Raising the Bar: Higher Competition Complicates College Admissions Process

12/01/2008 1 comment

Raising the Bar: Higher Competition Complicates College Admissions Process

By Christina Edwards

December 1, 2008

High school graduation: the end of an era. A milestone transition from childhood to legal adulthood. A choice on where to go next.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics out of the US Department of Labor, 67.2 percent of high school graduates made the choice to enroll in a college or university, a choice made in increasingly large numbers; this is a jump even from the class of 2006’s 65.8 percent college enrollment.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that college enrollment has been rising since 2001, where 61.7 percent had enrolled in post-secondary education.

As these numbers rise, high school education has seen a shift towards preparation towards a more competitive college admissions climate.

Schools have seen the implementation of increasing amounts of Advanced Placement (AP) classes, SAT and ACT preparation classes, and students clamoring for leadership positions in various extracurricular activities.

This brings several questions to the forefront: can US high schools support the new climate? Is high level competition a help or a hindrance? And how, in a sea of near-perfect GPAs and test scores, does a student stand out?

High School Students: “It’ll Look Good on My Application.”

Sojung Ko, a junior at Roberson High School in Asheville, NC, is currently enrolled in four college level courses; she’s already completed one. She is heavily involved in her school’s National Honor Society, Odyssey of the Mind, and is the student government vice president.

“[The AP classes] are definitely more challenging than honors class,” says Ko. “You have to study extra hours just to make at least a B in classes. Even though I might not do well in classes, AP classes build up my endurance and dedication.”

Ko says she was advised by her brother, a class of 2008 high school graduate, to take her already required math, English, science, and history classes in AP courses; he told her to take AP statistics and environmental science this year to make room for AP calculus and physics her senior year. Her extracurriculars were also planned strategically.

“I chose National Honor society because it shows that I have been able to sustain my GPA pretty high and work hard at school,” says Ko. “I chose student government because it shows that I have leadership and is able to represent my class. Odyssey of the Mind, to able to be involved in a long-term club that competes with other schools. It shows that even with my crazy schedule, I was able to be involved in this kind of club, something more creative.”

Ko’s classmate, junior Molly Ohmen, is only currently enrolled in one AP class, but says her newspaper class, in which she is part of the editorial board, is equally preparing her for college.

“I think that newspaper will be one of the most beneficial things to put on a college application,” says Ohmen. “It helps you deal with real life obstacles like deadlines and has made me more outgoing. I also think that because I have a leadership position and that I have been so dedicated to the class that it will look good on an application.”

A small survey of honors and advanced placement high school juniors, all planning on attending a four year college or university, found 50 percent of students taking 2 AP classes their junior year; 33.3 percent planned to take six AP classes before they graduated.

All students surveyed participated in at least one extracurricular activity, with 58.3 percent participating in more than four. 41.7 percent hold at least one leadership position in an extracurricular activity. 66 percent participated in a sport.

The Two-Sided Push: School Systems and Competition

The school systems, in turn, are adjusting to the competitive climate, and perhaps facilitating the change in mentality.

In 2006, Roberson added an AP world history class; the next year psychology and English language were added, bringing the school’s total to 13 offered AP classes that teach to 15 AP tests. This is in accordance with a Buncombe county wide push for the AP program: 20 AP classes are offered among the six county high schools, and enrollment in AP classes increased by 248 students from fall 2006 to fall 2008.

Guidance counselors at the high school who speak to incoming freshman as they choose their classes recommend that students planning to attend a top university plan to take six AP classes before they graduate.  In 2003, three AP classes were recommended.

Roberson has traditionally encouraged juniors to begin taking AP classes; with the class of 2010, the school began offering an option for advanced students to take a different track of history classesthat would allow them into AP World History as sophomores.

Though the school system supports AP as effective college preparation, some teachers disagree with the push for more APs at an earlier age.

“Personally, I do not know of many, if any, sophomores in high school who could really survive a true college-level course,” Mark Harrison, an English teacher at Roberson, says.  “I think that over the years,schools have focused their attention on easing the standard levels to keep kids from failing, and thus keep them from dropping out. The schools get lots of APs and fewer drop outs, the kids get higher GPAs for doing the same work as they would have in a regular or honors class.  So it seems to work, but it just masks what is really happening… a lowering of expectations across the board.”

Harrison also teaches the communications class at Roberson, which teachers print and broadcast journalism, along with marketing and business skills. Students in the class work during and after school to produce news publications. Harrison argues that class like his, along with classes like band and chorus, make a student stand out more than an AP class would.

