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Do you want to know more about the world of college admissions? Check out The Sextant, a new monthly blog by HRA's Director of College Counseling Ben Rous. In this ongoing conversation about the college admission process, Mr. Rous will try to find truths (or at least, ideas worth considering!) about the world of college admissions.

List of 17 news stories.

  • The More Things Change, the More They Stay the Same

    It was a different year in college admissions this cycle.  At high schools across the country, many students who previously would have gained admissions to certain colleges found themselves put on a waitlist or declined altogether. Why this profound and widespread shift?
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  • The Wisdom of the Ancients

    When I became a parent, I got some advice:  Don’t try and make your children happy; help them be resilient.  I took this to mean that “happiness” is derivative—not a thing in itself but the result of how well one copes with the vagaries of life.   
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  • Goin' Jesuit

    Malcom Gladwell thinks casuistry gets a bad rap.  It’s a method of reasoning, originating with the Jesuit order, whereby moral dilemmas are resolved by extracting or extending theoretical rules from a particular case, and re-applying those rules to new instances. But through the lens of 17th and 18th century critics, it was seen as a sly, evasive, way of justifying questionable practices. Moral relativism! They would cry.
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  • “Madness, Hypochondria, and the Failure of College”

    In literature, madness often comes with freedom. It’s a freedom from societal expectation that leads to a gaining of clarity. Just ask King Lear. Or his Fool.  Or their friend Edgar.  All three use madness as a kind of cocoon that allows them the space to speak or find truth.

    In his book, The Hypochondriacs: Nine Tormented Lives, author Brian Dillon makes the case that Charlotte Bronte and Florence Nightingale similarly use hypochondria to give themselves space to create—Bronte in her literary works and Nightingale in her desire to reform the health care of British servicemen.
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  • The Power of Choice

    The COVID 19 pandemic has, among many other things, disrupted our ability to choose the activities we do.  This narrowing of choice had led many of us to invest more emotion in mundane tasks. Moreover, this investment frees us to enjoy these tasks on a deeper level—a trip to the grocery store becomes an outing; folding laundry gives us time to blissfully zone out or reflect; mowing the lawn is similarly inspirational.  The point is, a narrowing of options offers the opportunity to appreciate and reap the rewards of meaningful choice-making.

     Such are the claims of Sheena Iyengar, a professor at the Columbia University Business School and author of the book The Art of Choosing. Her thesis in the book is that having more options doesn’t always lead to better or happier decisions. To grasp her point, think of all those channels you have available to you in your cable package—does it make you happy to have such a range or is it frustrating? Or think of Pelican’s SnoBalls; have you ever found yourself paralyzed by the myriad flavors available?
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  • Project Oxygen and the Air We Breathe

    In 2008, Google launched Project Oxygen, a self-study designed to measure the effectiveness of their team managers. They found ten behaviors common to all the best managers (the bold is mine):
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  • The Darkest Hour is Just Before the Dawn

    It was already a tough year to be a Dean of Admission.

    Demographic inevitability finally arrived, and last year was the first year that colleges found themselves competing for a diminished pool of qualified, full-paying applicants. As a result, a number of small, regional colleges (particularly in the Midwest and Northeast) closed their doors or merged with other, healthier institutions. More than half of the four-year colleges and universities failed to make their freshman enrollment targets.
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  • “Just Because It’s Easy Doesn’t Make It Right”

    The previous post dealt with the inherent fallacy of valuing what is easily assessed instead of learning to assess what’s truly valuable. There is clearly too much of an emphasis put on the comfort and familiarity with objective data in the admissions process. This is especially true at the colleges of the highest selectivity.  It is perhaps ironic that the same misguided reliance on valuing what is easily assessed rather than what is truly important  is in fact what made that ultra selective college so ultra selective in the first place!
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  • “If a Tree Falls in the Forest…”

    We’re all familiar with the philosophical riddle, if a tree falls in the forest, and there is no one around to hear it, does it make a sound? Essentially, this question is exploring the role and relative dominance of objectivity versus subjectivity.  Those who answer “yes” to the question are subscribing to an objective orientation, those who say “no” to a subjective one.  In other words, saying “yes” means that you believe that sound exists objectively, independent of  whether someone hears it or not; an answer of “no” means you think sounds only exist if they are subjectively heard.  In this example, “objective” is best understood as something “existing independent of our perception/judgement of it” while “subjective” is best understood as something “that depends on a subject for its existence”.  OK, great.  So what? Well, it turns out that this enduring philosophical puzzle can also be applied to the college search and application experience.
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  • Lessons from love and The Office

    Have you ever experienced unrequited love?  You know, when you are crazy about someone and he or she just doesn’t feel the same way?  Sure you have; everybody has. And you had lots of guidance in how to deal with it.  
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  • What Do Standardized Tests Have in Common With the Flu

    A few years ago, as the latest strain of mutated flu virus was making its rounds in emergency rooms across the country, the media paraded out various talking heads to opine on the emerging pandemic.  One of my favorites was offered as a voice of reason: Let’s give it (the virus) the respect it deserves, but let’s not freak out about it was the spirit of the message (if not its exact letter).  Maybe I remember that now-obscure commentator’s message because I thought it a great way to consider standardized testing in the college admission process.
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  • The Risks of Freedom

    Do you remember the last time you gave a child a new or unfamiliar toy? Did you just hand it to her and walk away? Or did you take the time to show her how it works?
    Does it matter?
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  • The Carpenter and the Gardener

    Carpentry is about control:  the carpenter uses a blueprint, faithfully follows it using the prescribed tools, and produces exactly what she intended.  Gardening is about reaction and resilience:  a gardener controls precious little during the time it takes for a seedlings to grow into a finished product.  Based on temperature fluctuations, moisture levels, hungry animals, and other factors, the gardener must embrace flexibility.
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  • The Facebook Paradox

    There are lots of reasons to get off Facebook. It’s clear that users’ personal information and data have been handled irresponsibly, and there are a growing number of studies suggesting that chronic users are less happy than abstainers.  There is also credible evidence that employers and college admissions officers have used Facebook to help them vet applicants. (Cue the outraged teenage keening, why’d you read that?!  It’s private!)
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  • The Lessons of History

    Imagine that you are French; you speak it, eat it, live it. And then, one day, you’re not. You’re now German.

    That’s what happened to the inhabitants of the Alsace-Lorraine region of (now) France as a result of the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-1871. France’s defeat at the hands of the Prussians meant that France had to cede the territory to Prussia, the final piece of the puzzle that formed the new German Empire.
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  • “Choices, Choices…”

    I always find that the most stress seniors and their families seem to feel at this point in their process is over the one thing they can’t control—the admissions decision. Which is too bad, because there are actually three decisions to be made in this process:

    1. Where do I want to apply? (the student)
    2. The admission decision. (the college)
    3. Where do I want to attend? (the student)
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  • Welcome to the Jungle

    Welcome to an ongoing conversation about college admissions.  I will be regularly posting thoughts on the subject, and in keeping with the nautical theme of our school, I’m calling it The Sextant (though I could be convinced to change it if I hear a better suggestion!); I figured that, as a sextant is a tool used to navigate, so too might this blog be a useful tool for students and parents to navigate the college admission landscape.
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