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Simpler FAFSA Helps College Affordability

After a half century of bloated tuition increases, circumstances are reaching critical mass, as has been recently revealed by the Covid-19 pandemic. Demand for bachelor’s degrees has been declining, yet tuition continues to rise. The U.S. is tenth in the world in the percentage of 25- to 34-year-olds who have earned a bachelor’s degree, but first in the amount paid in tuition for those degrees.

A positive step toward solving the affordability crisis was the recent enactment of the FAFSA Simplification Act of 2020, a law designed to simplify the student financial aid process and make it more equitable. Under the law, far more than the current 60% of high school students are expected to submit a FAFSA to obtain their fair share of the $120 billion in financial aid disbursed every year by the Federal government. The more students who receive financial aid, the more of them will be able to afford college. Enrollment will increase accordingly.

The FAFSA Simplification Act of 2020

The FAFSA Simplification Act of 2020 is a 167-page insert to the 5,593-page Omnibus Act for 2021 that was signed into law on December 27, 2020. The primary purpose of the Act is to make it easier to complete the FAFSA so that a larger percentage of students will submit it to obtain the Federal financial aid to which they’re entitled.

Revising the FAFSA is a complex undertaking. It will take time to establish new rules and modify administrative processes, so the changes in the Act won’t go into effect until July 1, 2023, the first day of the 2023-24 academic year. The new FAFSA will be available online on October 1, 2022, so students who are now high school sophomores— the college Class of 2028 — will be the first to use it.

Here’s What the FAFSA Simplification Act of 2020 Does:

1. Increases the Income Protection Allowance (IPA) for dependent students from the current $6,970 to $9,410, a 35% increase. Since student income in excess of the IPA is assessed as an asset at 50% of its value under the FAFSA methodology.  This IPA increase will reduce the existing disincentive for students to seek part-time and summer employment.

2.  Increases the independent unmarried student IPA from the current $10,840 to $14,630, an increase of 35%.

3.  Eliminates the term Expected Family Contribution (EFC) and replaces it with Student Aid Index (SAI). Many parents mistakenly believe that the EFC is the amount they will have to pay for college, but the real figure is often much higher. However, clarifying the terminology won’t help the main problem that parents experience. They still won’t know the actual cost to attend a college until their child has applied to and been accepted by that college.

4.  Expands eligibility for Pell Grants to include incarcerated students.

5.  Changes to the SAI will make it easier to identify the neediest students.

6.  Re-defines Cost of Attendance (COA). COA will include tuition and fees, housing and meals (previously Room and Board), books and other course materials, transportation, personal expenses, Federal loan fees, and any costs associated with obtaining professional licenses, certifications, or credentials. The Act stipulates that the itemized COA must be disclosed on every college’s website.

7.  Increases the amount of the parent IPA that is shielded from the SAI. For a 3-person family, the IPA increases by 20% to $29,040.

8.  Changes the law regarding divorced or separated parents by eliminating the current standard, which is “The parent you lived with more during the past 12 months”. Under the new law, the parent who provides more financial support will be the parent required to report income and assets on the FAFSA. This will close a loophole that has been abused by some divorced and separated parents.

9.  Eliminates the question, “Other untaxed income not reported.” Such income as worker’s compensation and veteran’s educational benefits will no longer need to be reported as untaxed student income.

10.  Eliminates the question, “Money received or paid on your behalf.” No longer will a distribution from a grandparent-owned 529 account or a cash gift from relatives be reportable as untaxed student income.

11.  Renames the term Simplified Needs Test to the Applicants Exempt from Asset Reporting. Makes qualification easier by raising the Adjusted Gross Income cutoff from $50,000 to $60,000.

12.  Prohibits colleges and financial aid administrators from establishing a policy that doesn’t allow appeals of financial aid decisions.

13.  Expands the authority of financial aid administrators to exercise professional judgement. It allows them to consider a broader range of special circumstances including natural disasters, national emergencies, recession or economic downturn, and substantial losses in business, investments, and real estate.

14.  Reduces obstacles for homeless and foster youth in accessing Federal aid.

15.  Expands the definition of “independent student” to include students who are unable to contact their parent as well as students for whom contact with their parent would place them at risk.

16.  Removes the suspension of Federal student aid eligibility for individuals convicted of drug-related offenses.

17.  No longer divides the SAI by the number of family members in college. This change will substantially reduce financial aid eligibility for those families with multiple members in college simultaneously.

18.  Prohibits a college admissions consultant or financial aid counselor from charging a fee to help a family with the FAFSA. This means that families will be able to obtain FAFSA assistance only from volunteers.

19.  Makes it easier for the Department of Education and the Internal Revenue Service to share tax data so student aid applications can be processed faster.

20.  Forgives $1.3 billion in Federal loans that were made to Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU’s) for repairs, renovations, and construction.

Changes to the FAFSA Are an Improvement, But…

The new FAFSA is an improvement over the current one in most respects. However, it introduces two changes that run counter to the interests of most families. These are Change 17, below, which removes the accommodation for families with more than one student attending college at the same time, and Change 18, which prevents consultants from charging a fee to assist families with the FAFSA. A summary of the major changes is provided below.

