Finding your purpose, writing your admission essay and winning

The John Templeton Foundation along with The Greater Good Society and Prosocial are sponsoring a unique college essay contest. “The Purpose Challenge provides students with an opportunity to enter a contest by submitting a college essay they write based on provided guidelines, including a description of a personal long-term goal and what motivates them to achieve it. One grand-prize winner will be awarded a $25,000 scholarship for college, and five second-place winners will each receive a $5,000 college scholarship.”

Unfortunately it is only open to US citizens, but the toolkit and resources they created are useful for anyone crafting a college essay and trying to define their meaning in life.

Designed to be done in four sessions, with each session providing a prompt to focus your attention on some aspect of your life and meaning. It starts with a pre-survey of 21 likert scale questions that focus you on where you are at with your own sense of purpose. Day 1 continues with a 360 Review whereby you send an email to five adults to ask them to help them with a project by answering four questions:

  • What do you think are my strengths and talents?
  • How do you think I can I use my talents in a meaningful way?
  • How do you see me contributing to the world in the future?
  • What advice would you give to help me achieve these goals?

Just with that one act, the challenge has upped the anti. It gives you five touchpoints to look at the world, or more accurately their impact in the world. Wow. 

Each day includes not just activities but also information to educate you on purpose.  

The final activity of day 1 asks students to write about their ideal world, and more importantly, what is something they could do to move it towards that imagined future. 

It does not let you proceed unless you complete each part and it only allows you to work on one day. IE, I have to wait until tomorrow to see where this purpose challenge is going. I really like the idea, though. Even if the teen does not craft a college essay from this experience, they just might find meaning where they had overlooked it. 

Where do teens get a sense of purpose?

Yet, only one in five teens have identified a purpose. The video above makes a great distinction between How (what do you want to do) and Why (the meaning and motivation driving you). 

Deep Springs goes co-ed…again…this time for real

Last time (2011) they announced their plan to admit women to the venerable men’s only institution, they landed in a lawsuit with themselves. The charter clearly states for men, but courts decided that the trustees can refine that as needed:

The key finding of the appeals court was that the lower court had been within its discretion to approve a change in the trust guidelines for the college from promoting “the education of promising young men” to “the education of promising young people.” There was no evidence, the appeals court said, that the lower court had exceeded its authority to determine which trust provisions were “administrative” (such as the reference to men) and which ones were focused on the central mission of the college (the overall approach.

Now that the lawsuits are done, the board of trustees again voted to go coed for the fall of 2018. With a freshman class of only 14 men people, we can expect it become even more selective since it looks like they will not increase the college size.

The Applications Committee (ApCom) receives between 180 and 250 applications each year. Of those prospective students, 15 are invited to enroll and 10 are added to a wait-list. Our goal is to have 14 students in each matriculating class.

With all expenses paid, Deep Sprigs offers an exceptional possibilities: 

“The desert has a deep personality; it has a voice. Great leaders in all ages have sought the desert and heard its voice. You can hear it if you listen, but you cannot hear it while in the midst of uproar and strife for material things. ‘Gentlemen, for what came ye into the wilderness?’ Not for conventional scholastic training; not for ranch life; not to become proficient in commercial or professional pursuits for personal gain. You came to prepare for a life of service, with the understanding that superior ability and generous purpose would be expected of you.”


Deep Springs Founder L.L. Nunn, 1923

Don’t become a doctor…so argues a doctor

in a rather compelling essay in Business Insider; he argues that

the training time is disporption to

  • the cost
  • and debt
  • and satisfaction


Parenting for normal in the college process

By loading kids with high expectations and micromanaging their lives at every turn, parents aren’t actually helping. At least, that’s how Julie Lythcott-Haims sees it. With passion and wry humor, the former Dean of Freshmen at Stanford makes the case for parents to stop defining their children’s success via grades and test scores. Instead, she says, they should focus on providing the oldest idea of all: unconditional love.


