MOOCs Replacing SATs? I’m a Kevin Carey fan!

I’m loving the buzz around Kevin Carey, the director of the education policy program at New America. I first heard him interviewed through the weekly podcast that New America published on March 5th. He challenges the traditional college model and says that U.S. higher education is ripe for disruption. It’s a must listen for folks who are thinking about the future of higher education and how it might evolve in the next decade. (I also loved that I could listen to this podcast from SoundCloud directly from a Tweet, where I initially found the podcast, very cool).

In a recent article in the Washington Post, Carey continues to challenge the idea that 16, 17 year olds learn best from the traditional brick and mortar universities, where they sit in classrooms and learn from lectures. I particularly like his argument that MOOCs and other new assessment tools will level the application playing field and challenge what is now an outdated admissions system that most highly selective institutions still rely on to craft their newly admitted classes.

He points out that the factors used in applications, from GPAs, Testing, and Essays can all be “gamed,” and that they aren’t necessary accurate predictors of how a student will perform in college. I’m not sure that I agree with that opinion, since highly selective schools are prone to graduating higher rates of students and having them go on to succeed professionally, but I agree with his argument that more factors can show whether or not a high school student is ready for college level work.

Carey’s explanation that “MOOC success is much more likely to predict success in college classes than SAT scores, because MOOC success is, in fact, success in college classes,” makes sense, but I wonder if the students who are able to succeed in these MOOCs will be the same demographics of students who already have a leg up, with educated parents, excellent high schools and internal motivation. I love MOOCs, and I’ve presented on them through my current position with the Department of State, but I also know that they have a 2% completion rate on average, and the majority of MOOC students already have a BA degree. Of course, you see the amazing article here and there about the Mongolian 15 year old genius who took MIT MOOCs and ultimately enrolled at the prestigious institute (Carey also uses him as the ultimate poster child for what can go right in a MOOC fueled world!) …but those examples seem, well exceptional. If I’m a low income student coming from an under-resourced high school, am I going to have the tools/environment it takes to complete a MOOC course? I guess it all depends on motivation, because some of those types of students also aim for the Ivy League.

Expanded educational access through technology is definitely a positive trend, and I’m excited to read further analysis by Carey on the future of admissions.


History of the Admissions Application

Today I’m sharing and interesting piece from the NYT that chronicles the history of the college application.

While I think the Common Application (with a whopping 517 colleges and universities participating) cuts down the anxiety of having to fill out multiple forms to apply to schools, I do remember my former admissions dean complaining that the ease of applying drives up applications from students who may not be competitive for that school. This year, the application is fraught with controversy, as the article mentions, because of technical errors and glitches. What you don’t want is hundreds of thousands of stressed out high school students and their parents complaining about glitches in the system that can delay or cancel an application! Good luck to the schools out there dealing with that…! Thanks to the NYT for the graphic below:

It’s the one month countdown for the Jan 1 deadline for most Regular Decision schools! Good luck!  Image

NYU and ETS Support Dis-aggregation of AAPI in Admissions — Great Report with Case Studies

I’m grateful to my friends and former colleagues who send me AAPI/Admissions related articles. Today’s update is an important one — albeit it’s a little outdated since it came out this past summer — but is JAM packed with great arguments on why admissions offices / testing organizations/ higher education in general needs to see AAPIs as separate and independent groups. I’ve argued before that clumping all AAPIs makes no sense when they have historical/immigration/income/educational attainment differences (just to name a few).

This article from Inside HigherEd gives a succinct summary of the full report. I am really impressed that Educational Testing Services, home of the GRE and TOEFL, supported this research. I have to call out the College Board SAT Test and ACT Test for stubbornly using “Asian American Pacific Islander” as one group to ID students. I think the years when I was working at Stanford, even ASIANS FROM ASIA (ie, international students) were clumped in to that data. How stupid is that? Let’s hope further research will encourage organizations to be more sophisticated about our populations.

Below are two graphs with the differences in Median Household Income for Asian American Sub-groups, and their educational attainment in the next graph. Thanks to the NYU CARE report for the data.

As always if you have comments or questions, email me at[at]gmail[dot]com


Reader Response: Educational Attainment in the Hmong Community

Today I want to share a heartfelt letter from a young Hmong woman who explains the lack of educational attainment in her community. Since I worked closely with the Hmong community at Stanford, and I was able to do recruitment programs in Fresno, Sacramento, and other Central Valley cities, I was really interested in her perspective. I think that the lack of peers and adults with higher educational degrees can be a limiting factor for students, and I hope that universities understand that in order to break that cycle, they have to be very aggressive about recruiting talented students from these communitites.

I read your article, “Highly Qualified Students from Low-Income Backgrounds Don’t Apply to Top Colleges”. It reminded me how frustrated I felt when my high school senior baby sister wanted to stay home and go to a community college for a “Nursing” degree because the mentality that “it is not where you attend school, it is how hard you work and how you utlilize your degree”. That mentality is dangerous considering her applying for the Gate Millenium Scholarship.


