ROAD TRIP! First Stop – Union College in Schenectady, NY

As many of you know, during the quieter summer months Jill and I hit the road for a week or so to visit colleges that are on my radar as interesting options for my students (quality and personalized educations at institutions with demonstrated histories of financial generosity).

This year we’re barnstorming through upstate NY and New England.  And while summer may not be the ideal time for prospective students, since regular classes are not in session, it’s perfect timing for us.  Not only do we get to tour some great campuses, we also get the benefit of spending real quality time with the admissions staff when they are free to meet personally with us.  I am always gratified by how candid and forthright these deans are — and I do use much of what we discuss (which by the way, is most often NOT in the brochure) to inform how I advise my students. For example, this year I’m dialed in on a couple of specific issues that I think may affect next year’s class:  the first has to do with the weight given to an applicant’s recommendations.  For the first time ever, guidance counselors are being given the option on the Common Application to ‘opt out’ of providing a personal statement about the student if they feel that they are unable to provide one (due to limited time or knowledge of the applicant).  I’m very keen to see how colleges will view this omission, particularly given that I represent students from two of the largest public school districts in the country (Broward and Miami-Dade) where the ratio of student to guidance counselor can approach 1000:1.  The second is related to need awareness and how a student’s financial wherewithal is factoring in admissions decisions.  There used to be a hard firewall between the Office of Admissions and the financial aid office, but that wall has become somewhat more porous and I’m interested in seeing the extent to which the two have become integrated.  There are of course, many other new trends– including the move towards test-optional standards and the increased emphasis on gender and geographic diversity — that I’m eager to explore this trip — and I look forward to sharing them with you.  So with all that in mind…

Yesterday we visited Union College in Schenectedy, NY., a small school (2,200 undergrads) with a very rich tradition (the first college established by the NY Board of Regents — way back in 1795, the first college in the country to host a fraternity,  the first college radio station ever broadcast, and the first school in the country to combine liberal arts and engineering).  Union has a strong interdisciplinary reputation and a rich campus life (actually, it was rated #1 by Princeton Review for on-campus activities).   We met first with Jessica Wenger, a 2010 Union grad and the Assistant Dean of Admissions and then with Susie Hanks, the Associate Dean of Admissions.

I was impressed by Union, as I am with many of the schools I visit (after all that’s why I wanted to visit them in the first place), and it’s worth noting that while Union is a very selective college, it is also enthusiastically test-optional (read: do not submit your test scores if they are below Union’s average — it will not adversely affect your prospects) AND though Union is Need Aware, they will make every effort to meet 100% of the demonstrated need of it’s qualified applicants.

BUT what I found particularly compelling about Union was how interested they are in attracting well-rounded students, from diverse socio-economic backgrounds from our particular region.   In fact, qualified applicants who show a strong interest have an excellent chance of gaining admission — and doing very well at  this prestigious college.  Students at Union get to do their own research – we had lunch with Union sophomore Shanice Wilson, a Ft. Lauderdale Pine Crest Prep (’11) grad (and a College Pete alum) who is a STEM Scholar and spent her first semester building a soccer-playing robot and is now spending her summer doing chemical engineering research.  Pretty cool stuff that was way beyond me… so click here if you’d like to hear directly from Shanice about her Union experience.

Well, that’s all for now.  Tomorrow we’re onto Boston College!  You can check the blog on Wednesday for our summary of our meeting at BC and to find out where we’re heading next!  Also, click here if you’d like to see our impressions from  last year’s tour of colleges in upstate NY —  Ithaca, Saratoga and Poughkeepsie.

I’ll be sharing many of my findings at my next public workshop July 24 in Miami.  If you have a high school student, I strongly suggest you attend.  Past attendees have raved about these events, and almost all people leave with a headful of ideas on how to tackle the complex and stressful college admissions and financial aid process.  Click here to register – there is no cost to attend, but missing this info can set you back thousands.  I look forward to seeing you there.

Best,
Peter

P.S. I expect the test-optional trend to continue, with additional schools adopting this policy for reasons that may surprise you.   I will expand on this during my upcoming workshop.

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