilton is a school with no course requirements. In short, students can take courses that interest them. Students must, however, take 3 writing-intensives which is similar to most other colleges. A student described the open course selection well when she stated, “Open is good, but you have to have some foresight.” The adviser certainly helps in that area. The reference librarian, of course, is important because Hamilton students will spend a lot of time conducting research and studying in the library.

Although the student body is academic-minded, the weekends on campus offer numerous options for fun and hanging out with friends. The “barn” on-campus features late-night, “dry” entertainment, like casino night or live music. After a good time at the barn, the on-campus diner serves breakfast from midnight to 3 am! Nothing quite like eating pancakes at 2 am. . . they always taste better then!

Now, what do you think are the Top 3 must-haves at Hamilton College? 🙂

College rankings from Washington Monthly with a Twist

Cal tech

Remember the saying . . . “If you can’t beat them, join them.” I have a similar love-hate relationship with the annual college rankings. Several of my client families love to refer to college rankings despite my warnings that college rankings do not make a college list. There are so many colleges available and with different qualities. A primary reason that I visit so many campuses throughout the year is to understand these nuances and support families with making a more informed choice beyond the rankings. But back to my original quote, if families are going to reference the college rankings anyway, what I can do is give them some different perspectives on those rankings.

For example, the Washington Monthly just published its annual college ranking. Unlike the popular US News and World Report Rankings, Washington Monthly looks at the colleges from another lens:

We rate schools based on their contribution to the public good in three broad categories: Social Mobility (recruiting and graduating low-income students), Research (producing cutting-edge scholarship and PhDs), and Service (encouraging students to give something back to their country).

via National University Rankings 2012 | Washington Monthly.

That definition sounds good but it certainly generates a fairly odd list of colleges. Also, these categories are so broad that you’re bound to get some colleges/universities that rank high in one area and very low in another. When I first saw the general list of colleges, I expected to see more Catholic universities at the top of the list since the “Service” component is so strong in their mission. Instead, the general list of “National Universities” included many University of California system institutions that would be “off the radar” for many families. They are “off the radar” in some cases because of the enrollment size, limited financial awards, extended time to graduate, etc.

2012 National Universities on Washington Monthly’s College Rankings

  1. UC, San Diego
  2. Texas A&M
  3. Stanford (CA)
  4. UNC, Chapel Hill
  5. UC, Berkeley
  6. UC, Los Angeles
  7. Case Western Reserve (OH)
  8. UW, Seattle
  9. UC, Riverside
  10. Georgia Institute of Technology
  11. Harvard (MA)
  12. UTexas, El Paso
  13. UMichigan, Ann Arbor
  14. UC, Santa Barbara
  15. MIT

Case Study

So, in this case, when you look at the list from a different perspective (through sorting :-)) the rankings tell a different story.Let’s say that you have a teen who is interested in a college with a liberal arts curriculum and many opportunities to get involved in community service. Here are the colleges that rank in the top 15:

  1. Bryn Mawr (PA)
  2. Warren Wilson (NC)
  3. Rhodes College (TN)
  4. Emory and Henry (VA)
  5. Illinois College (IL)
  6. Knox College (IL)
  7. Central College (IA)
  8. Macalester College (MN)
  9. Williamette University (OR)
  10. Hobart William Smith (NY)
  11. Davidson College (NC)
  12. Pitzer (CA
  13. Oberlin (OH)
  14. Whittier (CA)
  15. Washington and Lee (VA)

So, do you accept the rankings as is . . . . or do your own sorting?

Comparison of US education to other countries – Education Olympics INFOGRAPHIC

I recently spent a week in Delaware and Pennsylvania visiting colleges along with a group of international counselors from all around the world. We are all members of the Overseas Association of College Admission Counseling (OACAC). [My other OACAC group is the Ohio Association of College Admission Counseling.] My conversations with the other counselors are always informative. The message that comes through in each discussion is that college admissions are no longer about American students competing with American students for a seat at the “college-of-your-dreams” table. American students are competing squarely with students from India, China, Singapore, Jordan, Ghana, Nigeria, and many other countries.

This infographic is a great visual reminder that K-12 education in the US has been far outpaced by other countries. As long as we continue to fall behind in K-12, we will see the international student population continue to rise, particularly at the selective colleges and universities in the US

The Education Olympics [Infographic]

Education in other countries is outpacing the US
Education in other countries is outpacing the US

via Education Olympics: How Does America Rank Compare To Other Countries? INFOGRAPHIC.