In addition to FAFSA simplification, the Omnibus Act for 2021 included emergency spending to help colleges and students cope with the impact of COVID-19. It also took foundational steps toward fundamental reforms in post-secondary education. The American Rescue Plan (ARP) Act, enacted on March 12, 2021, provided additional funds to colleges and students to cover pandemic-related expenses. It too included provisions that lead to reforms.

saving on college costsEven these two helpful acts of legislation, as welcome as they are, can’t cure what ails college education in America the most — excessively high tuition. No action has been taken on reforms such as debt-free college, the $1.5 trillion in outstanding student debt, the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, and the unaffordability of most colleges for the average American family. Further work needs to be done in these areas.

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Worried that virtual learning has put your student behind during Important high schoolstudent preparing for college years?  Are you concerned about your student getting  behind on his or her essay, common application and resume? Our Summer Camps will give your student a jumpstart on key aspects of college admissions  in just 3 days!

You’ll also get the latest update of how the coronavirus is impacting college admissions.

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Will Changes to the Academic Calendar Stick?

Covid-19, horrific in so many ways, has brought one benefit to academia — it has necessitated experimenting with the traditional academic calendar. Fortunately, this forced innovation has pushed the boundaries of what’s considered practicable. Some changes are likely to be carried forward in the post-pandemic era because results show that they’re more effective  for learning and less expensive operationally.

The Traditional Academic Calendar

Jeff Selingo, the author of Next, a newsletter that covers trends in college admissions, observedacademic calendar in a recent issue that, “The academic calendar in higher ed was chiseled in stone decades ago. It’s long been a barrier to change in higher ed.” One reason for the traditional calendar’s incapability of change is that it drives faculty contracts, student loans, allocating classrooms, scheduling student events, and many other facets of college operations.

The calendar’s rigidity is partly due to the inertia that inhibits change in large bureaucracies. Many people like the traditional calendar just the way it is whether it makes sense in 2021 or not. As noted by Dana Goldstein and Kate Taylor in the New York Times recently, “Contrary to popular belief, summer vacation is not a relic of the nation’s agrarian roots. Farm parents most needed their children’s help during spring planting and fall harvests, so schools in the early 19th century often met during the summer and winter. By the late 19th century, however, academic calendars looked a lot more like they do today, with many classroom buildings simply too hot, humid and uncomfortable during the summer.”

Underlying the bias in favor of the status quo has been the widely shared view that the undergraduate years are not just about education. They’re also about the college experience and “coming of age” ­­— four years of semi-adulthood during which students can prepare for whatever comes next. However, this view has  outlived its usefulness for the majority of students because it often makes college unaffordable, impractical, or undesirable, findings affirmed by the exigencies of the pandemic.

The Time for Change Has Come

The pandemic has created a need for college administrators to examine the efficacy of the traditional calendar and to experiment with new modes of learning. This experimentation coincides with the need for a transformation in the modus operandi of American colleges following a decade in which total enrollment declined every year.

In the February issue of Forbes, Brendon Busteed posed the following questions to draw attention to the deficiencies of the traditional academic calendar:

  • “Why do bachelor’s degrees take four years to complete?
  • Why is it that we monitor and report six-year graduation rates for these four-year degrees?
  • Why do we see considerable learning loss over the summer – especially for students from underserved communities?
  • Why has college gotten so expensive?

Many of these questions can be explained and answered to varying degrees through the lens of the academic calendar.”

Busteed has identified three principles he thinks should guide the re-structuring of the academic calendar. Changes should:

  1. Reduce the cost of earning a bachelor’s degree,
  2. Make work-study a fundamental part of earning a degree, and,
  3. Provide flexibility to those seeking or needing alternative paths to a degree.

Examples of Calendar Experiments

A common feature of most pandemic-induced changes has been introducing modules (or blocks) that subdivide semesters and extend through summers. Modules allow for the sort of College calendarflexibility demanded by the wide range of life circumstances among today’s undergraduates. A modular approach also enables colleges to take advantage of the state-of-the-art distance learning systems in which they’ve invested heavily in the last year.

Some module-based changes have been in use for years but weren’t widely adopted prior to the pandemic because there was no compelling reason to do so. For example:

    1. Arizona State now divides its semester into three modules: A and B, which run consecutively for 7.5 weeks each, and C, which runs the full 15 weeks of the semester. This allows students to mix classroom courses with online courses, which run the same 7.5 weeks, and can free time up either at the beginning or the end of a semester to intern, work on a project, or focus on 15-week courses. However, the same semester structure has been available to students in a number of colleges since the 1990’s because it’s well-suited to the needs of students who work full-time. The “A-B-C” modular approach has proven that it works and is popular with students.

2.   Georgia Tech offers five-week-long “mini-mester” courses. Mini-mester classes meet Monday through Thursday for three hours and cover the same material as a full semester. Mini-mesters have been conducted during the break between fall and spring semesters since they were introduced after the conversion of the fall semester to its current schedule in 1970. Prior to 1970, the fall semester was interrupted by a 2-week break for the Christmas-New Year’s holidays and then resumed in the first week of January, finishing by the end of the month.

This was followed by a 3-week semester break. Starting the fall semester earlier and ending it just before the holidays enabled colleges to combine the 2-week and the 3- week breaks into one 5-week period, which allowed time for a mini-mester. Mini-mesters were instantly popular with students who wanted three extra credits or simply found time off in mid-winter pointless. Like “A-B-C” semesters, mini-mesters have proven their viability over time.

