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Dr. Jane S. Gabin
Dr. Jane S. Gabin After 10 years in university admissions and another decade as a college counselor in the NY metro area, Dr. Gabin works as a researcher, writer, and independent educational consultant. She graduated from Queens College and has a PhD in English from UNC-Chapel Hill. She is a member of the National Association for College Admissions Counseling.
Q: Do you recommend that we send colleges our child's first round of ACT scores? Of course, we don't know how he did, but he seemed to feel confident about it. In addition, his practice test scores had him scoring at the 98th percentile.
A: You do not say if your child is a high school junior—I will assume that. I do not think it is healthy to start studying for, or taking, the standardized tests before that (although I know the PSAT is usually given to 10th graders).
My first reaction to your sending the scores to colleges is: Why? And the second question would be: Where? Do you already have a list of possible colleges? It's a little early to have a final list.
Q: I was waitlisted at my top school (Cornell), as well as two other schools (UPenn and Dartmouth). Realistically, what are my chances of getting into Cornell from their waitlist? My major is biomedical engineering (with a minor in animal science) and I am female. I got into my "targets" and "safeties" but none of them offer biomedical engineering AND animal science, and quite frankly, I just don't like them.
A: Being on a waitlist is a tough situation. You don't have a final answer and yet you still need to enroll somewhere by May 1. Sometimes colleges never take anyone from their waitlists, and at other times, when they do take applicants, it seems random.
It's actually not completely random, and you do have some power here. But, just as with any admissions decision, there are no guarantees.
Q: I am in 10th grade and starting to think about preparing for college admission. This year, some of my friends took the new SAT. But at this point I don’t know if I should prepare for the SAT or take the ACT. Which would look better for college?
A: To colleges, the SAT and the ACT “look” the same. Admissions offices do not care which test you take. It doesn’t matter. You should take the test with which you are more comfortable. Some students like the new SAT, while others do not. There is always going to be a difference of opinion.
The tests were created at two different times and by two different companies. And, these companies pretty much control the testing market. The tests are not perfect, and results are dependent on many factors including academic preparation, socioeconomics, and English fluency.
Q: I'm thinking about transferring from a private to a public school in the middle of my senior year. If I do end up transferring, will this affect the college applications I've already sent? And if so, will this have a heavy impact?
A: The answer is yes! Transferring from one school to another during the high school years is one thing; but transferring in the middle of your senior year is another.
Switching high schools is fairly common. It happens for many reasons: a parent gets a new job, a parent re-marries and moves to another city or state, a family's financial situation changes. I remember reading an application from a young woman in a military family; they moved to a new base annually, and she wrote that one of the reasons she looked forward to college was being in the same place for four consecutive years! But the moving around, in itself, did not hurt her.
Q: I failed my geometry class for one grading period, but I am a straight A student for everything else. Is there any way for me to get accepted by a pretty good college?
A: Short answer: Yes.
Longer answer: Sounds like you had a tough time with your math class, but you are a hard-working student and this failure came as a real shock; failing is not what you ordinarily do. And someone is telling you, "Now, you'll never get into a good college!" Take a deep breath. Everyone messes up on something. But if this one grading period's failure is uncharacteristic, and everything else is fine, you will have no problem getting into a ton of colleges. You may run into a problem, however, if this is part of a pattern of weak grades. (As a side note, remember that you still have time to improve your grade before the end of the semester. Ask your teacher for help!)
Q: I just read your comments about the the National Student Leadership Conference (NSLC) programs. My daughter and son have received so many different "opportunities" and it is indeed difficult to discern the value of these programs. So what is your opinion about Model United Nations (MUN) programs that provide intensive "opportunities" throughout the country? My daughter is involved in MUN at her high school and wants to develop her skills in this area. Will participating in a program such as this add value to her resume?
A: Participation in Model UN could add value especially if she has had a leadership role in the organization or has participated actively (that is, other than just going to meetings). The National Student Leadership Conference (NSLC) and other "honor" programs, such as the National Youth Leadership Forum (NYLF), offer worthwhile experiences—but at a steep price. One of the organizers of the NYLF, in fact, is the Envision company which, as a dot-com, is interested mostly in making profits for itself. The experiences offered by these programs might be enjoyable, but they will NOT help anyone get into college.