“If a student shows they are taking difficult classes as well as being dedicated to sports and hard, consistent classes like band and Communications, they are actually showing themselves as well-rounded, highly-educated and risk-takers, what colleges want in order to find students who stick out in a mass of thousands of students with basically all the same GPAs,” Harrison says.

How I Got to College: Current Students Speculate

Ultimately, what students, parents, teachers, and high school administration are seeking is the surefire path to the acceptance envelope. Yet differing experiences of current college students suggest the quest for a fail-proof formula may be in vein.

Kelley McClure, a sophomore majoring in graphic design at NC State University, took one AP class in high school, Studio Art. She says the class helped her build a portfolio and prepared her for college level critique, but having her design work published in a school newspaper gave her an edge.

“The people in the graphic design department here love published work,” says McClure. “It shows that I have worked with people and as a team with other staff members to create something for the community.”

McClure says she did not feel the need to take high school courses that did not necessarily interest her.

“I actually didn’t really plan my classes and other activities for college, mostly because I prefer doing things that I know I will enjoy and probably take part in later on in life,” McClure says.

Emily Srisarajivakul, a freshman at Northwestern University, argues that high school schedules dull the advantages to AP classes. She says she structured her high school class schedule and extracurriculars around building up her college application. She credits her acceptances to this, but says it did little in terms of actual preparation.

“Classes here are way more rigorous because we’re on a quarter schedule; I’m used to classes being spread out over a year,” Srisarajivakul said. “We have three months to learn everything. But I placed out of some courses, so I have more freedom to take electives.”

Inside the Admissions Office

For colleges admissions offices, the real test is in weighting the value of all of the competitive achievement.

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC), part of the NC system of public universities, has seen twenty percent increase in applications in the last five years.

“We don’t use formulas or cutoffs or thresholds; no one is automatically admitted or denied because of a single number. We understand that students travel many different roads to get to Carolina, and we celebrate the variety of interests, backgrounds and aspirations that they bring with them,” says Ashley T. Memory, senior assistant director of undergraduate admissions at UNC.

UNC emphasizes well-rounded academic excellence, and uses extracurriculars, admissions essays, and test scores to further assess students.

“We pay particular attention to the rigor of each candidate’s course of study. We encourage juniors and seniors, when possible, to take the most difficult programs available at their school.  If AP, IB, or Honors classes are available, we encourage students to take these classes,” said Memory.

Elon University, a NC private university, uses test score cutoffs to reduce its applicant pool, in addition to weighing academic performance and difficulty of coursework, according to Greg Zaiser, Dean of Admissions. The school received about 9340 applications for 1290 spots for the class of 2012. Distinguishing between students for admittance can often come down to a single differing factor.

“Because so many student applicants have strong academic profiles, we have had to reevaluate the way we utilize the essay and activities in the admissions process,” said Zaiser.  “While the academic is always paramount, a student with a stronger essay than another, all other things being equal, could be given one of the seats in the class.”

Colleges have seemingly backed themselves into a corner, albeit a positive one to be in. As the desire for post-secondary education grows, a new dilemma appears: what happens to prestige when everyone is good enough?

Maybe prestige does not matter after all, and somewhere there is a place for everyone.

Or maybe there will be a new way to raise the bar.




Twitter: A Microblogging Review

Twitter provides constant, accessible stream of information

By Christina Edwards

November 21, 2008

There’s no such thing as too rapid when it comes to information, at least for the three million plus users on Twitter.

Twitter is a free microblogging service that launched on the Web in 2006. Messages posted are 140 characters or less, which provides a constant stream of short informational updates. Users range from news organizations such as CNN, to bloggers and the average citizen keeping friends and family updated easily.

“With its requirement for people to squeeze their thoughts into 140 characters or less, Twitter is a perfect tool for a fast-paced, mobile society,” said Janna Anderson, director of a research project called Imagining the Internet. “Compressed information fits and it offers quick-hitting details we can apply to our lives. Most of the early adopters using Twitter to communicate today are writing on the road, from conferences, sales calls and other mobile situations in which they want to share tightly written information chunks. It first caught on at the South By Southwest media conference in Austin, Texas, just a couple of years ago. It has since been used by political campaigns, businesses and media organizations to quickly brief people on developing situation.”

As someone fairly familiar with the Internet world of information, I’ve only had a marginal experience with Twitter, having seen updates streamed on blogs. I signed up for an account and started exploring.

The Accesiblity Factor

Twitter is free and takes just a few minutes to set up. All that’s required is an email and a password, so Twitter gets automatic points for the easy sign up process. At the same time, anyone can sign up, which comes with the implications of an unfiltered “news” stream.

