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April 1, 2009 – Colleges That (Truly) Change Lives

April 1, 2009 – With every new college admissions season, pundits and doomsayers bemoan the difficulty of gaining admission into the “top” colleges. This horrid little game becomes an all-or-nothing, zero-sum death match whose purpose seems to be a Japanese- or European-style early determination of who gets on the track to lifetime success, financial security, career fulfillment, social prestige, and overall greatness. Getting on this track, according to these experts, can only be accomplished by those students who gain admission to a select group of colleges just off I-5, I-10, I-80, I-89, I-90, I-93, or I-95. Everyone else, of course, will have to settle for second or third best. Poppycock! There have always been, and there still are, hundreds of magnificent colleges out there just waiting to be discovered and appreciated. You can still get into these “gems” with SAT’s under 2100 and GPA’s under 4.1. You can even have the occasional “B” on your transcript, and they won’t hold it against you!

Foremost among these undervalued “gems” is a group of 40 colleges described by the late author Loren Pope as “The Colleges That Change Lives.” These colleges are primarily small (1,800 – 2,400 undergrads) with a focus on liberal arts. Their professors actually teach, and their educational emphasis is actually on undergraduate education! Every year, beginning in May and continuing into September, admissions officers from these colleges travel as a group throughout the country, putting on panel discussions and college fairs for interested students and parents. I have been to four of these sessions, and I can attest that each one of them was magnificent!

Juniors (’10), sophomores (’11), and even freshmen (’12): wherever you are, set aside an evening and attend one of this year’s sessions. Specific information is available at Here is the CTCL schedule for this year: May 16 Washington, D.C., May 18 New York City; May 19 Boston; May 20 Rochester, New York; May 21 Cleveland; August 1 Seattle; August 2 Portland, Oregon; August 3 San Francisco Bay Area (San Rafael); August 4 Los Angeles; August 5 Denver; August 6 Albuquerque; August 15 Houston (AM) and Austin (PM); August 16 Dallas; August 17 Birmingham; August 18 Atlanta; August 19 Raleigh-Durham; August 20 Nashville; September 12 Minneapolis; September 13 Chicago; September 14 St. Louis; September 15 Indianapolis; September 16 Cincinnati; September 17 Columbus.

 ”Change” is good!

March 1, 2009 – “Stuff Like That” – the Spring Vacation Campus Visit

Spring vacation (Easter Break in Catholic schools) provides the perfect opportunity for high school juniors to check out potential colleges in a relatively low-stress environment. Most colleges are in session and most admissions offices are open for business.

Before you make the often expensive decision to visit campuses, however, be aware of a few things. First, different colleges have different spring breaks. Although it might seem that every student at an east coast college goes to Fort Lauderdale at the same time, there is actually a 4-week period over which this occurs. Second, admissions offices at Catholic colleges (Notre Dame, Boston College, Santa Clara et al.) are often closed down during Easter Week (and parts of “Holy Week” the week before), so it behooves families to check carefully in advance as to the exact scheduling. Third, if spring break is later than usual, colleges are often trying to woo their accepted high school seniors and may not be able to give juniors the appropriate attention.

When you do have your itinerary all set, e-mail or phone admissions offices, state that you will be “in town” on such-and-such a date, and ask about two things: a campus tour and an information session. If reservations are required, make them. Politely get the name of the person on the phone in case there are questions later on. Important: ask if the college requires or suggests an on-campus interview. It is unlikely that you will get an interview, but you definitely want to have one if it’s offered. To maximize the efficiency of your trip, try to make two campus visits per day. This means making your first appointment as early as you can and your second appointment as late in the day as you can. Do not feel funny asking at College A how to get to College B – even fierce rivals (Williams and Amherst, Cal and Stanford, Colby and Bates, Trinity and Wesleyan) will be as helpful as possible in pointing you in the right direction. 

Arrive early for all your visits. When you get to the admissions office, check in with the receptionist. Important: sign in officially whenever possible. Admissions offices keep track of who has and has not visited their campuses; there will probably be a place on the application you will eventually complete asking if and when you have visited. Who do you think will get the nod, the student who took the time to visit or the student who did not?

On your campus tours you will be led around by a friendly, gregarious student. He or she will be walking backward throughout the tour. Try not to make jokes about walking backward – the tour guide will have heard every funny comment you can possibly come up with. When the guide asks “if there are any questions,” do him or her a favor and ask some! As you can tell from the title to this piece, you will probably hear the phrase “stuff like that” a lot. I know I have, or I wouldn’t be mentioning it. Don’t hold this against the guide; “stuff like that” is a pretty common filler. However, if the guide does think to say something more intelligent (“things of that nature,” for instance) perhaps you could make a mental note that this particular college encourages its citizens to speak proper English.

