Ask the Dean
With so many schools out there, where (and how) do I begin?
While most students usually know only a handful of colleges, there are actually nearly 4,000 institutions in this country. So relax: dozens of them can be right for you. And that's the most critical thing to remember as you go through this process. You will find many "right" colleges.
So how does one begin? First, of course, you need to assess yourself your goals, learning styles, preferences, and so on. We covered this important first step of the college search in an earlier newsletter. Read all about it at: http://www.kenyon.edu/tips.xml
Once you've done a "personal assessment," you can jump into the process by doing any number of fun things. Visiting colleges close to home is a great way to start sorting out what might be important to you in terms of college choice. I took my daughter to visit a college six long hours from home one that I was sure she would love only to have her say, "I don't want to go here." I asked her why. "It has no sense of community." I didn't know, nor did she, that community was important to her until that visit! We could have discovered that this was an important criterion to her by visiting colleges much closer to home. Spring break is a great time to visit colleges. But be aware that many colleges are also closed at that time. It's best to visit when colleges are in session if at all possible.
You can also begin by using any of a number of Web sites designed for purposes of helping students identify colleges that meet their personalized criteria. The National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities (www.ucan-network.org) has the most unbiased site, as it was developed by an association of colleges. A few additional sites worth checking out: the College Board's (www.collegeboard.com), Peterson's (www.petersons.com), and Unigo (www.unigo.com). These sites can put before you colleges you've never heard of before but don't turn away from these schools just because they aren't familiar! You may discover one that's just right. I guarantee you, once you hear of one of these "lesser known" colleges, the name will spark positive responses from folks who have heard of it.
There are some missteps you can make in adding colleges to your list. Don't add a college because the name impresses others or because the school is highly ranked. Rankings are not a valid way to evaluate quality.
Once you've honed your list to a manageable number, start cruising Web sites. Take the online tour. Read the student newspaper if you can. Check out courses in your preferred major. I also often recommend the Fiske Guide to Colleges. It offers a great and honest perspective on hundreds of colleges. And don't forget to ask those you know and trust your teachers, coaches and counselors what they know about the colleges on your list.
Last but not least, once you've tightened your list even further, sign up to receive information from those colleges that interest you. That way you'll hear about open houses and other special opportunities. Colleges are eager to establish a relationship with you but they can do so only if they know how to contact you.
Perhaps you're booking your spring college visits and you're discovering that some schools will interview juniors while others won't. Your parents might be urging you to interview; perhaps you feel a little hesitant. Before you decide whether to take the plunge, let's talk about the role of the interview.
The interview is not the grand inquisition you're anticipating. Rather, it's an opportunity for you to learn more about the college, through the eyes of an admissions officer or upperclass student, and an opportunity for them to learn more about you. (We write up a short summary of our conversation with you, noting your engagement, interest level, and fit with Kenyon.) When I interview students, I follow whatever thread comes up. If they want to talk about their favorite class, great. If they want to ask questions (some even write them down beforehand), I answer to the best of my ability. It really doesn't matter what we talk about—it's just that we talk, and we get a sense of how students view themselves and their education. My favorite interviews are those that are basically an enjoyable conversation: easy, illuminating, and fun. But that all depends on chemistry, not something easily controlled. Other officers at Kenyon have a set of questions that they like to cover in their interviews in order to ferret out the essence of the candidate. I could tell you some of their questions, but that would be spoiling the fun!
That leads to reviewing some of the questions you need to ask yourself before deciding whether to interview or not. Do you have a sense of what you're looking for in a college? That question will inevitably come up, and if you haven't yet established clear criteria for your choice, then it might be wise to hold off on interviewing until the elements of college choice start to sort themselves out. You can use the analogy of shopping here. If you walk into a department store without any clear idea of what it is you're looking for, you'll wander around for a while. When a clerk asks, "May I help you?" and you still don't know what you're looking for, the question may be annoying. If, however, you are looking for a black sweater, you will welcome the help.
The same logic applies to "shopping" for a college. If you know you're interested in small classes or research opportunities or a particular program, the interviewer will be able to help you locate what you're looking for. For this reason, students usually have a more productive interview after they've visited a few schools, done some research, and established some preliminary criteria. If you're a junior and have already arrived at this point, then go for the interview! Most schools will write a summary of your conversation and include it in your file if you choose to apply. You can feel free to ask colleges whether their interviews are evaluative; this will also inform your choice of when and where to interview. Some students "practice" interviewing at schools close to home, and that is completely fine—just don't tell the interviewer that's what you're doing! You never know what school might seize your imagination, so leave yourself open to being surprised.
