Episode 120: Lots of College Options in Our New Workbook

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Today, we have figured out a way to talk both about our new book–How To Explore Your College Options: A Workbook for High School Students–and to make good on the title of our current series, Colleges in the Spotlight. As we were writing the book, we realized that we could use a lot of college examples, drawn from our earlier podcast episodes, to illuminate the points we were trying to make. I thought it would be interesting to see just how many colleges were mentioned in the book–and by “mentioned,” I mean that they were used to illustrate the answers to some of the 52 questions that teenagers are asked to find the answers to for each college on their Long List of College Options (LLCO). In a way, these colleges are in our spotlight for things that they are doing right or for characteristics they have that are noteworthy. To find out why we mentioned each college, you are going to have to get the book!

1. Colleges in the Spotlight

So, here we go. Here are the colleges that we thought were worth mentioning–for some reason or other (they are listed roughly in the order in which they are mentioned in the book, and I might have missed a few):

That’s more than 60 colleges, which is actually quite a few. Of course, you can always refer back to the virtual college tour we did in Episodes 27 through 53 for a discussion of even more colleges, organized by geographic region of the U.S.

But the new book doesn’t stop with those 60-plus. We also name some great college towns–“great,” according to one of the lists of great college towns that publications love to compile. Do you know what colleges are located in these towns?

  • College Station, TX
  • Charlottesville, VA
  • Saratoga Springs, NY
  • Asheville, NC
  • Flagstaff, AZ
  • Boulder, CO
  • Santa Cruz, CA
  • St. Augustine, FL
  • Burlington, VT
  • Annapolis, MD
  • Ann Arbor, MI
  • Athens, GA
  • Oxford, MS
  • Iowa City, IA

2. Now, It’s Up to You

Now, it’s up to you. At least, that is what we say at the end of the book. We wrote this to each student, assuming that he or she had done the assignments as they were presented: 

You have done a lot of work to gather information about the colleges on your LLCO. You have completed a College Profile Worksheet on quite a few colleges by now. You have learned more than many high school students know about a variety of specific colleges and about higher education generally. 

So, it’s time to start comparing and contrasting the colleges you have researched. That will be a long process, which will require analysis and evaluation by you and your parents and perhaps other important family members. And it’s okay that it is a long process because this is a big decision for all of you. 

Remember that choosing which colleges to apply to can be every bit as important as choosing which college to attend. In an ideal world, you should be happy with every college you apply to because that will take the pressure off as you wait for acceptances to come in. 

Of course, you might be more excited about some choices than others, but don’t apply to any college that you would not want to attend. That is a waste of your time and money. We are confident that there is a college that you can be admitted to that will make you happy. Even safety schools don’t have to be disappointing choices. If they are for you now, you just haven’t looked hard enough yet! Get busy.

We mean that last point really sincerely: If your teenager’s safety schools are disappointing choices for him or her, you all just haven’t looked hard enough yet. There are great colleges–especially some public flagship universities and some large private universities–that are very likely to admit good students, especially those who come from other states. Having a safety school that your teenager does not want to go to is really not having any safety school at all.

We mean it when we say, “Look harder.” We hope that our new book will help your teenager look harder, think harder, and work harder to expand his or her LLCO, to get exciting colleges onto that LLCO, to learn as much as possible about each one of them (by completing a College Profile Worksheet for each one), and to feel satisfied when all of the applications are submitted–that is, satisfied that all of the colleges he or she applied to are good choices, just for different reasons. And a satisfied teenager is likely to produce a satisfied parent. Or at least it should.

