Suzy Lee Weiss: Where Do I Even Start

Ahhhh spring. The smell of fresh blossoms and warm winds fill the air, and along with them comes the long awaited college admissions decisions. The hype was as crazy as ever with “record breaking” admit rates at many schools, but this year the media buzz surrounded one young woman from PA who wrote an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal to all of the schools that rejected her.

Suzy Lee Weiss’s piece, “To (All) the Colleges that Rejected Me”

I honestly don’t even know where to start with this piece. I watched a t.v. interview of her where she claimed that it was satire and she was trying to make a point, and oh boy, did she. I found her “point” to be offensive, mean spirited, and frankly deaf to her own privilege. She does not mention anywhere in her op-ed that she was able to publish this because her sister worked at the WSJ, and her parents also had a lavish spread in the WSJ of their beautiful home a year or so ago.

For this young lady, who knows nothing about the admissions process beyond her 6 months of writing up an application, to accuse schools of only accepting those who have had “sob stories” or “challenges” for the sake of diversity, is beyond absurd. For her to go after Native American students, children of gay parents, students who do volunteer work, is just pathetic. I am frankly glad that so many schools saw her for exactly what she was. Average. Boring. Would not contribute much to a campus community. In the admissions offices where I worked, there were many applicants who would end up in the DENY pile because they were, frankly, just average. The news media freaking out over her 4.0+ GPA and 2000+ SATs and “internship as a page in the U.S. Senate” made me chuckle. At Stanford and Dartmouth I saw tens of THOUSANDS of profiles like that. Honestly, it does not even make me blink or think twice to hit delete on a file like that. I am not saying that to scare students, but I just want them to understand that simply getting good grades and test scores and doing an easy internship (sorry, I’ve seen those pages and sure you wear a geeky jacket, but you aren’t doing much) won’t get you in to the college of your dreams. Suzy was confused – “be yourself” isn’t a formula for success when you are just a boring individual without much to contribute, and you react to your failure by blaming everyone else except for yourself. Pathetic. Get a life girl!

I don’t want to focus too much on Suzy, because I think the real pain that some students who did get into colleges by writing about difficult experiences my feel like they don’t deserve to be at their dream school. I had a lot of times during my first year of college when I just didn’t think I belonged at my school. I thought everyone was smarter than me, and I thought I was an admission mistake. It took me a while to figure out that a lot of my friends thought so too. Especially for my friends who were coming from first generation backgrounds or people who didn’t know a lot of college graduates in their communities back home…this was a huge transition to attend a Ivy League school far away from home. I wish that universities did a better job figuring out ways to support students who are non-traditional and don’t fit in to the stereotype of the traditional Ivy-Leaguer…but I take some comfort in knowing that we can always find each other and support our friends. If you are Native American, if you did grow up with two moms, if you did start your own non-profit, own that experience, and don’t let negative Nancies who can’t get their own act together get in the way of your success. I certainly would want to be your classmate and NOT Suzy’s.

I saw that she was admitted to University of Michigan in her t.v. interview, and I hope that she has a good 4 years in college learning about herself and the world around her.

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Avoid Crushing Debt – Don’t Allow Your Parents to Shoulder Your Loans

Our parents raise us and help us with everything, but what if our student expenses drive them to take out huge loans that cripples them forever? I recently read a terrifying article in the NYT about families that are burdened by debt that their students took out in order to finance their education. From a mother who has to move in with her daughter to a family strained by a father’s suicide, many American seniors are finding that their children’s debts are getting in their way of retirement. With the economic recession already hurting families, loan repayments that are in the hundreds of dollars a month makes it even harder for families.

What saddens me most is the lack of understanding that parents and students have when they take out these loans. The student wants the best education possible from their dream school, and parents want to do everything in their power to make it work for their kids. In the worst case scenario; however, this can prove to be a disaster for kids and parents alike. With the difficult job market, almost a quarter of recent graduates are under/unemployed. While there is a short deferment period, once the monthly payments start, it can be very hard to keep up without a steady income.