3.  The majority of college summer programs are being re-structured into a third semester for 2021. They’ll have two sessions and offer a larger choice of courses than the limited set of past years. Colleges are modifying summer school to enable students to complete courses that they were forced to drop or which were unavailable due to the pandemic. However, summer-as-third-semester is a model that’s likely to be adopted permanently. With a full-time, year-round academic calendar, students who choose to do so will be able to complete all requirements for a bachelor’s degree in 3 years or less, which is common in the U.K. and Europe.

Changes to the traditional academic calendar are likely to appeal to you as an applicant.  In being more closely aligned with needs and preferences, a re-structured calendar can help you to achieve your educational goals faster.

There is one downside —  the more choices available in the academic calendars of colleges, the more challenging the process of selecting your best-fit colleges will be. In addition to all of the other variables in play, you’ll need to add your preferred calendar to the mix, a consideration that wasn’t even on applicant’s radar in the past. The expert guidance of an experienced Independent Educational Consultant (IEC) thus becomes even more advantageous to you as we approach the 2021-22 admissions year.

Cliffs Notes to the Top Performing Arts Colleges

Some college majors have been affected more than others by the measures taken to combat Covid-19. A good example is Performing Arts, which necessitates student-to-student  collaboration within confined spaces. The three performing arts — acting, dance, and music — are simply not amenable to online learning. But with herd immunity now foreseeable in the 2021-22 academic year, applications to the top performing arts programs are expected to rise, making admission to the best programs highly competitive once again.

Anyone who has been on stage and experienced the thrill of performance can understand why students aspire to careers as performing artists. Success in the performing arts entails intensive training focused on the development of essential skills. Colleges that offer an education in the arts usually integrate it within a liberal arts degree program. Although beneficial to a student’s education, this makes a degree in the performing arts more challenging than most other liberal arts majors.

There are institutions that offer programs in only one or two of the three principal performing arts and others that offer all three. Typically, arts curricula require several foundational courses before a student is permitted to concentrate on a specialty. Four-year undergraduate programs lead to a Bachelor of Arts (BA), Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA), or a Bachelor of Performing Arts (BPA) degree.

In this post, we’ll review a number of college programs for acting (drama) and related specialties. Students in these programs take courses in theater literature and history, methods of acting, costume design, playwriting, screenwriting, lighting, stage movement, voice, directing, theater/film technology, set design and related fields to learn different aspects of their art. They’re assigned diverse tasks, not just acting roles. They study all of the disciplines behind the mounting of a production.

After core requirements are met, students are offered a choice to focus primarily on acting or to concentrate on one of the related fields mentioned above. Dance and music majors undergo academic experiences similar to acting majors in order to achieve balance between the theory and practice of their art.

Among the many colleges with undergraduate programs in the performing arts, there are those that have earned exceptional reputations, which are described below. These colleges focus more on acting and dance than music, which has its own list of best colleges.

Brown University, Providence, RI

Brown’s School of Theatre Arts and Performance Studies is noted within the Ivy League for the excellence of its undergraduate BFA program. Brown places a high value on its students achieving a well-rounded understanding of drama as a discipline. Along with acting classes, students study theory and history. They then choose one of the program’s tracks, which include Theatre Arts, Performance Studies, or Writing for Performance. The program offers opportunities for crewing mainstage plays, participating in production workshops, taking part in Shakespeare on the Green performances, and viewing world premieres at the Trinity Repertory Company.

Among the more well-known graduates are John Krasinski, Emma Watson, Laura Linney, JoBeth Williams, Ira Glass, Joseph Bologna, and Bess Armstrong.

California Institute of the Arts, Santa Clarita, CA

CalArts is considered by many to be the best dance school on the West Coast as well as one of the top drama schools. The School of Dance offers a distinguished faculty and renowned guest artists. It provides numerous dance performance opportunities in its American College Dance Festival. The School of Drama is often chosen by students who wish to pursue a screen-acting career. All seniors must enroll in the Acting Studio for the Camera course, which trains them for auditioning and performing  for cinema and TV. In their final semester, students perform in industry showcases in Los Angeles and New York.

The School of Drama’s successful alumni include Don Cheadle, Ed Harris, Dustin Hoffman, Kathy Baker, Laraine Newman, Michael Richards, Alison Brie, and director Tim Burton.

Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, PA

The oldest acting conservatory in the country, the School of Drama strives to impart to students the ability to embody their characters thorough analysis of the roles in which they’re cast. The School’s faculty consists primarily of established actors. There are 20 shows per year that provide many performance opportunities to students.  The School enables students to perform their original works during a designated week when all classes are cancelled. Seniors have opportunities to perform before audiences of industry professionals in New York, Los Angeles, and Pittsburgh.

Well-known alumni include Holly Hunter, Ted Danson, Albert Brooks, Ethan Hawke, Jack Klugman, George Peppard, Jeff Goldblum, Cherry Jones, Judith Light, Blair Underwood, James Cromwell, Sada Thompson, Joe Manganiello, Leslie Odom Jr., Howard DeSilva, and Rene Auberjonois.

Catholic University of America, Washington DC

CUA’s Department of Drama, offering a BFA in Acting and a BA in Drama, is one of the oldest and most well-established in the country. The curriculum for the BFA in Acting is comprehensive in that it develops actors for all three major media: theatre, film, and television. It’s oriented to conditions in the 2020’s in which actors, in order to succeed, must be prepared for all three media. Actors are trained to be comfortable in all environments so that they’ll have the skills to start working immediately upon graduation. Washington provides plenty of opportunities for CUA students, who have many opportunities to intern at area theatres, experience the dynamic local theatre milieu, and engage in mentorship programs with area professionals.

