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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: I am a junior and all I hear about is how impossible it is to get into popular colleges. A lot of my friends who are seniors did not get accepted to their first-choice colleges and are going to have to attend other schools. This has made me very nervous about what's going to happen to me next year. What do you suggest?
A: As I am sure you have heard, part of the problem is the Common Application, which is both a blessing and a curse. The Common App makes it easy to apply to multiple schools, and the blessing is that it enables students to do this while saving them the bother of writing the same information (except for the essay supplements) over and over again. The curse is, the larger volume of applications sent as a result of the Common Application makes being accepted to any school much more difficult.
Another part of the problem is that students persist in applying to the same colleges as their classmates. They have been advised to diversify the geographical scope of their applications, but they don't listen.
Colleges' reliance on part-time, "contingent" faculty who work without employment benefits and are generally paid far less than full-time, permanent teachers is not a new problem: It has been going on for over 30 years. But disenchanted part-time faculty—and full-time faculty who agree with them—have become increasingly vocal about the practice.
Not only is the hiring of large numbers of contingent or "adjunct" faculty members poor labor practice, but, according to Professor Ellen Schrecker of Yeshiva University, it affects "the education of most students, especially undergraduates, in a very negative way." Schrecker was interviewed for the February 25, 2015 issue of the Chronicle of Higher Education during the week that had been declared a period of national action by part-time faculty. Adjuncts and their supporters wanted to call attention to their working conditions, which usually involve low pay, no benefits, inadequate office space, and little or no chance of promotion. For students, the adjunct situation involves constant teacher turnover, the inability to form meaningful or lasting relationships with teachers and working with a demoralized faculty.
Q: I've been denied by two schools already and now I'm waiting for the decisions from my other colleges. One school has asked me for my first-semester grades as well as an essay that explains why my grades have been inconsistent. Is this a good sign, or not? I have such low confidence now, and I'm worried about being admitted anywhere. Am I on the right track?
A: This will come as news to you, but ALL colleges to which students have applied—even colleges to which they have been admitted early—ask high schools to send first-semester grades. They want to be sure that all applicants are keeping up with their academics.
Q: My son is interested in a school that is very popular but has the reputation of not giving students access to "real professors" until the 2nd or 3rd year. Instead, they use a lot of "adjunct" faculty. When I asked the representative of this school about this at a college fair (much to my son's embarrassment), he said, "all our teachers are professors." How do I find out the truth?
A: Remember the TV show that said "the truth is out there"? Well, the truth about adjunct faculty is out there, too, and it's not pretty. Don't expect complete truth from admissions representatives—their job is to bring in as many applications as possible.
Adjunct faculty—also called contingent faculty—teach part-time, maybe one or two courses a semester. They are usually not given the same benefits as full-time staff; they have no health insurance or retirement plan. Therefore, they are much cheaper for the school to hire.
There are two kinds of adjunct faculty: those who teach in addition to their other, regular full-time career, and those who depend upon their adjunct teaching for a living. An example of the first is a lighting specialist who works full-time at a theater but may teach a class on theatrical lighting at a nearby college. This is not exploitation; she is an active professional sharing her knowledge with students, and the college gets someone with expertise that none of their other teachers has. In the second example, teachers—most of whom have masters' degrees or doctorates—are paid anywhere from $1,300 to $1,900 per course, per semester. Obviously, one cannot live on that income, and so the adjuncts need to work at two or three schools to make ends meet.
Q: I applied under “early action” in November to two schools I considered my “safeties.” I wanted to know that I had at least one acceptance before filing my regular applications in January. I was pretty confident I’d get in, but both schools deferred me—so now I am in a panic. Maybe it’s true and college admission IS getting harder! If my “safeties” deferred me, what chance do I have with the others?
A: Actually, college admissions, despite what you might read in the media, is NOT getting harder. It’s ALWAYS been hard to get into an Ivy League school. But don't panic, admissions is reasonable at many other places, especially outside the Northeast.
