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2013 December 25

Second Common App submission

Around 1 a.m. on Dec 25, my son submitted the second of his Common App college applications (Stanford).  He now has seven days to do 4 more applications. Originally he had planned to take Christmas off, but he has fallen behind schedule, thanks to a bad cough and 2 full days spent rehearsing and performing in WEST Ensemble Players’ production of Inspecting Carol, where he had the role of Sidney Carlton (and hence the roles of Jacob Marley and Mr. Fezziwig).  The production was an excellent one, with all the actors cast true to type.  I’m looking forward to their production of Much Ado About Nothing in the spring—he’s with a very talented group of actors this year.

Actually, he’ll only have 6.5 days to do four applications, as I promised him that if he got the Stanford application done before going to bed, I’d sign him up for the 3-day workshop with Ailin Conant of Theatre Temóin that WEST is doing on Dec 30, Jan 2, and Jan 3.  (The link to the site will probably break in a few weeks, as WEST does not keep archival links to classes once they are over—I think that they should maintain permanent links for each class, but they generally discard chunks of their website every 4 months, and reuse the URLs.)

I doubt that he can get all four applications done in time, but I’ll be satisfied if he gets the next two (Brown and MIT) done.  The ones after that on the list CMU, Caltech, and Olin, did not seem to be as good fits, though each is still a good enough fit to be worth applying if he can get the essays done.

It was a good thing that he and I were checking the completeness of the application process together tonight, as he found a mistake I had made—the transcript and counselor letter had not had their final submission.  I was unable to complete the submission with Firefox—the Common App website went into an infinite pause generating the PDF preview.

I had no trouble doing the submission with Chrome, though.  I did see that they added headers and footers to all the uploaded documents, one of which interfered with footers I had put in the transcript (to explain the codes for the different educational providers).  I took advantage of needing to fix the footers to update a few other things on the transcript—like the name for the English course he is taking fall semester, and his intention not to continue with Page to Stage (one of his four theater activities in the fall) in the spring.

He now has 2 complete applications (fully downloadable by the colleges) on Common App, plus the UC applications.  In another week, he’ll be essentially done with college applications (with just the UCSB College of Creative Studies additional application).


2012 May 13

John L. Hennessy on online education

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 21:56
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The IEEE Spectrum recently published an article by John Hennessy (president of Stanford) about the experiments Stanford has been doing with online education: John L. Hennessy: Risk Taker.

I remember taking classes from John back when he was still an assistant professor, and I have a great deal of respect for his opinions. I recommend reading this article about how he views online education, even if I’m not as optimistic as he is about how well online education and online credentialling is going to work.

2011 November 23

Stanford’s on-line courses reviewed

Along with 1000s of other people, I was interested by Stanford’s experiment in online computer science courses (see my posts Stanford Engineering Everywhere, Mark Guzdial doubts AI course is real).  I just read an interesting review of them by “Puzzler”: Thoughts on Programming: Review of 2011 free Stanford online classes. In brief, Puzzler believes that the database and machine-learning courses were successful and the AI course (which got the most publicity) a failure (both in content and in delivery mode).  Puzzler felt that the database course was accessible to high schoolers, but the machine learning course required more math than most high schools offered.

The machine-learning course might be a good one for my son to take next year, though, to broaden the knowledge of machine learning that he is getting this year as part of his home schooling. By then he’ll probably have enough calculus to be able to handle it—he already has enough linear algebra, I believe.

There are 12 Stanford Engineering Everywhere courses for Spring 2012: three intro to computer science, three AI (including the successful Machine Learning course), four linear systems and optimization courses from EE, and two other  CS courses.  They will also be putting a number of seminars and webinars on the web.

2011 October 28

News from Stanford CS

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 17:18
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I got the annual alumni letter from Stanford Computer Science today, and I noted a few interesting factoids, along with the piles of rather uninteresting news about people I didn’t know:

  • Stanford has seen an 83% increase in computer science undergrads over the past three years, which they attribute to their new undergrad curriculum, which started in 2008–09.
  • The CS program is swallowing the Computer Systems Engineering program, making it a track in CS.
  • The CS department estimates that 90% of all Stanford undergrads take at least one CS course.
  • The admission rate to their PhD program is about 10.3% and to their MS program is about 18.4% (but their co-terminal masters has a 96.7% acceptance rate, which they attribute to clear guidelines about who will be accepted, so few futile applications). Both grad programs have higher acceptance rates than Stanford undergrad admissions (7%), but CS grad programs are hard to get into at Stanford.
  • The PhD program has started doing 3 lab rotations in the first year, as is common in some other fields (like the UCSC bioinformatics program), but Stanford thinks that they are the first pure CS department to do rotations.
  • Stanford has eliminated their comprehensive exams in CS but not put in place any course requirements.

