High Tech Programs Meet Liberal Arts Colleges

Over the past 10 years, alternative education programs have been popping up for high school and even college students.  Students are seeking and demanding programs that teach them viable skills needed for their future careers.  Colleges are also making changes to recruit these students. Now innovative private programs are beginning to team up with colleges to offer the best of both worlds: skills-based education and a liberal arts bachelor’s degree.

Just across the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, Dominican University and Make School have partnered to create a computer science coding boot camp.  This gives students the opportunity to learn cutting-edge coding skills while completing general education courses to get the safety net of a college degree.  And we’re definitely going to see a lot of these partnerships popping up across the nation. It makes better financial sense for a college to partner with a tech-savvy training program than to spend millions of dollars to open or improve their existing departments.

Even though colleges try to offer most majors, they really can’t be the best in all academic areas.  Small liberal arts colleges and universities have difficulty recruiting students who have specific STEM or other interests. These new partnerships and joint programs may just change what colleges offer students in the future.



Depression at School

This week’s news about a mass shooting in a high school in Southern California; fraternity-related deaths on 3 college campuses in WA, AZ, and CA; and drug overdoses and suicides at USC, shouldn’t be a surprise to me. I spend vast amounts of time with teens and 20/30-somethings – it’s part of life as a college/career advisor. I’ve noticed that a majority of them suffer from depression and feelings of being isolated or left out.

It’s sad when stories that should be headline news, don’t make it to the headlines because we’re mired in relentless stories of madness from impeachment hearings to escalated climate crisis to corruption at every level. Tension has become the new norm, and our children are feeling the brunt of it. While parents are treading water to stay afloat both financially and emotionally, our kids are figuratively screaming for help.

Sensory overload overwhelms our children. They are inundated with homework, studying for exams, and preparing for college admissions. Access to information at their fingertips, they are so overwhelmed with data that they don’t have the bandwidth to understand concepts beneath the superficial surface. Kids don’t read books for pleasure or to escape for a few hours. They actually don’t read emails or texts if they’re longer than a few words.

Like back in the ‘60s and ‘70s, students didn’t trust the elders (back then they were the “authority figures” or “the man”). This sense of betrayal by the boomers who’ve left them a lifestyle that is doomed leads them to numb the pain by participating in unhealthy activities like vaping or smoking, eating too much (or too little), or any of the other classic signs of depression. Parents, we need to watch their shows, listen to their music, and talk to them. That’s the only way we’re going to understand their fears, frustrations, and views. How many mass shootings, suicides, fraternity deaths, and drug overdoses will it take for us to put down our cell phones, make it home to have dinner with the family, and engage with our kids -- while we still can?

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Preventing College Suicide

Suicide attempts on college campuses just reached 13% in 2018. This is really alarming – and sad at the same time. College mental health programs are struggling with ways to address this rise. One college now requires students to take an online suicide-prevention training course to learn techniques to help peers who are suicidal. They also require professors to take a similar course so they can recognize at-risk students.

Most students experiencing stress don’t seek professional help but instead confide in friends or peers. College resident assistants (RAs) are often the most likely support person to hear from students who are suffering from depression or anxiety.

When I was an RA in college, one of my students left me a strange note that didn’t make sense to me (I was 19 years old at the time). I noticed that his car was in the student parking lot but he wasn’t in class and wasn’t in the dorm. Panicked, I organized a search team and we combed the redwood forest and entire campus to find him. This had a happy ending because he was a victim of poor communication skills – not depression. He had left me a note attempting to tell me that he was leaving campus to visit his family, but his writing style was difficult to decipher, hence, the search party.

Giving students and professors tools to recognize suicidal red flags can save lives. These at-risk students should definitely seek professional mental health therapists to help them navigate the transition from home to college and other life obstacles. I like the combination of friends/peers and professionals looking out for one another – it makes college a safer place for all.



What REALLY Gets Kids Into Top Colleges (Hint: Not Millions of Dollars)

With all of the shocking news and chatter around the college admissions scandal, I wish the news would stop focusing on how the rich and famous buy their way into colleges, and instead, focus on what everyone can do to stand out in the college admissions process. Because GPAs vary between schools – some schools give A’s when students participate in class and turn in homework, while others only give A’s to a few well-deserving students, colleges know that grades mean different things at different schools. Many colleges have dropped the SAT or ACT requirements and only the Ivies and Stanford are requiring the SAT II exams.

So what makes college admissions officers notice an applicant?

A PROJECT. When a student starts a business, writes a book, creates an app, engineers a device, or organizes a non-profit, they stand out. It’s not rocket science, but it does take some thought and perseverance. These projects aren’t part of a school assignment or a club responsibility.  They’re something that fascinates the student and something they can do on their own. 