Notable actors include Susan Sarandon, John Slattery, Helen Hayes, Laurence Luckinbill, Jon Voight, Jason Miller, Chris Sarandon, John Lescault, Ed McMahon, Siobhan Hogan, and Phil Bosco.

Coastal Carolina University, Conway, SC

The CCA Theatre Department offers four BFA concentrations: Acting, Musical Theatre, Physical Theatre, and Design & Production. It also offers a BA in Music with three  concentrations: Commercial & Jazz Music, Music General Studies, and Music Performance. BFA acting students study eight levels of acting centered on the foundational work of Stanislavski. They take courses in on-camera technique, vocal technique, movement studies, script analysis, history, and criticism. The program focuses on self-exploration, characterization, and insight into each student’s best personal working methods. Students develop not only technical and artistic competence but also a broad knowledge of the theatre.

Well-known alumni include Michael Kelly, Bailey Hanks, Elise Testone, and Madelyn Cline.

College of Charleston, Charleston, SC

Student-centered learning is the focus of the College of Charleston’s Department of Theatre + Dance. Students are partners in an artistic community formed in the classroom, in the studio, and in productions. They study with faculty in classroom settings as small as five students. All students engage in the creation and development of each production. Abundant opportunities to perform enable students to gain experience in all aspects of theatre and dance.

Well-known actors include Robert Downey Jr., Erick Avari, Thomas Gibson, Matt Czuchry, Lea Michele, Jennifer Ferrin, and Alison Munn.

Florida State University, Tallahassee, FL

Founded in 1973, the FSU School of Theatre enjoys a national reputation due largely to its faculty of nationally recognized artists and educators. The School has been providing outstanding programs in Florida and around the world for nearly half a century. Its London Theatre Studies program offers a chance to work side by side with guest artists and eminent scholars and to participate in showcase opportunities in major cities.

FSU’s actors, directors, and writers include Alan Ball, Montego Glover, Paul Gleason, Davis Gaines, Leslie Flesner, Cheryl Hines, John Papsidera, Darren Bagert, Richard Simmons, Burt Reynolds, Heather Provost, and Amanda Watkins.

Julliard School, New York, NY

 Often considered the best school in the country for drama and dance, the Juilliard School has a long list of notable alumni who have earned 105 Grammy Awards, 62 Tony Awards, 47 Emmy Awards, 24 Academy Awards, 16 Pulitzer Prizes, and 12 National Medals for the Arts. It’s an exclusive school that selects applicants with proven talent. It selects only a few outstanding students each year, none of whom are recent high school graduates. There are usually 20 students each in the BFA Acting Program, the MFA Acting Program, and the BFA Dance ProgramThe Dance Program conducts 15 public performances each year and the Drama Program produces several plays annually. There are annual showcases in both New York and Los Angeles.

Alumni include Jessica Chastain, Oscar Isaac, William Hurt, Adam Driver, Kevin Kline, Laura Linney, Robin Williams, Viola Davis, Andre Braugher, Val Kilmer, Kevin Spacey, Wendell Pierce, Patti LuPone, Christine Baranski, Marcia Cross, Sid Caesar, and William Hurt.

New York University, New York, NY

On acceptance into NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, students are placed in one of eight primary studios where they receive intensive training leading to a strong foundation in their art. Students remain in their studio for two years. The eight studios are the Stella Adler Studio of Acting, Atlantic Acting School, Experimental Theatre Wing, Meisner Studio, New Studio on Broadway, Playwrights Horizons School, Production & Design Studio, and Lee Strasberg Institute. Once studio training is complete, students choose a specialty for advanced training.

Notable NYU actors include Philip Seymour Hoffman, Alec Baldwin, Kristen Bell, Adam Sandler, Oliver Stone, Andy Samberg, Billy Crystal, Stefani Germanotta (Lady Gaga), James Franco, Bryce Dallas Howard, and its directors include Spike Lee, M. Night Shyamalan, and Martin Scorcese.

Northwestern University, Evanston, IL

Northwestern is one of the few schools of drama in the country that don’t require an audition for admission. Nevertheless, admission is still highly competitive with an admit rate of 15%. Students have many opportunities to perform in school-sponsored, student-run shows that select from among all undergraduates in casting roles. Seniors are invited to participate in showcases in New York and Chicago before audiences of industry professionals.

The School has educated many notable actors including Warren Beatty, Zach Braff, Stephen Colbert, Charlton Heston, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Jerry Orbach, Ann-Magret, Claude Akins, Patricia Neal, Richard Benjamin, Robert Conrad, David Schwimmer, William Daniels, Anna Gunn, Jennifer Jones, Cloris Leachman, Mamie Gummer, Zooey Deschanel, Kathryn Hahn, Shelley Long, and Tony Randall.

Smith College, Northampton, MA

Smith is one of the best small colleges in the country for theater majors. Students attending Smith aren’t limited to the resources of their college alone because it’s part of the Five Colleges Consortium. Theater and dance majors at Smith benefit from the combined resources of four other nearby colleges: Amherst, Hampshire, Mount Holyoke, and the University of Massachusetts-Amherst. This collaborative program affords students at Smith all the advantages of an institution many times its size while maintaining the intimate atmosphere of a small liberal arts college.