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Episode 96: Narrowing Down Your Teenager’s College List–Step 4

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In our last three episodes, we have been suggesting some steps to take in order to narrow down your teenager’s long summer list of college options in case it is too long. However, as we have begun to say–and frankly, I am a bit surprised by this–perhaps your list is not really too long. Let’s say you still have about 15 colleges on the list. Even though we said in our book (How To Find the Right College: A Workbook for Parents of High School Students, available at amazon.com) that applying to 8 to 12 colleges seemed like a reasonable number to shoot for, I am beginning to like the number 15. As we have said before, don’t take colleges off the list if you believe your teenager could be happy there. And while you and your teenager probably can’t survive 25 applications, I am thinking that 15 might be survivable. But let’s see what you think by the end of this episode.

And again, let us remind you to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA. Fill it out and file it now. Get whatever help you need to fill it out. But do it, even if you are not sure you will need it and even if you are not expecting to qualify for a lot of financial aid.

And, let us remind you for the last time, that many of those Early Decision and Early Action deadlines are coming up in about 10 days. I cannot see any good reason not to apply for Early Action if colleges your teenager is interested in offer it. But to do that, you would need to be pretty far down the track in completing those applications by now, including having asked for recommendations from teachers and having requested that your high school transcript be sent.

So, let’s recap where we stand in narrowing down the list–to 8 or 12 or even 15 colleges. In Episode 93, we took Step 1 in narrowing down your teenager’s list by looking at college selectivity–in other words, is your teenager likely to get in, based on his or her academic record. In Episode 94, we took Step 2 by looking at the college’s academics–that is, the availability of your teenager’s current favorite major, the presence of any core curriculum or distribution requirements, and the attractiveness of traditional and innovative college term schedules or grading practices. In Episode 95 last week, we took Step 3 by checking whether you might want to use college enrollment as a filter?that is, how many undergraduate students there are, what the class sizes and student-to-faculty ratios are, and what the breakdowns of the student body are by race, ethnicity, gender, or another demographic characteristic.

1. Step 4: Location Filter

Now, let’s look at one last filter, and it’s the one that I fear you have used from the very beginning, perhaps subconsciously or perhaps very consciously. Step 4 in narrowing down the list is using college location as a filter. Let me start off by saying that I don’t think you should use college location as a filter at all. In fact, as those of you who listen to USACollegeChat know, there is no filter I like less than this one. I never used it when I was looking at colleges, and I never used it when my three children were looking at colleges. With that said, there are two different aspects of college location that either your teenager or you might find yourselves considering.

The obvious first aspect of location is how far the college is from your home. This is what our summer assignments started with. That is, we said, “Pick one college from every state and put all of them on your teenager’s list.” Now, we didn’t really expect you to do that (though I would have been thrilled if you had), but we did hope that it would cause you to spread your wings a little and look beyond your own backyard.

This is also what our virtual nationwide tour of colleges (Episodes 27 through 53) was all about. It was an effort to take you outside your geographic comfort zone and get you to realize that the chances aren’t all that good that the best college for your child is in your hometown or even in your home state. Now there are exceptions to that, of course. But, there are many, many colleges out there–most of which you will never even consider. And that is too bad.

We understand the exceptions, and we respect them. We understand that some families for cultural reasons want to keep their teenagers close to home, perhaps in order to participate in family events or religious events. We understand that some families need to have their teenagers live at home in order to make college even remotely affordable or in order to help with family responsibilities. In those cases, we hope you find a great college choice nearby.

We also know that, for some kids, the perfect college is right at home. That happened with my daughter, who was planning a dance major, and we like to think that the best college for that is in our hometown?that is, the joint Fordham University and Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater‘s B.F.A. program here in New York City. Of course, I made her apply to out-of-town colleges with good dance majors, too; but, when she got her acceptance letter from Fordham, I knew she wasn’t going to any of the other ones. In Polly’s case, the perfect college was right at home.

At my real job at Policy Studies in Education, I have had the great privilege of doing projects for a couple hundred colleges across the U.S. I have had the chance to visit many of them in many states–huge universities you all know and little colleges you never heard of. I have seen a lot of colleges, far and wide–and I wish you could, too.

