Monday, April 25, 2011

Ethical Consumerism: Morality at the market

It may have started when my friend Nicole Leimbach encouraged me to buy cage-free eggs. Prior to that I hadn't thought much about which eggs I purchased.

One thing led to another and I've begun to look more seriously into ethical issues surrounding the foods I buy.

I’m following CNN’s Freedom Project this year, which details modern day slavery, a practice that fuels some food-producing industries. Just before Valentine's Day 60 Minutes ran a segment on unpaid child labor in the production of cocoa, the raw product that goes into making chocolate.

I’m taking more time reading labels at the grocery store in an attempt to understand where the food I buy comes from. However, it’s difficult to get that information. As an example, finding free range meats is almost impossible in most neighborhood grocery stores. And, as a chocolate-lover, it’s hard determining which chocolates are fair trade or ethical trade. I’ve also found that I can’t assume that chains like Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods stock products that meet my rising ethical standards.

I’m to the point of using my smart phone to search out information while standing in the grocery store aisles.

I discovered Knowmore.Org while doing a search on Endangered Species chocolate. I noticed that some of their chocolates were Fair Trade certified, and others were not. I wanted to “know more.” Knowmore is a good resource that goes beyond the grocery store and posts on other products as well.

It appears that some grocers use terms “natural” or “vegetarian fed” to describe chickens and beef, but these are not the same terms as free-roaming or grass-fed.

This may seem like a lot to do about nothing to most people. However, it is important to think about actions that affect the ethical treatment of people, animals and the environment.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Feeding the Hungry, Nourishing the Soul

CNN posted a powerful and challenging video that highlights a man who didn't become numb when seeing suffering surrounding him.

Here's a link to the video: Feeding the hungry, nourishing the soul.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Is this my "evil plan?"

I brought Hugh MacLeod's Evil Plans along with me on this trip. I'm in London, by the way. I'm off work because the students are on srping break.

Hugh lived in London for a time. Actually, he writes about the tension that comes with living in big cities. There's tension with life that comes with city living, and there's tension to make enough money and to be able to afford to live in a big city and do the things that successful people in big cities do.

I can relate to that. During the previous height of the dot com years  I lived in Marin County, Califronia, just across the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco. Everyone I knew worked for some start up or the other.

I left MIT in 1998 and began working at an exclusive private school in Marin County that enrolled children who had parents other people name-dropped about. I wasn't making even close to the money my dot come pals made, but I enjoyed going into San Francisco for after work meet ups South of Market (SOMA). My friends and I habitually met up at Thirsty Bear because it was close to FlySwat, which is where my close friends from MIT worked.

I lucked out because I was able to rent a house from the school I worked at. It was a nice house, just a mile from school, and George Lucas was a neighbor. (I only saw Lucas when he was driving out his gated compound. Once, when I was returning from a morning run, he was standing outside the gate of his compound, which startled me. Here he was - in the flesh. I stammered out a "hello" while all the time being struck by how short he was. It's funny how the mind works.)

I fear that I've not quite gotten this post on any sort of track. Let's see where we'll go.

I think that I'll talk about this blog.

About eight of so years ago, I bought my name: rolandallen.com and roland-allen.net. There are other "Roland Allens" out there and at least one of them, Roland Allen of the Kansas City Band, The Roland Allen Band, probably was late out the gate getting hold of our name.

There's a professor at Texas A&M who shares my name, and at least one person who is or was on death row.

I spent some time at Yale, which isn't that important. The relevant information is that I met a priest at an Episcopal church in New Haven who told me about Roland Allen, the British missionary. The next day after hearing about the Reverend Roland Allen (which, by the way, I came close to being called  - definitely another post), I went to the bookstore at Yale Divinity School and found a couple of Roland Allen's books, which I bought. I can't tell you how impressed visitors are when they see your name on the spine of books on your bookcase!

I've actually gotten e-mails from people who are interested in that Roland Allen. I feel badly when I write back to tell them of his death, well over a half century ago, and before I was born.

But back to The Roland Allen Post. I plan to stick with this blog and I want to make it good, even though it is "multi-focused." I write about things that interest me. I'm interested in more than one thing.

I write about college admissions because I know it so well. I write about literature, especially Flannery O'Connor, because I like to read and Flannery O'Connor speaks to life matters in a way that I like. I write about culture, poverty, suffering and diginity because I enjoy people, their cultures, and I care about human dignity.

Blogging is independent self-publishing. I've set two rules for myself : write about things you know about; and write about things that you care about.

I guess that I hope to see this  blog evolve into my "evil plan."

Saturday, April 2, 2011

I'm on a college wait list, what should I do?

You're correct in thinking that colleges placed a lot of applicants on wait lists this year. Here are actionable points to consider. Keep in mind that most colleges do not "rank" their wait lists. If space becomes available, colleges will consider admitting students who are interested in them.