The problem today is volume. More students are filing more applications, often to the same group of "popular" colleges. So, while College A may have received 20,000 applications five years ago, today they are getting 40,000. Twice as many students are applying, but College A is still the same size it was five years ago. And why are so many students applying? College A has been advertising and recruiting like crazy. Also, the Common Application makes it so easy to file many more applications than back in ancient times when you had to hand-write a separate application to each school. So College A’s application numbers and selectivity go up, and poor you are suffering as a result.
By now many families of high school seniors have probably seen the scary article in last Sunday's New York Times. You know, the one that details the panicked quest for college acceptances causing many students to feel they need to file 20 or 25 applications just to have a chance.
I have a 3-word response:
Get a grip.
You don't have to file 20 to 30 applications. Usually 8 to 10 will do, and will offer you a choice of acceptances. But you need to be willing to listen to some advice:
Q: I'm a high school senior looking at what university I might want to attend. I would like to be able to look into courses for animation/digital arts, critical studies (for cinematic arts), game design, computer science, or computer engineering. I currently have no experience in any of those areas, nor do I know for sure if I want to devote myself to any of them. I want a university that will allow me to take courses to help me learn if I would enjoy a career in those areas, while also allowing me to complete entry level prerequisites, so I have the experience and knowledge to go for a major when I am ready. Unfortunately, I do not know what these courses are. I only know the names of the majors, and schools that offer all of those majors seem to be too expensive. How can I learn about prerequisites, and whether I would enjoy a job in that area?
A: You have excellent questions, and obviously you have been thinking seriously about the next step in your education. Many high school seniors are unsure of what they ought to choose as a major, and then they worry that a major might be a wrong choice when it comes time to look for a career.
Q: My neighbor's daughter is a first-year student at a large public university, and it seems that most of her instructors are graduate students. She has met few actual professors. Now we are starting to look at colleges for our son. I want him to be taught by experienced professors—but does that mean he must attend only a private college? Those schools are so much more expensive!
A: It all depends upon the school. Part of the answer is in the vocabulary you use: university and college. A university has an undergraduate program and also graduate programs. It is very common for experienced graduate students to teach introductory classes in many departments. More advanced courses should be taught by full-time, permanent members of the faculty. But schools should not use graduate students or other part-time faculty to teach a majority of classes. You will have to do some serious research to learn if this is the case.
It may shock you to learn that private undergraduate colleges do something similar, even though they do not have their own graduate schools. But there may be a nearby university whose graduate students they can employ, or other qualified individuals they can hire at salaries much, much lower than those of full-time professors. So paying the higher tuition and fees for a private college is no guarantee that your son will be taught by professors. Your tuition dollars will be used instead to subsidize the school's other projects.
School starts on Sept. 4 and for high school juniors and seniors, this means it's also time to start thinking about college. Here's my advice on what to focus on as you look ahead to college.
Juniors: The most important thing you can do for yourself this year is to concentrate on your studies. Take the most challenging courses you can, and strive to do well. If you are involved in some extra-curricular activities you enjoy, stick with them. If you have not become involved yet – join something! This does not have to be at your high school; it can also be in your community. You will look (and feel!) more balanced if you do something besides study. But don't obsess about college applications yet – most high schools do not begin college programs until the spring of junior year. One more thing: READ. I cannot stress more emphatically that students who read widely and constantly fare much better, in the college process and overall, than students who read little.
Summer is a perfect time for rising seniors to visit some colleges. You won't be alone – hosting summer visitors has been the norm at most U.S. colleges and universities for the past 20 years. The number of visitors will usually correlate with the size of the campus – the larger the school, the larger the information sessions and tour groups.
Most colleges will have a "visit us" feature on their website (usually in the Admissions section). If you have to reserve a place on a tour, you can do so online or by calling the Admissions office. If you show up without a reservation, will they let you visit? Of course! The whole point of the college visit – from their perspective -- is to inspire students to become applicants. You are a prospective customer so they will be happy to see you.