The Center for the Analysis of Postsecondary Readiness reports that the use of placement tests alone are poor indicators of which students actually need remediation at college. Virtually all community colleges and over 90% of public 4 year colleges utilize the results of placement tests to determine need for remedial help in math and English. A study found that whether or not a student was predicted to succeed, students did better when they were allowed to start in college level courses. Using multiple measures including high school GPA, more students are assigned to college level courses and are more likely to complete them.
The National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) has a list of almost 400 colleges that have stated they are test optional for the Fall of 2021, affirming that students will not be penalized for the absence of a standardized test score for admission. Click here for more information.
See how some colleges are trying to provide more options for students during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Here is some news from The Chronicle of Higher Education.
Big Ten Colleges Start Course-Sharing Initiative
A new course-sharing initiative from the Big Ten Academic Alliance is aimed at offering students more educational opportunities during the pandemic. Beginning this fall, undergraduates at any institution in the Big Ten Academic Alliance will be able to take an online course from any other institution in the alliance, at no charge.
The arrangement will waive tuition and fees for one course each semester. Participating institutions include Indiana University at Bloomington, the University of Maryland at College Park, Michigan State University, the University of Nebraska at Lincoln, Ohio State University, Pennsylvania State University, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, University of Iowa, University of Michigan, University of Minnesota, Northwestern University, Purdue University, University of Wisconsin-Madison and Rutgers University at New Brunswick. Students can view the courses on offer from each university and register for the class of their choice.
In light of the recent scandal in college admissions, we want to emphasize the importance of ethical behavior on everyone's part in the college admissions process. Below is a statement from one of our professional organizations, Independent Educational Consultants Association, that reflects our values and practices when working with students and their families.
By Dr. Deborah Barany
Barany Educational Consulting
The college application process has many moving parts and can seem daunting to many students and their families. We at College Docs strongly suggest starting the process early, either in the sophomore or junior year of high school to have enough time to think about what you are looking for in a college and put together your best possible application. One needs time to thoroughly research and develop a strong college list and to write thoughtful and effective essays. Waiting to the last minute and cramming is not the best strategy either for schoolwork or for the application process.
We would like to share an article from our colleague, Dr. Deborah Barany, on the limitations of cramming and the underlying concepts of working memory.
CRAMMING AS A PRIMARY STRATEGY:
Most high schools set up the need for cramming in order to keep up with the demands of assessment and grading. College bound students often find themselves with 5 or more core classes, all on top of athletics, music, political activism or other pursuits. Compound this with teachers who do not coordinate exams or projects between departments- piling up homework, papers, projects, presentations. Students are overwhelmed with high expectations and little time to work. They work all day at school only to come home to 3+ hours of work at home.
No wonder students cram. But cramming interferes with processing and building understanding. Students need more time and exposure to new ideas before building enduring conceptual understanding. While they are building deep lasting knowledge, they also experience longer retrieval time to access new ideas. But our schools are designed for quick processing and memorization. Cramming becomes a survival strategy not a learning strategy.
WHY IS CRAMMING PROBLEMATIC?
We all have done this in our lives. We put off studying for a test or avoid writing a paper. What is happening when we cram? Cramming heavily relies on memorization and multitasking. We do not have the time to process information deeply which impacts the ability to connect new information with established knowledge. Cramming creates information that is shallow and temporary - just enough to recall on the test or just enough to write a passable essay. For most students this is compounded by two other sources of interference in learning, sleep deprivation and multitasking, which interrupt the deep learning and concept building necessary for producing quality work. Many students are expert crammers because this strategy serves them well and rewards them with grades. But cramming as a primary strategy can backfire when tasks are complicated (e.g. college applications) or the material they are studying is complex and expectations are high (e.g. college level work).
But new strategies and habits can help overcome cramming. First a bit of background: Cognitive Load Theory provides a helpful framework to understand how to overcome the bad habit of cramming. Cognitive Load Theory, first introduced by the cognitive psychologist John Sewell, describes the capacity and limitations of our memory system when presented with difficult problems and complex tasks. New information is first processed through working memory. Working memory is like a train station moving information in and out in order to store new information and retrieve existing information from our long term storage. If you want to keep the information you have to actively process it in order to store it in long term memory. Working memory capacity is very limited, holding between 3 to 5 meaningful pieces of information. It gets crowded in there and if a new input is introduced something has to fall out to make room. This is why multitasking is problematic if you are trying to hold onto and process information. When the information surpasses the capacity of the working memory, our system slows down, stops or jams up. No new information can be stored or recalled.