During this election cycle both candidates focused on educational loans in one way or another. President Obama wanted to increase Pell Grants and open access to more students, while on the other hand Governor Romney said that students can “borrow from their parents” in order to pay tuition. Romney’s policy showed a huge gap between the reality of financing a college education and his out of touch views.

So, what can families do to avoid these traps?

1. Please make sure you understand the financial aid offers from your schools. You can compare packages and get a financial aid officer to explain to you what the difference is between grants, loans, and scholarships. Great news from the Dept of Education – more than 500 schools have signed on to using a “shopping sheet” to be able to compare college costs. Check out the sample sheet below! Follow Dept of Education and Sec. Arne Duncan (@arneduncan) on twitter to learn more and follow the updates.

2. Figure out what your monthly payments will be after graduation with the amount of debt that you are signing onto. Are you going to be able to pay back that amount with the type of work that you want to do? Figure out median salaries for fresh graduates in your field as well as from your school!

3. Have honest and frank conversations with your parents about what you can afford as a family. Your parents should not have to take out another mortgage or dip in to their retirement funds to pay for college. There are colleges out there with generous financial aid programs and plenty of scholarship organizations that can help. Trust me…you don’t want $100K in debt for your BA…especially if you want to go to graduate school. Prestige and rankings for a good school (I know Asian American families are all about that) is NOT worth it.

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Positive Trends: Record Number of Americans Attain College Education

The New York Times reports that a record number of Americans attain college degrees. According to a new Pew Research Center Report, for the first time, one third of Americans aged 25-29 have completed at least a Bachelors Degree. The United States had been lagging behind other nations in college attainment, which is a shame when we are the world’s richest nation.

I’m so encouraged to see that young people today see the value of higher education, because lifetime earnings of college students continue to be much higher than high school graduates. The report says:

“A new Pew Research Center analysis, using Census Bureau data, estimates that the typical adult with a bachelor’s degree (but no further education) will earn $1.42 million over a 40-year career, compared with $770,000 for a typical high school graduate.”

Check out this cool infographic about college attainment:

 

What is most interesting to me is the data that immigrant children are attaining the highest levels of college-going rates in history! Congrats to all of our graduates…and here’s an embarrassing picture of my friends and me from our graduation from back in the day.

 

Please Let My Asian Americans Vote…Seriously.

While the election results have come in and the news cycle has moved onto other events, the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF) and and the Advancement Project as well as other legal watch organizations are reporting that many Asian Americans faced discrimination at their voting cites.

What is this, 1952? After spending my summer learning about election and voting laws and registering people to vote, this news enrages me. The fact that Korean American seniors were made to prove their CITIZENSHIP (something that poll workers have NO rights to do) in GA, or that Vietnamese Americans did not have interpreters in PA when they are legally entitled to have them for voter assistance is beyond ridiculous.

AALDEF Democracy Program Director was quoted: “What I’ve seen so many times is when you have a community that’s growing and excited to participate in American democracy … you often see a countervailing force that pushes them down or pushes them back,” Magpantay said. “It’s heartbreaking. These are Korean grandmothers. They want to vote. They are proud to be Americans.”

More examples:

Korean American Voters Turned Away 

Asian Americans are making up more and more of the Democratic base, and are proving to be a strong political force as the nation’s fastest growing immigrant group. While African Americans and Latino were also targeted for voter intimidation, the status of Asian Americans as the “perpetual foreigner” makes them sadly an easy target. The fact that at some voting stations Asian Americans were made to wait while Whites voted or intimidated from voting makes me so angry. Elections are the one time in America where your voice is equal to every other person in this country, and Asian Americans were not allowed to exercise their right.

I applaud organizations like AALDEF who sent over 800 volunteers to many locations around the nation to monitor polls. I participated in my neighborhood (DC Chinatown), and being informed of what polling workers could and could not do made me feel better about ensuring that people who were facing problems would be able to report it and have legal investigations enacted on their behalf.

Hint to high school students: this would be an excellent volunteer opportunity to show civic participation. I worked with many high school students over the past summer, and let me tell you, it’s an amazing opportunity to work on a political campaign. Two of them got to attend the DNC and see President Obama speak…what an inspiration!

