Computer Science Woes

At many colleges and universities, the Computer Science major is impacted, that is the major continually gets more eligible applicants than it can accommodate. This is a problem that has existed for several years and appears only to be getting worse. At the Cal State University campuses “impacted” is also a designation that allows the Computer Science department to require a higher GPA or specific major preparation as a way to reduce the pool of applicants to those who are best prepared to enter the major.

If you or your student wants to major in Computer Science, you will want to read these three articles to better understand the situation:

  • Here’s what happened with Computer Science majors at Haverford, Princeton, Bryn Mawr, Stanford, Pomona, and San Francisco State in 2018.
  • Here’s an analysis of the Computer Science teaching shortage from 2019 that appeared in the Communications of the ACM, the monthly journal of the Association for Computing Machinery. It also explains how different colleges including RIT, UT Austin, Pitt, UIUC and RPI have tried to address the teaching shortage.
  • Maybe you think I am just talking about the past. Here is a piece from June 2022 on the demand for the Computer Science major at the University of Washington and the reasons for their inability to meet that demand.
University of Washington

Can I Get In There?

If you are wondering what your chances are at getting accepted to a particular college or university here are four things to consider:

  1. What percent of students do they accept?
  2. What criteria are important to that college?
  3. How well do you meet the criteria?
  4. Will the major you have selected have an impact on whether you will be accepted?

What percent of students do they accept?  

The higher the percent of students the college accepts, the better your chance for admission. If the percent acceptance is very small, your chance of admission is very small.

Percent acceptance ranges between 2 or 3 % and 100%. Schools that accept 100% include many 2-year community colleges and some 4-year colleges.

Some schools accept a much different percent of applicants depending on whether the student applies as an early decision, early action or regular decision applicant. Percent acceptance may also vary by gender or ethnicity. In-state and out-of-state acceptance rates vary significantly and many public colleges and universities.

What criteria is important?

Important criteria may be reflected in the school’s mission statement. It also may be reflected in published data (see collegedata.com) which indicates how important (i.e., very important, important, considered, or not considered) each of the following is to the particular college:

  • Rigor of secondary school record – Rigor considers the number of years of a particular subject that you have taken.  Colleges often specify the number of years required or recommended for a particular subject like English, Math, Science, Social Studies, and Foreign Language. Rigor also looks at the level of the course you took (e.g., college prep, honors, AP, IB) as compared to what your high school offered.
  • Academic GPA
  • Standardized Tests
  • Class rank (if available)
  • Recommendations
  • Application essay
  • Application interview
  • Level of applicant’s interest
  • Extracurricular activities
  • Volunteer work
  • Particular talent/ability
  • Character/personal qualities
  • First generation to attend college
  • State residency
  • Geographic residence
  • Relation with alumnus
  • Religious affiliation/commitment
  • Ethnicity
  • Work Experience.

How well do you meet the criteria?

For every criteria that is very important, important or considered by a particular college, consider how you will measure up.

For example, consider how your grades and course rigor and how your SAT/ACT test scores compare to the students the college accepts. If your high school has Naviance or SCOIR, you can use scattergrams to get an idea about how your grades and test scores stack up to others from your high school that applied to a particular college or university.

Will the major you have selected have an impact on whether you will be accepted?

The acceptance rate at some universities may also be dependent to the college which you are applying. For example, the College of Engineering may be more competitive than the College of Arts and Science.

Some majors which are in high demand and/or which there are few professors may be “impacted” majors. They may be more difficult to gain acceptance into than other majors. You may get accepted to the college or university, but not for your first choice major. At some schools, no one is accepted directly for a particular major. Students can only declare that major after meeting certain criteria as a college student (e.g., completing certain college courses with a particular grade).

Conclusion

Be realistic about your chances of admission. Be sure to include colleges with a high and medium probability of acceptance, not just colleges with low probability of acceptance.

If you need or want assistance with the college selection and application process, work with an experienced independent educational consultant like me. I help students select colleges which meet their academic, social and financial needs and I work with them throughout the application process to make sure they put their best foot forward in their applications.