Colleges and guns

The US has long had a special relationship with guns, one that often puzzles many international students. Several states potentially allow tudents to carry concealed guns. While some states allow it, they leave it up to the invidual institution. Others do not permit an instutional choice. The map below, from armedcampus, gives a quick insight of states and their guns on campus policy:

RED = Concealed guns allowed by law
GREY = Concealed guns allowed by law, but schools limit locations/who carries
GREEN = Concealed guns on campus prohibited by law
YELLOW = Schools decide weapons policy
ORANGE = Concealed guns allowed only in locked cars in parking lots

Colleges and guns

The US has long had a special relationship with guns, one that often puzzles many international students. Several states potentially allow tudents to carry concealed guns. While some states allow it, they leave it up to the invidual institution. Others do not permit an instutional choice. The map below gives a quick insight of states and their guns on campus policy:

Colleges and guns

The US has long had a special relationship with guns, one that often puzzles many international students. Several states potentially allow tudents to carry concealed guns. While some states allow it, they leave it up to the invidual institution. Others do not permit an instutional choice. The map below gives a quick insight of states and their guns on campus policy:

U Maryland defers the use of the coalition application for one year

The Coalition has been absolutely lousying at communicating. They hired a new execuative director. Nothing has changed. No newsletters. No press releases. The last press release was in October. Somewhere in there several artciles focused on who would actually be using the coalition application. The current number is 56. One quietly dropped out. No surpised. Many of us are skeptical that the platform will work properly. Three universities had planned to utalize only the coalition appliation. But University of Maryland quietly deferred starting to use it until Fall of 2017. 

Q: How can my student apply to the University of Maryland (UMD)?

Students seeking admission during the 2016-17 academic year should apply using our secure Application Portal. The application for freshman admission for the Fall 2017 semester will be made available in mid-August 2016.

Beginning in mid-August 2017, UMD will use the application provided by The Coalition for Access, Affordability, and Success. This application should be used by students seeking freshman or transfer admission, or students seeking admission to the University of Maryland, College Park at Shady Grove.

As for the other two “exclusive” Coalition University: University of Florida states they are a proud member of the coalition, but offers no other details. University of Washington makes no mention of the coalition on thewebsite and states their application will open in October. 


Game changer? And other unanswered questions about the Coalition Application

The Coalition for Access, Affordability and Success has launched…almost…any day now. Like a freshman telling his history teacher that he will turn his term paper, just as soon as he finishes his bibliography, the coalition keeps hinting that a really great thing is coming.

 After following the various news stories and trying to guess both what the coalition is and why it might be important, I wonder if  I can just ignore it for a year. Tantalizing tidbits emerged. The mantra of increasing access for poor teens is clearly a noble one. So what if Amherst, Rice, Stanford, Davidson and Ponoma have already shown us they can do this with the existing application. In fact those five schools are so good at it they are vying for a million dollars.  

While all five are inaugural members, one wonders how putting another platform in front of students helps decrease the stress? The common app has already increased the number of colleges a typical student is applying to. The percentage of students submitting seven or more applications has risen from nine percent to 22 percent since 1990. The common app actually limits a student to twenty. The Coalition has no limits. While virtually all the colleges in the coalition will take an application fee waiver, they have not actually designed one for the students. But, you know, there is still time.


Don’t worry. It will be ready. Along with the application essays. Wait? There will be different essays than the common app? Anyone? Hello?



So it looks like, just maybe, there will be different essays. So we are simplifying the college process by increasing what they write? Wait a minute…not quite fair. Because you see some colleges may decide not to ask for an essay…or an extra essay (Am I really the only one that is having trouble following this?). Instead they could say send us a video from your lockers. Or a grader writing sample (like that freshman term paper that you got in 6 days late). Or you playing the bagpipes because nothing says I am college material like I play the bagpies.




They give college scholarships for this?


You see this is all in their 50 Gig locker that every kid gets for free. 50 Gigs? Seriously? That’s like 25,000 songs. Or 10 movies.  Not that we are condoning file sharing. Just what are they thinking kids will be putting in this thing? Well they said graded writing samples. This document is currently 1 MB, including the cartoons. That means I could save this like 50 thousand times. Oh I probably need space for my bagpiping video. I mean I could just put it on Youtube for free and entertain the world at the same time, but I get it. You want me to post work I am most proud? Work that shows my development as a student. Seriously, that ten grade Rolaids lab in Chemistry will help you understand me better as a a humanities candidate? My 9 grade Julius Cesar test I aced will showcase how I get the bard? Perhaps the pastel of the fox I did as a freshman art would be  a good thing? I mean both my mom liked it and the principal wanted to buy it (his nick name was the fox—mom won for some reason, crushing my professional artist dreams).