Graduates of the Five Colleges Consortium who have earned a reputation in acting, screenwriting, or directing include Donna Kane, Bill Pullman, Richard Gere, Wendy Wasserstein, Ken Burns, Liev Schreiber, Naomi Wallace, Lupita Nyong’o, Ken Howard, Shelley Hack, and Barry Sonnenfeld.

University of Florida, Gainesville, FL

The home of the UF School of Theatre and Dance is the new state-of-the-art Nadine McGuire Pavilion. The School’s full-time faculty is complemented by a rotating guest faculty of accomplished professionals. It offers BFA programs in Acting, Musical Theatre, Set/Scene design, Lighting Design, and Costume Design as well as a BA in General Theatre. The School also offers BA and BFA programs in dance that have been designed to develop the talents and creativity of each individual dance artist.

Among well-known alumni are Faye Dunaway, Buddy Ebsen, Darrell Hammond, Bob Vila, Lyndon Smith, and Nick Green.

University of Georgia, Athens, GA

The UGA Department of Theatre & Film and the Department of Dance offer BA and BFA degrees within the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences. The Theater Department began in 1893 when UGA students formed what is now the Thalian-Blackfriars Dramatic Club, one of the oldest in the country. It’s now the official theatrical club of the University of Georgia with its own playhouse — the Seney-Stovall Memorial Theatre. A Film Studies major was added to the Department in 2006.

Notable actors include Kyle Chandler, Kim Basinger, Ryan Seacrest, Tituss Burgess, Josh Holloway, Wayne Knight, Jessica Stroup, and Sonny Shroyer.

University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI

Michigan’s School of Music, Theatre, and Dance has an outstanding reputation in the performing arts. While pursuing a BFA in acting, students are trained for the physical and mental demands of theater by a faculty of working professionals that includes actors, directors, designers, and technicians. The School’s core curriculum consists of courses in acting, voice, dialect, movement, and stage combat. Students have many opportunities to perform for local, national and international audiences.

Well-known actors from UM include Selma Blair, Christine Lahti, Lucy Liu, James Earl Jones, Madonna, Darren Criss, David Alan Grier, Ann Davis, Margo Martindale, Gilda Radnor, and the playwright Arthur Miller.

University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, NC

The high quality of UNC’s School of the Arts dance program is affirmed its alumni who have  gone on to perform with the American Ballet Theatre, New York City Ballet, Pacific Northwest Ballet, Joffrey Ballet, Paul Taylor Dance Company, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, and Martha Graham Ensemble.  Drama and dance students have many performance opportunities including senior showcases for industry professionals in New York and Los Angeles.

Notable actors include Mary-Louise Parker, Andy Griffith, John Forsythe, Louise Fletcher, George Grizzard, Jack Palance, Billy Crudup, and Sharon Lawrence.

 Wesleyan University, Middletown, CT

 Wesleyan’s undergraduate theater program is one of the most widely known and highly regarded in the country. The School has an impressive faculty and accomplished visiting artists. Wesleyan’s program also provides an honors track for top performing students as well as two esteemed awards for individuals, the Rachel Henderson Theater Prize and the Outreach and Community Service Prize.

Among its notable alumni are Lin-Manuel Miranda, Michael Bay, Kim Weyans, Beanie Feldstein, Patricia Wettig, Elisabeth Harnois, Dana Delany, Mike White, Bradley Whitford, and Joss Whedon.

Winthrop University, Rock Hill, SC

Winthrop has the only comprehensive collegiate arts program in South Carolina that is nationally accredited in all of the visual and performance arts. The Department of Theatre and Dance fosters aesthetic, intellectual, and creative development in the performing arts within the context of a liberal arts education. Through course work, coaching, mentoring, and performing, students explore the social, historical, and technological aspects of theatre or dance. The Department mounts four stage productions (three in theatre, one in dance), two choreography showcases, and six studio productions each year. The Department also regularly hosts arts festivals, and students join faculty in travel to professional conferences.

Notable actors from Winthrop include Andie McDowell, Shanola Hampton, and Leigh Chapman.

Dr. Klaar named a finalist in Charlotte Media Weekly’s Small Businessperson of the Year!

I’m very honored to the named a finalist in Charlotte Media Weekly’s Small Businessperson of the Year! A winner will be announced in the coming weeks. Thank you to the community for supporting me in this way!

Here’s the article that was written about me:

Continuous learning keeps Klaar in the know

Charlotte Klaar

FORT MILL – COVID-19 created a lot of uncertainty within higher education last year, especially with the college admissions process. Many families are turning to long-established experts like Charlotte Klaar for help.

Unlike many businesses, COVID-19 didn’t drastically alter the way Klaar runs her college consulting company. Having been an online instructor for 15 years, more than half of her work was already virtual at the start of the pandemic.

Staying on top of the latest information with regards to higher education is key to Klaar College Consulting’s success.

Klaar spends at least two hours a day reading about the latest trends from the leading authorities in education. She describes the posts on her Twitter account (@CharlotteKlaar) as a glimpse into what she has learned on a particular day.

“The more information that families have, the more informed the decisions they are able to make in support of their students,” Klaar said.

The south Charlotte region is home to several high-performing high schools, such as Ardrey Kell, Providence and Marvin Ridge, in which some college-bound students are putting increased pressure on themselves.

Klaar said working with students earlier in their high school careers can help remove angst from the process, allowing them to focus more on finding the right fit that allows for growth. Having this context earlier could also save students time in terms of engaging in extracurricular activities they enjoy rather than ones they think will impress colleges.