Cognitive load theory not only provides a way of helping students understand cognitive limitations, it also provides strategies for overcoming limitations. In any task there are both intrinsic loads, tasks that are essential to the demands, and extrinsic loads, tasks that are a distraction or unnecessary to the demands. Many students have a hard time differentiating between them.
Here is an example of the college application process from one of my students:
HOW TO REDUCE LOAD
A powerful way to optimize our working memory requires consolidating information into meaningful bites. This is called chunking which requires that we break down information into meaningful and important categories allowing us to coordinate, organize and sort intrinsic tasks and acknowledge the extrinsic distractions. By bundling ideas together we can get through the bottleneck limitation of working memory. Chunking is a way to organize and prioritize the various requirements needed to complete the college application. I help my students create meaningful chunks as they define and write out each task on a separate note card or sticky note. I then ask them to collect tasks that “go together.” For example, asking for letters of recommendations or communications with colleges or collecting demographic and family information are examples of chunking task demands. The student is learning to create categories by breaking down the overall process into organized and doable tasks. Rather then piling on additional items on a lengthy to-do list, my students now have a meaningful way to sort out additional actions that require their attention. Co-creating application chunks with my students enables them to take ownership of their process and organize the tasks in a way that makes sense to them.
Working with a college consultant offers the opportunity for students to develop new learning habits and approaches as they continue their educational exploration. Helping students to develop new strategies, perspectives and skills will build a toolkit for future learning. Guiding, coaching and practicing together enables our students to feel successful navigating complex tasks with high stake outcomes, like their upcoming college coursework.Keeping the long game in mind, students can fully engage and unleash the power of their brains.
If you want to learn more about Working Memory:
TeenLife posted an interesting article on the value of STEM summer programs for students of all ages.
Check out this TeenLife Blog.
The College Board recognizes that mastering computer science and the U.S. Constitution are keys to student future success in college and life.
Check out The New York Times article
Check out an interesting article by Applerouth Tutoring Services. The University of Chicago joins other test-optional colleges but is one of the first leading research institutions to make this admissions option available. Jed Applerouth looks at SAT/ACT submission stats among other test-optional colleges and also notes UChicago's new tuition free policy for families with financial need.
University of Chicago Makes Bold Moves – Drops SAT/ACT Requirement
By Dr. Deborah Barany
Barany Educational Consulting
For those of you who are considering applying to colleges on the west coast, we invited our colleague, Dr. Deborah Barany, an independent educational consultant in Oregon, to share some of the interesting schools, programs and culture of the Pacific Northwest. Joan and Vicki, College Docs
Pacific Northwest culture is, well, quirky, coffee loving, and deeply connected to community and the land. Walking to class with a view of 10,000 foot high peaks around you is, in a word, inspiring. One thing all the schools have in common- a commitment to sustainable living- in the dorms, the dining rooms, and in every building. Living in the Pacific Northwest is a lesson on how to live day to day with sustainable practices. Don’t be surprised when you have to sort your meal tray into compost and recycling (hopefully no trash.) Most cities ban styrofoam, take away cups, and plastic bags- so think re-use ables, reminders about saving water or electrical usage are all around you. Live off campus? Garbage pick up is every other week and fines are levied for mixing trash with recycling and compost.
With this comes incredible opportunities to explore the outdoors (accessible from any campus within an hour), study environmental science in the forest, stream, ocean and rivers, and expand your view away from the West Coast of the US further across the Pacific.
Key reasons to consider school in the Pacific Northwest:
1. Wilderness and Outdoor Activities are Unparalleled:
Whitman College- Walla Walla, Washington
Any given weekend at Whitman you can be kayaking, climbing, skiing, white water rafting, snow camping, or backpacking through some of the most beautiful wilderness in the US. During the week, keep in shape with the campus climbing wall. Full time staff work with students teaching wilderness skills, first responder, and wilderness leadership as well as organizing and leading trips. Whitman is the national leader in wilderness education and programming. A Whitman tradition is the First Year Scramble- week long trips before the start of the year to explore wilderness opportunities across the region. One of the most unique academic offerings includes Semester in the West. Faculty and students travel the western interior studying public land and rural life integrating field work in environmental science, history, politics and policy. A college that changes lives, takes their academics very seriously but the community also understands that learning happens when students create connections between themselves, their community and their environment.