Now, let me speak for Marie for a minute. Marie, as you can probably tell from all of our episodes, is always the more practical and realistic of the two of us. Marie would say, “Have the serious talk with your kid right now. Don’t let your teenager apply to a bunch of colleges all across the country if you have no intention of letting him or her go to them. If location is a deal breaker for you, tell your kid now rather than disappoint him or her in April after the acceptances come in.” Marie, I see the value in that, but I still have to hold out hope that an acceptance to a great college in Colorado might cause a parent in New York to think twice next spring before insisting that the kid choose a college close to home.

Let’s look at location a second way, as we did in Assignment #6 (in Episode 86). There we took a closer look at the community that the college is actually located in–that is, whether it is urban, suburban, small town, or rural and what kinds of cool stuff the community surrounding the college has to offer (for example, biking and hiking trails, lakes and beaches, historic sites, cultural facilities and events, or fantastic restaurants). For some teenagers and parents, the perceived safety of a suburban or rural location warrants filtering out all of the urban campuses on the list. For others, the excitement factor of living in a cosmopolitan city warrants filtering out all of the campuses except the urban ones. I heard my own recent college graduate say to an anxious high school senior last week, “You might be a little scared of going to college in a city right now, but you will be happy you did by the time you are a junior or senior and you are getting bored with the college campus life. You will be glad that you have a whole city to explore and take advantage of.” Spoken like a true New Yorker.

So, a charming small college town, with great coffee shops and recreation areas or a giant city with everything anyone could want or something in between? This is really your call.

2. Do You Have Enough Left on the List?

So, do you have enough colleges left on the list? Try to let your teenager talk through his or her opinions about location and type of surrounding community, but let your teenager know that neither of these has to become a filter–unless, of course, you say so.

As we said last week, we are beginning to think the fewer filters, the better. You can always apply these filters next April once you see where your teenager has been accepted. That’s especially true if you are holding off on college visits (or, at least, some college visits or final college visits) until then–when you can really judge the distance from home, the ease of transportation to and from the college, and the type of community firsthand.

So, Step 4 is done. Remember that we are okay if you still have 15 or so on the list as we move into an overview of the full list next week. But, as we said last week, if you are already down to just a handful of colleges, you might want to back up and reconsider some of those colleges that you took off the list or add some new ones.

The Kindle ebook version of our book, How To Find the Right College, is on sale for $0.99 through 2016! Read it on your Kindle device or download the free Kindle app for any tablet or smartphone. The book is also available as a paperback workbook.

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Episode 90: Assignment #10: It’s Never Too Late To Add One More College

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This is an episode we like to call “It’s Never Too Late To Add One More College.” Now, if your teenager and you have done your nine assignments this summer to expand and then investigate seriously the colleges on your teenager’s long summer list of college options, you are probably wondering what we mean by “adding one more.” But, first, let’s review the nine assignments you have already done?and it’s an impressive group:

We are truly impressed if you got all that done. Even if you didn’t do it for 50 colleges–one from each state, which was our original challenge–we are impressed. Even if you did it for just half that many colleges we are impressed. But, let’s say that we hope you did it for at least 20.

1. Your Assignment #10

Download the Assignment #10 Worksheet

And so, we come to the last assignment in building and investigating your teenager’s list. This assignment is not like the others. It is designed to give your teenager and you one last chance to consider a college you might have missed in your search, and it does that by looking at several categories of colleges you might have overlooked or you might have thought were not right for your teenager. At the end of this episode, you might be able to rule out each category we are suggesting; if so, your list is done. On the other hand, you might want to look further at one category or another and consider adding a few colleges to that long summer list of college options.

2. What About Faith-Based Colleges?

As we explained at some length in our book How To Find the Right College: A Workbook for Parents of High School Students (on sale at Amazon until we declare the summer officially over), “faith-based”–that is, religious–colleges and universities are a broader category than you might think. This category includes hundreds of small Bible colleges, which are indeed dedicated to religious life and the study of religion, but it also includes very large universities that offer all fields of study, though with an underlying religious or moral or service-to-others orientation.

