Sunday, November 16, 2014

University admissions. Some stuff they don't tell you.

...and they don't tell you because they don't (often) KNOW to tell you.

Anyway, this is stuff I've learned at the last minute, and I hope this helps someone. May it be imputed unto us as a righteousness.

(Non-USA readers: Welcome back and just sit back with a soothing beverage, marveling at this byzantine process. Oh, and ovah heah, we often use "university" and "college" and "school" interchangeably.)

This is primarily deals with getting those whom you've offsprung into very competitive universities. Relatively few schools fall into this category, so don't sweat it in EVERY case.

Anyway.

Start by selecting all the conceivable, possible places your kid would like to attend. Whittle that down by scratching out the ones you dislike. Then divide the list into "Dream," "Likely," and "Safety" schools. At NOS' school, they have a computer "scattergraph" that shows you at a glance the likelihood of your child being admitted to this or that university based on grades and standardized tests. These are the things we'll look at right off the top.

First, grades.

If you're lucky/smart you're reading this when your kid still has 3 or so years to start thinking of this.

Good.

I cannot overemphasize how much easier everything gets with a good grade point average. If you have to go all "Simon Legree's tiger mother" do it. Do whatever you have to, short of a felony, to get your kid to study and do well.

I've discovered, in the case of boys, that video games are the Anti-Christ, the sworn blood enemy of optimal academic performance. A little video game activity AFTER schoolwork and on weekends is fine, but if your son has a 75" HD TV with PS4, XBOX and Wii and surround sound, you have a very uphill fight. (NOS has none of these, Deo gratias.)

You'll have to check to see what assignments and tests are coming up, and make sure they are completed. In NOS' case, the magic bullet was making sure he studied for tests "the day before the day before." This puts the subject matter into long term, rather than short term, memory. This is key, because your average teenage boy has the short term memory of a goldfish entering rehab.

Second, the SAT. Don't waste your time on prep courses. The SAT is, at its core, an IQ test and its answers have a "pattern." The easier it is for your kid to "spot the pattern" the more accurate his (or her, I don't discriminate) guesses are, and the higher the score. My suggestion? Find a whole mess of Official SAT Practice Tests. Have your kid take the first one WITHOUT TIMING and OPEN BOOK. You want him to see where he "guesses/answers wrong" and what the testmakers thinking is IN REAL TIME.

I cannot stress this enough.

Once your kid sees how a given test is "wired" when he comes to a question he can't answer correctly in a few seconds, he will know HOW to eliminate the other answers. I guesstimate this is worth +/-250 points.

Oh, and many top-tier schools will also ask your kid to take "SAT subject tests." I very strongly suggest your child takes a given subject test the summer immediately following having completed that course in high school. If your daughter took biology in 10th grade, that's the time to take the corresponding test. Why? Because the material is fresh in her mind and if she takes it mid-12th grade, she'll have to study a LOT for that test and her odds of doing well are nowhere near as good.

Next we come to the dreaded essay. If your child is applying to a top-tier institution, this could be worth as much as the SAT and/or grades. One Very Big Deal University admissions person told me that 95% of applicants "flat-out cannot write, of the remaining 5%, 3% can write, but just in a 'grammatically correct way' and only 2% can write both correctly and well. That 2% gets admitted pretty much regardless of grades or SAT scores."

Some douchebag unscrupulous parents will write their kid's essay for him, or worse, hire a ghostwriter. Don't. The people at the admissions office who read essays -- and most of them do nothing but read essays -- are keen spotters of the "voice" of a 12th grader...or "mutton writing as lamb" as it were. My suggestion? Have your kid write the essay WELL ahead of its due date. A week later, have him rewrite it and then you edit it. Make suggestions, check for solecisms, etc. Don't CHANGE anything, but, rather, send it back with your notes and markups. Let him change it. Repeat 2-3 or times.