“Every child is unique,” Klaar said. “The process is to find the fit and match for that child.”

Not only has Klaar helped families navigate the college admissions process for nearly 30 years, but she also trains future advisors virtually through the UCLA Extension’s college counseling program.

“Virtual learning is going to open the door to higher education or toward advanced certificates to many people who don’t have the luxury of spending four or five years on a college campus because they have to work and support families,” she said.

Klaar College Consulting
519 Zachery Lane, Ft. Mill, S.C.
803-487-9777
http://www.cklaar.com/

Test-Optional Policies in Practice

People tend to perceive “test-optional” as meaning that if a student opts to submit SAT scores to a college, they’ll be a factor in admission. However, if a student chooses not to submit scores, that fact won’t disqualify her or him from fair and equal consideration.

But what does test-optional really mean?

Consider this scenario: Applicant A chooses to submit test scores to a college because his scores exceed the average SAT scores of the college’s last freshman class, a metric published every year. His scores will be weighed as a factor in his admissions decision. Applicant B chooses not to submit SAT scores. All other things being equal, Applicant A will be admitted ahead of Applicant B.

SAT Tests

This reality would be denied by a college’s administrators, who resent even being asked about their test-optional practices. However, as an applicant, you’re well advised to ignore them on this matter.  Put in the work to score as high as possible on the SAT or ACT.  If your scores are average or better at a college you want to apply to, then submit them.

The majority of applicants to top-tier colleges get it. Most of them submit test scores to test-optional schools. For example, 76 percent of the Early Decision applicants to the University of Pennsylvania’s Class of 2025 this past fall chose to submit scores even though they weren’t required to do so.

There are reasons why college administrators obfuscate regarding test-optional practices. They want to encourage the submission of as many applications as possible, including those from students who don’t score well on tests. The more applications that a college receives, the lower their admission rate will be. The lower its admission rate, the higher a college rises in the rankings of U.S. News & World Reports and other publications. This helps to increase revenue by raising tuition. Colleges may operate on a not-for-profit basis, but they’re still businesses.

There’s another way that test-optional policies improve a college’s ranking. The policies are presented by colleges as a helping hand to those who don’t test well or can’t afford assistance to prepare. Although it is both of these things, it’s also a way for a college to raise average test scores. If scores are optional, it follows that only applicants with high scores will submit them. This results in significantly higher average freshman SAT and ACT scores than in the past. Average test scores are used as a key metric in the algorithms of the rankings publishers.

A New Paradigm: Test-Blind Policies

Evidence that a college’s administration has truly rejected the use of standardized tests as predictors of academic success is when they announce a test-blind admissions policy. Test-blind colleges don’t accept SAT or ACT scores from applicants even if they’re submitted. At this time, only a few schools are test-blind but, significantly, the list includes the University of California System, Caltech, and MIT.

Sarah Lawrence College was test-blind but converted to test-optional because U.S. News & World Report wouldn’t rank their school at all without test scores. However, the publication has announced that it will begin to rank test-blind colleges in 2021. Their new policy is likely to encourage more colleges to join the trend toward test-blind admissions.

 

College Board’s Changes Reflect Admissions Trends

Covid-19 has accelerated changes to the SAT exam that have been percolating for years. College Board, the organization that produces the SAT and conducts testing, announced that Subject Tests will no longer be offered, and that the exam would not have an optional essay section in the future. The Board also stated that they’re developing a new “streamlined” version of the SAT that can be administered online to students at home. The ACT exam, the only competitor of the SAT on a national scale, has already announced that they are changing their programs in similar ways.

College Board’s Stated Motivation

The College Board says that their motive is to reduce the burden of redundant exams and unnecessary anxiety on students, stating, “As students and colleges adapt to new realities and changes to the college admissions process, College Board is making sure our programs adapt with them. We’re making some changes to reduce demands on students.”

Some admissions experts have observed that doing away with Subject Tests is a step in the right direction: eliminating standardized testing in college admissions. But most colleges still require or accept SAT scores and consider them an accurate predictor of future academic performance. Skeptical admissions experts maintain that the GPA and the rigor of a high school curriculum should be the only academic criteria in admissions. Focusing exclusively on them is what will reduce pressure on students.

College Board’s Actual Motivation

The College Board is a not-for-profit organization that was formed in 1899 allegedly to expand access to higher education. It has more than 6,000 institutional members that use its services and govern it. The Board’s revenue, derived from member and student fees, exceeds $1 billion annually. There are 1,600 employees at its headquarters in New York and in its field offices.

Although devoted to serving the needs of its members rather than making a profit, the College Board has a bias toward self-preservation. The leadership is aware that standardized tests have increasingly been viewed as discriminating against racial minorities and the economically disadvantaged. The Board’s leaders have been tracking the adoption of test-optional policies that has resulted from this perception of bias.

Subject Tests vs. Advanced Placement

The motivating factor behind the decision to cease offering the Subject Tests is that the College Board stands to gain from the movement away from the tests as credentials or requirements for admission. Another factor is that Subject Tests will be replaced by GPA and the strength of curriculum as the only two academic criteria for admissions. The Board plans to shift to their Advanced Placement (AP) program as the most common way for an applicant to prove the rigor of their coursework.

Since 1955, the College Board’s AP program has been available for high school students who want to demonstrate their capabilities in the 40 AP subjects.  More than 22,000 high schools offered at least some of the AP courses last year. The Board establishes the syllabi for the courses, develops the exams, and audits each AP program to assure compliance.