Colleges Still Accepting Students

It’s May 2. Yesterday was National College Decision Day, the deadline to select the college you will attend this fall and to make a deposit. 

However, if you are still looking for an undergraduate college for the Fall, go to nacacnet.org and review “College Opening Update.” Currently, the site lists 337 colleges with openings, and the list is updated daily. You can search the site by state (or country) or several other criteria.

When I searched by state for colleges in Pennsylvania with openings, I found a mix of 33 public and private colleges listed alphabetically by college name. For each of these colleges the following information was provided: college name, whether they are public or private school, the size category, whether they are accepting freshmen or transfers, whether housing or financial aid are available, a contact person, email address, phone number and website.

For example, the first entry looked like this:

Albright College
( PA )

Enrollment: Private,non-profit
1,000 – 4,999

Freshman: Yes
Transfer: Yes
Housing:
 Yes
Financial Aid: Yes

Contact: Jennifer Williamson admission@albright.edu

Phone:  (610) 921-7700
Website:  https://www.albright.edu/home/

Albright College

Senior Year Blues

If you are a high school senior and not feeling great about your future because of the following all is not lost:

  • You didn’t apply to college, but you recently decided want to go
  • You applied to college, but you didn’t get accepted into any of the schools you applied to
  • You applied to college, but none of the schools you got accepted to are affordable for your family or
  • You applied to college, but you don’t like any of the schools you were accepted to.

Here are three approaches you might take:

  • Attend a local community college or a college with open admissions in the Fall
  • Take a gap year, and apply to colleges in the Fall
  • Check the list of colleges with available space in the Fall on the NACAC website (https://www.nacacnet.org/) typically posted on May 2 or 3. Apply to the colleges that you would like to attend and that you believe will be affordable for your family.

Best of luck!

New Year’s Resolution for High School Juniors

If you are a high school junior who made a New Year’s resolution to start college planning in earnest, here are ten things you can be doing:

  1. Do your best in your classes and extracurricular activities.
  2. Plan your summer. Consider a job, a learning experience, and/or a volunteer activity.
  3. Select challenging classes that interest you for your senior year of high school.
  4. Prepare for and take the SAT or ACT.
  5. Determine what you are looking for in a college: academically, socially and financially.
  6. Discuss with your parents how much money is available for college.
  7. Build a balanced list of colleges that meet your needs and that which is affordable for your family.
  8. Research and visit the colleges on your list, virtually or in person.
  9. Write your Common App essay after the prompts are announced, typically in January or February.
  10. Make a list of your extracurricular activities, volunteer activities, jobs, and hobbies that you spend time on regularly starting with the summer after 8th grade. Include any leadership positions you held, the number of hours per week and weeks per year you spent on the activity, and in what grades you participated in the activity.

If you need assistance in any of these, feel free to reach out to me.

25 Things to Do After Getting Accepted Early Decision

Congratulations on your early decision acceptance. Here are 25 things to do:

Follow college’s instructions that came with your acceptance.
Stop work on any other college applications.
Withdraw any other applications you have submitted to by emailing the admissions office. Include your name, high school, and a brief note that you were accepted early decision to a binding program and you will be attending that school. 
Follow your high school’s procedure for recording your acceptance.
Thank your high school guidance counselor and those who wrote letters of recommendation for you.
Look for outside scholarships.
Get a meningococcal conjugate vaccine if you will be living in a residence hall. If you received it before their 16th birthday, you will need a booster shot for maximum protection before going to college.
Request that an official final high school transcript be sent to your early decision college. This can’t be sent until the current school year is over.
Send ACT/Sat score officially through the testing agency if it was previously only self-reported. 
Take any pre-tests required before registering for fall classes.
Determine if you can receive credit for college level work you took while in high school and submit any paperwork needed (e.g., send official AP scores or official transcript from dual enrollment courses)
Review course catalog and register for fall classes in accordance with college’s directions.
Complete financial aid verification process, if necessary. 
Accept or decline the loans you have been offered. 
Complete loan counseling online for any loans you are accepting. 
Sign master promissory note for any loans you are accepting. 
Consider finding a summer job.
Submit housing deposit and enrollment deposit.
Sign up for summer orientation.
Confirm freshmen move-in date and make your travel plans. 
Purchase items needed for college living. 
Check student portal and email daily.
If you don’t already have one, open a bank account.
Look into getting a state ID card if you don’t have one and don’t have a driver’s license. 
Consider reading a book like “The Naked Roommate” and/or “How to Survive Your Freshman Year” before college starts.

