Sunday, October 16, 2005


Educating a penguin, part 5

In previous posts (chain back starting here), I wrote about my son Max and our experiences during college visits last spring and during the summer. The saga continues, and we are well into the college and scholarship application season. Max has applied to 9 schools: Earlham, Eckerd, Harvard, Illinois, Kalamazoo, Northwestern (Medill School of Journalism), Ursinus, Washington University, and Yale. In all cases except Northwestern, Max is applying for admission to liberal arts; at Northwestern, he has applied to major in journalism.

One thing that made the application process easy was the existence of the Common Application. The common app is both a paper and electronic application system that allows you to fill out a single application for 277 participating schools. All schools in our list except Northwestern and Illinois take the common app. Max and I used the electronic version, and the web site was well designed and easy to use. Some of the schools required supplements beyond the common app, and the web site had a nice tab for handling those as well.

Max's schools divide into two many categories, research universities and small colleges. All of the small colleges are listed in Loren Pope's helpful book, Colleges that Change Lives. Max and his mom visited Ursinus last week, and Max stayed overnight in the dorms and went to class, had an interview, and went on a tour. I very much like the small schools we have visited. The campuses exude an enthusiasm for undergraduate education that just doesn't exist at a research university. Tours of buildings drip with evidence of student research and extracurricular activity.

Right now we're in the middle of applying for scholarships. Much of the money available today is based on need, but we're concentrating on merit aid. The Ivies and Northwestern don't give any merit aid, but WUSTL and Illinois do, as do the CTCL schools. Some schools include students in the merit pool merely by applying, and others require separate scholarship applications. Max was named a National Merit Semifinalist, and that award requires a special application to be named a finalist and to be eligible for other awards connection to it.

There are a variety of sites that provide very helpful information on scholarships. My favorite is Fastweb run by It has tabs for scholarship, college, and job & internship searches. The interface is intelligently arranged and the site is easy to use. We've gotten good tips on scholarships from the site and have followed up on a number of them.

I don't remember the search for college being this hard. I applied to one school, Michigan, and went there. I don't remember it being hard to get in. I took one admissions exam (the SAT), one time. Today, the process is complex, the competition is stiff, and the examinations are endless. Collegebound students today face a gauntlet that has grown beyond reason, but wise parents and students will learn and play the game because the value of a college education is so high.

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