It’s not too late to keep students sharp through this summer

It’s already July, about the half-way mark for summer break. (Yes, I’m counting down for my 3 to go back to school…the sooner, the better!) There’s still time for students to make the most of their summer with learning. I like these 4 tips from a CNN blog because they are easy to incorporate into current summer plans:

Learn something new . . .  It doesn’t have to be out of a textbook. Swimming or SCUBA or horseback riding lessons, practicing a language while driving to your vacation destination – it all counts.

Leverage learning on vacation . . .And while the theme park is fine, consider visiting a national park as well.  Why?  Because people have to learn something about it to get the most out of the visit.

Read . . . [See our July newsletter for suggestions]

Up your game(s) . . . .It’s ironic that many of the games that are lower-tech are often better for learning.

via Keeping students sharp through summer – Schools of Thought – CNN.com Blogs.

So, tell the truth . . . how are you progressing on your summer goals?



University of Virginia President Resignation and Freshman Class of 2016

Two years in office for a district superintendent may be acceptable. When it comes to a University President, however, two years is really no time at all. The last president of University of Virginia-Charlottesville held that office for 20 years. Dr. Teresa Sullivan, the new female president who came into office in 2010 with such high hopes, an impressive resume, and a scholarly research record will only hold office for two years when she leaves on August 15, 2012:

The announcement Sunday shocked the university community and signaled potential hard times ahead for the flagship university, an institution founded by Thomas Jefferson and unaccustomed to instability. The previous president, John T. Casteen, stayed for 20 years. When she exits on Aug. 15, Sullivan will have served two years and two weeks, the shortest presidential tenure in the school’s history. Helen Dragas’s handling of Teresa Sullivan’s ouster confounds many who know her. Sullivan attributed her departure to “a philosophical difference of opinion” between herself and U-Va.’s governing board of visitors. It was unclear when the rift began, but its existence surprised the Charlottesville community.

via University of Virginia president to step down – The Washington Post.

This will be an awkward time for entering Freshman Class of 2016 who will arrive on campus in August to greet new roommates as many of them embark on their first experience away from home in the “adult” world of college life. Freshmen and

upperclassmen at UVA can’t possibly know what to expect this 2012-2013 school year. Will there be any faculty or administrative backlash as a result of the president’s resignation? With a new president comes many changes to a university’s academic, fiscal, and social culture.

The transition to a new environment for the Freshman Class of 2014 will be felt in the dorm room, classroom, and every nook and cranny of the Charlottesville campus. The university may have a look and feel that’s quite different from what Freshmen experienced in the admissions process.

My urging to Freshmen Class of 2016 is to get involved with the hiring of the next president however they can. The role of the university President is too important to the success of students’ next four years to be a bystander.

UVA President at 2012 graduation with Katie Couric. -from Washington Post
UVA President at 2012 graduation with Katie Couric. -from Washington Post

Good principals make a difference in any school

The recent headline about how effective principals make a difference in high poverty schools really resonated with me. My elementary school in Memphis, Tennessee would have been considered on of those high poverty schools, based on the high percentage of low-income families.

Joseph K. Carr, the principal at my elementary school, saved my life. He was known as a disciplinarian and no student wanted to get in trouble under Mr. Carr’s watch. We feared and respected him. His words of encouragement to all the students were “If not you, then who?” He challenged us all to reach our highest potential. Those words set me on my educational journey.

A new study on principal effectiveness focused on high poverty schools and found that:

. . . . high-quality principals—as determined by a value-added model that includes student achievement and school characteristics—had a large positive impact on their students’ achievement: “A principal in the top 16 percent of the quality distribution…will lead annually to student gains that are .05 standard deviations or more higher than average for all students in the school emphasis is the authors’.”

They also tended to be associated with teacher turnover in the lowest-performing grades in their schools—indicating, perhaps, that these principals are trying to replace low-performing teachers with more-effective ones.

via Study: Good Principals Make a Difference in High-Poverty Schools – Inside School Research – Education Week.

Based on my observations of schools over the past 15 years, I would argue that strong leadership makes a difference in any school, whether it is high poverty, low-poverty, independent, parochial, or other. The leadership sets the tone and culture of the school. A school is only as strong as its principal.

What difference has your principal made?