The Challenge of Transitioning to College: Professors

Guest Post by Alexander Merrill, Owner of Alliance Tutoring, Greenwich, CT

That face is still burnt into my memory, a photograph that will never fade: Professor Judy Smith, her granite features nestled into the corner of memory cluttered with lessons learned. I had signed up for her Native American Literature class in the fall of my sophomore year at Kenyon, or rather I had attended the class the first day and got her to sign a slip of paper that allowed me entry.

I was not nearly responsible enough to know when the deadline for course sign-ups was, much less grasp its importance or impact. “Native American Literature” sounded interesting to me. I liked Geronimo, the Battle of Little Bighorn and Pocahontas, so this class would do well enough, I figured. I still had no idea what to major in, but English classes were decent for me, so why not? Smith seemed all right to me at first glance, not uninteresting and a reasonable enough person on the surface. Besides, it fit into my schedule during an afternoon Monday/Wednesday/Friday slot, allowing me to retain my sleep-in schedule, by far the biggest consideration in course selection.

Freshman year had been a breeze. I had been crushed at Exeter with 5 hours of homework crippling every night (there was a class of student at Exeter that never left their rooms, only to go to CVS to get crates of water and bags of mini-pretzels, just to get Bs). The days of class had been equally arduous, heckled as much by classmates as teachers, who tended to hang back and watch the carnage with wry smiles behind their folded hands. So I was academic concrete. Besides, I had taken the equivalent of all AP classes my senior year: Bio, English, History, Calc AB. So at Kenyon, to ease the transition, I “cleverly” signed up for all the same classes: Intro Bio, Intro English, Intro History, and Intro Calc AB. I essentially repeated my senior year of highschool, doing about 20 hours of classroom work all year to get a B+ average (Dad, if you’re reading this, which you probably are, I’m so sorry….). So I delayed my reckoning one year, which I suppose actually saved me, ironically, given I had a chance to figure out social dynamics, extra-curriculars, fraternities, and… well, things like where the bathrooms were (underrated!).

Unfortunately, in my late-teenage arrogance, I figured that the same lackadaisical approach would work just fine sophomore year, given I had skirted the system successfully the first year. And so it was that one afternoon in October, I walked into two classes on a Wednesday afternoon that had blue book exams for which I hadn’t studied. Not only had I not studied for them, I hadn’t read a single word of any of the books that the tests covered (or any of the sparknotes!). The first was a Shakespeare class, the second was Smith’s Native American literature class, the hot stove that would leave its singing mark.

Though I BSed my way through, I received a D on both exams, probably generous given that I said basically nothing for several hours but brain vomit. It was a call from the metaphorical front desk. The only grade below a C+ I had gotten before that was the Chem class I took at Exeter (a nightmare for another tale). My current approach was not going to work anymore. The party was officially over…except on Saturdays, nothing could have stopped that.

Following the episode, I turned the volume on my studies. By large decibels. I read every single word of every book from that day forward for both classes, studied the reading guides, attended every class, took notes, dressed snappily. The second test rolled around and I was exceptionally well-prepared. I destroyed the blue book exams, proudly I walked out with the satisfaction of effort winning over adversity. But then I got the grades. Shakespeare: A, excellent work. Native American Literature: D. Not a D+ or D-, a flat D. She didn’t like me. Perhaps she didn’t like how smug I had been. Perhaps she didn’t like the number of classes I had missed early on, my orientation, my gender, how I looked at the clock too much, how I dressed in clothing a little too large, that my eyes were slightly askew. I don’t know. It didn’t matter, not even a little. She was bearing a grudge and that was all.