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Best Values in Private College & Financial Aid – 5 Things to Know Before You Sign That Loan Promissory Note

Recently I had a great chat with a friend about school tuition, student loans, and earnings post college. So few students know about the TRUE cost of college, and it really scares me. Both my friend and I were joking around that we had NO idea what it meant to sign loan forms when we were first year college students, and that these loans could add up so quickly. I’ve written before that a good estimate should be that for every $10,000 you take out in loans, you should expect to pay at least $100 in loans every month for the next ten years. So, if you take out $60,000 over 4 years, you would have to pay $600 every month. With the unemployment rate of young college grads being so high these days, these numbers should worry all of us.

Here are things you must know before you sign those loans:

1) Average Amount of Debt for Graduating Students: These numbers should be published by each school, and I recommend a great article by Kiplinger’s Personal Finance this month that has a ranking of Private College and their debt rates. Please do your research before going to a school that you can’t afford! What many students don’t realize is that there are certain schools, like Yale University, that have an extremely high sticker price, but have some of the most generous financial aid programs in the county. If you end up going there and you are coming from a modest income family, you can actually pay less than in-state tuition. Check out the rankings here.

2) Graduation Rates : Please, please, please find out if the school graduates students on time (4-6 years). These rates are a good indicator of how much support students are getting, and is also tied to their employ-ability after graduation.

3) Financial Aid Support and Types of Aid : Please read my blog post on the different types of aid. There are federal loans, university grants, federal grants, scholarships, and private loans. Understand where your money is coming from and when/how you have to pay it back.

4) Loan Forgiveness Programs (Federal and University Programs): I speak to a lot of kind heart-ed and generous young people who want careers “helping others.” That’s great. I love it, but these jobs, in reality, do not always pay the best salaries. Students can see if there are loan forgiveness program – for example for teacher who teach math and science in low income communities or get federal jobs with the State Department, etc (that’s what I’m doing), where in ten years you can cancel your loans. Do your research about income-based repayment plans too!

5) Average Salary of Graduates: Another great stat that you can find out from rankings and research. Of course, there is going to be a big difference whether you major in engineering (like my friend who will always have great job options) or government (like me…who was at a loss at first about what to do with my life)

I hope this helps you with your research, and make sure to compare financial aid packages between schools to ensure that you are making the best choice for you and your family! And sorry about the crappy picture below…

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Oh Asian Americans! You gotta Vote!

My new friend J. sent me this great infographic on who voted in the 2008 presidential elections…and no drum roll please because Asian Americans voted the lowest amongst White, Black, and Hispanic and Asian Americans. Nooooo…that’s not good! I’m working in my home state to get people registered, but I need to start targeting my Asian American brothers, sisters, grandmas, etc. One of the super interns: W. at our office went to the Chinese Senior Center and got 11 residents registered with in an HOUR. WOW. That’s amazing y’all, because normally it takes me like an hour to get two, maybe three people registered. What a champ! I love working with enthusiastic young people who have their lives together!

Let’s take a look at this – women tend to vote more, White people tend to vote more, rich people tend to vote more, etc…and on and on…why does my state have to show up in the lowest turn out rates!? Whack.

Also, I know some of you are thinking “When are you going to start writing about college admission again?” – sorry! I am totally engrossed in political campaign stuff this summer, so it’s on my mind. Anyways, it’s good for you to volunteer at political campaigns! What a wonderful way to learn about the political process, campaign strategy, and get to rub shoulders with VIPs…campaigns are powered by volunteers! I did not see that many high school students that were involved in campaigns in the college admissions process! What a great way to stand out!

On a personal note…I’m kind of stressed because I am preparing for my move to DC. Sorry if I go MIA again!

Asian Americans Overwhelmingly Vote Democrat

So, I’m trying to learn how to use “twitter,” and it’s actually quite amazing…I’ve been following Randall Yip @AsAmNews and he tweeted an interesting post about minorities and their party preferences!

According to this piece, the break down for Asian Americans is 24% Republican and 61% DEMOCRAT!

So fascinating! If you are on twitter, you should follow @AsAmNews because he has up-to-date information on the Asian American community!

Maybe I’ll try to make a twitter for this blog…