Depending on the competitiveness of the college you are visiting, the information session will seem somewhere between a bustop wait and a casting call for “American Idol.” An admissions officer will describe the college and what its overall philosophy is. He or she will then describe the admissions process by providing all kinds of interesting statistics. Regardless of the type of institution, this year’s freshman class will be “the best ever.” Do not get hung up on how easy or hard it is to get into the college; instead, try to imagine what it would be like there as a student. Ask questions about being there, not about “getting in.”

The more competitive a college is, the more likely you are to hear a prospective applicant (always a boy) ask, “Excuse me, what is your average SAT score?” The admissions officer will give the number and, with the exception of the boy who asked the question, everyone’s shoulders will slump and everyone will sigh dejectedly. Please note: the little twerp who asks this question has already done well on his SAT-I and merely wants to get a thrill feeling superior to everyone else. The hell with him.

Take as much literature as you can with you when you leave. Important: get the full name and title of the person who ran the information session. Write him or her a thank you note (hand-written, not typed) as soon as you can. It might be a good idea to do the same for the tour guide. You never know, but he or she might forward a thoughtful question from you to someone with “accept/deny” authority on the admissions staff.

Take pictures, visit the campus bookstore, eat at the dining halls or at local restaurants. IMAGINE YOURSELF ON CAMPUS. After all, it might be your home for four years!

December 1, 2008 – Proper English (“Where’s It At?”)

If you do not care how your high school age son or daughter fares on the SAT-I exam, do not bother reading any more of this article.

“Let’s see where we’re at.” My teeth ache when I hear this expression uttered, especially by well-educated professionals. I have been around longer than most people (55 years), and I have heard all kinds of expressions in all kinds of English dialects in all kinds of socioeconomic situations. I love the English language, especially the Americanized version of it. However, over the last twenty years it has seemed to me that my native tongue has been under assault by casual speakers who think nothing of committing “verbicide.” Foremost among the egregious sins foisted on the world by this linguistic horde are the use and overuse of the expession, “Where’s it AT?”

Is this a Californa phenomenon? A northern California phenomenon? I doubt it. I have smarted at its sound in Scranton, excruciated over its expression in Elizabeth, prickled over its proclamation in Pittsburgh, winced at its wording in Washington, and grumbled at its gibbering in Greensboro.

So what’s wrong with “Where’s it at?” you may ask. Some of you may think that I object to the use of a preposition at the end of a sentence or question. Far from it. Despite my awareness of the technical error of placing a preposition at the end of a sentence, that is something up with which I will occasionally put. No, the real problem with “Where’s it at?” is that we do not, repeat do not, need the preposition “at” at all! If you were lucky enough to have a grammar fanatic for a teacher at some point in your school career, and especially if you were lucky enough to have an old battle-axe (as I was), you would have learned, as I did,  that all prepositions require objects, and that the adverb, “where,” is therefore being hung out to dry in this situation. “Where is it?” “Where are they?” “Let’s see where we are.” What is wrong with these simple, declarative statements and questions?

Thirty years ago, the expression, “Where’s it at?” was the subject of a totally inappropriate joke (inappropriate by today’s standards, anyway). The underlying premise of the joke was that people who used this expresson were ignorant, uneducated and, even worse, poorly spoken. In the ensuing years, I have heard intelligent people, many of them far more intelligent than I, use it. I have heard well-educated people use it (most with college degrees, many with masters degrees, some with PhD’s). But, as all our mothers have told us through the years, just because somebody else does somethng wrong does not make it all right for the rest of us to mess up.

Why do we add this irritating little sound to our spoken vocabulary? Do our brains need to have three syllables all the time? “Where’s it?” does sound funny. So why not just say, “Where is it?” Do we like the simple sound, the simple rhyme, of the word “at”? Bat, rat, cat, gnat – there, did I just make you feel better? Is “Where’s it at” a nervous pause-filler like “like”?

I know, I know. The English language is a constantly changing organism whose rules need not be observed, let along worshipped. Horse hockey! Just because a huge percentage of us incorrectly express ourselves does not make doing so OK in my book. What’s next, using the word “ain’t” because everyone else uses it?

Several years ago, I was administering one of California’s public school STAR exams in the high school where I was teaching. At one point during testing, I  heard raucous laughter from an adjoining room, accompanied by cries of “Way to go, Mr. Hayne!” At the next break, I asked a sophomore student what had transpired in that room. “Oh, Mr. Hayne, you’d love this. One of the first questions on our English test involved the phrase, ‘Where’s it at?’ We know how psychotic you are about that expression, so we were just expressing our thanks to you for helping us get the question right.”

High school juniors and sophomores, beware! The SAT-I has a writing section, two thirds of which will test your knowledge of proper English. That means that almost one fourth of your total SAT-I score is going to depend on how well you were listening when that tiresome old lady or that boring old gentleman in middle school tried to teach you the fundamentals of English grammar and usage.

