Guess Who Gets Extra Time on the SAT?

25% of rich students who attend wealthy high schools get extra time to take the SAT. Yup.  But only 1% of low-income students get the same privilege. That is because affluent parents have the financial means to test their children for learning disabilities through private testing companies or through their private high schools or public high schools in high-income areas. Students with disabilities are entitled to 50-100% more time to take the SAT.

Another reason that low-income students don’t get tested for learning disabilities is that their parents may not understand their rights. With overworked classroom and special education teachers and administrators, it’s the squeaky wheel that gets the testing. So parents who may not speak English or need to work during schools hours don’t have the opportunity to request that their children be tested for learning disabilities. They also don’t know how to game the system the way that some wealthy parents do – Hint: college admissions scandal! I wonder how many students receive accommodations because their parents bribe a psychiatrist or testing agency.



Support Animals in Dorms

Notice more “support animals” on flights? Well, colleges are getting substantially more requests for support animals in dorms, too. The process requires a letter from a psychologist, which can be done as easily as paying $140 for a phone consult. These emotional support animals are permitted under the Fair Housing Act, so they are only allowed in the dorms, not outside the resident halls.

While it seems wonderful that students with mental health issues can take their comfort pets with them to college, I wonder how dorms will manage pets fighting, mating, or even killing another pet. Managing pet care requires patience and stability.  What happens when the student has back-to-back classes, and Rover wants to pee – or starts barking? Does inconveniencing other students in nearby rooms matter, and who will mediate the hours of negotiation between the students? Or what if a student is allergic to pets or deathly afraid of dogs or snakes?

When I was in college, we had one cat that visited dorms at will. Cat lovers fed her and enjoyed her company, while others just shooed her away. One cat among 350 students; that can be manageable.  Maybe colleges can have therapy dogs, cats, and rodents that students can visit as needed. Not sure how support animals in dorms will play out but hope it doesn’t negatively affect student admissions like learning disabilities do (trust me, colleges pay 4 times more to educate students with disabilities…).



Is College Tuition Going Down?

There’s a new tuition-reset movement that’s shaking up higher education.  Several colleges have actually lowered their tuition in an era where sticker prices to elite private colleges are upwards of $70,000 per year.  Yes, you read that correctly!

St John’s College reduced its tuition from $70,000 to just $35,000. Actually about 25 colleges have reset their tuition: Mills, Drew, Sweet Brian, Sewanee, Birmingham Southern, Elizabethtown and others.

Over the past 20 years, private college tuition has increased 166% -- 2.5 times the Consumer Price Index. After the 2008 economic crisis (housing bubble), some economists wonder if higher education might be the next bubble to burst. Some believe that the college tuition price is a measure of its quality, which justifies the ridiculous tuition and housing costs parents and students must pay. Back when I was in college in the 1970s, annual tuition was less than $1000. How did annual tuition go from $1,000 to $70,000? Hmm.



Guardianship Scam to Get College Financial Aid

If a parent gives up their custodial guardianship rights to their college-bound children and assign the role to friends or relatives, then their children can qualify for federal and other financial aid. The parents involved in this scam in Chicago (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign) are doctors and lawyers with deep pockets to pay their attorneys to bail them out of this hot mess. They claim that their over $250,000 income isn’t enough to support their $600,000 spending habits. Hmm.

I wonder about wealthy people who CHEAT to get their children scholarship dollars for college. I wonder if they’re so self-absorbed that they don’t realize that they’re stealing money from students who really need the financial aid.  Have we become a dog-eat-dog society? Many of these low-income students (the real ones) opt not to attend these pricey colleges if they don’t get scholarships or grants, and they often settle on community colleges or no college at all.

[Source 1] [Source 2]


Swarthmore Shuts Down Two Fraternities

Amidst the Me Too era, Swarthmore banned their only 2 fraternities as a result of pressure from the student body. The Phi Psi brothers used to boast about sexual violence and spread bigotry amongst their community. They took pride in their reputation and even named a bedroom on the top floor of their frat house the “Rape Attic.”

One of the victims started a blog where other victims could anonymously share their stories of rape and sexual harassment. They’ve chronicled over a 100 stories of abuse from victims as well as “brag” stories from frat brothers that were logged in their minutes.