Some faith-based institutions require more religious study than others. Some require students to take just a couple of courses in theology or perhaps philosophy instead, while others infuse much of their curriculum with their religious beliefs. Some require students to attend chapel services, but many do not.

In our experience, faith-based institutions are usually quite up front about what they are all about. They are not trying to trick your teenager into going there, because that wouldn’t be good for you or for them. Sometimes a college application will give you a clue by asking for your religion and the name and address of your church. Some ask for a recommendation from a minister. Many have a statement of their religious beliefs on their website or in their student handbook; you can read it and see whether your family supports it.

As a matter of fact, more U.S. colleges and universities than you might think have been founded by religious denominations–especially a lot of our earliest and most prestigious colleges, as you learned if you listened to our virtual nationwide tour of colleges (Episodes 27 through 54). Some of them retain their religious affiliation today, and many do not. Some faith-based institutions are Jewish, some are Catholic, and some are Protestant. One very interesting choice is Soka University of America (SUA), located in Orange County, California: “Proudly founded upon the Buddhist principles of peace, human rights and the sanctity of life, SUA offers a non-sectarian curriculum” and welcomes students of all beliefs (quoted from the website).

Understanding the world of some 200 Catholic colleges and universities in the U.S. is particularly complicated because they have been founded by various orders (including the Jesuits, Dominicans, Franciscans, and more) and by other groups within the Catholic community. And, in case you didn’t listen to our virtual nationwide tour of colleges, many respected Catholic institutions, including some of the best-known ones, actually attract many students who are not Catholic.

As I have said in previous episodes, I sent my daughter Polly to the Alvin Ailey/Fordham University joint dance B.F.A. program. Fordham is a Jesuit university, something I am always embarrassed to admit that I knew very little about before I sent Polly there to dance. For those of you who don’t know, the Jesuits–that is, the Society of Jesus–which was founded in Paris in the 1500s, traces its commitment to education to St. Ignatius of Loyola, who founded the first Jesuit college in Messina, Sicily, in 1548. Jesuit institutions today place a strong emphasis on intellectual rigor and a liberal arts foundation, social justice issues worldwide, and a life of service. It is my belief that students of all faiths, including my daughter who is not Catholic, are welcome and comfortable at Jesuit institutions. When I heard Father Joseph McShane, Fordham’s president, speak at orientation, I knew that we had, accidentally, made a great decision in sending Polly to Fordham. Father McShane said that Fordham students were taught to wrestle with important moral and ethical issues, to care for others, to despair over injustice, and to give back to their communities.

So, if your teenager is interested in social justice, if your teenager has done extensive community service projects in high school and has valued those experiences, or if you would like this sort of underpinning for your teenager’s collegiate education, I am going to suggest that you put a Jesuit college or university on your teenager’s long summer list of college options now so that you can think about it over the next few months. There are 28 to choose from (actually 189 worldwide), and they include small and large institutions all over the U.S. Some that you have likely heard of, in addition to Fordham in New York City, are Boston College, the College of the Holy Cross (in Worcester, Massachusetts), Georgetown University (in Washington, D.C.), Marquette University (in Milwaukee, Wisconsin), Saint Louis University (which has a great campus in Madrid, too), Santa Clara University (in California), and the University of San Francisco.

3. What About Historically Black Colleges and Universities?

Commonly referred to as HBCUs, historically black colleges and universities were established with the mission of educating African-American students solely or at least primarily. Today, just over 100 HBCUs can be found in many states and in both rural and urban settings. They are public and private, large and small (even very small), faith-based and not, two-year and four-year colleges; some have graduate schools.

HBCUs were founded to serve students who had been excluded from many other higher education institutions because of their race. The three earliest HBCUs were founded in Pennsylvania and Ohio before the Civil War, but many were founded in the South shortly after the Civil War. Those Southern HBCUs share a proud tradition of becoming the first collegiate homes of family members of freed slaves.