A word about who interviews you. At Kenyon, both officers and "admissions fellows," who are college seniors, do interviewing. Don't worry about who interviews you; it's often a matter of who is available. Our admissions fellows are trained paraprofessionals, and their evaluations are as important as those done by officers. The advantage of interviewing with a fellow is that they are close to the experience you hope to soon have and they can provide more "on-the-ground" answers to your questions. Plus, you'll get a sense of who chooses Kenyon. Feel free to ask the interviewer, "Why did you choose the college? What do you like, or not like?" Now you're the one conducting the interview!
Can I really afford a private college like Kenyon?
College costs may look daunting, but the facts here at Kenyon tell a story that should reassure you. The average student who qualifies for need-based financial aid at Kenyon pays roughly the same as he or she would for a public college education. And about 70 percent of our students receive some sort of aid.
In addition to need-based aid, we offer a range of scholarships. Thanks to the generosity of actor-philanthropist and Kenyon alumnus Paul Newman, we also offer, to selected students, financial-aid packages totally free of loans. For Kenyon families who do take out loans, keep this in mind: the average amount of debt for our graduating seniors is less than $20,000. That's not negligible, but most find it to be quite manageable, especially in light of the value of a Kenyon education.
Our goal is to admit talented students regardless of their financial standing. We make Kenyon affordable by meeting 100 percent of demonstrated financial need with scholarships, grants, loans, and campus employment. And we will meet that need for all four years. Many schools won't make that commitment.
Kenyon students come from families that are rich, poor, and everywhere in between. Before assuming that you can't afford Kenyon, talk to us. You may be surprised at how the numbers work out.
Related Link: Financial Aid
The front page headlines are raising this question all the time. What families want to know is, "Will my son or daughter receive a solid return on his/her investment?" Time—four years!—and money are both in question here.
Is college worth it? The statistics and evidence say: yes, unquestionably. Just as important, I believe, experience and insight and perspective say yes, too.
First, the statistics. On August 21, the Associated Press reported on a new study from the Lumina Foundation and the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce. According to that study, the number of jobs for college graduates continues to expand—even in this economy. The overall jobless rate for four-year graduates is 4.8 percent—which is nearly half what it is for the entire population There are many studies out there that say that the lifetime earning of college graduates is nearly $1 million more than those with just a high school diploma.
And thus, in real time terms, an investment in college is still worth it for the ultimate outcome of a graduate's work life.
But, you may be asking, is Kenyon worth it? You would expect us to answer "yes," of course, but here are the key reasons that I believe Kenyon is worth it, and they relate to issues that transcend dollars and cents:
- Students discover what it is they are passionate about, what their purpose in life is, and gain the skills and confidence to achieve those goals.
- Students graduate in four years (not five or six) and receive four years of career and academic counseling, all of which point them toward their next step in life, be it the world of work or graduate school.
- Kenyon graduates are admitted to the nation's top graduate programs—often with full scholarships and stipends—and to top professional schools, including medicine, engineering, law, and business.
- Kenyon students have an immersion experience in critical thinking, writing, and expressing themselves—lifelong skills that lead to meaningful careers and often leadership positions.
- "Your life will be better if you go to Kenyon." That's what Jeff Bowman, former chair of the faculty and a professor of history, is fond of saying. Can we prove that? No—but if you meet a Kenyon student or alumnus, you'll note the passion they have for this place, our faculty, and their overall experience. The combination of rigor and friendship is the hallmark of Kenyon.
You can get a great education at many colleges. You can get a transformative education at Kenyon—and that, we believe, is worth it.
What should I do about "score choice"?
A while back, the College Board restored a past practice of letting students choose what sitting of the SAT they send to colleges-thus the term "score choice." Colleges were also given a choice as to what scores they require (all sittings or just selected?). As a result, "score choice" became score-choice confusion! In an effort to help students navigate the maze, most colleges said they would continue to do what they've always done: take the highest score of each of the three sub-scores (the critical reading, math, and writing) to create a new grand total.
So what should students do when registering for the SAT? We would encourage you to send all sittings of your scores to the colleges to which you are applying. It keeps things simple-and also ensures that scores arrive on time so that your application will be complete and evaluated in a timely manner. If new scores come in, they are added to your record immediately. And just in case you're wondering, we advise students not to spend too many Saturday mornings taking standardized tests! Usually, two sittings are adequate.