And I get to share. Unless they ask me to share in which case…And I can share it with anybody and my nosy counselor has no idea who I am sharing it with. I mean my private agent/ ghost artist needs freedom to create, right? And of course my counselor is so excited about uploading her letter of rec and my transcript to my locker so I can send it…to as many (well 90) colleges. Take that application limits. Application limits are so un-American. I mean how can a college tell they are getting better unless they can deny reject, waitlist more students. And  of course the counselor cannot see my resume in which I may have embellished my accomplishments—everyone does it right? Thank good ness they are not making the college counselors verify anything I am submitting. That may work for the British, but not us Americans.

In fairness, the Coalition is partially aimed at overworked counselors with huge caseloads. Not the 8500 schools already using Naviance (which may sort of work with Version 1.0…or not). It allows counselors to track their students, much like Naviance, well at least for the 90 schools, not the thousands. But naviance costs a lot of money and the Coalition is free, like the common app is free. But the coalition has the locker, which is also free like Goggle docs is free.

The college admission folks who are in the know are far more excited about the locker than any counselor I know. Clearly they understand that it will house tools that will transform counseling. Essay writing help? Career development tools? Financial literacy? Goal setting? Self awareness? SAT/ACT prep? Well this is version 1.0. Perhaps in version 2. Actually, it is not really version 1.0. It is not even Beta. It is conceptual…or perhaps private beta. Apparently 65 counselors are involved in advising, so we counselor should not worry too much. Even though we are worried…161 have signed a petition calling for more details and a proper beta test, carefully studied before releasing.


Some have noted that the driving forces in admission are idealistic, which is wonderful.

Clearly they are designing the application system they believe will work for them. They got burned badly by the common app’s redesign. They really should have complained to…themselves. After all, the common app is a membership organization. The fact that the board and executive director were not particularly responsive. So now they have taken their ball and gone to play a new game. One they are making the rules to as they go along, but don’t worry counselors, we will let you know, in plenty of time, like in August. You know when the kids are starting their applications. And you can play with the locker in April. Oh, wait it is April. Well not early April…or mid April…Late April.

And feel free to ask questions to someone, somewhere. We will answer them. Sometime. Maybe.

I have asked the questions and I am waiting. Will Dix asked the questions and is waiting. Hamilton Gregg asked the questions (and he was a panelist on webinar).

Want to improve access colleges? Hire more people from poor backgrounds:

Support initiatives like University of Southern California’s College Advising Corps

My questions, some of which are starting to be answered

  1. Will the coalition app talk with naviance? Please say yes. Many of us?our wedding to Naviance as it helps with our workflow. If kept separate it?adds one more element. Parchment is the same back bone of Naviance edocs. 
  2. What security measures are in place to certify schools? I worry that?someone could clone my school and submit documents fabricated to look like?my school. Unless there is a control built in, it will happen. It sounds like Parchment knows?
  3.  I am unclear of parental access and controls? Can parents see the kids?stuff? Can they add stuff?
  4. I am concerned that the search function focuses on the same narrow?lines that too many other existing services (Size, location, Major). Is a tool being developed that would actually help kids narrow down what sort of experience they want to have?
  5. Is the coalition app open to non us citizens? Sounds like yes. 
  6. Drop box is blocked in China. Will the coalition website work in countries such as China? How is this being checked? Not just China but other firewall countries like Iran, Venezuela etc. 
  7. How about test prep linkage? At least the SAT and ACT question of the?days. Many of the coalition applications require testing. Seems like if?your aim is to make it all accessible, then better take care of all parts.
  8. What about supplementary parts of the app like Slideroom for artist? Does this replace that?
  9. You showed a SAT range. Is this common data set information? While that is useful it is even more useful to have specific school information. 
  10.  will the essay prompts be the same or different that common app?
  11. is the coalition app asking about disciplinary infractions?
  12. When specifically can we see the application—especially what questions you are asking?
  13. Can a student use the locker and share with colleges but apply via common app?