The essay (and this is why the few kids who can nail it get in no matter what) has certain things it must accomplish:

1- It must address the question. ("What do you consider the most important quality in a 21st Century global citizen?" or whatever.)
2- It must be grammatically correct. (Skip the artistic license for now.)
3- It must be a very engaging read. If the reader forgets he's reading "an application essay" that's a win.
4- It must, very subliminally, underscore all of the points which the admissions office considers favorable. (More on this anon.)
5- OPTIONAL - If you wish to lay claim to one of the various demographic groups that are treated with a measure of advantage, look for an essay question (usually they have three) that has wording such as "your culture" or "heritage" or similar. The essay should subliminally touch upon one's favorable demography without beating people over the head with it. Similarly, if seriously difficulties have beset your family that can be plausibly assumed to have affected your child and his/her performance it should also be brought up subtly at this point.

After this, look over the application materials. If a given university is "on the Common app" AND they waive the application fee, apply to it...what the Hell. But be warned, about half of the top-tier schools are NOT on the Common app for a number of reasons of varying levels of reasonableness and validity. It is what it is.

When you are poring over these materials, especially from the top-tier universities, be on the lookout for the term "holistic admissions." This means "we'll let your kid in based on whether we like him/her and not on any objective criteria." Which is a positive if your child is in a desirable demographic category, not so much if not.

This is where we hit some serious turbulence. I am not here to argue in favor or against these factors in the admissions process...just to tell you what they are, how they may affect you and how you can navigate them to your child's benefit. So don't get your ideological undies in a twist.

In schools that specifically tout their "holistic admissions" sex and ethnicity matter a great deal. They will emphatically deny it, but -- and I can't tell you how I know this to be 100% true, you'll just have to trust me -- that is the case.

Female applicants in the "STEM" areas have a colossal advantage, for instance.

Most Hispanics* have an advantage over their Anglo counterparts, African-Americans have an advantage over most** Asian-Americans. It is what it is.***

In these cases, what "holistic admissions" means to applicants is (and this is a direct quote from an Ivy-league admissions type) "We want to let you in, please give us an excuse."

This doesn't mean that if your child is a WASP from a nice suburban school he has no chance; not at all. But he or she should "compensate" with the other things mentioned herein.

Another crucial factor is "interest quotient" which is not merely "how badly does this applicant want to attend this august institution?" but "How is this applicant's seriousness of interest evidenced?"

Your child should start communicating with the admissions office and any persons affiliated therewith. Some have "student ambassadors" who sit in the admissions meetings and offer whatever insight into a given applicant and, although they have no vote, their input is taken very seriously and can often sway the decision. Your child should be in email conversations with these folks, asking about student activities, internship and practical-experience opportunities, asking questions about campus life, etc., etc.

A campus visit, if at all possible, should be scheduled and followed up with email conversations.

This will be helpful also should the university in question require an interview. (The further up the top-tier you go, the likelier this will be.) In the matter of the interview, you should conduct a few mock-interview rounds with your little darling. No so much that the responses sound "canned" and rehearsed, but so that the answers are fluid and devoid of the "uh...um" and "you know" and "like." The metric for success is that the closer this comes to a conversation the better, and the more it becomes an interrogation with monosyllabic answers, the worse.

Like in the essay, this conversation should touch upon "the good stuff" as noted above and as will follow.

The last thing to shore up are the extracurriculars. Ideally (and in the case of top-tier schools, it's practically an unwritten "must") your child will have:

1- An athletic activity (croquet, baseball, whatever)
2- A community service.
3- A leadership component (this, incidentally, is NOT the same as joining the Leadership Club)
4- A personal interest (the Kite club, the Astronomy club)

Regarding items 1, 2, and 4, the more years doing this your child has, the better...especially as it shows commitment. This is key.

There can be some overlap, of course (being elected president of the croquet club, for example) and where there is no ideal activity for your kid, have him/her start one, showing both the interest and the leadership.

Lastly, if you at all have ANY "ins" at a given university, it's okay to deploy these, but NOT HEAVYHANDEDLY.

Hope this helps someone!

-J.

