September 2017 newsletter
Dive into how application essays are used in college admissions and learn how work-study jobs provide more than just financial aid to students. Then explore how web-based tools help visualize how college majors can lead to almost any career.
Ask a high school senior to write an essay for her English teacher, and it should feel routine. But ask her to write an essay for her college application, and it is a whole different assignment — one with different stakes.
“There is a fair amount of anxiety about writing for college applications, particularly because there’s a fair amount of anxiety about the college admission process in general,” said Meg Otten, college counselor at Shattuck-St. Mary’s, the 6-12 grade school in Faribault, Minn. And then there’s the additional pressure that “comes from the unknowns,” Otten said, from who is going to read an application essay to who will be in the large pool of applicants submitting essays.
Many colleges ask for some writing when students apply. That’s the case at Minnesota private colleges, with writing required at 10 institutions and potentially required at seven others, such as if students use the Common Application.
To keep worrying in check — for students and their parents — it can help to start with what colleges are looking for in these essays and personal statements.
“Writing is really at the heart of the liberal arts experience, so regardless of what they’re going to study, we see it as really important to ask students to write for us and share some things about themselves,” said Dave Wagner, director of admissions, St. Olaf College.
Yes, this should be an example of a student’s best writing, a piece of clean copy that has been revised and polished. But the substance of the piece is critical; Wagner said the college is looking for what motivates students and makes them unique, beyond all the quantitative information about test scores and lists of activities.
“This is the one place they can use their voice and hopefully write in an authentic way that shares something really meaningful about themselves,” Wagner said.
As for why colleges look at writing, the primary reason is to gain a sense of the student, notes Otten, who been on both sides of the table, having previously worked in admission at Carleton College and financial aid at St. Olaf College. “What are they like, beyond test scores and grades? Their personality can come through in their writing,” she said. “As a reader of an application, you’re trying to see who this student is.”
Advice along the way
Parents have a small role to play as a sounding board, being available for a son or daughter to share initial ideas — such as when the Common Application essay prompt is being considered. And as Otten said, parents can do some minimal proofing, noting if there’s a run-on sentence or an example doesn’t make sense.
“It has to be the student’s original idea; that is what the admission office is looking for — who that student is, in his or her own voice,” Otten said. “If it is sanitized because of the parents and other adults are involved, it becomes something generic that doesn’t say anything about the student.”
It is okay to seek someone’s help to spot some grammar errors or offer big picture feedback, Wagner said. “What is problematic is if the essay is not completely written by the student.” For students working on their writing, Wagner encourages them to read an essay out loud with a friend or family member and to ask them if it is easily identifiable as the student’s work.
At times students worry about standing out with what they write in their essays — about whether their anecdotes are dramatic or packed with life-changing experiences or tragedies. But that worry is misplaced; colleges are seeking to hear an authentic voice and so writing about situations or concerns that could feel common place is fine. “I tell students that it is not so much the circumstance they describe that is going to make a good essay, it is going to be your reflection,” Otten said. “What are you thinking? Why is this important? If they can answer those kinds of questions they have a good essay.”
For parents who are concerned about deadlines, Wagner suggests that students put together a master calendar with key deadlines, including for essay writing, that the whole family can see. “If students take the lead in doing that, it is easy for parents to check-in,” he said.
What reminder should students keep in mind as they head off to polish essays this fall? For Otten, she finds students often need to remember to add enough specifics and to include enough reflection, sharing their thoughts and world view.
The application deadlines for Minnesota private colleges can all be reviewed in one place, to help with planning. Note that all Minnesota private colleges have options that allow students to apply at no charge.
By John Maning
For many college students, work study is an important part of their college experience — it offers an opportunity to earn financial support while getting more connected to their college. But work study is much more than just a college job. It contributes to student success.
“In the long run, work study is an important retention tool,” said Sara Nephew, assistant director of financial aid, Minneapolis College of Art and Design. “The students who participate in work study are able to manage their time better and are much more likely to graduate.”