Early Decision (ED) should be a choice of passion, not of positioning. ED is a binding decision: if we admit you, you have agreed to enroll in the fall. Each year, about 10 percent of our applicant pool applies ED. Of the students who entered Kenyon in the fall of 2010 (the Class of 2014), 37 percent had applied ED.
When is ED right for you? If you've fallen hopelessly in love with a college after visiting (a critical step), then ED might be the perfect choice. The benefit of applying ED is, quite honestly, that it simplifies the admissions process. If you're admitted, you complete only one application and know your "fate" earlier in your senior year. While your friends are writing their applications, and waiting and waiting to find out where they're admitted, you already know what t-shirt you're wearing in the fall.
When is ED not right for you? If you begin a sentence, "I'm applying ED, I'm just not sure where ..." then you should question if ED is right for you. With that statement, you've revealed that ED is a strategy, not a heart-felt, carefully thought-out decision. ED can interrupt your research and the mental-emotional processing of your admissions choice—and this whole journey is a process, not a product. Interestingly, of the small number of students who transfer from Kenyon, a larger percentage than expected are ED students. Perhaps, in applying ED, they short-circuited the college decision-making process.
Will ED give you an advantage? A larger percentage of students are admitted ED, but that's not because it's easier to get in. Those students applying ED have self-identified as good matches with Kenyon, and after reading their applications, we agree. They've also expressed their strong desire to be in Gambier, and that means something to admissions officers.
What about financial aid and ED? You'll receive an identical aid package no matter when you apply—regular decision or ED. The only issue for ED students is that, having applied to just one school, they have only one package to review, not several. If you're concerned about paying for college, ED might not be right for you. If you are admitted ED and find that the aid package you receive isn't adequate, you may request to be released from the binding agreement of ED. This happens rarely. Only a handful of ED applicants find Kenyon unaffordable each year.
Admissions officers are like midwives. It is our job to "deliver" to our faculty a group of students who are a joy to teach and who will contribute to continuing the Kenyon way of living and learning. How do we do that?
First, of course, we look to see if the student can be successful at Kenyon—has she or he had the preparation in high school to do Kenyon work? We look at your transcript and at your curricular rigor. How many top-level courses have you successfully completed in each of the key academic areas? We strive to understand, for example, why your grades may have descended and then rebounded. In short, we try to fully comprehend the story and the context of your academic experience to date. We look at your test scores, of course, but they are a secondary element, because they tell us only what you did on a particular Saturday morning, not how you performed across the course of four years in high school. We weigh your accomplishments to date against your potential.
That being said, more than 80 percent of the students who apply to Kenyon can do Kenyon work. So what do we look for next? We look for all the ways in which students will contribute to our community, as student energy is the fuel that makes this place run. We look for academic engagement (often called "passion"), artistic talent (in music, writing, drama, dance, the visual arts), and athletic ability (including varsity sports). We also look for much more subjective qualities, like compassion (as expressed through your work in your community and in your family) and the ability to manage one's life. (Any student who's worked in a pizza place for twenty hours a week while playing in the marching band and also getting strong grades can manage what college requires!) Your recommendations tell us quite a bit about your character, and so does your essay. Your essay tells us how you see the world and your place in it.
We are unusual in that we want to select students who want to be at Kenyon. Thus, pondering two equal candidates, we are more likely to choose the student who has come to see us when we've visited his or her high school, or who has sent us an e-mail, or who has visited campus. Your interest in Kenyon matters. We understand, however, that it's not always easy for students to connect with us. So, as with other factors, we look at your interest in a broader context.
We also select students whom we consider to be "so Kenyon"—and every admissions officer might describe that quality a little differently. That's why we make decisions on candidates consensually. Unlike other colleges, we don't have a top-down selection process. All eleven of our officers have a voice in the selection of candidates, and we believe that's one of the secrets of our interesting classes.
Is it the "kiss of death" to be deferred as an Early Decision applicant? What should deferred applicants do after hearing the news?