* Cubans are, for the purposes of university admissions, the "wrong" kind of Hispanic. In those applications listing these as multiple choice and given that 90% of Cubans have family in Spain or Latin America, I suggest ticking the box that says "Hispanic/Latino Other."
** Filipinos, for the purposes of university admissions, are the "right" kind of Asian
*** Because some surnames are not obviously of a given ethnicity or someone may have one Anglo and one "ethnic" parent, it will be an OPTIONAL question on the application to state one's "ethnic self-identification."

Posted by JMG at 8:34 AM 2 comments

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Twitter.

I know it sounds like a lousy excuse, but it is, alas, sadly true.

Twitter ate my blog.

This blog, at least over the last 4-5 years* has been diced into 140 character chunks and fed to the blue bird.

Sorry about that. When things are devolving madly, in heretofore news ways, it's easier to shoot out small blips of stuff than it is to sit and compose.

-J.

*Whoa.

Posted by JMG at 2:16 AM 0 comments

Thursday, July 25, 2013

It only took almost 5 years, but...

...I think that, for me, the recession is finally over, effective today.

It's about as much a month as I used to pull in every 4 days, but hey, I'm unbelievably grateful and relieved.

Thank you, God.

-J.

Posted by JMG at 9:24 PM 2 comments

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Jamaican-ness, for KPB

Jerk Chicken and Caramelized Pineapple

This serves 4 and goes pretty quick, but you’ll need to think ahead about two days. If you can't find decent pineapple, none-too-ripe bananæ work just as well. The idea is to have a caramelized sweet something to tame the heat from the jerk.
  • 2 t ground allspice
  • ½ t ground cinnamon
  • ½ t ground nutmeg
  • 1 t ground black pepper
  • 1 t kosher salt
  • ¼ t dried thyme
  • ¼ c plus three T brown sugar
  • 2 T soy sauce (low-sodium, ideally)
  • ¼ c lime juice (+/- 4 limes)
  • 1 T cider vinegar
  • ½ c peanut oil
  • 3 spring onions, chopped finely
  • 8 cloves garlic
  • 2 T minced ginger
  • 1-3 habanero or Scotch Bonnet peppers (the habanero is pointy, the SB is squat-shaped, they are both incendiary and interchangeable), seeded and deveined depending on your heat tolerance. My preference is two, one seeded and one intact.
  • 4 lb. skin-on, bone-in chicken
  • 5 T gold or dark rum, divided
  • 1 pineapple, peeled, halved, cored and sliced lengthwise into 12 spears
Add allspice, cinnamon, nutmeg, black pepper, salt, thyme, ¼ c brown sugar, soy sauce, lime juice, vinegar and oil to a blender. Blend well. Add green onions, garlic, ginger and hot peppers and purée until smooth. Divide jerk sauce in half. Reserve half in refrigerator.

Place chicken, 2 T rum and remaining half of jerk sauce in a zippered plastic bag. Marinate in the refrigerator overnight or up to two days.

At least four hours prior to cooking, place pineapple, remaining three T rum, and remaining three T brown sugar in another zipper plastic bag. Shake to combine and dissolve sugar. Place in refrigerator to marinate.

Light charcoal and when they are covered with gray ash, bank over one side of your grate.

Note 1: In Jamaica, this is cooked over “pimento” (i.e. allspice) wood. Your best bet to mimic this is to use soaked wood chips in a foil packet, with a bit of (soaked separately) bay leaves, rosemary and allspice. Make sure to poke a few holes in any such packet, an explosion of flaming splinters is unappetizing. If you're stuck doing this in an oven, add 2 T smoked paprika to give the illusion of cooking over live fire. Some people - people who buy bay leaves at wholesale or have a laurel tree - make a "nest" of soaked bay leaves to put between the grates and the chicken. It helps, but I don't consider it mission-critical.

