I last left you (on this topic) when we were first understanding what the bloody hell we’d got ourselves into with our son wanting to go to College here. We’re not up to the bit where we’re applying for college v applying for uni.
We’re doing both.
That’s mainly because of the exorbitant cost to go to College in this country. Yes that is a tone of great disdain.
You may recall I was on a little bit of a high horse (and I quote) “And I’m thinking if my son wants to go to Stanford he should bloody well be able to consider Stanford. A College education should not just be for people who can afford it. Right?”
Wrong. Sort of. Actually I was a little wrong about the cost to go to Stanford. After having toured there last summer apparently “no one actually pays full tuition for Stanford”. There are so many merit scholarships and so on that so many people who get into Stanford are eligible for that it eases the burden for the parents–and the loans for the kids.
But it’s rarely all $70k worth so when it comes down to the crunch how the bloody hell do you spare the $280k (four years at around $70k–more by next year) to send your kids (two of them so make that $560k) to get a College degree. One that will set them up perfectly only to do a Post-graduate degree for a squillion more bucks (and no we’re definitely NOT paying for that).
I digress … today I’m sitting down to chat to you about the difference between applying for College here in the US v applying for Uni back in Australia.
Applying for College
Wowsers. It’s time consuming applying for College. We’ve had the advice that it’s a good idea to apply to somewhere between 5-8/10 Colleges–to be sure you get somewhere. In that mix you’re going to want to choose a couple you’re confident you’ll get into, a couple that you may have a shot at and a couple that are a “reach”.
At around $80-$100 per application let’s start the [ca-ching] bank account depletion at $500. (She take a sip of wine). And while we’re tallying my costs let’s not forget the $10 per school you’re applying to for the College Board to send your SAT score each College you’re applying to. Oh, and let’s add the (thankfully already forgotten) cost of tutors and the fee to actually sit the SAT.
Only a few years ago most of the Colleges had their own application. These applications tend to be pages long with short answer questions and an essay to answer. These days many Colleges have tried to simplify the process by participating in the Common Application.
What each College will do then (although not all) is come up with their own supplementary questions unique to them and stuff they want to learn about you.
The common app features one essay your child has to write. They have a choice of seven topics although technically the last “question” is to write about anything you like so it’s infinite.
For those of you playing along at home here are the essay prompts. Here are my favourites:
“Describe a problem you’ve solved or a problem you’d like to solve. It can be an intellectual challenge, a research query, an ethical dilemma – anything that is of personal importance, no matter the scale. Explain its significance to you and what steps you took or could be taken to identify a solution.”
“Describe a topic, idea, or concept you find so engaging that it makes you lose all track of time. Why does it captivate you? What or who do you turn to when you want to learn more?”
You’ve got 650 words. Go.
Then places like Stanford and the “UC’s” (Universities of California) have their own questions. Stanford has these three questions. Minimum should be 100 words and a maximum of 250 words.
- The Stanford community is deeply curious and driven to learn in and out of the classroom. Reflect on an idea or experience that makes you genuinely excited about learning.
- Virtually all of Stanford’s undergraduates live on campus. Write a note to your future roommate that reveals something about you or that will help your roommate—and us—know you better.
- Tell us about something that is meaningful to you, and why?
Berkeley (A UC–The UC) has eight extra questions and you need to answer four. Each answer should be about 350 words. Here are a couple of them:
“Describe an example of your leadership experience in which you have positively influenced others, helped resolve disputes or contributed to group efforts over time.
Beyond what has already been shared in your application, what do you believe makes you stand out as a strong candidate for admissions to the University of California?”
It notes: “From your point of view, what do you feel makes you an excellent choice for UC? Don’t be afraid to brag a little.”
And more questions
There are also a few short, sharp questions where the answer should be no more than 50 words. These are actually harder as you have to precise, knowledgeable and you can’t beat around the bush. Here they are–just for fun!
“What is the most significant challenge that society faces today?
“How did you spend your last two summers?
“What historical moment or event do you wish you could have witnessed?
“What five words best describe you?
“When the choice is yours, what do you read, listen to, or watch?
“Name one thing you are looking forward to experiencing at Stanford.
“Imagine you had an extra hour in the day — how would you spend that time?”
Application due date
Then there’s when these applications are due. There are early decisions (EDs), restrictive early decisions, non-binding early decisions, normal application, Spring applications etc. This decision alone is a huge one. Early decisions are due around November 1 and you can find out as early as December whether you’re in somewhere. That’s right–you still have a whole semester left of school but you might know you’re already in somewhere.
Remember, they would have, should have or are still doing their ACT or SAT exams. It’s actually these scores that most Colleges look at. That and your transcript and application. But there’s no standardised testing so it’s hard to know if your transcript means you’re good or you suck.
So, that’s the American system. Here’s a bit about the Australian system.
Applying for Uni
Work out the top five courses at which uni you want to go to. Eg: Business at Sydney Uni.
List them on your Preferences sheet via UAC.
Get your HSC marks and your ATAR.
You get a week to change your preferences based on your marks and whether you think you’ll get in.
Find out what offers you get a few weeks later.
Accept & pay.
OK, it’s not always as straight forward as that. Some courses require a portfolio or interview but essentially that’s it.
Pros and cons
So the US system was designed (hmmm … over engineered?) to make it easier for kids to get into a College; so it’s not so stressful to get a good mark on your ACT or SAT and basically make it fairer for everyone. You see, kids get tutored for the ACT or SAT and those that can’t afford it don’t. And families start so early here it’s no wonder lots of kids are stressed, over-stretched and missing out on their childhood.
The US would probably argue (and many others no doubt) that there’s too much pressure on Australian kids to get the score they need to get into the course they want to study.
Who knows which one is right. Maybe neither? But, there’s a lot of work and a lot of extra money that goes into kids applications here in the US. We’re not having a bar of it (well technically we are because we’re still applying) but so many people are.
I bet many of you reading this are just happy you’re not the ones having to go through this process–that you’re at the other end of it. True.
Meanwhile, “we” continue to do question after question each weekend in the hopes of systematically and stresslessly going through the process.
She takes another gulp of wine.
xx It Started in LA xx