The “at” to which we have all become attached has to go. And good riddance.

And that’s where I (ahem) am.

July 16, 2008 – Fun With Transcripts: When is a “B” Really a “D”?

July 16, 2008 – “Mr. Smith told me that he would change my grade if I turned in my missing work within three days of the end of school last spring. So I am not going to worry about the ‘D’ that is on my transcript.”

Question: in how many different ways can the above student’s confidence be seriously misguided? Let’s see:

1. Mr. Smith never told the student he would even consider changing a grade.

2. Mr. Smith told the student he had two days, not three, in which to turn in the missing work.

3. Mr. Smith did indeed give the student three days, but that included the weekend, not just “working days.”

4. The student lost track of the days and turned the work in after four days, when Mr. Smith had closed down for the summer.

5. The student turned in the missing work to the wrong teacher.

6. Mr. Smith misled the student about the extension because the student had been a pain-in-the-neck all year.

7. Mr. Smith turned in his grade book immediately after the end of school and promptly retired to Tahiti, where retroactively adjusting students’ grades is not a high priority of his.

SENIORS, go over your official transcript with a fine-toothed comb early in September. Fix any problems immediately. Do NOT assume that problems will magically resolve themselves, no matter how sure you were last spring that they would!

“I’ll make him an offer he can’t refuse.”

January 13, 2008 – The Annapolis Group Takes On US News & World Report!

January 13, 2008 – Over the last 20 years, a cultural icon has emerged from the American obsession with rank, prestige, and celebrity. Yes, we’re talking about the annual ranking of the “Best Colleges” by “US News & World Report.” Along with the growing popularity of this annual rite of self-congratulation and self-abnegation have arrived some major controversy and cynicism. Who, after all, gets to decide what is “best”? And best for whom? Should “self-reporting” of test scores and “peer ratings” affect a college’s ranking and, consequently, high schoolers’ choice of colleges?

A few brave souls have fought what they consider this horribly abusive system. Most notable of these was Reed College in Oregon, whose president some ten years ago told “US News” to take a hike. Since the editors of “US News” were not a hiking sort of group, they totally nailed good old Reed College, sending this magnificent college precipitously down in the rankings the following year. The people who truly knew Reed (professors, administrators, rival colleges, students), of course, knew Reed as the same great institution of higher learning. But thousands of impressionable high schoolers did not, and Reed’s reputation took a temporary hit.

“US News” recently let it be known that any college refusing to provide them with its standardized test scores would be arbitrarily assigned a mean test score one standard deviation below that of its immediate peer group, and that the college’s ranking would reflect this “lower” score. Was this an abuse of power? Was it worth fighting over? Well, a rebellious group of small liberal arts colleges (calling themselves “The Annapolis Group”) has decided to band together in defiance of the tyranny of “US News” and withhold certain information deemed crucial by the magazine. Will the magazine cave in and use other criteria? Will it cease this silly rite-of-spring and do something important, like ranking beautiful celebrities? Or will the colleges suffer like hungry strikers on the picket line, glaring resentfully at their “scab” competitors who dance to “US News’” tune and mysteriously move up in the rankings?

Stay tuned! Look out for word on THE ANNAPOLIS GROUP!

July 10, 2007 – Woulda, Coulda, Shoulda

July 10, 2007 – It’s mid-July and the June ACT and SAT scores have been sent. AP scores are trickling in. At this point a lot of students are saying to no one in particular, “I would like to apply to one of the UC’s, which require SAT-II’s, but I didn’t even know there WAS an SAT-II Single Subject exam in such-and-such an area. Why didn’t anybody tell me? Why didn’t anybody tell me?? Arrrggghhh!!” Well, it’s probably too late to worry about that now. If you took biology as a freshman, someone might indeed have told you to take the Biology exam in the spring of freshman year. If you aced US History as a junior, someone might indeed have told you in advance to take the SAT-II in that subject in the spring. But”they” didn’t. So we move on.

What now? First, don’t despair. Whereas most of the Single Subject exams are best taken at the end of the academic year, some can be taken at almost anytime. Literature, for instance. And, if you are fluent or near-fluent in French, German, or Spanish, the Listening exams for these languages are offered in November (and November only). If you wanted to take the Math I exam last spring but missed it, you can probably take it (or even Math II) in the fall without risk to your score.

That being said, here’s some advice for you freshmen (’11), sophomores (’10), and juniors (’09): Do not make the same mistake your senior colleagues made. Even if no one in your class knows about the Single Subject exams (including the teacher), go to the College Board website ( and do some research on Single Subject exams. Sometimes the content of these exams is nothing like the content of your classes, but sometimes there is a close match. Be alert! Take advantage of the May or June (2008) test dates to show colleges what you know!

Testing, testing, one, two, three!

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