While you are probably disappointed if your Early Decision (ED) application wasn't accepted directly and instead you were "deferred," that outcome does not necessarily mean the end of the road at a college. What it means is that the college doesn't have a spot for you . . . yet. Some colleges defer all ED applicants who aren't directly admitted; no one is denied initially. At Kenyon, we do deny ED applicants who we believe would not be well-served here. In fact, we deny more students than we defer in our early rounds. If we think that Kenyon is not a good match for you academically, and the likelihood of us admitting you is not strong, we will let you know right away.
A deferral is a kind of "pause in the action." It can allow us to gather more information. For example, if you had a rough patch in high school, it gives us a chance to see another period of grading. If you haven't had an interview or been to campus, this is the time to do so. Most of the time, a deferral means that we'd like to look at your application in the context of all the applicants in Regular Decision and to see how you "measure up."
A deferral is also a chance for you to regroup—to reassess and figure out where else you might like to attend college. I recently met a young woman in the Admissions Office at Kenyon who had been deferred by her first-choice college. "I decided to check out other colleges that were like my Early Decision college," she said in a matter of fact way. "If small liberal arts is what I want, if I want close relationships with my professors, I now realize I can find that at other places." I admired her maturity and positive outlook. For her, deferral wasn't a tragedy but an opportunity. And if you've been at college admissions as long as I have, you know that a deferral can be a kind of silver lining. Your Plan B may very easily become your Plan A!
What's the biggest mistake you can make in the college search process?
You might expect me to say something about choosing the wrong college—but if you've conducted a thoughtful search, it's really not possible to choose the "wrong" college. Many colleges are right for you, if you invest yourself in the learning experience. I believe that what you do in college is more important than where you go. You can get a mediocre education at some of the most prestigious colleges in this country if you don't take advantage of the opportunities.
You might expect me answer the question about the biggest mistake by saying something about choosing a college for the wrong reasons—and that does happen. Students choose colleges to impress others, to be with their high school friends, to be near a sweetheart, to feel comfortable. But the wrong reasons can unexpectedly lead you to a wonderful college experience.
No, the biggest mistake you can make is to rush the process—to start too late and then be forced to choose hastily. I had a conversation on the Kenyon campus recently with a wonderfully talented senior from Colorado who was running around the country, five days before May 1, checking out the 12 colleges he was admitted to. He confessed that he really wasn't into the college search process his junior year. "I don't know—maybe I was in denial that I was going to have to leave home," he said. "My friends who started earlier have already made their decision—I wish I had started earlier," he said ruefully.
I have every hope that this thoughtful student will make an informed and appropriate decision, but the pressure he is feeling, not to mention the exhaustion of doing back-to-back visits, could have been avoided if he'd started researching and visiting colleges in his junior year. The college search is a process —and that means it takes time for feelings, facts, and realities to sink in. The journey is nonlinear; you'll have one set of priorities in October and another set in February. That's the way it should be. You're changing a lot your junior and senior years—and so will your ideas about colleges.
So juniors—let the senior from Colorado's words inspire you to start researching and visiting campuses this spring and summer! Then, weeks (and maybe even months) before May 1, you'll know what home you're choosing for the next four years.
How do you calculate an aid package?
Kenyon offers more than $20 million in financial aid to our 1,600 students. The four tenets of our financial aid policies are: (1) to meet 100 percent of your demonstrated need all four years; (2) to provide an identical package whether you apply during Early Decision or regular decision; (3) to allow you to apply for need-based aid at any point during your enrollment at Kenyon; and (4) to provide a similar financial aid package from year to year if your family's finances do not change significantly.
To calculate how much you are eligible for, we need to assess data about your family's finances. We collect that data on two different forms—the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and the College Scholarship Service PROFILE. The FAFSA is the federal government's form to assess eligibility for their programs; the PROFILE is available from the College Board, the same people who administer the PSAT and SAT. (The PROFILE requires a fee unless you request a waiver.) Why does Kenyon ask you to complete two forms? The FAFSA and PROFILE look at your family's finances through two different lenses, and using both lenses provides a more complete portrait of your family's finances.
Ideally, you should receive aid packages from all the colleges to which you apply that allow you to choose a college based on the best fit, not price. However, colleges interpret the data differently, and thus aid packages can differ dramatically. We'll talk more about comparing packages in subsequent newsletters.
Many families have asked me how Kenyon's financial aid budget has been affected by this challenging economy. Yes, we have had more requests for aid-and we have met those requests. Our trustees set aside funding last year in anticipation of this need. Let me assure you that keeping current students enrolled until they graduate, and making Kenyon affordable to students from all backgrounds, remains our highest priority.