Saturday, January 23, 2010

Yale's new admissions video strikes a different chord

Yale University hardly needs the promotion, but it’s difficult to resist the campy exuberance of That’s Why I Chose Yale,” a music video premiered with much fanfare on campus and across the country via YouTube. In her email introducing the “new Admissions rock musical,” Yale Associate Director of Admissions Marcia Landesman said, “We think it is safe to say that there has never been another admissions presentation like it!” Then again, she’s probably never seen Appalachian State is HOT HOT HOT” or the series of Marshall University TV commercials—other musical college recruitment videos currently making the rounds on YouTube.

But the Yale video is different, for Yale at least. The 16-minute musical foregoes campus stills and student interviews pasted together with acappella renditions of old school favorites. Instead, viewers are treated to an entire production company of more than 200 students, faculty and staff dancing across library tables and through residence halls. Even NBC’s Brian Williams makes a cameo appearance, clearly avoiding an obvious prompt to sing his lines. Although the net effect is more Bollywood than Ivy, the message is fun and removes any hint of stuffy from the Yale image.

Targeting a generation of high school students weaned on Disney’s High School Musical and MTV, “That’s Why I Chose Yale” does evoke mixed reactions from prospective students, alums, and current undergrads. Armchair critics characterize the production as everything from embarrassing to fabulous. One local undergrad remarked, “It’s 14 minutes too long.” Another viewer called it “cheesy.” But many wonder exactly who the real audience might be. After all, as one prospective student pointed out, “Yale chooses us—not the other way around.”

If the goal was to create “edgy fun buzz” around the internet, then the video has succeeded. At last count, YouTube posted nearly 152,000 hits, including many from staff at local high schools who have been frantically forwarding the link with notes reading, “You have to view this!” And maybe you should

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

UVA posts 4 percent increase in applications for the Class of 2014

CHARLOTTESVILLE—Despite a decline in the expected number of high school graduates in the Northeast and mid-Atlantic states, applications are once again on the increase at the University of Virginia. Projecting a 3 to 4 percent growth in the total number of applicants for the UVA Class of 2014, Dean of Admission Gregory Roberts speculates that the flood of applications “represents the triumph of economics over demographics.” He goes on to explain that UVA “is an attractive option for recession-strapped families, having been ranked as No. 1 ‘best value’ among public colleges for two straight years by the Princeton Review.”

But beyond looking for value, applicants also appear to be attracted to more practical professions with guaranteed post-graduation employment. The number of students applying to the School of Nursing rose by more than 20 percent, and applications to the School of Engineering and Applied Science went up by about 10 percent. “My informal theory would be that in a bad economy, these are the kinds of jobs that people are drawn to,” explained Theresa Carroll, assistant dean in the UVA School of Nursing.

Among public institutions, UVA represents a great bargain, especially for in-state students. The total cost of attendance for the current freshman class is estimated at $21,140 for Virginians and $43,140 for out-of-state students. The University’s financial aid program, AccessUVa, guarantees student aid packages meeting 100% of demonstrated need—with no loans for students from families whose income is up to 200% of the federal poverty level. For students receiving aid, the average award is $15,840.

In addition to financial advantages, student recruitment was also bolstered by UVA’s continued participation in a traveling road show including admissions representatives from Harvard and Princeton universities. The joint tour attracted huge numbers of high school students and their families throughout the country—1400 participants at a single information session in Washington DC. While UVA’s applications went up by 3 or 4 percent, Harvard’s applicant pool crossed the 30,000 mark for the first time in school history and Princeton experienced a 19 percent bump in applications received.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Virginia's public institutions once again named 'best value'

The Commonwealth is on a roll! Earlier this month, Virginia’s colleges and universities made an impressive showing on Kiplinger's Best Values in Public Colleges for 2010, with 6 schools named among the top 100 in the nation. This week, the TODAY Show and USA Today debuted the Princeton Review Best Value Colleges for 2010, and for the second year in a row, the University of Virginia topped the public college list followed by Virginia Tech, the College of William and Mary, James Madison University, and the University of Mary Washington.

Across the Potomac, the State of Maryland was also represented on the Princeton Review list. Salisbury University, St. Mary’s of Maryland, and the Naval Academy earned three of the highly-coveted places among the top 50 in the nation.

Area private colleges did less well in the ranking. The only local schools appearing among the 50 Best Value Private Colleges were Sweet Briar College and the University of Richmond. Once again, Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania topped the 10 Best Value Private Colleges, with Harvard University and Weslyan College of Macon, Georgia, coming in at two and three respectively.

The Princeton Review selected its 100 “best values”—50 public universities and 50 private colleges—based on surveys of administrators and students at more than 650 institutions. Selection criteria covered academics, costs, and financial aid. “[T]he economic crisis and financial downturn have presented sobering challenges both to families struggling to afford college and to higher education institutions struggling to maintain their programs in the face of budget and funding shortfalls” said Robert Franek publisher of the Princeton Review. “We are pleased to partner with USA Today to present these schools for all they are doing to provide outstanding academics at a relatively low cost of attendance and/or generous financial aid.”

Tuition, fees, and room and board at four-year public institutions jumped 46 percent, from an average of $10,440 in 2000 to $15,210 last year, according to the College Board, which tracks costs. For private four-year institutions, costs rose by 28 percent during the same period. But to counter these increases, “Best Value” colleges provided on average $875 more in grant money per student this year over last. Nine schools on the list don’t even charge tuition, including the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland.

For UVA, the total cost of attendance for in-state students is approximately $19,112 and $41,112 for nonresidents. Need-based aid distributed to undergrads rose from $37 million in 2003-04 to $59.1 million last year, and 1250 entering students received these funds, according to USA Today. The average student got $9673 in need-based grants and graduated about $19,016 in debt.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

College rivalry plays out in local chess championship

As reported earlier, college rivalries come in all shapes and forms. The more traditional football or basketball rivalries are celebrated events attracting huge national audiences. Other rivalries might be less visible, but are competed just as fiercely on fields of play appropriate to the sport.

One such rivalry, while not as long-standing as The Game between Harvard and Yale, is the chess duel between the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC) and the University of Texas—Dallas (UTD). Capping a near flawless performance over four days of competition play, the UMBC chess team recently captured first place at the Pan American Intercollegiate Championships held at South Padre Island, Texas, soundly beating both UTD and the University of Texas—Brownsville for possibly the biggest win in team history.

Earning bragging rights as champions in the “World Series of College Chess,” the UMBC Retrievers placed ahead of 27 other teams including Yale, Princeton, Stanford, and NYU. “This may be the greatest chess accomplishment for UMBC because it came against the strongest competitive field ever assembled on college chess,” said Alan Sherman, director and founder of the UMBC chess program and associate professor of computer science.

UMBC has now won or tied a record nine Pan-Am titles and is among the best college teams in the country. UTD challenged in the past, winning the championship in 2007 and 2008.

Members of the team include Leonid Kritz ’12 and Sergey Erenburg ’11, who are both grandmasters, and Giorgi Margvelashvili ’12, Sasha Kaplan ’11, and Sabina Foiser ’12. Many players attend UMBC on chess scholarships—up to full tuition plus a housing stipend. They play at least two hours per day in mentally challenging workouts and yet maintain very impressive GPA’s.

In 2008, UMBC got swept into its first-ever run to the NCAA men’s basketball tournament. But that was nothing compared to the crushing chess victory over rival UTD, at a school where “chess is king” and "Retrievers are believers."