Model United Nations (MUN), on the other hand, is a legitimate activity that originated around the time the UN did. In 1927, a model League of Nations was founded, followed by the Model UN in the late 1940s. Many high schools and colleges offer their students MUN as one of their extra-curricular activities. Here, students experience simulated UN sessions and learn about world affairs, decision-making processes, negotiation and diplomacy. Being involved in MUN during high school is considered an excellent activity, equal to being involved in the orchestra, an athletic team, the debating society, a theatrical production or any other group demanding a commitment of time and brainpower.
In this week's column, I would like to ask readers who are considering which colleges to apply to, to also consider another issue in the world of higher education: the persistent abuse of academic labor.
As I write this, in New York City, members of CUNY (City University of New York) faculty and staff are staging a Nov. 4 protest against their low wages and lack of contract. Right now, there are 7,600 full-time CUNY faculty members earning salaries significantly lower than those at comparable area universities, according to the Professional Staff Conference/CUNY, the union which represents CUNY faculty and staff. Working without a contract for six years, these teachers are prone to "poaching" by other schools, and that would be a big loss to our students. This is not only a New York City problem.
More than half of CUNY's courses are taught by 13,000 low-wage, part-time adjunct faculty. The use—and over-use—of part-time teachers occurs not just at CUNY, but at many schools. Each year, thousands of promising teachers are driven by practical consideration—as well as heartbreak and anger—from academia. These are the adjunct, or part-time, or "contingent" faculty at colleges and universities. They cannot afford to teach under the abusive conditions imposed by their institutions.
Q: I am a high school senior. The only thing I know about college is that I want to double-major and eventually get a degree for secondary education. However, I have many interests so I'm unsure what to major in. I love English, biology, and chemistry, but mostly psychology. I am hoping to travel in summers and help kids across the country. I need a degree that will help me do that! Thank you!
A: You are in luck, although you might not realize it now. It seems as though you may be confronted with difficult decisions, but quite the contrary: your future lies before you like a treasure map, but instead of just one treasure, there are many! You have a lot of options.
Q: I am an international student and wish to study economics in the United States. I have taken the O-Level examinations and scored mostly As with some Bs. Currently I am taking A-Levels in physics, chemistry, mathematics, and economics. Is there a top-ranked university I could easily get into, and are there scholarships or other financial awards for which I could qualify?
A: Your qualifications are excellent: the O-Levels (sometimes called the GCSE: General Certificate of Secondary Education) followed by A-Levels represent the highest curriculum in the British educational system. That is the encouraging part of my answer.
The discouraging part, unfortunately, is that many students have rigorous qualifications, and that makes acceptance to a strong, popular university program extremely competitive. The word "easily" simply does not apply. College admission in the United States, especially in fields such as mathematics, chemistry, and economics, is not easy.
Q: Over the summer, we took our daughter to visit a number of colleges. We saw a lot of impressive things: beautiful buildings, nice dorms, modern labs, and so forth. But the cost! We have heard our friends telling us how much college is costing them, but we never actually realized it until now. The cost of going to college is more than many people even make in a year! Why is it so expensive?
A: It costs a lot to run a college. What students pay covers some, but not all of the cost. There are the faculty salaries (plus benefits like health insurance), generous administrators’ salaries (the college president, vice presidents, provosts, vice-provosts, deans, associate deans, assistant deans, and so forth), and staff salaries (the department managers, administrative assistants, librarians, admissions staff, student services directors, and so on). What about infrastructure? Buildings have to be maintained by the buildings and grounds crew, heat and electricity must be provided, buildings painted when needed to keep a fresh look. Libraries must stay current by ordering the latest books and renewing subscriptions to journals. Maybe the Classics Department doesn’t have to order many new items from year to year, but the Biology and Chemistry Departments need new equipment all the time.
You get the picture. A school’s budget is enormous.