Be thoughtful about pursuing admission to a college that placed you on the wait list. Think about if it's worth the effort. Many students who talk to me about wait list options weren't seriously interested in College X until the college teased them a wait list offer. The college is suddenly appealing because it's playing hard to get. In most cases, the student has been admitted to five or more colleges, but the other college lose their glow in light of the one that seems almost within grasp.

The fact is, this process has gone on for a long time and has dominated your entire senior year. It may be that the healthiest thing to do is to declare the process over. One course of action is to select a college you've been admitted to, tell all your friends that you've committed, join the newly formed Facebook group and meet other kids who are going to that college.

If you've decided that what I just said is crazy talk and you do decide to stay on wait list, I recommend being above board and ethical in the entire admissions process, particularly when communicating with colleges about your interest in the wait list.

Once you have heard from all of the colleges on your list, choose one college you’ll attend from among those that have accepted you. You should weigh this decision carefully. When you have chosen a college from among your acceptances, you need to reserve your place at the college by the May 1 reply date. Remember that you can only reserve a spot at ONE college. After May 1 colleges that do not hear from you in the affirmative will give your spot to someone on the wait list, so understand that you must reserve a spot by May 1. You should not expect to hear back about wait list offers until after May 1. If you're admitted to a college from the wait list, you will lose the deposit you put in at the college you selected on May 1.

Independent of deciding where to deposit on May 1, you need to decide whether you would rather attend the college that waitlisted you IF you were offered an acceptance. If you believe that you would, you should remain on the waitlist, following the steps outlined below.

NOTE: As a courtesy, you should notify colleges that fall lower on your list that you will not be attending. That will allow those colleges to get a handle on enrollment earlier rather than later and possibly offer that spot to someone on the wait list.
As soon as possible, respond to the college’s wait list offer. Follow up with a letter to the college in which you:
    1. Affirm your interest in attending the college.
    2. Respectfully express your disappointment at not being accepted;
    3. Make clear your appreciation that the admissions committee extended you a place on the wait list;
    4. State why you think the college is the right place for you;
    5. Say what you think you can contribute to the college community, i.e., it’s life, activities, etc.;
    6. If you can say so honestly, point out that you are continuing to work hard in the second semester, if your third quarter grades were better than your first semester grades, tell them so; be specific;
    7. Share details of anything new in your life— think about spring activities, whether you are working on something in the arts, whatever you may already have lined up for this summer, etc. If you have won any special recognition since applying;
    8. Declare that if accepted, you will come (remember, however, that you cannot ethically make such a promise to more than one college);
    9. Thank the college in advance for giving you serious consideration in the event that they are able to use their wait list.
  1. Determine with your counselor whether you should ask another teacher to write a recommendation for you, i.e., someone who has not previously written. If another teacher does write for you, the letter should be mailed aound April 15.
  2. Determine with your counselor whether a teacher who has already written for you might write again, reaffirming his or her support for you. Again, the letter should be mailed close to April 15.
  3. Discuss with your counselor the possibility of having someone who knows you and has a relationship with the college, e.g., an alumnus of the institution, write on your behalf. Once again—to be mailed by April 15.
  4. Note that all of the steps up to this point are meant to support your candidacy. There is nothing wrong with presenting several pieces of support. In a way, this is a new admission season—a new chance to convince them that you are THE ONE. Remember that your application was mailed in November or January and there might be additional information that you would like the college to know about you as they finalize their first year class.
  5. You may want to explore whether the college has alternative kinds of admission plans—one popular one is called January admit (meaning that you would sit out the first semester). Let the college know if you're willing to enter mid year.
  6. Keep in mind that the most important thing you can do at this point is present the college with attractive academic credentials. SO...
  7. KEEP YOUR GRADES UP!
  8. While you may pursue wait list options at multiple colleges, do not tell more than one college at a time that it is your “first” choice. (“First choice” preference may change. Please discuss this with your college counselor.
  9. Do not be obnoxious. Be thoughtful about every contact you have with the college. Pestering the college with unnecessary contact ("I'm just checking in") is a bad idea.
B. WHAT YOUR SCHOOL COUNSELOR SHOULD DO

  1. Ascertain as soon as possible (early May) whether the college will be using its waitlist and when you can expect to hear what your status is
  2. Promote your cause in writing and/or by telephone, calling the college's attention especially to improvements (if any) in your academic performance.
  3. You must keep your counselor informed of your entire admissions picture so that he or she can best support you.
Offers of admission to waitlisted students are sometimes made by phone, sometimes by mail, sometime by e-mail. The college will expect a quick decision if you’re moved from the waitlist; they want to move quickly to fill the space.

As you digest all the information that you will receive in the next few weeks, be sure to stay in close contact with your college counselor. This process can extend beyond your high school graduation until one of these three things happen:

  1. You get in
  2. You decide that you're no longer interested
  3. The college notifies you that the wait list is closed.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Why is it so hard to get into a "good" college?