College admissions is not as much broken as it is conflicted. Get more poor kids into elite higher education slots, but keep the Alumni happy. Find the best and brightest, but make sure we have a winning football and basketball team. Challenge kids to take a rigourous course load, but not that rigourous. To contribute to their communities authentically and show us you mean it so we can value it, but perhaps not as much as your SAT and ACT scores, even if those are flawed. But above all else, get them to apply

If the coalition for application stress must go forward, I offer some solutions:

  1. Have an opt in button for schools that want to take a more active roll in supporting the student in their process. I imagine this would work like the UCAS system. Kids can apply one of two ways: Through a center or through their own means. I, as a school, can become a center by filling in some details. This would also solve the problem of fake schools. Now the bosuness from the college standpoint is I can actually see what the kid sends you. We have even take it a step further and have me, as school counselor, validate the claims the student makes. This would go a long way in fixing the system. For overworked school counselors, they can opt out and the system can be used as the admission folks currently conceive it.
  2. Limit the number of applications. Force the choice up front. Loading up shotguns is not helpful. Both the UK and Korean strictly limit the number of colleges a student can apply to. While I think 10 is more than enough, some might feel a little more room is needed. Fine. 90 is too many. And under the present system, this does not stop the kid from applying to 20 more common app schools and a whole bunch of other places that use their own system. The UK even takes it a step further and only allows a students to apply to one of two elite universities (Oxford and Cambridge).
  3. Six months is what is needed minimum for proper lead time for schools to work with this. Ideally a year. Coalition you are taking the exact same plays from the common app that you so detested. Some call it arrogance.  So why not do this: Release the locker now. Release that application in a year. Scale it. Perhaps the three Coalition app exclusive users become the beta testers.
  4. Develop a more robust college search engine. I bet the search engine is the same as everything else out there. It focuses on misbegotten elements we now lump together with fit. This system needs to focus on values. Why do you want a alrge college? How will be in a city serve you?
  5. Get strategic partnerships embedded into this system. Specifically:

a.     Test preparation

b.     Self discovery tools Like the Values in Action Character assessment tool.

c.      Career development tools.

d.     Essay writing tutorials and support. What is all 90 colleges committed to finding 100 students on their campus to provide, for free, essay feedback through the system. Say 40 hours each. That’s 360,000 hours of real help.

Now that would actually improve success. As for affordaibility…that is a whole other issue. 






Why the collegeboard’s new test date hurts international students

For years, Internationla counselors have advocated for the collegeboard to add a test date to the testing cycle. They did, only the wrong date. They decided that the March test date does not serve international kids. But instead they added an August test date…and took away the January test date starting in August 2017. 

Katherine Levin, a spokeswoman for the College Board, claims that the summer SAT will, “provide students with earlier opportunities to take the SAT before submitting college applications, and more time to focus on coursework, school activities, and college applications in the fall of their senior year.”

The Atlantic rightly asks “Who Benefits From the New Summer SAT?” and suggests other than the Collegeboard, students who do summer prep really benefits and of course the test prep companies. “But will it provide a similar advantage to low-income students, or could the summertime SAT end up widening the gap between rich and poor?”

2017-18 International SAT Administration Dates (Anticipated)
SAT Date SAT Subject Test Available?
Aug. 26, 2017 Yes
Oct. 7, 2017 Yes
Nov. 4, 2017 Yes
Dec. 2, 2017 Yes
May 5, 2018 Yes
June 2, 2018 Yes

Nancy Griesemer at the examiner weighs most of the issues out and concludes that “On balance, however, the late-August test date is a welcome move on the part of the College Board.” So far, no one has commented on how it impacts international students. Firstly, many international students take the SAT in January. Now they will have to wait until May, which often overlaps with the May Day long weekend and festivities. If a student takes the May test date they will have to register for the June Test before they have even sat the May test let alone gotten their scores. This will be compounded in the fall cycle. While certainly the summer test date allows kids coming from Prep (which they do a lot of) into the exam. But then, they will have to register for the October before they know the scores ect. Many international student actually do prep in December in anticipation of the January test date. 

 And many schools are actually not open in August overseas. While this may be true in the US, it is even more problemmatic overseas. And fo Chinese students, the August test date now adds another high price flight season as the Chinese student cannot test in China. In fairness, the January test often overlapped with Chinese New Year. 

The fact is, at least at my test center, the January test date has become a dominate one, ahead of December, November and on par of Spring test dates. Many international counselors actively supported and lobbied for adding the March test date and eliminating the January test date. Why are we not being listened to?