Posting a message is easy, too: the textbox is at the top of the page. It also counts how many characters used as you type. Simple.

Searching for news feeds to follow becomes a little more difficult. When you enter in a search term, the engine brings up every message containing the terms. The advanced search option allows you to specify whether you are searching words or conversations or places. Searching for specific users is not easily accessible.

How Informative Is It?

How informative Twitter is depends on how often a newsfeed is updated. Updates can happen constantly. I decided to “follow” the US World and News Report, BBC, and the Huffington Post. The Huffington Post, over a course of four hours, updated constantly, providing news every few minutes.

The pertinence of the information, however, is another matter entirely. Over the same four hours, the most talked about subject was the new Twilight movie—on the same day Hillary Clinton said she would accept a Secretary of State nomination.

The Format

Twitter is formatted to be unintimidating. The layout of the actual site can be chosen by the user: the choices are reminiscent of personal blogging platform Livejournal. This doesn’t have to be a stuffy, professional news atmosphere to getting information: a plus for civilian accessibility, but slightly off-putting to the professional.

The stream of news feeding on the home page is both immediate enough to appeal to those searching for constant information and comforting to those more used to Facebook status updates.


Twitter is an effective means of communicating short messages in a more than timely manner. But I’m not yet convinced that it’s the future of information: it’s shallowly informative. And currently, finding real information is like sifting through soil to find gems.

My Twitter feed, as I set up my account.

Timeline of Online Journalism

Journalism in the Perez Hilton Generation

The Division of News and Gossip

By Christina Edwards

November 19, 2008

The journalist’s job is to inform, to provide the general population with the current information about the world, country, and community they live in. The average citizen has the right to know when happens are effecting their lives, and it is the journalist’s job to serve and protect that right. The first amendment covers freedom of the press for that very purpose, Sunshine Centers have been introduced to assist the journalist in fighting for that right. But in a country that also names privacy as a first amendment right, where is the line between informative, intrusive, or even frivolous?

The recent election season has brought to the forefront questions of journalistic necessity, particularly where families of candidates (including underaged children) are concerned. It can be argued that the candidates are the one running for office, not the family, but what happens when the family provides news relevant to the campaign?

In late August, Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin announced that her 17-year-old daughter Bristol was pregnant. This was immediately followed by a media blitz, covered everywhere from gossip websites to CNN. The coverage, in turn, was immediately criticized by right wing organizations as exploitation.

Palin announced her daughter’s pregnancy at a press conference. Palin is a known advocate of both the pro-life movement and abstinence only education in schools. Palin in essence allowed for this event to be covered, and there is arguable relevancy. The original coverage of the event? Within the rights of reporting.

In the weeks after the news broke, articles appeared reporting on the Myspace Web sites of both Bristol Palin and the reported father, Levi Johnston. These included pictures taken of the teens drinking and quotes taken from Johnston’s page where he had written “I don’t want kids.”
Articles like these breech a level of appropriateness. While it can be argued relevant that a pro-life candidate has a pregnant teenage daughter and child with Down’s Syndrome, the necessity of investigative judgment on the life of a candidate’s child becomes blurred.

On the other side of the partisan pond, one of the hot topics surrounding President Elect Barack Obama (besides what breed of dog the family will adopt) concerns what school his two young daughters will attend when relocated to Washington D.C.

Last week, the New York Times ran an article titled “Parents’ Night with the President,” which reported on elite Washington private schools reportedly looked at by the family vying for the Obamas’ attendance. This topic was also addressed in a recent interview with Obama and his wife Michelle on CBS.

Obama’s democratic education platform addresses several reforms to the public school system and stresses the importance of investing in the quality of public schools. In Chicago, his daughters attended private school, and all of the reported top school choices for the Obamas are private. In terms of where Obama stands on education, the decision he makes on where to send his own children can be considered relevant.

The New York Times ran another article on Tuesday addressing the Obama girls—this time on a tour the were given of the White House by Jenna and Barbara Bush. In the article, there is explicit mention that this was a private event: “The visit was strictly private, with no media coverage or photos.”
Was this article harmful to either the Obama or Bush family? Would it have been harmful to have a couple of photographers snapping pictures? Was this some top secret matter of national security? Probably not, on all counts.
But it wasn’t really relevant to anything, either.

What this comes down to is a matter of privacy. It is not wrong to report that an event happened, or to draw attention to a public website. There’s nothing illegal or even arguably morally reprehensible about these articles.

But just because something can be reported on doesn’t mean it’s newsworthy or necessary. Will it be read? Probably.