I asked her, “You are applying for the Gate Scholarhsip and you want to use that fund to go to an over-crowded community college?” She said yes and my parents and my other siblings supported her decision. Here is a kid who is graduating valedictorian, who have such a promising college career but her thought is, “Other people got their degree here, so why not do the same?” She doesn’t understand the world consist of a lot more than a brain drained town.


I agree that in the Hmong community, if one sibling get accepted to a high caliber school then the younger siblings will follow suit. Part of my frustration is that I wasn’t that sibling; I could have but I didn’t aim that far because of the fear that I didn’t want to burden my parents with the debt of attending such high caliber university with a big tuition. There was no one to hold my hands when I was a high senior. But I am here telling her she can do better than a overcrowded university or some burned out university that is cutting classes and prolonging graduation. The response I get is, “Why didn’t you do it then?” Because I didn’t do so; therefore, she think she don’t have to as well.


Other people come to the defense of her decision by saying, “I  went to a community college; those UC kids, they’re not all that! They’re pretty stupid too, you know”, which is beyond the point why I push her to attend anything else either than a community college. I grew up in an environment in which if you have a high school degree or a doctorate then people will bash you for not knowing anything because you only have a high school degree, or being a “smart ass” because you have doctorate degree. And because of stories about young Hmong folks who go off to big universities and come right back to this town to work at the fields instead of being a doctor or a lawyer. Or come back and tell people here the way we live here is wrong because they got to induldge in culture unlike here where the Hmong population is big and stigmas are strong. That really discourage people to seek more because if it is going to turn them into ignorant brats then they don’t want to go there and spend that much money. That instill a mentality that if you see that there are folks who aren’t successful by attending a high caliber university then you don’t have to go there because even people who went there aren’t successful; therefore, it is not the school but the person.


But I see it differently. It is the school that provide the resources and people that one needs to have in order to be successful. It is the school: either you attend one where you constantly fight for classes or where you know you will have a spot in the classroom. She can go where she can meet people who will push her to be successful or stay here and kind of just hang out like all of us here. I feel like a mother who push the child to do something I couldn’t accomplish but it is for her own good. I an older child and I didn’t have a sibling as my personal driver or bank account when I was in high like how she have me and my older siblings as her driver and bank. It is so frustraing and disheartening, it make me sad. Until someone in the family go out and beats the odds and prove everything that had been said about going away to a high caliber university is wrong; until someone break that old mentality that as long as you have a degree then you will be fine in life (employers still care about where you attend school); then everyone will just keep following the same path.


My boyfriend is the same. He wanted to attend [A High Calibe University] for their great English Department but he changed his mind that he don’t want to study English anymore; he want to be a [another degree] so he will settle for his local university. That is not bad but when given the top 10 choices for him to pick from, he said he don’t want to because it is cheap to go to the local school, even though he will be transferring out from the community college with honors and a GI Bill package. Money is not the problem here. The problem is people are too well rooted where they are. But he is bright enough to tell me, “You don’t want me to stay here because you don’t want me to be rooted here just like you. You don’t want me to get stuck here in this small town just like you.” OF COURSE. Plus, he is the youngest child and he don’t need to stay home and work to provide for his family. Everyone else can take care of themselves so why is he limited himself?


My suggestion is to break the poor man’s mentality that he should be complacent with what he have. If we are all complacent with what we have, our people and our community will not advance. High school counselors are not trained to do that. They were trained to tell us how to apply for college. They don’t know why we think any college is good enough for us. Rick Santorum said people shouldn’t attend college, they just need to work hard. The reason is he don’t want other people competing with him – he don’t want young poor colored kids to learn about working smart where you don’t have to shed a sweat, competing with him for equal power and money. We are just going along with it when we settle for last.”

Thank you so much for sharing your perspective, and I hope that as educational professionals, family members, and community leaders, we are able to support our young people reach their highest goals for education.

Do you have comments that you’d like to share with this reader or me? Please write at us at[at]gmail[dot]com


Stanford University’s Hmong student group used to help with recruitment outreach with an overnight admissions visit and workshop! It would be so wonderful if students at different univesrities could help their siblings and communitites in this way too!

“Personal Statement”- Hilarious YA Novel About Admissions Arms Race


Screaming “Let Me In” at the top of your lungs….

Thanks to the generosity of Ms. Saira Rao over at In This Together Media, I spent the last three days engrossed in Personal Statement, a hilarious young adult novel about the perils of the college admissions arms race. The author, Emmy-nominated Jason Odell Williams, has the keen ability to climb into the minds of over-stressed, competitive teenagers in a privileged suburb of CT as they plot and plan their way into their perfect “personal statement” scenario: natural disaster volunteering. On their journey, they discover that perhaps they’ve lost their way, and question whether or not the stress they face is worth the battle! I commend Mr. Williams for taking often ignored but bubbling under the surface topics like race (Asian American stereotype – one of my favorite topics), class, privilege, the technology revolution and its impact on education and pressure to succeed by any means necessary(!!!) all in this short novel targeted toward young adults getting ready for the college process!