I went in to meet with her during office hours, my bluster high. I pointed out the argument I had made, the accuracy of my analysis, my knowledge of the details; I also committed Satan’s worst sin: I argued that her red marks, blood on the page, were inaccurate and just downright wrong. This is not the right thing to do…. She was intransigent, unmoved, her iron jaw locked, the steely look of utter distaste for my entire existence dripping from her inert features; her gray locks cut as neatly as a freshly cut lawn, indifferent to the world of such stray grasshoppers.

The next exam, D. The final exam, D. The class, D (though I continued in all due diligence). Injustice roiled my stomach all semester, detestation that still lingers in my memories 20 years later– blame and regret. At one point I even petitioned the department over the grade, though I later withdrew the petition when I realized the truth: PROFESSORS HAVE COMPLETE IMMUNITY. Like complete. They’re tenured and untouchable. Not only was brown-nosing appreciated and revered by peers and professors in college. It was necessary. It was survival.

This is not to vilify, most of them were very nice, very understanding, motivating, even empowering and life altering (Professor Klein, looking at you, big guy. You’re a freaking god!). But watch out for the Professor Smith’s of the world. Your relationships with your professors take on a more peer-like feel, and similar to your peer relationships in high school, if you don’t manage them well… it’s down the existential sinkhole.

About the Author:

Alexander has taught English, coached, and dorm-parented for nearly 20 years at Dartmouth College, The King School, Kingswood-Oxford, Philips Andover and The Taft School. He is an expert at the college application process, including college essay writing, standardized test preparation, and the recommendation process. He has tutored hundreds of adolescent teens and young adults from middle school through college level on all spectrums, behaviorally and academically. He attended Philips Exeter Academy and received an undergrad degree from Kenyon College and a Masters Degree from Dartmouth College.  He lives in Middlebury, CT with his three rug rats and wife, Alexa.

Finding Colleges That Fit

Selecting colleges is a critical piece of the college planning process.

How not to select colleges. I’ve seen students who have built their college lists in a poor or even random fashion. Often they were unhappy with their subsequent college experience. Sometimes they ended up with an unplanned transfer that cost time and money or they dropped out of college.

Don’t select colleges:

  • So you or your parents can brag about the college.
  • Because someone else, not you, likes the college.
  • Without reflecting on what you want in a college and knowing how the college meets that criteria.
  • Because someone else went there or is going there.
  • Because of ranking.

Identifying college criteria. Consider why you want to go to college and what makes a college right for you. If you go to a residential college, the college will not just be your education; it will also be your home and social life. Identify academic, social, and financial criteria by reflecting on what you need and want.

Separate your college criteria into must-have and nice-to-have categories. If you have too many must-have criteria, there may not be any colleges that match all of them. Talk with your parents or guardians about how much money they have to help you with college costs so you can identify realistic financial criteria.

As you identify college criteria, avoid these common traps.

Don’t:

  • Get hung up on published college rankings. You are building the best college ranking: a ranking that is based on criteria that are important to you!
  • Eliminate small colleges for the wrong reasons. So many students say their college must be bigger than their high school without thinking this decision through. If a student goes to a large high school, this decision might eliminate a large percentage of colleges. For example, almost 62% of U.S, colleges have under 2500 students.
  • Limit the distance the college is from home because you think that will save you money. Other parts of the country have excellent colleges that may be less expensive than the colleges in your region even with the additional travel costs. Consider how often you will be going home or your family will be visiting you each year when making this decision.
  • Focus too much on a major. Be aware that many students in the U.S. are undecided about their major when they start college or change their minds about their major after they start college.
  • Leave financial concerns until after you have selected colleges. If finances are important, need-based and/or merit aid should be integral to the college selection, not something you worry about after you have made your college list. Most aid comes from the government or the colleges. If you have financial needs, select colleges that meet as close to 100% of your need as possible. Most colleges don’t meet 100% of your need leaving you with a financial gap that is hard to fill. If you are seeking merit aid, select colleges that give merit aid, typically these are colleges where you will be in the top quarter of their incoming class.
  • Eliminate a college because the list price is high. The important price is the price college will cost your family after grants and scholarships. You can get an idea of how much need-based aid you might receive by using each college’s Net Price Calculator. Sometimes the Net Price Calculator also estimates merit aid.
  • Stop addressing your learning differences when you go to college. If you have been receiving accommodations during high school for learning differences and/or ADHD, this is not the time to go it alone. Research and visit with the disability services personnel at the college.
  • Stop addressing your mental health needs when you go to college. If you have mental health needs, learn about and meet the campus mental health professionals before college starts. Be sure to make arrangements to continue meeting with your current mental health professional or establish a relationship with a private, off-campus mental health professional in case the campus services are inadequate (e.g., a limited number of sessions per semester, too long a wait for appointments).