This is the case across Minnesota private colleges and nationally. According to researchers at Columbia University‘s Teachers College, work study improves academic outcomes, positively impacts early post-college employment and has the strongest effects for lower-income students.
In the 2015-16 school year, 55 percent of Minnesota private colleges’ traditional bachelor’s degree seeking full-time students received work study with the average award being $2,403 for the year.
Work study is most often awarded as part of a financial aid package. Along with work study, this package can include grants, scholarships and loans. “At MCAD work study is need-based, and this means there is a limited source of funding,” Nephew said. “We get resources from federal and state aid, and then we supplement the rest. Unfortunately, with state and federal funding staying flat and minimum wage increasing in Minneapolis, students may not get as many hours as they'd like — every department is closely watching their work-study budget."
The importance of work study goes beyond time management and financial support. “Getting to know students on a deeper level is very important,” Nephew said. “For students to have one more person to help and guide them is huge.” This close connection to staff and faculty is a trademark of liberal arts education and is important to overall student success.
As for the students, work study can be an integral part of their college experience. As well as the financial aspect, many students get an opportunity to connect with a field or discipline in a deeper way. “A lot of our students need the money to make college work, and it often grows from there,” Nephew said. “Depending on where they are working — whether it’s the print shop or an art instillation, they pick up skills they’ll be using in the work force.”
On the surface work study is a good way to support students financially, but for colleges and students it’s more than that. It’s a way to keep students engaged on campus, have them connect with more higher education professionals and potentially dive deeper into their field of study — it’s about student success.
By Tom Lancaster
College is the time many people start figuring out what they want to do for a career. This time of discovery can be exciting — and daunting. Do we really know what we want to do for the rest of our lives at 19?
Carleton College has created a unique tool to help college students along this path of discovery. The tool looks at majors of graduates and their careers. “Pathways was designed to better understand the career trajectories that Carleton students take,” described Alfred Montero, political science professor and director of advising at Carleton College. “We wanted the project to look at what types of majors students received and eventually what type of careers they embarked on.”
The visualization is an interactive web application that shows the major of graduates and their career field. The major is on the left side of the visualization and the careers are on the right, connected by a line. These lines that connect major and career have different thicknesses that correspond to the number of graduates with a specific major and a specific career.
Once the tool was designed and developed it was used by advisors to help students start thinking about their majors. “We started using it to show students, particularly first- and second-year students, that their selection of major does not limit their career options,” Montero said. “Majors should be what students are interested in which certainly can inform a career path, but with the liberal arts these majors are not limiting.”
Advisors also use it to help spark critical thinking about students’ future career during junior year. “It became a very useful tool to help link academic choices made by students and possible career outcomes,” Montero said. “The tool enables students to answer their own questions about what they can do with their education.”
Carleton also uses the tool to talk with prospective students and parents. Many prospective students feel the pressure of having to know their major before going into college. The visualization tool communicates that with the liberal arts the student doesn’t need to know their exact career path. “The tool in part was created to bring some clarity around the liberal arts to parents and students,” Montero said. “Liberal arts enable students to have skills that meet the needs of all types of careers, regardless of major.”
In this way, the career path visualization tool highlights the strengths of a liberal arts degree. Student with a liberal education gain expertise in skills like critical thinking, problem solving and team work that are vital to every career field.
And with many careers changing rapidly, these types of skills are even more important. “We are preparing our students not for jobs of today or even jobs of the future but jobs we don’t even know will exist,” Montero said. “Communication skills, decision making, the ability to connect with people of different backgrounds, project management — these are skills that will continue to be important in the future and our students learn no matter what degree they receive.”
Craving another interactive career path tool? Check out The Hamilton Project’s new tool that looks at career paths and earnings of graduates within a college major.
By Tom Lancaster
The median family income for FAFSA-filing Minnesota students at our colleges falls within a similar range as the state’s public universities. (“Median” means that 50% of families have higher incomes and 50% have incomes lower than the amounts shown below.)