Set to preheat for 5 minutes. Clean and oil the grill grate. Place chicken on the grill, skin side down. Cook until skin is crisp and charred, about 4 minutes. Move to “cool” side of the BBQ and flip, turning and basting occasionally with marinade until a crust forms on the outside of chicken and an thermometer reads 155°F (It'll rise upon resting) when inserted into the thickest part of the breast (about 30 to 45 minutes). As chicken nears the end of cooking, remove pineapple from the refrigerator and cook, brushing with glaze, until browned and lightly charred on all sides (about 6 minutes).

Note 2: Be aware that the chicken is prone to flare-ups, so it needs to be watched and fussed with a bit during the cooking and basting process.

Remove chicken and pineapple from grill. Allow to rest for a 10 minutes. Serve with remaining jerk sauce and lime wedges.

Jamaican Beef Patties

Dough:
  • 3 c all-purpose flour
  • ½ t salt
  • 2 T curry powder
  • 1 c cold butter or shortening
  • ¾ c iced water
  • 1 T cider vinegar
  • 1 egg (or 2 yolks, if you have any extra)
Filling:
  • 2 T peanut oil
  • 1 med yellow onion, diced as finely as your patience will allow.
  • 4 spring onions, chopped finely
  • 1 T fresh thyme
  • ½ t Scotch Bonnet pepper, chopped
  • 1 lb ground/minced beef
  • 1 t fine sea salt
  • Water
  • 1 c bread crumbs
  • Fresh ground pepper
  • Egg wash (1 egg beaten with ¼ c water)
For the dough: Combine the flour, salt, curry powder, and butter in a food processor and pulse to combine.

In a separate bowl combine water, vinegar, and egg/yolks. Add "wets" to the food processor, and pulse until a cohesive ball JUST forms. Cover dough in cling wrap and let it rest in refrigerator for at least ½ hour.

Heat oil in saucepan over medium heat, add onions, scallions, thyme, and Scotch bonnet peppers. When onion begins to soften, add ground beef, salt, and enough water to barely cover the meat. Simmer, over low heat, for 20 minutes. Add bread crumbs and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper. Remove from the heat and allow to cool.

Preheat the oven to 375° F.
 
Roll the dough out to 1/8-inch thick. Cut the dough into 3 (for cocktails) or 6 inch circles (if you're posh or fussy) or squares (if you're lazy or frugal). Place 2 T of the meat filling onto half of each dough round. Brush the edges of the dough with the egg wash. Fold the dough over the filling to make a half moon/triangle shape and seal with a fork. Place the patties on a parchment lined cooking sheet and place in the oven for 25 to 35 minutes.

Sweet Potato Pudding
  • ¼ c all-purpose flour, plus more for the pan
  • 3 lb sweet potatoes (ideally the Caribbean boniato or batata)
  • ¼ c shredded coconut
  • ¼ c raisins
  • ½ t vanilla extract
  • ½ t ground cinnamon
  • ½ t ground ginger
  • ¼ t ground nutmeg
  • 1 c packed dark brown sugar
  • 3 c coconut milk
  • ¼ c evaporated milk
Preheat oven to 350° F.

Butter and flour a 9”x13” baking dish.

Grate (the grater attachment on a food processor is ideal) the potatoes and put in a large bowl. Add the flour, coconut, raisins, vanilla, cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg and mix well.

Heat the sugar, coconut milk, and evaporated milk in a saucepan over low heat until the sugar is dissolved, about 4 minutes. Pour the coconut milk mixture into the potato mixture and mix well. Pour the mixture into the baking dish, smooth the top, and bake until set, about 1½ hours.




Posted by JMG at 11:11 AM 0 comments

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Almost there.

http://www.gonola.com/2013/07/11/drinking-with-the-pros-tales-of-the-cocktail-in-new-orleans.html

Posted by JMG at 11:08 PM 0 comments

Monday, July 08, 2013

Here's a hint.

http://www.foodrepublic.com/2012/07/11/tips-surviving-tales-cocktail-new-orleans

Posted by JMG at 1:38 PM 0 comments

Monday, July 01, 2013

People get ready...

Almost that time of the year, again.

Posted by JMG at 8:33 PM 0 comments