Some HBCUs have produced great black leaders–like Booker T. Washington, who attended Hampton University, and like Thurgood Marshall, who attended both Lincoln University and Howard University School of Law. Some have put great black leaders from many walks of life on their payrolls as professors and administrators–like Fisk University, where Charles Spurgeon Johnson, the intellectual architect of the Harlem Renaissance, served as Fisk’s first black president and where Harlem Renaissance writers and artists, like Arna Bontemps, James Weldon Johnson, and Aaron Douglas all worked. If you have listened to many episodes of USACollegeChat, you probably know that Fisk is my favorite HBCU, precisely because of its history (and if you don’t know about the Fisk Jubilee Singers, organized in 1871, you should).

Today, HBCUs enroll students who are not black–just as historically white colleges and universities now enroll students who are not white. Some observers say that it has become harder for HBCUs to recruit African-American students now that they are welcome at both selective and nonselective colleges across the U.S. That is probably true to some degree. Nonetheless, there is still a strong sense of community among the alumni/alumnae of HBCUs and a strong sense of tradition on HBCU campuses. For some African-American students especially, that could be a good fit for what they are looking for in a college, and a shared culture could go a long way toward helping them feel comfortable on a college campus, especially if it is far from home.

So, if your teenager is interested in living and studying in the shared culture that characterizes HBCUs or if you would like this sort of cultural and historical underpinning for your teenager’s collegiate education, I am going to suggest that you put an HBCU on your teenager’s long summer list of college options now so that you can think about it over the next few months. There are plenty to choose from, including some small and very accommodating ones that might be a perfect choice if your teenager has not gotten the high school grades or test scores that you might have wished for.

4. What About Hispanic-Serving Institutions?

There are over 250 colleges and universities that have been designated during the past 50 years as Hispanic-serving institutions (HSIs), meaning that they have a student enrollment that is at least 25 percent Hispanic. For example, The University of New Mexico in Albuquerque, a federally designated HSI, was one of the first minority-majority universities, with an approximately 45 percent Hispanic student body and an Anglo student population of just about 35 percent.

HSIs are located in states across the U.S. from California to Massachusetts and from Washington to Florida. Some HSIs are large public universities, some are large public community colleges, and some are small private liberal arts colleges. Many HSIs receive federal funds to support programs and scholarships that are designed to help low-income Hispanic students succeed in college.

Although HSIs do not have the same kind of historical traditions that HBCUs have–perhaps because they were not founded originally with a mission to serve Hispanic students–they do offer an environment where Hispanic students might more easily find classmates with a similar cultural background. First-generation Hispanic college students–that is, students whose parents did not attend college–might find it easier to fit into this supportive college environment, thus improving their chances of long-term success.

So, if your teenager is interested in living and studying with a substantial number of students from a similar cultural background or if you would like this sort of cultural underpinning for your teenager’s collegiate education, I am going to suggest that you put an HSI on your teenager’s long summer list of college options now so that you can think about it over the next few months. Remember that many HSIs are two-year colleges, so look over the options carefully.

5. What About Single-Sex Colleges and Universities?

Let’s start by remembering that colleges and universities that were started in America’s earliest days were all institutions for men. They were all single-sex institutions then.

Seven of the eight Ivy League institutions served only male students when they were founded in the 1600s and 1700s. Only my alma mater, Cornell University, the youngest of the Ivies, was founded as a co-educational university, which is, frankly, one reason I went there.

As time went on, many of the Ivies created a “sister” school for women: the University of Pennsylvania had its College for Women, Columbia had Barnard, Brown had Pembroke, and Harvard had Radcliffe. Of these, only Marie’s alma mater, Barnard, remains.