But there’s a line between news and gossip, and it’s also the journalist’s job to decide where that line is.

Categories: News: Editorial

Starbucks, Ben and Jerry’s, and others provide incentive for voting

Companies provide incentive to get out the vote

By Christina Edwards

November 4, 2008

Courtesy my.barackobama.com

Courtesy my.barackobama.com

This election, exercising your right to vote can earn you the right to free food and beverages.

On November 4, participating Starbucks stores offered a free 12 oz. coffee to anyone who voted. According to Kaleigh Plumb, a worker at the Burlington Square Mall store, this incentive has proved popular: business doubled throughout the day.

“We’ve had a really good turn out,” said Plumb. “I didn’t personally expect it, because we didn’t really advertise for very long. But I guess people saw it and talked about it.”

In addition to Starbucks, Ben and Jerry’s, Krispy Kreme, and Shane’s Rib Shack also offered free merchandise for election day, though these establishments did not require customers to vote first.

Shane’s Rib Shack’s election day promotion gave away orders of free chicken tenders to the first 300 customers. A manager at the Alamance Crossing store declined to speak about the decision for the promotion.

Krispy Kreme’s 85 company-owned stores gave away star shaped donuts, and encouraged its 145 franchises to do the same.

Ben and Jerry’s offered free scoops of ice cream between 5-8 p.m. to any customer at participating stores. The company also launched a Facebook event to advertise the promotion, as well as a section of their website called I Voted.

“Starbucks likes to take part in doing good things for the community and the country,” said Plumb. “Our company is very involved in everything, I think we just wanted to encourage people to go out and vote.”

Ben and Jerry’s “I Voted” Site

Starbucks Election Day Ad.

Categories: News, Uncategorized Tags:

Elon Water Ski Club Becomes Official

Water ski club takes off

by Christina Edwards
October 29, 2008

Elon may be hours from the coast but the water sports scene has still found its way to campus.

The 21 members of Elon’s month-old Water Ski Club take advantage of Burlington’s Lake Cammack, located only 11 miles from campus.

The club became official Sept. 22, after two years of effort from president Brice McHale.

“It was a slow process, but I think the school wanted to make sure it was done right,” McHale said.

McHale has been an avid water skier since the age of 6, but hadn’t thought about bringing the sport to Elon until chemistry professor Eugene Grimley approached him.

“The first thing you have to do [to start a campus organization] is get an adviser,” McHale said. “Dr. Grimley actually contacted me a week or two into freshman year and asked if I would be interested.”

Nearly a year had gone by when Anna Powell, a sophomore from Fuquay-Varina, N.C., joined the club and everything began to fall into place.

Powell’s parents allowed the club to use their boat and helped them gain access to Lake Cammack.

Before they could become an officially recognized Elon organization, both McHale and Grimley had to go through extensive safety coordinator training.

“Elon was very meticulous in making sure everything was done right,” McHale said. “I think they just wanted to make sure we did everything safely.”

The club has already participated in competitions, including a South Atlantic Conference Regional competition.

The club is ranked 45th out of the 74 east coast teams.

“We have a wide variety of experience,” McHale said. “We have people who have been doing competitions, and we have people who have just started. We have the full spectrum.”

He has been water skiing since he was 6 years old, and began skiing competitively when he was just seven. However, unlike McHale, some club members are new to competing.

“Before this club, I had [water] skied one time,” freshman Erik Higbee said. “I just heard about it, and wanted to give it a chance. I think after five practices I was doing the slalom mini course.”

Club members practice at Lake Cammack on Thursdays when the lake is closed to the general public.

“We have one of the best collegiate water ski setups,” McHale said. “We have the slalom course, and it’s regularly available to us.”

Categories: Features

Ahmed Fadaam, Iraqi journalist, visits Elon

Information, understanding key in Iraq war according to journalist.

By Christina Edwards

October 22, 2008

Ahmed Fadaam addresses the war in Iraq and the role media plays.

Ahmed Fadaam addresses the war in Iraq and the role media plays.

Dr. Ahmed Fadaam is an accidental journalist.

Until 2003, he was a professor of fine arts at the University of Baghdad. He was a figurative artist, working with clay, marble and stone. He lived in Baghdad with his two children and his wife.

Until the school he was teaching at was destroyed in a 2003 bombing.

“You can’t even feel safe inside your house,” Fadaam said of the turmoil in Iraq.

After the bombings, Fadaam was out of a job. He was then hired as a translator for NPR’s The Connection, going on in May 2003 to work for The Agence France Presse as an interpreter, videographer, reporter, courtroom artist and photographer. Presently, he is working as the Baghdad reporter for The Story with Dick Gordon on WUNC North Carolina Public Radio, and for the Baghdad Bureau of the New York Times.