Projects can be started in 9th grade or any time while they’re in high school.  They can work with mentors to help them develop their projects and advisors to guide them through the process.  While doing their projects, they’ll learn how to set up a budget, lay out a timeline, promote their ideas, send press releases, and recruit volunteers.  Check out these projects!  These valuable skills can help them in high school, college, and career. I find that students who do projects become self-confident, innovative, and proactive. 

While some parents are willing to pay millions of dollars to get their kids into top colleges, smart parents give their children opportunities to develop professional skills that get into college on their own merits!


Tracking Software for College Admissions

We all know that Amazon and Google track our internet activities – we see ads targeted at us based on our searches. It’s a brilliant marketing strategy but kind of creepy that there’s a cyberworld out there that knows more about us than our families and friends. Well, college admissions officers just entered the secret tracking world, and we're starting to learn what they’re looking for and what they’re doing with the data.

The top colleges and universities in the world compete to enroll the brightest students with the most potential for success. They accept more students than they could actually enroll just to ensure that they have a full freshman class every fall. Having only a finite amount of scholarships and grants to offer students, colleges want to know if they are your safety schools. In other words, why bother making enticing offers to students who will never enroll because you have your heart set on your reach colleges.

Colleges are now checking your web-browsing habits to see how many times you’ve visited their website and how many pages you checked out. With tracking software on their college website, they can see all the pages you visit and how long you spend on each page. They also map your geographical location, among other things. By analyzing all of the data collected by your browsing behavior, colleges create an “Affinity Index” to estimate your level of interest in attending their college.

Not surprising, colleges are also getting access to your family's financial history to see if you have the funds to help them reach their revenue goals – in other words, will you be able to pay tuition without their aid? They have been doing this for decades when choosing which high schools to send their recruiting teams to.  You’ll rarely see any of the top 200 colleges at college fairs in low-income schools.

Whatever happened to colleges admitting students who are the smartest and most talented? With an undergraduate degree costing almost $300,000 at private universities, looks like the colleges are squeezing middle and lower class students from obtaining a bachelor’s degree. Tracking students’ web browsing and financial histories should be illegal.  I can only imagine how they’ll be watching students’ online relationships, social media, and other private spaces if we don’t stop them now.



Projects, Not Scandals

20% of millionaires with college-bound kids spend more than $50,000 to get them into college. That isn’t to say that they are part of the Operation Varsity Blues scandal, but these wealthy parents spend money on elite private school tuition, SAT/ACT tutoring, private tutors, and skill training for sports and music. What parents don’t get is that college admissions officers know that these students have many advantages that other less wealthy students don't have, and that high GPAs and SAT/ACT scores have now become the norm.

So what does it take to stand out and get into selective colleges?


Projects highlight student interests, tenacity, and success. Because these projects aren’t required by teachers, club leaders (Eagle Scout), and church groups (Habitat for Humanity), and are therefore not managed and organized by others, the student demonstrates how they’ve learned and utilized these vital life skills. Colleges love these projects because they recognize this passion as a key to success for students in their 4-year institutions.

One of my students is designing a device that will stop wildfires from spreading. He lives in Northern California and has a constant fear that his neighborhood might go up in flames like those in Paradise, CA, did last year. He is working with our chemical engineer to create a prototype that will instantly put out fires caused by PG&E power lines. Meeting with fire chiefs all over the state and researching fire retardants gives this student plenty to write about on his college application essays. He is likely the only student in the country engineering such a device – which will make him stand out.  He isn’t an athlete competing among the 80,000 high school athletes or a drummer among the 100,000 band members.

Another student is writing a fictional novel that focuses on teenage angst. She’s developed excellent storytelling skills as well as improving her grammar and mechanics. By researching problems with interpersonal communication, this student has learned how mean words can also be a reflection of the perpetrator’s personal insecurities. The student’s mother told me that her daughter has handled typical teen conflicts with maturity as a direct result of her work on this project.

College admissions officers appreciate reading about students who have the initiative to do something because it is important to themselves. They learn more about how the student has gone above the norm to do a project that has personal meaning.

Besides, imagine if the 4 million students who entered 9th grade each year did a project? They could solve many of the issues we face as a community, state, nation, and civilization. All students can do projects and they can find mentors in the retirement communities to support them. Wealthy parents, instead of cheating and stacking the decks for your child, support your child as they do a project – even finance their endeavors – but let them do the projects on their own.  They’ll become empowered with confidence and they’ll become interesting young adults – just the kind that selective colleges are admitting.