I’m not hugely impressed with the growth in undergrad enrollment: UCSC computer science grew 140% in 3 years without swallowing computer engineering, which also grew 122% (yes, both more than doubled from 2007–08 to 2010–11). []

Having 90% of undergrads take a CS course without it being a requirement is pretty impressive.  But Stanford does require a general education course in engineering or applied science, and CS may be providing the easiest of such courses, so their success here may be from offering some courses seen as super lightweight ways to meet a requirement, rather than from real interest in learning anything.  I wonder if they have ever bothered to check that, or if they even care.

I’m pleased to see that Stanford is finally doing lab rotations in CS for the PhD students.  I did that on my own (thanks to fellowship funds) when I was a grad student at Stanford, but many students were left to flounder or work for the first lab that would take them. I generally spent more than a quarter on each project I worked on, but a more disciplined quarter on each would probably have gotten me through the program faster.  Not that I was in any hurry—being a Stanford CS grad was a great experience, and I would have stayed longer if my funding hadn’t dried up.

Stanford’s elimination of the comprehensive exam, while continuing their no-courses approach to grad school tells me that they have gone into depth only at the expense of breadth.  What I valued about my time at Stanford was the enormous breadth of research to be involved in.  They seem intent now on producing very narrowly focused researchers, which will probably mean that future Stanford grads will be less adaptable and thus less valuable in startups or faculty positions.



2011 August 18

Need-based vs. merit aid

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 10:24
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Financial aid for college has become almost entirely “need-based”, except for athletic scholarships. In the process of writing my previous post about Stanford’s on-line AI course, I looked up what Stanford tuition is, and was directed to a page of statistics about Stanford: Stanford University Common Data Set 2010-2011.  In addition to the estimated cost of being a Stanford undergrad (about $55,611), they have statistics on how much is spent on financial aid:

Need based Non need based
$ $
Federal 7,396,882 237,927
State (i.e., all states) 3,528,578 18,348
Institutional (endowment, alumni, or other institutional awards) and external funds awarded by the college excluding athletic aid and tuition waivers 117,012,781 4,845,292
Scholarships/grants from external sources (e.g., Kiwanis, National Merit) not awarded by the college 4,301,567 5,699,901
Total Scholarships/Grants 132,239,808 10,801,468
Self Help
Student loans from all sources (excluding parent loans)  1,802,162 5,450,674
Federal work study 2,563,595
State and other work study employment 2,039,516 1,011,460
Total Self Help 6,405,273 6,462,134
Parent Loans 6,558,758
Tuition Waivers
Athletic Awards 2,643,976 14,095,400

Note that non-need-based awards other than athletic awards are primarily external and total $10.8 million, while non-need-based athletic awards come to $14.1 million.   Clearly Stanford aggressively recruits athletes, but not scholars.

Note that they do give a lot of need-based awards, $117 million, which dwarfs all other financial aid.  Still, a 2% increase in that funding would wipe out “need-based” loans, and a 6% increase could wipe out all Stanford student loans (well, another 6% to wipe out parent loans as well).  Redirecting the non-need-based athletic scholarships could guarantee that no Stanford undergrad took out student loans!  I doubt that would ever happen though, as Stanford has long prized athletics over any other art form, at least based on how much they subsidize it.

Of course, Stanford is hardly typical of financial aid.  Do other schools provide more merit-based aid?

The UCSC Common Data Set pages are less well formatted, but just as interesting. The total scholarships and grants are $100,995,238 (need-based) and $3,280,555 (non-need-based), so merit-based aid is an even smaller percentage of aid than at Stanford (though more of the merit-based aid is institutional rather than external).

Notably at UCSC loans and work study are bigger than at Stanford, making total self-help much bigger: $45,1121,901 (need-based) and $13,626,044 (non-need-based).  Parent loans are also big at UCSC: $1,960,207 need-based and $21,236,029 non-need-based. There are no athletic awards at UCSC.

Students acquire far more debt going to UCSC than going to Stanford.  The UC system is no longer a low-cost way to get a first-rate education, and it looks likely to continue to get more expensive while quality declines for as long as we have a government more interested in running the world’s largest prison system than they are in the world’s largest research university.

Merit scholarships have practically disappeared.  Only need-based aid and athletic scholarships still exists, which means that bright kids from the middle class are getting squeezed out of college education.


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