The tradition of single-sex colleges is particularly strong in the Northeast, perhaps because that is where so many of our country’s oldest higher education institutions are located. But there are well-known women’s colleges located in other regions of the U.S. as well–like Mills College and Scripps College in California, Stephens College in Missouri, Hollins University and Mary Baldwin College in Virginia, Saint Mary’s College (the sister school of the University of Notre Dame) in Indiana, and Agnes Scott College and Spelman College in Georgia. Spelman has the distinction of also being an excellent HBCU. Interestingly and for whatever reason (probably rooted in financial issues), some of these women’s colleges now allow men to enroll in their graduate programs or in their special programs for returning adult students, thus maintaining the traditional women’s college atmosphere for their undergraduate residential students. Today, there are just over 40 women’s colleges in the U.S.

If you have a daughter interested in a women’s college, check out the Women’s College Coalition website and the available downloadable guide Why a Women’s College? Or, you can just have her listen to Marie talk for the next few minutes.

Okay, what about the men? Interestingly, only a handful of men’s colleges remain. There is Morehouse College, which is an academically rigorous HBCU located in Georgia and which is the men’s counterpart to Spelman. Morehouse has a roster of famous alumni, ranging from Martin Luther King, Jr., to Samuel L. Jackson and Spike Lee–and that is quite a range. Hampden-Sydney College was founded in 1775 in Virginia and has a fascinating history (Patrick Henry and James Madison were among its first Trustees). And there is Wabash College, which is located in Indiana and is my father-on-law’s alma mater. Wabash is cited in the book Colleges That Change Lives as an institution that is successful in creating engaged students, who become leaders in their chosen fields. If I had a teenage boy at home who needed to focus on his studies so that he could become all that he could be, I would strongly consider Wabash.

While most single-sex institutions have opened their doors to the opposite sex over the years and especially in the past 50 years, those that remain carry on a tradition that their graduates wholeheartedly support. Some of their graduates–and indeed their families–believe that students can focus better on their studies when they are not being distracted by social interactions with the opposite sex in the classroom. Some of their graduates believe that students will develop a stronger sense of community and camaraderie with their classmates in single-sex institutions. Some of their graduates appreciate the histories and philosophies of these institutions–especially perhaps graduates of women’s colleges who feel that they are better supported as young women and are encouraged to set and pursue whatever education and career goals they can imagine for themselves.

So, if your teenager is interested in living and studying in a supportive environment typically with high expectations or if you would like this sort of social and intellectual underpinning for your teenager’s collegiate education, I am going to suggest that you put a single-sex institution on your teenager’s long summer list of college options now so that you can think about it over the next few months.

And let me make one point here: Even though I don’t prefer single-sex institutions now, I had two on my own list of colleges that I applied to. It was only after I had been accepted to them that I figured out they weren’t for me. But I was glad that I had the options and could consider them calmly over some months. And Marie, even though you chose to attend Barnard, you also applied to co-educational colleges. So, having both types of institutions on your teenager’s long summer list of college options might be just the thing to do.

So, have your teenager take the Assignment #10 worksheet and take one last look at whether to add another college to his or her long summer list of college options. And, since Monday is Labor Day, we are going to take a week off while you all enjoy your last three-day weekend of the summer season. Fortunately, this next week will give you and your teenager some time to let that long summer list of college options sink in–right before we start helping you narrow it down and begin the serious application process. We will see you back with us on September 15!

Download the Assignment #10 Worksheet

The Kindle ebook version of our book, How To Find the Right College, is on sale for $1.99 all summer long! Read it on your Kindle device or download the free Kindle app for any tablet or smartphone. The book is also available as a paperback workbook.

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Episode 9: What Are Some of the Decisive Factors in Putting Colleges on Your List?

This week, we’re launching our series on choosing where your child should apply to college by examining some of the decisive factors, or deal breakers, in adding colleges to your list
Listen to the podcast to find out about…
Why up-front honesty with your teenager is the best policy
Why starting college close to home and then going away can be a good compromise
Why your teenager’s personality might dictate large vs. small colleges
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This week, we’re launching our series on choosing where your child should apply to college by examining some of the decisive factors, or deal breakers, in adding colleges to your list.

