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Friday, October 23, 2009

Study Finds Growing Work for School Counselors

New York Times
October 20, 2009

The struggling economy has taken a toll on those directly responsible for advising students about the college admission process.

Nearly half of public schools have raised the caseloads of high school counselors this year, compared with last year, with the average increase exceeding 53 students, according to a study by the National Association for College Admission Counseling.

At the same time, the report said, the pressures on applicants (and, by extension, their counselors) are growing, as the number of applications to four-year colleges continued to rise, along with the number of students applying to colleges under early-decision programs.

In many respects, the report, “2009 State of College Admission,” seeks to quantify the extent of the frenzy engulfing many of today’s college applicants.

For example, about 22 percent of students who enrolled in college in the fall of 2008 applied to at least seven colleges, up from about 19 percent from a year earlier. Meanwhile, the average acceptance rate at four-year colleges declined slightly, to 66.8 percent in 2007, the last year for which the report provided full data in that category, from 71.3 percent in 2001.

Those applicants who find themselves on a waiting list face tough odds of being accepted. Fewer than one in three on such lists in 2008 were ultimately accepted, according to the report, about the same as a year earlier.

And yet the report included some indications that the pressures on applicants could soon ease. The number of students graduating from high school annually is believed to have peaked this spring, at 3.33 million, according to the report, so competition for places in colleges should diminish over the next few years.

But families of children in elementary school take note: the nation’s collective high school graduating class “is projected to rebound to 3.31 million by 2017-18,” the report said.

Many applicants rely on their school counselors for advice on college admissions, and the report described the rising workloads of those counselors, particularly at public high schools. (While private school counselors are also working harder, in many instances, fewer than 20 percent reported that their caseloads had increased since the last school year, compared with 45 percent of their public school counterparts.)

Among the states with the highest student-to-counselor ratios are California (986 students for each counselor), Minnesota (799) and Utah (720), according to the report, which cited government data for the 2006-7 school year. While Illinois was listed as having the highest ratio (1,172), the report suggested that the figure was probably “the result of a reporting error,” and was most likely closer to about 700.

Sandie Gilbert, a counselor at Highland Park High School in Illinois said in an interview that she had a caseload of about 280 students this year — an increase of about 45, or 20 percent, since she first began working at the school 15 years ago.

“It’s been inching up every year,” Ms. Gilbert said.

About a quarter of her students are freshmen, who have been streaming into her office since school began in late August with any number of “acclimation” issues, she said. Another quarter are seniors, whom Ms. Gilbert must serve not only in one-on-one guidance sessions but by writing college recommendations for each.

“I wrote 43 recommendations before Oct. 15, and that’s at home, at night,” she said, citing the November deadlines for early-decision applications.

“I was really busy every single period, for the first six weeks of school,” she added. “I’m just now eating lunch. It’s been sitting there on my desk. It’s 2:30.”


Friday, October 09, 2009

Oxford University Interview Questions: The Examples

Times Online
October 8, 2009

Subject: Geography
Interviewer: Lorraine Wild, St Hilda’s College
Q: If I were to visit the area where you live, what would I be interested in?
Lorraine Wild: ‘The question gives candidates an opportunity to apply concepts from their A level geography course to their home area. They might discuss urban planning and regeneration, ethnic segregation and migration, or issues of environmental management. The question probes whether they are able to apply ‘geographical thinking’ to the everyday landscapes around them. It reveals the extent to which they have a curiosity about the world around them. By asking specifically about their home area the question eliminates any advantage gained by those who are more widely travelled and have more experience of a variety of geographical contexts.’’

Subject: Modern Languages
Interviewer: Helen Swift, St Hilda’s College
Q: What is language?
Helen Swift: ‘Although I would never launch this question at a candidate on its own, it might grow out of a discussion. Students sometimes say they like studying Spanish, for example, because they 'love the language'. In order to get a student thinking critically and analytically, the question would get them to consider what constitutes the language they enjoy – is it defined by particular features or by function (what it does)? How does form relate to meaning? And so on.’

Subject: English
Interviewer: Lucinda Rumsey, Mansfield College
Q: Why might it be useful for an English student to read the Twilight series?
Lucinda Rumsey: ‘There's several reasons I might ask this one. It's useful in an interview to find some texts the candidate has read recently and the Twilight books are easily accessible and popular. Also, candidates tend to concentrate on texts they have been taught in school or college and I want to get them to talk about whatever they have read independently, so I can see how they think rather than what they have been taught. A good English student engages in literary analysis of every book they read. The question has led to some interesting discussions about narrative voice, genre and audience in the past.’

Subject: Medicine
Interviewer: Robert Wilkins, Department of Physiology, Anatomy and Genetics
Q: Why does your heart rate increase when you exercise?
Robert Wilkins: ‘The simple answer, which all students can provide, is because you need to deliver more oxygen and nutrients to muscles and remove metabolic products. But follow-up questions would probe whether the student appreciates that there must be a way for the body to know it needs to raise the heart rate and possible ways for achieving this. Answers might include sensing lowered oxygen or raised carbon dioxide levels. In fact, gas levels might not change much, so students are further asked to propose other signals and ways in which those possibilities could be tested. This probes selection criteria such as problem-solving and critical thinking, intellectual curiosity, enthusiasm and curiosity, and the ability to listen.’

Subject: Biological Sciences
Interviewer: Martin Speight, Department of Zoology
Q: If you could save either the rainforests or the coral reefs, which would you choose?
Martin Speight: ‘I’d expect students to be able to use their general knowledge plus their common sense to come up with an answer – no detailed knowledge is required. Students might then be asked about the importance of natural features, such as biodiversity and rare species, and human interests, such as the fuel and food, ecotourism and medicines we get from rainforests or reefs. Finally there are impacts to consider from climate change, soil erosion, pollution, logging, biofuel replacement, overfishing, etc. The final answer doesn't matter – both reefs and rainforests must be managed sustainably to balance conservation and human needs.’

Subject: Law
Interviewer: Ben McFarlane, Faculty of Law
Q: What does it mean for someone to ‘take’ another's car?
Ben McFarlane: ‘There is no right answer to this question. For example, can you take a car without driving it, or even without moving it? Our focus is on the candidate’s reasoning – how he or she formulates an initial definition and how he or she then applies and refines that initial definition in response to hypothetical examples provided by the interviewers. One example might be: I am walking along the street when it starts to rain. I open the door of an unlocked car and sit there for 15 minutes until the rain passes. Have I ‘taken’ the car? The aim of the interview is to give the candidate a chance to show his or her application, reasoning ability and communication skills.’

Subject: Engineering
Interviewer: Byron Byrne, Department of Engineering Science
Q: How would you design a gravity dam for holding back water?
Byron Byrne: ‘This is a great question because the candidate first has to determine the forces acting on the dam before considering the stability of the wall under the action of those forces. Candidates will probably recognise that the water could push the dam over. The candidate would then be expected to construct simple mathematical expressions that predict when this would occur. Some may also discuss failure by sliding, issues of structural design, the effects of water seeping under the dam, and so on. The candidate will not have covered all the material at school so guidance is provided to assess how quickly new ideas are absorbed. The question also probes the candidate’s ability to apply physics and maths to new situations and can test interest in and enthusiasm for the engineered world.’

Joanna Sugden

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