This can be broken down even further into three general income categories:
Source: Minnesota State Grant End-of-Year Statistics Fiscal Year 2016 report, Minnesota Office of Higher Education
Note: Uses adjusted gross income. Includes only Minnesota residents who file a FAFSA
*The Minnesota Private College Council’s 17 member institutions
International eco-fashion expert receives St. Kate’s top faculty honor
Professor Anupama Pasricha received St. Catherine University’s Bonnie Jean Kelly and Joan Kelly Award for faculty excellence for her outstanding accomplishments in teaching and scholarship.
MCAD celebrates capital campaign completion with community open house
A commemorative mural in honor of the completion of the Minneapolis College of Art and Design's first comprehensive capital campaign was celebrated at a community open house on September 16.
Carleton constructs geothermal well fields
Carleton College launched a new utility master plan with installation of geothermal well fields, transitioning from a steam plant to a low temperature hot water system.
Saint John’s Vande Hei ready for liftoff as first Johnnie astronaut
The 1989 Saint John’s University alumnus took off for the International Space Station in September.
Saint Ben’s president receives Bicentennial Medal from Williams College
College of Saint Benedict President Mary Dana Hinton one of five individuals to be honored at school’s Convocation ceremony.
St. Olaf chef showcases award-winning food
Executive Chef Matthew Fogarty stopped by WCCO-TV to provide a taste of why St. Olaf College regularly makes national 'Best Campus Food' lists.
St. Scholastica Peace and Justice series starts Sept. 28
The College of St. Scholastica will launch its 2017-18 Peace and Justice lecture series with a free presentation at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 28 in the Mitchell Auditorium on campus.
CSP recognized as a top college for adult learners
Concordia University, St. Paul is ranked third nationally by Washington Monthly in the 2017 Best Colleges for Adult Learners category.
How two Macalester students earned Sierra magazine’s official “bike-friendliness” designation
Macalester College became one of the few liberal arts colleges to achieve Silver status in the official “bike-friendliness” designation, thanks to students Ellie Hohulin '19 and Marlee Yost-Wolff '19.
Augsburg celebrates name change at academic year kickoff event
In September, Augsburg officially became Augsburg University and welcomed the most diverse incoming class in its 148-year history.
Saint Mary’s University hosts International Symposium on Lasallian Research
Educators and scholars from numerous countries will gathered at Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota’s Twin Cities Campus for the annual International Symposium on Lasallian Research.
Concordia renovated science center opens
Concordia College (Moorhead) opened its new Integrated Science center for the start of the academic year.
Hamline chosen as Minnesota’s First Truth, Racial Healing & Transformation Campus Center site
Hamline University was selected by the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) to be one of the nation’s first sites.
Fall campus visits
The schedule of campus visit events for prospective students for the upcoming academic year has been added to the Council website.
2017-18 Transfer Guide available
This handy reference for counselors and students alike offers campus-specific information about the transfer requirements at our 17 colleges and universities. View or download a free copy today.
Order copies of the new College Guide
With a one-page profile for each college, our 2017-18 College Guide can be ordered from the Council’s website. Also available is a PDF handout of our majors-minors grid.
Parent newsletter offers information on the college planning process
The Bridge: Parent News, our e-newsletter for parents of a middle or high school student, provides timely morsels related to the college planning process. Please consider sharing this useful resource with parents you might know — or sign up yourself!
For better learning in college lectures, lay down the laptop and pick up a pen
The Brookings Institution, Aug 10, 2017
Who's going to college in Minnesota?
Star Tribune, Aug. 8, 2017
Liberal arts is the foundation for professional success in the 21st century
Huffington Post, Aug. 18, 2017
Place your bets on college, not the lottery
Star Tribune, Aug. 26, 2017
Closing equity gaps in education
Pollen, Sept. 2017
Why Minnesota colleges and universities are getting into the certificate business
MinnPost, Sept. 1, 2017