2. Looking Further West Along the Pacific Rim
University of Puget Sound - Tacoma, Washington
Where is Tacoma?! South of Seattle, surrounded by well, Puget Sound. Look east and you can see Mount Rainier, look North you can see the islands dotting the sound. But this campus looks West….across the Pacific. Students and faculty across the disciplines travel, learn and explore the Asian side of the Pacific Rim for an entire academic year. Freshman orientation includes a two day wilderness trip focused on survival, orienteering, kayaking and service. Puget Sound’s strongest departments are in Asian studies, Latin American Studies and Environmental Policy and Decision Making.
3. Environmental Studies and Tourism Degrees
Oregon State University Cascades Campus - Bend, Oregon
The newest campus in the Oregon State system, OSU Cascades Campus is notable not just because it is located in the high Cascades. OSU Cascades offers unique programs that are hard to find in Tourism, Recreation and Outdoor Leadership, combining business, outdoor leadership, education and environmental studies into an interdisciplinary major. The laboratory is right outside the classroom door. This is big business around this part of the country which means internships and jobs for students to further develop their skills. Living in Bend, the center of Oregon, gives access to explore the Eastern high desert and and the Western coastal regions. OSU Cascades campus is small and growing with 1000 full time students. OSU is leader in combining online courses with classroom courses which gives students flexibility to travel, intern or work while making progress towards their degrees.
4. Pickle Making is Part of the Curriculum
Oregon State University - Corvallis, Oregon
OSU is where pickle making is a legit minor, along with cheese making, craft brewing or perhaps your taste is more refined and you are interested in studying enology (the study of wines). Oregon State University is the only school in the country with land, sea and space grants. OSU is a premier science school with majors from forestry and fire management to biochemistry and engineering. If the ocean is your home OSU also operates the Hatfield Marine Science Center on the Oregon Coast. Undergraduates can spend a term studying and working at the labs in Newport, Oregon. The School of Science is committed to helping students succeed in rigorous university classes. Recently the School of Science established a Science Success Center using peer advisors. Undergraduates work with upper classmen to plan classes, find tutors, or glean general wisdom about navigating their major. The Student Success Center also sponsors researcher “speed dating” sessions. Professors looking for undergraduate research assistants meet with students looking for labs for research; the meet-up helps make matches.
5. Create Your Own Connections
Evergreen State University - Olympia, Washington
The only public undergraduate university in the Colleges That Change Lives organization is nestled between the State Capitol and Puget Sound. There are no majors at this school- rather fields of study. Each trimester, students work with their advisor to curate a list of classes that are related to their interests. Here, a student can study microbiology through the lens of an artist or investigate food insecurity with environmental science and economics. When you look up a field of study, not only will you see the courses and faculty listing, but on the right hand side appears a list of related fields and courses across the university. Evergreen University defines learning as part of a bigger picture in an interconnected web.
6. Work for a State Senator or Even the Governor!
Willamette University - Salem, Oregon
Across the street, literally, from the state capitol is Willamette University. Senators, aides, lobbyists and yes, even the governor eat at the Willamette University cafeteria and grab coffee from the student-run cafe. (YES the food at the capitol building is really that bad, and yes the food at the university is really that good.) That means students interested in politics and government have access to jobs and internships while networking with established lawmakers and upcoming policy wonks. The campus sits in the middle of all the action. Another bonus, the train station is adjacent to campus allowing a quick and easy commute (about 45 min) to Portland. While government and law are strong at Willamette, other programs are also well-known. Regionally known for an excellent music program- voice in particular is strong with a beloved conductor. Willamette owns Zena, 350 acres of working farmland, forest and wetlands which is used for research, education and most importantly protection of the land. There is even student housing for upperclassmen who become caretakers of the property.
These are a few of the notable schools with opportunities that can only be found out here in our corner of the US.
Check out this article from The New York Times about some of the variables that college admissions departments are looking at in student college applications.
What are colleges looking for?
Contact College Docs at
203 520-6338 or 203 218-5619 firstname.lastname@example.org