Swarthmore president Valerie Smith banned frat activities while minutes and documents were reviewed. Meanwhile, the fraternities disbanded under peer pressure and admitted that the wounds from their behavior were too deep to repair. I’m glad to see college administration listening to their students and taking bold steps to protect them.  



What NOT to Write on Your College Application Essays

Every year when I brainstorm about topics to write about on college application essays with rising seniors, I find the most difficult part is helping them find their own voices. Many think there is a formula that’ll get them into an Ivy League college or others make up stories with the intent of winning over the reader. For students who didn’t win a national award or cure cancer, they’ll need to do some soul searching to tell a story that reveals something interesting about themselves so the admissions officers get to know them a little better. If they did a project, their personal statements and main common application essays will focus on their experiences.

Because one essay worked for a student who got into Stanford, that doesn’t mean that a similar essay would do the same for you.

Don’t write:

  1. That you understand poverty because you saw it on a service trip (trust me, you don’t).
  2. About the amazing successes of your grandfather (unless you tie it back to how he influenced you)
  3. About your exclusive vacation at a resort (sounds like entitlement)
  4. About how clever you are (instead, tell a story that will make the reader think you’re clever)
  5. About how you won the championship for your team (remember, it takes a team)
  6. About wanting to go to XYZ college because your boyfriend does or everyone in your family did (you’ll look shallow and clueless)
  7. That you overcame something irrelevant (boredom)
  8. That you want to go to ABC college because you like their winning football team. (clueless)
  9. That you are the best at something when there are lots of students who do the same (8 million kids play sports and 22 million participate in music in high school)
  10. About why you like the college by summarizing their home page of their website (Research your major, clubs, professors research, and more to validate your decision to apply)
  11. Using humor or sass unless you are very good at using it (nothing worse than a joke that fell short)

Remember, college admissions officers read thousands of essays each year. Open with a hook to pique their curiosity. Then share with them something about yourself that makes them see the real you. Make them want to read more to learn about you. If your essay just drones on and on, you’ll lose the reader. If you’d like help, Merit Educational Consultants has coaches who guide you through the process while maintaining your voice and your message


College Admissions Officer Lied on Resume About College Degree

Instead of lying about who you are,  become a better applicant. Lying or falsifying your transcript, resume, or applications will eventually catch up and destroy you. It’s never worth it; besides, do you really want to live with the constant fear that your lies will be revealed?

That’s exactly what happened with the dean of admissions at MIT. She falsified her resume to get the job by claiming that she had a doctorate degree when she didn’t. She lost her position and is now advising students about the importance of authenticity in the college admissions process.

We all know how competitive it is to get into top colleges today. This isn’t new information.  Instead of fabricating lies on your application forms (or have your parents bribe coaches or pay someone to take your SATS) because you realized in your senior year that you don’t have anything remarkable to write about on your personal statement, rethink how you spend your time now.

If you know you’re college bound, then you know you’ll be asked about your passions and what you’ve done to make a difference when it comes time to apply to college. So pick a project to do throughout high school. Consider issues that bother you and need to be changed. Build a tiny house, develop an app, or engineer a device. Any of these projects will make your essays and interviews exciting because they’ll speak volumes about the real you. Colleges want to see you act on your personal interests.

If you're struggling to get started with a project, I wrote Beat the College Admissions Game with ProjectMerit to help you brainstorm, develop, implement and complete your project! 



Degrees That Incorporate Vital Workplace Skills

Colleges are beginning to offer degrees and programs that align with necessary skills that graduates need when entering the workplace. Liberal arts colleges are facing closures because many academic degrees neither prepare students with technical skills nor fundamental critical thinking skills to gain employment upon graduation. 

Colleges are merging degrees and programs that can save money and time. The University of Notre Dame in Indiana and College of the Holy Cross in Massachusetts now offer a 4-year degree from Holy Cross and an online master’s degree from Notre Dame.  The 2 colleges partnered to ensure that students wouldn’t duplicate courses and laid out a tuition plan that allowed a seamless, and affordable, transition. These hybrid programs give students the best of both worlds – brick and mortar undergraduate and online graduate courses that meld liberal arts and advanced degrees in fields.

Glad to see that colleges are coming around to offer innovated higher education to students to keep up with the ever-changing landscape of future employment opportunities.