Finding colleges that meet your criteria. Once you know what you are looking for in a college, search for colleges that meet most or all of your must-have criteria and have many of your nice-to-have criteria. Many search engines can help identify colleges based on common criteria (e.g., size, location, majors available) including NCES College Navigator, College Board’s Big Future, and Naviance. More unusual criteria will often require the use of additional resources.

Researching colleges. Once you have identified colleges that meet most of your needs and wants, do in-depth research on:

  • Chance of admission
  • Academics (e.g., general education requirements, class sizes, tutoring availability)
  • Likely majors (e.g., number of professors for the major, number of students in the major, required courses for the major, areas of research)
  • Career services and what happens to graduates (e.g., jobs, graduate school)
  • Dining and housing
  • Clubs and activities
  • Social life
  • Surrounding community.

Take notes about what you learned, what you like and dislike about the college, and questions you have. 

You can find college information from websites and social media, college brochures, college newspapers, current students and alumni, college fairs, virtual college visits, independent college guides and books. Familiarize yourself with a variety of sources to gain an objective and broad understanding of the data and choices facing you. One of the best ways to learn more about a college is to experience it firsthand through an in-person campus visit, preferably when college is in session.

Visiting colleges. Plan your college visit. During that visit, learn as much as possible by:

  • Attending an info session
  • Taking a tour
  • Sitting in on a class
  • Looking at bulletin boards
  • Eating in the cafeteria
  • Reading the school newspaper
  • Talking to students
  • Staying overnight (if available)
  • Having an interview (if available)
  • Having your parents talk with the financial aid office
  • Talking with a professor or chairperson of the department you would like to major in
  • Walking or driving around the surrounding neighborhood.

Building the list of schools you will apply to. Based on your college research and visits make a prioritized list of colleges you would be happy to attend from the first choice to the last choice.  Select six to eight schools.  No more than a third should have a low probability of acceptance.  Include at least one college with a high probability of acceptance and at least one with a high probability of acceptance that your family can afford without aid.  In some cases, you may want to apply to between four (e.g., if your four top choices are all high probability of acceptance) and ten colleges (e.g., if you want to apply to more low probability of acceptance schools or if you are shopping for the best financial aid package).


If you follow this process, it is likely that you will be happy with your college experience and will meet your college goals.

Making a small college seem bigger

A number of small colleges are part of a consortium, allowing them to seem bigger because they can take advantage of shared resources like classes, clubs, libraries, dorms, cafeterias and cultural events at other schools in the consortium. Which resources are shared vary from school to school. Consortiums are most effective when the member colleges have calendars and class times that align and when the colleges are physically close.

For those of you who wouldn’t consider a small college, you might consider attending a small college in a consortium to get the feel of a medium or large college. Here are four consortiums to consider:

  1. Claremont McKenna colleges has 5 adjacent private undergraduate colleges in southern California
  2. Haverford and Bryn Mawr Colleges and to a lesser extent Swarthmore College (private colleges in Pennsylvania)
  3. Five College Consortium consisting of 4 small private colleges (Smith, Mount Holyoke, Amherst, and Hampshire Colleges) and 1 large public university (UMass Amherst) in western Massachusetts.
  4. Olin, Babson and Wellesley Colleges (3 private colleges in Massachusetts).

What is your experience with making a small college seem bigger through these or other consortiums?