About 85 percent of colleges weigh AP courses and exams substantially heavier than regular courses.  The AP courses are optional and, if a student is sufficiently confident that he or she can take a course’s final exam in May and pass it with a score of 3, 4, or 5, it counts as an AP credit even if they didn’t take the course. On the other hand, if a student takes an AP course but doesn’t score a 3, 4, or 5, it’s purpose as proof-of-rigor to colleges is foregone.

There’s at least one valid objection to the substitution of the AP program for Subject Tests. Subject Tests were offered five times per year and students were advised to take them after completing a high school course in the relevant subject. Last year, only a handful of colleges required applicants to submit Subject Test scores in specific subjects. Ten highly selective colleges “recommended” them, which essentially means that they required them. The other students that took the tests did so as a voluntary way to burnish their admissions credentials, especially in their intended field of study.

AP courses polish credentials because they’re more demanding than regular high school courses; it’s estimated that they require about 30 percent more work. AP students are expected to delve more deeply into topics through research, practical applications, and critical thinking. Colleges look favorably on AP courses and exam results as proof that an applicant is capable of doing college work.

There’s no set number of AP courses that a student should take, but many Independent Educational Consultants advise those aspiring to attend highly selective colleges to take three or four of them. For those aspiring to attend the most elite colleges, six or more are recommended.

AP exams must be passed prior to senior year in order to be reflected on a student’s college applications. This requires elite college aspirants to pass an average of two AP exams annually in their freshman, sophomore, and juniors years. That’s a tall order… one that isn’t consistent with the College Board’s stated purpose of reducing the pressure on students.

 

Long-needed Change Made to Common App

Finally, the Common App announced in September that it will no longer include a question about the high school disciplinary history of applicants.  That’s a pointless question that needed to go, since most high schools don’t report disciplinary histories to colleges.

Additionally, it’s one more issue that affects minority kids more than majority kids.

For example, after the 2018-19 admissions cycle, the Common App found that Common appof students who recorded disciplinary actions, more than 7,000 never submitted a single college application.  Among them, 52% were Black or Latino, almost double the 27% of all students using the App who are Black or Latino.

In other words, students were disqualifying themselves based on what they anticipated to be adverse treatment of their applications by admissions officials. Their concerns were justified. Many colleges consider disciplinary history as a factor in admissions. This information, in a highly competitive admissions decision, can be the difference between acceptance or rejection.

Individual colleges can continue to ask applicants such a question through their own application supplement, but it will be stricken from the App itself,

 What is the Common App?

The Common App is the organization that has developed and maintains the primary online platform through which high school students apply to colleges. Common appIt’s used by more than 900 colleges. In 2019-20, more than 1.1 million prospective college students used the App to submit over 5.5 million applications.

Since 2006, students applying to colleges via the App have been asked the following question:

“Have you ever been found responsible for a disciplinary violation at any educational institution you have attended from the 9th grade (or the international equivalent) forward, whether related to academic misconduct or behavioral misconduct, that resulted in a disciplinary action? These actions could include, but are not limited to probation, suspension, removal, dismissal, or expulsion from the institution.”

Students who answer “yes” are required to provide the dates of incidents, explain what happened, and “reflect” on what they learned from the experience.

In announcing the removal of the question, Common App’s CEO, Jenny Rickard, said:

“We want our application to allow students to highlight their full potential. Requiring students to disclose disciplinary actions has a clear and profound adverse impact. Removing this question is the first step in a longer process to make college admissions more equitable. This is about taking a stand against practices that suppress college-going aspiration and overshadow potential.”

More Reasons for Eliminating the Question

Another factor that led to the Common App’s decision is that high schools have different rules for detention, suspension, expulsion, and the disciplinary information that will be reported to colleges. Should a student who receives a dress code suspension receive the same treatment in admissions as one accused of academic dishonesty? Obviously not, so the Common App decided that the only way to prevent such unfairness is by not asking the question at all.

Opponents of the use of high school disciplinary records in  admissions point out that this information has little predictive value, needlessly stigmatizes students for infractions that are often minor, and reduces opportunities for higher education.

The Release of Adverse Disciplinary Information

The fact that the Common App will no longer ask the question doesn’t mean that colleges can’t obtain information about your disciplinary record by other means. As noted above, a college will still be able to ask for your disciplinary record in an App supplement. It isn’t yet knowable which colleges or how many will do this, given that the App’s announcement was made only last month.

One would think that a college’s administration would be reluctant to ask the question since the primary motive behind its removal was racial fairness. If, as a potential applicant, you seek to avoid disclosure of this information to colleges, make sure that the schools to which you apply don’t ask for it in a supplemental questionnaire.

Another concern you’ll have relates to the standard practices of your high school guidance office. Even if you’ve avoided disclosure through your selection of colleges in 2018-19, nearly one-third of high schools disclosed disciplinary information as a standard component of their reports to colleges.

This practice is declining due to the concern about the unfairness to minorities described above, but it still exists. I recommend that you ask your guidance office about their standard reporting. If they engage in this practice, then advise them politely that you consider this information confidential and that you don’t grant them permission to release it unless they’re specifically asked for it by a college. Give them plenty of advance notice. Your high school may be reluctant to refuse your reasonable request on such a sensitive matter.0

For questions about the Common App and all aspects of college applications and admissions, or how the coronavirus is impacting college admissions. contact me at [email protected]

Majoring in the Humanities Keeps Your Options Open

“Follow your passion!” has long been the advice given to high school students in choosing a career. It still is, but in many cases this advice is countered by pressure to do otherwise. This pressure comes from the power of the STEM* movement in American higher education. However, this blog post explains why a major in the humanities is a viable solution for high school students who can’t select a career with sufficient confidence that it’s the right choice.