Although I’ve changed the names and substituted “like” colleges, here is the text of an e-mail I received around this time some years back from a student's parent at one of the schools I've worked at:
Roland, 
Todd is completely devastated that he was not accepted into any of his top choices (Trinity, Lafayette, Hamilton, Colgate, and Georgetown). At this point, he has no interest in going to any of his "safe" schools, and I do not know if you have any suggestions on how to handle this. I know he had the numbers for a couple of these schools; do you have any idea what happened? I do not know if he has notified you, and if/when he does, I trust that you will not mention that I wrote to you, but I just need some direction. I followed your advice about staying out of the application process, but I need your help now. Todd was out of town until last night so he received all his denials then; not even a defer or wait list. Since he is truly reeling, I am letting him sleep this morning so I do not know when/if he will be at school today.   
Sincerely, Joyce Green
This e-mail has most of the elements of conversations I have with parents when their children aren’t admitted to a “top” university. The conversation becomes more animated when someone else’s child is admitted to a desirable college university. That’s when the comparisons begin and the student who gets a better prize is whittled down to a pile of imperfections by the parent of the offended student. The college process has failed.

I get it. It’s hard for parents to watch their children come in second or third. It’s particularly hard in the affluent demographic that I work with at the private schools I’ve worked at.

Today’s New York Times posted a series of timely articles. One of the articles,  Colleges Love to Say No  goes through why colleges work so hard to attract large applicants pools and then turn down so many candidates. I keyed in on one of the comments that was right on target,
I think we adults collectively owe our young people an apology for trading their sanity for our bragging rights. College admission is supposed to be the beginning of young adulthood, so admission to a selective college merely gains a young person the opportunity to prepare for the remainder of the adult life at one particular place rather than another. As the father of college-bound sons, it is all too easy for me to think (wrongly) that the colleges to which my own son was admitted reflect on the quality of my parenting. In fact, the truth is rather the opposite. I happened to go on an MIT campus tour a few weeks ago, just to see how the place had changed since I had been there. Obviously, students weren’t marching around protesting the Vietnam War. What hadn’t changed, though, was the seriousness of purpose. Ironically enough, such people are least likely to be distracted by an adverse college admissions decision; they would just find somewhere else to follow their passion.
Early in the college process, I jokingly comment in talks with parents that their child’s college admissions results aren’t a referendum on the quality of their gene pool. Or, I may twist it and say that parents shouldn’t make students feel that they’ve failed the gene pool if they’re not admitted to an Ivy League college or Stanford or MIT. Few parents get the point.

In my many years in the business of college counseling, I’ve found that disappointed parents don’t want to be reasoned with. They really want someone to be mad at. The usual target, or weak link, is the secondary school - especially if the child attends a private school that charges a hefty tuition. 

The reasoning is that the child has done everything right, and the college is perfect (which is the reason so many students apply and want to attend) - thus, the only weak link in this seemingly simple equation is the school counselor – someone wrote a poor recommendation, or gave the child misleading information on editing his essays.

Actually, in many cases, the applicant isn't a compelling candidate for a particular college - but that's not something that parents want to hear when they're disappointed. Another reasonable point that doesn't make sense to anyone who hasn't worked in highly selective admissions, like I have is that college admissions is designed to serve the college. Period. It’s all about the college and the college’s institutional priorities.  Colleges admit the students they want to admit. Those are the rules of engagement.

Does this mean that normal, good, smart kids who aren't athletes, or rich,or Nobel prize winners can't get into a highly selective college? In many cases, yes. The fact is, college admissions is complicated and highly nuanced stuff. It's also not a process that can be mastered by even the most meticulous planning. I'll address that reality with more detail in subsequent posts. 

I love my job. I enjoy working with students and their parents. I enjoy seeing students work hard and achieve their goals. This is a difficult time of the year for most people who do what I do. Yet I just sent in my contract signing up for another year. I’ll most likely do the same next year, and the year after that, and the year after that. Even though I might get the blame at the end of the process, I’ll still encourage students to dream big. I’ll also be the voice of reason when need be, even when my advice isn’t welcome.  And I’ll continue to write killer letters that recommend my students to the best colleges and universities in the world.

But, back to the original subject of this post: disappointed parents in the selective college process.

What's going on here? I think is pretty simple. These are parents who have always "made things" happen for their kids. The college application process is the first time when these parents are powerless to "close the deal" for their kids. At their private schools, these parents are able to get what they want from teachers, school administrators and coaches. However, the colleges are in charge when students apply to college.
College admission offices are poweful and annonymous places that make their own rules.  This is mysterious and uncomfortable territory for parents and students alike. This places powerful people in the role of supplicants. It's a humble place to find oneself. Yet, that is the way it is