Community College Transfers Don't Get Into Top Colleges

Although high school counselors often recommend that students attend a community college and transfer into a 4-year university, the odds of getting into an elite or top institution are slim. Princeton hasn’t accept any transfer students for decades and selective universities like Stanford’s transfer acceptance rate is only 1% (freshman admit rate is 5%).  The story isn’t much different for Harvard.

This news comes on the heels of the college admissions scandals where wealthy students receive extra tutoring to ace the SATs or ACTS, engage in competitive sports with private training to stand out (or be photoshopped into photos to appear to stand out), and can buy buildings on campuses to ensure admission. The economic reality is that many students attend community colleges because it reduces the cost of their overall tuition by half.

Almost half of all college students start their college education as a community college, but only 5% of students who graduate from elite colleges started at a community college. According to the Jack Kent Foundation, community college students who enroll in 4-year colleges DO succeed. These students are more likely to be from underrepresented minority groups, low-income families, and/or the U.S. military.

Elite universities have a history of NOT admitting minority, low-income, or veterans in their incoming transfer student classes. Generally speaking, they admit about 86% of their students as freshmen, 9% from 4-year universities, and about 5% from community colleges. The numbers change slightly with less competitive colleges: 63% of their students as freshmen, 16% from 4-year universities, and about 21% from community colleges.

The University of California prides itself on admitting California transfer community college students before 4-year state colleges. Last year, they admitted over 28,000 transfer students and a majority of them were from California community colleges. Because these students and their families are California tax payers, the UC Regents gives Californians the advantage in transfers to their 10 UC campuses.

To be a competitive community college transfer student, consider doing a project.  This will give you the opportunity to stand out among the competition and land you one of the coveted admissions offers. 



Serial Rapists on College Campuses

What do frat brothers and priests have in common?  They're both protected from prosecution for rape.

Rape is rape, and rapists should be put behind bars to protect others. Period. Just because most college rapists belong to fraternities or athletic teams does not give them a pass.  This isn’t the “good-ol’-boys club” where with a wink and a nod the administration excuses them because “boys will be boys.”

If colleges offered bystander training to fraternities and athletic teams, frat brothers and team members could stop sexual violence and potentially prevent rape from occurring in the first place. Students need to understand that we expect them to promote respect and healthy relationships.  I believe that this culture can change with more awareness about sexual violence on college campuses.

A recent study found that 46% of college rapists admitted to raping more than 10 times. In the real world, they would be serial rapists.  Because most rapes take place at the hands of a small percentage of the student body, the administration should expel them. This would send a clear message that rape is serious and that perpetrators will be prosecuted.

The Greek society has its place in the college culture but fraternities should not be allowed to harbor a few psychopaths with a history of raping women. Instead, the administration should find these bad apples and remove them so that Greek life – and student life -- can prosper.



Endowment = Bribery

Let’s face it, when donors endow coaches, their children get into highly selective colleges. Endowment=Bribery. The recent college admissions scandal just exposed the sloppy and desperate parents who went overboard to cheat and bribe coaches and admissions officers. But we need to stop looking away and deal with the elephant in the room. College admissions officers collude with coaches as they consider which students to admit every year.

According to Michael Dannenberg at the think tank Education Reform Now, wrote:

"Yale should recognize just how complicit it is in a corrupt admissions system. Yale and other elite schools implicated in the national college admission scandal want to portray themselves as victims, but really they’re co-conspirators. These implicit quid pro quo arrangements and tilted playing field admissions policies like the legacy preference and early decision don’t reward achievement, don’t promote diversity and are profoundly unfair. If just one member of Congress would force a vote on this issue, we could clean up a lot of the underlying corruption in elite college admissions."

Student athletes need to have academic skills that are comparable to other students. When student athletes take precious seats that other students could have filled, it’s not fair. I remember one of my students commenting on how she could take classes with the Stanford jocks to get an easy A because they had tutors and took their exams in hotels while traveling for games. Let’s make college about learning with peers who all got in based on their own merits.



UC TAG Deadline for Transfers

TAG applications Sept 1-30 for Fall Transfers; May 1-31 for Spring Transfers

Students interested in applying to a UC as a junior transfer must complete their Transfer Admissions Guarantee application by September 30th.  Six UC campuses offer guaranteed admission to students from all California Community Colleges.

Here are the basic requirements and information:

  1. Must be transferring directly from a California community college.
  2. Must have 30 semester (45 quarter) UC-transferable units
  3. Must not have a bachelor’s or graduate degree
  4. Must not have attended a UC
  5. Must fulfill all remaining coursework and GPA requirements designated on the TAG
  6. Must also apply for admission between November 1-30 (in addition to the TAG application)
  7. Davis, Irvine, Merced, Riverside, Santa Barbara, and Santa Cruz offer TAGs