The four characters, Emily Kim, Robert Clinton III, Alexis J. Could, and Rani Caldwell, all read like familiar applicants…probably because I read personal statements from many students like them during my former career as an admissions officer at Stanford University. The four of them are highly motivated, academically excellent, cut-throat competitive and don’t take “NO” for an answer. They are also personifications of privilege and wealth, and aside from Emily and two romantic interests that come and go, almost all benefit from their parent’s educational background and societal know-how. I was impressed how Mr. Williams can ferociously mock Asian American stereotypes (with the Korean American immigrant parents dressing Emily in Ivy League one-zies) as well as wealthy legacy African Americans (using “summer” as a verb and trying to keep connected with their “folks in the community”), while at the same time keeping up with teenage tech and lingo…I would recommend it to parents just that they can get a primer on the newest app that their kids are using! (While at the same time, I worry that the technology citations will make the book lose it’s “newness” as trends come and go…)

For me, two things really stood out: the parents who don’t listen to what their kids want, and the kids who are “racing to no where” with their ambitions in hand. All of the main characters are balancing their genuine and sometimes desperate need to please their parents and their own intellectual curiosity and desire to make a difference. Everyone sees college as an end goal – from the kids who want to post their acceptances on social media to the parents who can’t wait to brag to their gym buddies about the future of their offspring! I saw so many parents just like this in information sessions at Dartmouth and Stanford, raising their hands high Tracy Flick style and asking questions about “HOW WILL MY SON MAKE FRIENDS HERE?” while their child was slumped to the side taking a nap. Lady, chill, it’s not about you. I especially loved the dialogue by parents who talk like they themselves work in the admissions offices (ex. “I know for a fact that XXX got your sister in to Princeton”), even though when they applied most of these universities were letting one out of every three applicant in. The main take away from me was that parents should focus on the kid in front of them rather than wishing for someone else, and for students to take a moment to truly reflect on what will make a satisfying and meaningful college experience that will contribute to their growth and happiness. Of course, that’s easier said than done. All in all, I couldn’t put this novel down, and the first few chapters were especially hilarious that I laughed out loud. Thanks and congrats so much for your debut novel and hope to see more of your writing in the future!

One last word about In This Together Media — which I think is a wonderful publishing organization (started on Kickstarter? How cool is that!) that supports authors who write novels that focus on girls’ empowerment! I was even excited to see one of my former colleague’s books on the site as a Amazon best seller! Keep up the great work! If you’re ever looking for non-fiction about college admissions, please let me know! I’d love to work with you!

See, Admissions Deans and Officers are Human…Dealing with Aftermath of Boston Bombings

I can’t even start to describe the fear and sadness I felt, along with my classmates and friends in the Boston area, over the recent bombings during the Boston Marathon. The insecurity felt in the entire city echoed throughout the cable news and social networks was so intense. I was on my iPhone with many of my friends who live in Watertown, who heard the shots only a mile or so away from their apartment.

There aren’t any adequate words to show the sorrow I have for the families of the victims and injured. It was surreal to see my old neighborhood splashed across the news screen as if it was a movie.

While all of the searches for the suspect was going on, Harvard University was supposed to be hosting the admitted students from the Class of 2017. I’m not trying to belittle the situation or the event. I am sure it was crazy to be in Boston, but I wanted to highlight how amazing the admissions staff of Harvard was in responding to the need of students who flew in from all parts of the world and then were stuck in the airport. I remember during my college days going on buses to receive admitted students, and how the energy was electric and so exciting. I am amazed at how the Dean, who went HIMSELF to the airport, and other staff members took care of many of the students and cared for them while the search continued outside near Watertown.

What a great way for a community to show how they take care of their students, and it’s also heart-warming to see that current students came online using social networks and media to make new students feel welcome!

I know that there must be disappointed students out there all over the nation who didn’t get into their top choice schools….and it’s tough. I get that. I got rejected from seven out of eight schools I applied to! I just want you to know; however, that admission officers are not EVIL. They are people, doing their job, trying to find the students that are the right fit for the institutions where they work. We also get really sad when we are not able to admit the students that we love as well…and I would sometimes have to excuse myself during a committee meeting during admissions and cry about a student that I really wanted to admit. It happens. We are human…and I think that Dean Fitzsimmons and his staff showed that last weekend.

Bravo Harvard!

Google Drive Full of Columbia Admissions Essays?

I try not to get caught up in the rumor mill/craze of college admissions, but this is just so different…I never saw anything like this before.

I know that young people are a lot more open with their personal lives online, but wow…the class of 2017 published their college admissions essays on a public Google Drive one day ago…letting the whole world see what they shared with the admissions office!

Gawker has a great article about it, and so does IvyGate. It’s even on The Atlantic’s blog! I’m so sad that I can’t open up the Google Drive to see the essays…because I am sure there are some true gems in there.

On the positive side, I think that reading successful essays can inspire and help other high school students…so I think that’s great. It’s free, it’s open, and I guess we are all crowd-sourcing solutions to different problems, so why not with college admissions too…

On the negative side…these are PERSONAL statements. They are supposed to be about one SINGLE person. You can model and read other’s essays but at the end of the day you have to choose the best way to represent yourself. Only you can do that.

I do have to say, after my jaw hitting the floor with Suzy Lee Weiss’s mean-spirited ramblings, I thought this was a cute, open prank.