Recommended Reading

In no particular order:

  • The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People – Stephen Covey
  • 12 Rules for Life – Jordan Peterson
  • Atlas Shrugged – Ayn Rand
  • The Communist Manifesto – Karl Marx
  • 1984 – George Orwell
  • The Gulag Archipelago – Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
  • A Brave New World – Aldous Huxley
  • The Bible

What is America?

Over the past decade, I have come to realize that many people do not know what America is; what makes America unique as a nation, and what it stands for. This is troublesome to say the least. So here is a brief primer for those who are interested.

First, a few things that America is NOT:

Is America a geographical area, political borders, or a particular mapping of territory? No. This country has changed shape many times in its history, yet still remains a nation.

Is America a people?  No. Those who created this country have long since passed. Since then we have seen waves of immigration in the millions. So we America is not about any group or subset of people.

Is America a land of Laws?  No.  We have laws that are very similar to many other countries, so many are not unique to us. Our laws have also changed drastically over the past two hundred years. So we may be governed by laws, the country is not defined by them.

Is America about shared values?  No. (but it tried to be!) This nation started off with plurality as a central paradigm. Our forefathers enshrined a very well crafted set of values in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, and these values are what made America great. Still, these values have slowly evolved over time as new values came into the fold.

Is America about an ideology, religion or philosophical orientation?  No, no, and no. America is no more a Christian nation than it is a Muslim nation. Our founding fathers expressed atheistic and agnostic views, and they very strongly cautioned future generations regarding the separation of church and state. So we are not defined by any particular religion.

Is America about military strength, technology, entrepreneurship, trade, diversity, the English language, or any one of the thousands of other facets that might accurately describe us?  NO! These characteristics are features , but they certainly do not DEFINE us.

So what IS America?

America is a Constitutional Federal Republic.  So it is our Constitution that defines us above all else.  And those shared values mentioned above?  We used to hold many common values sacred. Ask any immigrant who arrived here prior to the 1990’s and they will tell you the same thing – all had to assimilate and adopt the core values upon which this country was founded. Every wave of immigrants faced opportunities and challenges; from the Chinese to the Italians, from Germans to the various Hispanic peoples, each group faced discrimination, poverty, and difficulty. But all assimilated, and each group thrived in the long run.

But they came here because of our Constitution and our values. The values shared by these early immigrants included individual liberty, personal responsibility, accountability, industriousness, merit, justice, fairness, and equal rights, to name several.   

Our founding fathers certainly could not solve every problem facing the country in the late 1700’s. To expect such a thing would be incredibly naïve. They did not address a few very obvious problems, such as slavery, religion, women’s rights, and colonialism to name just a few. Sadly, we have yet to adequately resolve these issues in the intervening 200+ years aided by incredible leaps in technology and prosperity.  

They did, however, leave us a nearly perfect country, along with structures and a blueprint of sorts for its improvement.

And we were handed this country with the hardest work already done!

So as you spend time alone or with your loved ones this week, I hope you will reflect on how far astray we have drifted from the ideals gifted to us by our founding fathers. And despite our differences and challenges, I hope you will find cause to celebrate and to be mindful of our mutual blessings. 

It is in our hands now, and I hope we will do what’s right in the coming years; to strive for a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our children.

Happy Thanksgiving

The Secret Path to the Ivy League

By Richard S. Hyland

Each year a new wave of high school students apply to college with the hope of gaining acceptance to a selective college or university. Of course where there is opportunity and prestige there is also competition, and perhaps nowhere is this more manifest than in gaining entrance into a top school.  Many students, despite having a strong background in high school are edged out in the fierce competition. 

Fully ninety-five percent of students who gain entrance to Princeton and Yale each year are in the top ten percent of their graduating high school classes, and the other six Ivies are similarly weighted with top students.  Those students not in the top ten percent may include legacies (students whose parents attended the same school), students from states with lower representation at that particular school (think Alaska) or students who have other strengths like unique creative abilities or a fresh perspective as demonstrated in their admissions essays.  This leaves many excellent and highly qualified students out in the cold. 

Most students who are rejected from their first choice simply move on to their second or third choice schools, while others may appeal the decision.  (Many, though not all, top schools offer applicants the ability to appeal the decision, but most students do not gain entry upon appeal according to the College Board.)