NYCollegeChat is now available on iTunes, Spreaker, Stitcher, and TuneIn!

NYCollegeChat Episode 9: What Are Some of the Decisive Factors in Putting Colleges on Your List?

For some parents and their teenagers, there is one decisive factor in choosing colleges to apply to and eventually to attend. Once that decision is in place, they are willing to consider a variety of options that preserve that fundamental decision. For other parents and their teenagers, there are two—or more—decisive factors. And, because some factors are more important to some families than to other families, there is no way to rank the factors in one universal order to importance.

Nonetheless, you need to understand which factors are the decisive ones for you—the deal breakers, if you will. It is a useful first step in narrowing down your choices among the more than 4,500 two-year and four-year degree-granting institutions in the U.S. (plus all of those outside the U.S.).

Let us also say that this is the time for you to be honest with your teenager about what, if anything, is a deal breaker for you. For example, if you really cannot imagine letting your teenager go away to college, then that becomes one of your decisive factors. With that decision made, you can narrow your teenager’s choices down to colleges close to home. Or if you really cannot imagine how you could pay for a private college (because no one can count on a big scholarship and you do not want to borrow tens of thousands of dollars from the federal government through a Direct PLUS loan for parents), then that becomes one of your decisive factors. With that decision made, you can narrow your teenager’s choices down to public colleges. Ignoring your deal breakers now is likely to cause some disappointment later on. So have the conversation first.

Similarly, this is the time for your teenager to be honest with you about his or her own deal breakers. For example, if your teenager is going to refuse to study hard in a science major (your idea) because her heart is set on studying music (her idea), then that becomes one of her decisive factors. So, as we said, have the conversation.

Of course, there might not be any decisive factors—no deal breakers—for either you or your teenager, leaving your family the full range of colleges to consider. That would make life easier. But, just in case, here are four deal breakers to consider.

1. Colleges Away from Home or at Home?

For many students in the U.S. over a couple of centuries now, going away to college has been a rite of passage. Trunks are packed, car trips are taken, and teary good-byes are said in a dorm room on a campus of ivy-covered buildings. Hundreds of movies and televisions shows picture college kids doing crazy things on those campuses in those dorms or in fraternity and sorority houses. In some ways, the idea of kids going away to college has been part of the American dream.

That is not just a notion from the past. Today, there are still a lot of reasons why many students want to go away to college and why many students should go away to college. Let’s look at four of them:

  • It is a chance to grow up. Clearly, many 17- and 18-year-olds like the idea of living away from the daily oversight of their families. Who can blame them? This is their first step in making their own unsupervised decisions about academic issues and about social interactions—about what courses to take, when to schedule their classes, what to do on weekends and with whom, how to manage their time and their money, and more. Going away to college is their first step at separating from their families and becoming the adults they are soon to be. Everyone has to do it. Is there a better way to learn how to live on your own or a better time to learn it?
  • It is a chance to live in a different geographical location. If a student grew up in the city, it is a chance to live in the country or in the suburbs. If a student grew up in the Northeast, it is a chance to see the South or the West or the Midwest. If a student grew up in the U.S., it is a chance to experience life in Europe or in Asia or in South America. You get the idea. There is a lot to be said for going to college outside of your hometown or home state or home region or home country. Is there a better way to learn what other places are like or a better time to learn it?
  • It is a chance to live in a different social setting with people who are not like you. If a student did not grow up and attend school in a multiethnic, multicultural, and racially diverse setting, going away to college is a way to broaden that student’s personal experience with people of different backgrounds. Learning how to work with people of all backgrounds is a life skill most students will need in their futures. Is there a better way to learn what other people are like or a better time to learn it?
  • It is a chance to attend a college with a special focus or to major in a particular field a student cannot get close to home. If a student wants to attend a single-sex college or a faith-based college or an HBCU, for example, that student might have to leave home to find it. If a student has an interest in a college that focuses on one academic field (for example, the fine arts or business), that student might have to leave home to find it. If a student has a strong interest in a certain academic field (for example, computer science or journalism or linguistics or theater or mathematics), that student might have to leave home to find a college that has a well-regarded major in that field. Of course, students might change their minds once they get there, but these are still reasons to look at colleges away from home.