“Art was my life at that time. I couldn’t imagine myself as a man who would chase stories,” Fadaam said. “I was trying to lock myself up in my own paradise.”

Since falling into journalism, Fadaam’s work has won five awards, including the Edward R. Murrow Award for Continuing Coverage. While at Elon University as a scholar-in-residence, Fadaam spoke to journalism students October 22 about the role of media in the war and future relations between the United States and Iraq.

“It’s curiosity,” Fadaam said. Some people believe what they hear, others have to check it out for themselves. I don’t know if I’m a good [journalist], but I did something.”

Fadaam speaks to Janna Anderson's class at Elon University October 22.

Fadaam speaks to Janna Anderson's class at Elon University October 22.

His work and achievement has come with its consequences. Fadaam has received death threats for his affiliation with western media, causing him to move his wife and children to Syria for safety.

“We’re looked at as spies, as blood traitors,” Fadaam said. “But as long as you know you’re telling the truth. When you want to fight back, it’s not necessary to use weapons. We do it with words, with the truth.”

According to Fadaam, in the early days of the war in Iraq, it was only the Americans and the American media that was looked at with distrust by the Iraqi people.

“It would have been better to introduce yourself as Canadian,” Fadaam said, noting that he was better received by Iraqi citizens when working for the French news organization.

Now, he says, all western media is seen as equal to American. Fadaam also notes that he believes eventually, Iraq will be completely anti-American.

Western media, according to Fadaam, is similarly distrustful of Iraqis. He says Iraqi sources are looked at as exaggerating and trying to spread propaganda.
Fadaam says that in order for Iraqi relations with Americans to become stable, communication needs to be established between the two groups.

“You have children who open their eyes to their country under fire,” Fadaam said. “They need to know that there is a difference between the American people and the American administration.”

Fadaam believes information and understanding of the other culture is key in the conflict.

“You should be informed in what’s going on in details,” Fadaam said. “Know more about Iraqis. If you feel the pain, you can talk about the wound.”

Sarah Palin visits Elon, students wonder why university was chosen

Elon provides central location for high interest in Palin
By Christina Edwards
October 16, 2008

Ticket given for admission to Palin rally.

Ticket given for admission to Palin rally.

It was the campaign stop that launched a thousand questions.

Elon University announced Monday morning on the school’s Web site that GOP vice-presidential nominee Sarah Palin would be speaking on campus Thursday afternoon. Before tickets became avaliable Tuesday at noon, student attention had veered away from midterms and fall break planning to distinctly more political conversation: Where do I get tickets? Is she really coming? Do you think my professor will cancel class?

And a less easily answered question: why Elon?

“Why not?” said Mario Diaz, regional communications director for the McCain campaign. “It’s a beautiful area of North Carolina, and there’s a great amount of interest in [Palin] there. I’m glad we could accommodate supporters in that area.”

After scouting the campus last week, the campaign chose to hold the Road to Victory event at Latham Park in the North Athletics Complex.

“Honestly, I think it was partly because [Elon] has the baseball field; it was a great location. And it’s centrally located for the folks in Raleigh, High Point, Greensboro and Winston-Salem,” said David Ruden, spokesman at the Guilford-High Point Victory office.

The Elon College Republicans and students from the Elon law school provided a majority of volunteers for the event. Sophomore Nick Ochsner , president of the College Republicans, stressed the importance of having a strong campaign presence with only 19 days left to the election.

“We’ve been working with them all semester to help make sure Sen. McCain and the Republican Party has a strong presence on campus, and they knew they could turn to us for strong support,” said Ochsner.

The campaign contacted College Republicans to recruit volunteers for the event. Ochsner could not comment specifically on why Elon was chosen.

“In terms of campaign events and their relation to election day– we are not close by any means,” said Ochsner. “There are still three weeks left and a lot can happen in that time. It’s never too late for North Carolina voters to meet and get to know Sarah Palin and John McCain. As voters get to know them more today and in the next few weeks, they’ll quickly realize that the McCain-Palin ticket is the only ticket that will get America on the right track.”

Tickets were distributed to the outside community in several locations in the area, including local offices for the Republican Party.

“We had people lined up down the street,” said Ruden, commenting on the community’s interest in the event. “We had people from Asheville, Myrtle Beach, from as far as Atlanta. I’d say people in this area are more excited to see her than Obama, Biden, any other candidate.”

“We had a box full of tickets, and it was enough,” said Ruden. “But there was nothing left to get.”