Another, less obvious way to gain entry to a top tier school is to start at a community college.  Perceptions of community colleges vary greatly depending on whom you ask, but it might be surprising to some that community college students regularly transfer to top ranked four-year colleges.  For parents, Community colleges have great appeal due to their affordability, academic support, and proximity to home among other things.  But a lesser known benefit is that they can also serve as an alternate pathway into elite colleges. 

While hard statistics on the number of students who gain acceptance to top schools in this way are hard to come by.  “Parents and students have been using this approach forever,” says Professor John Christesen, Chairman of the Department of Business at Westchester Community College.  “Over the years, many of our best students have gone on to great schools like Wharton [University of Pennsylvania], NYU, Clarkson and ILR [the School of Industrial Labor Relations at Cornell]. This year we have a handful of alumni attending Cornell.”

Not far from Westchester, Rockland Community College also has many success stories.  On average ten to twelve students transfer from RCC to the NYU Steinhard School of Education on scholarships each year.  “For the last two years in a row one of our students has received a full scholarship to Harvard,” offers Len Gersten from the Student Services department at RCC.  “Each year we have students who transfer to Columbia, Brown, and Cornell.”

Author Peter Sacks suggests that the eventual payoff to students who attend elite colleges – those from of all ethnic backgrounds – can be extraordinary.  Graduates of elite schools out-earn counterparts nationwide by almost $40,000 a year and are far more likely to enter highly paid, prestigious professions. According to Sacks, 3 percent of college graduates nationally become physicians, while 15 percent of graduates from prestigious colleges do so.  With so much at stake, it is no surprise that students and parents from all backgrounds are desirous of these colleges.

If the elite colleges can afford to be so selective, one might wonder why they accept transfer students at all.  There are in fact several benefits these colleges gain by admitting transfer students.  First, it can alleviate the need for student housing given the fact that freshman tend to require on-campus housing more than upper classmen – and transfer students often come in as juniors.  It can also help offset attrition and increase enrollment in higher-level courses. 

According to Cathleen Sheils, Associate Director and Transfer Coordinator at Cornell University, “Community College students bring their unique experiences to their transfer University.  Often they have a breadth of leadership and work experience and are able to transition by getting involved in student organizations, research labs and on campus employment at their four year University.”

According to New York University’s website, roughly 32% of those who applied to the school as freshman in 2003 were accepted.  Fully 35% of the 4,692 students who applied for transfer to NYU in the same year were accepted.  The percentages are clearly, if only slightly, in favor of the transfer student.  Parents and students in the know can, and do take advantage of this fact. 

Although they tend to emphasize their differences, most colleges and universities look for similar traits in a prospective student.  A strong academic record, good leadership skills, extracurricular activities, high SAT scores, community service, strong writing skills, and a strong desire to succeed, are some of the hallmarks of a successful applicant.  If a student is missing some of these attributes in high school, a community college can offer another chance to demonstrate these abilities and enhance an application.

Shiels suggests that community college students wishing to transfer to selective colleges should be aware of the transfer requirements and that selection is not solely based on GPA: “Selection is based, more importantly on the courses a student has completed.  We are looking for solid academic achievement, grades of B or better in liberal arts courses, a clear sense of a student’s academic interest and fit with our University clearly expressed in the application essay, and leadership experience.” She adds “We see a concern about affordability of a four year education and not completing understanding how financial aid is awarded and available.   There is a need for Community College advisors and faculty to become aware of and share the breadth of transfer opportunities with their high achieving students early in the process, as transferring takes planning.”

In his book Accept My Kid, Please! Author Hank Herman describes the stress and anxiety felt by parents and their children in navigating the application process.  He notes that parents can put undue pressure on their children to achieve things that they themselves have not been able to accomplish. Westchester County, known for its wealthy and über-competitive residents, boasts some of the best high schools in the country, and so expectations can be high. 

In the past community colleges were seen as a place for students with limited options, but that perception has changed significantly in recent years.  As the economy flounders and the cost of a four-year degree continues to rise – some estimates indicate that students entering kindergarten this year will spend over of $200,000 for a four year degree at a private college when they reach college age –  more parents and students are looking to the community college as the secret path to the Ivy League.   

About the Author

Mr. Hyland is currently a Professor of Business at Westchester Community College.  He is an alumnus of Westchester Community College, and transferred to the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, where he earned a BS in Economics.  He earned a doctoral degree from Columbia University Teachers College and lives in Port Chester, NY with his three children.