The bias in favor of STEM education can detract from the integrity of your College List, which is comprised of the colleges to which you’ll apply in senior year. The College List, when properly developed, is an important contributor to the success of your college admissions campaign. In building the list, you’ll be advised to set your educational goals beforehand, including your future career, so that you can select a major that will enable you to pursue that career. Then, knowing your major, it’s assumed that you’ll be better able to identify those schools that fit you best — the ones that belong on your College List.

The College List Conundrum

This sequence — “career-to-major-to-colleges” — is a sound, pragmatic protocol — if you can follow it! But it isn’t feasible for many students. As a high school student, identifying with confidence which career is best for you is a daunting task. The lucky few already know what they want to pursue as a career, but most do not. In addition, the pandemic has caused the outlook for many careers to be clouded by economic uncertainty. A career that you might consider attractive now may be much less so in five or six years. And some of the hottest careers that will be open to you in 2025 don’t even exist yet.

Because there are advantages in identifying your career while in high school, you may be pushed to choose one before you’re ready, especially a STEM career, due their perceived practicality. Resist this pressure. There’s an alternative that you should consider if you’re unsure which career may ultimately suit you best.

The Emphasis on STEM Disciplines as Majors

In order to maintain America’s edge in the STEM fields, the focus in academia has shifted toward those disciplines. Due to the needs of America’s high-tech workforce, emphasis has been placed on graduating STEM majors who can satisfy the demand for entry-level professionals in those fields. This objective is worthy in and of itself, but there has been an unfortunate side effect.

The proliferation of STEM-centric curricula has driven some students, often against their desire and best interests, away from majoring in the humanities. Moreover, many colleges have reduced the number of traditional required courses in the humanities to allow for more courses in STEM subjects. College administrators are concerned that requirements in the humanities, to the extent that they displace STEM courses, diminish the future employability of graduates.

What Are the Humanities?

The humanities, as the term implies, is the study of the human condition from a number of
different perspectives. They are a subset of the traditional Liberal Arts, which, since classical times, has included the sciences, arts, and humanities. In the United States, the most common majors in the humanities are:

Table A: Majors in the Humanities:
Anthropology      Classical Languages      History
Geography      Grammar, Linguistics, and Languages      Theology     Literature      Law, Government, and Political Science      Philosophy
Writing – Prose and Poetry        Economics

The Role of the Humanities in American Education

Historically, American colleges were not founded to train students for a specialized career in one field. Rather, their mission was to expose students to a broad intellectual tradition. This was considered essential to create effective leaders for the community, commerce, and public and private institutions. This philosophy may seem impractical in a modern society as complex as ours, but it remains a sound design for a robust education because it benefits students regardless of what profession they enter.

The humanities teach two vital abilities that are missing from a purely STEM curriculum: communication and critical thinking. In the humanities, students learn to fully engage with the material, consider it from all angles, solve problems creatively without bias, express themselves well, adapt to new situations, and work collaboratively.

The Humanities and the U.S. Job Market

In today’s fast-changing environment, large organizations, even those whose primary business is STEM-related, aren’t looking for leadership candidates who know only one subject, however thoroughly they may know it. They’re seeking promising leaders who are innovative, creative, and possess an expansive mind-set, characteristics that are more closely associated with humanities graduates than STEM graduates. A study conducted by the Association of American Colleges and Universities found that 93 percent of senior executives agreed that, “A demonstrated capacity to think critically, communicate clearly, and solve complex problems is more important than a job candidate’s undergraduate major.” The humanities hone the skills that large organizations seek in leaders.

Students and their families are often drawn to STEM fields for financial reasons under the assumption that salaries are higher. However, according to the New York Times, “The top 25 percent of history and English majors earn more than the average major in science and math during their careers, and the bottom 25 percent of business majors make less than the average of those majoring in government and public policy.”

College graduates must compete with their peers to secure their first job in their profession, an undertaking that has become increasingly difficult. A delay in obtaining a starting job is a concern for students who, like you, must anticipate which careers will even be viable several years from now. Fear of underemployment is justified.

As you grapple with this puzzle, bear in mind that the number of jobs that require skills developed in the humanities, especially interpersonal communications and the ability to solve complex, multi-dimensional problems, will be greater than the number of jobs that require highly specialized knowledge. A broad-based exposure to ideas will continue to be valued in new management-track hires.

In the future, the best and most plentiful jobs will go to those who can collaborate widely, think broadly, and challenge conventional wisdom — precisely the capacities that an education in the humanities develops. Don’t let yourself be discouraged from pursuing a major in the humanities if that’s what you truly love.

If you’d like help determining your college and career choices, contact me at [email protected]!

*STEM is an abbreviation for Science, Technology, Engineering, and math.

Early College Planning 101

When should you start planning for college? Earlier than you think!

On Tuesday, October 20 from 6 – 7 p.m., Bonnie Kleffman of the Fort Mill School District will interview Charlotte Klaar, PhD about the steps families should take to set students up for college success. This process begins in freshman year of high school and continues through graduation.

Register here