There are at least as many reasons for students to stay at home to attend college—sometimes living at home and sometimes living on campus or in a nearby apartment. Let’s look at a few reasons to stay at home:

  • It is a way to save money. This is a complicated reason, because it is possible that a student will get an amazing scholarship, which also covers living costs, at a college far from home. In that case, it is possible that going away actually saves the family more money. However, it is fair to say that most students do not get full scholarships, including living expenses; so, for most students, going to college in their hometown saves money. Staying at home for college saves even more money if the college is a public college, where tuition will be far lower for residents than tuition would be at a private college anywhere. And staying at home for college saves still more money if the student actually lives at home and attends a public college. But, remember that it is complicated. For example, going away to a public college in your state, but not in your hometown, might be cheaper than staying at home and attending a private college.
  • It is a way to keep a student involved in the family culture. For some families, cultural traditions in the family or in the community are very important, like attending the family’s church and participating in church activities or being part of social groups that represent the family’s ethnic or cultural background. For these families, sending a child away to college breaks the social and family bonds that are very much a part of that family’s lifestyle. Whether the family can adjust to that sort of break would need to be the topic of a serious discussion.
  • It is a way to give a student a little more time to get ready to be on his or her own. Some 17- and 18-year-olds are not quite ready to live on their own too far from home. That is especially true of young people who have not traveled much with their families, who have not attended camps or summer study programs away from home, who have not participated in many outside-of-school activities, or who are younger than the typical high school graduate (including bright students who graduate early).
  • It is a way for a student to attend a great college that happens to be in that student’s hometown. As a matter of fact, sometimes a great college—or even the perfect college—for a student happens to be located in the student’s hometown. For example, it has the right academic program or the right special focus. When that is the case, going away to college just to go away does not really make sense.

By the way, sometimes it is the parent who thinks the teenager should go away and the teenager who wants to stay home, though you might think it would usually be the reverse. Either way, is it a decisive factor in putting colleges on your list—that is, will you put only colleges near home on your list or only colleges away from home on your list? In other words, is going away or staying at home a deal breaker for you?

2. Two-Year or Four-Year Colleges?

In our last series, Understanding the World of College, in Episode 2, we talked a lot about two-year colleges vs. four-year colleges and universities and the pros and cons of each. The question now is whether your family wants to consider both two-year colleges and four-year colleges or universities for your teenager’s first step into higher education.

As we said, two-year colleges, which are largely public community colleges, offer students core liberal arts courses (which can often be transferred to four-year colleges later) and/or technical training in many different fields at a very reasonable price. They also offer two-year associate’s degrees, which can be enough for some careers or can be transferred to four-year colleges and applied toward credits needed for a four-year bachelor’s degree. Two-year colleges also offer students who have struggled in high school a chance to improve their academic record and gain the fundamental skills they will need in higher-level college study.

Public community colleges can be a good choice—and possibly decisive factor—if your teenager is undecided about an academic field of study in college and/or about a future career, has a spotty high school academic record, does not yet have good enough study skills for advanced college work, and/or believes that a two-year associate’s degree is sufficient college study for the immediate future. Putting only two-year colleges on your list is also a reasonable decision if paying for college is a critical concern for your family.

Turning to four-year colleges, which come in all shapes and sizes, we know that there is probably one that would be a good fit for almost any student. If you and your teenager believe that a bachelor’s degree is eventually what your teenager will want to earn and if he or she is ready to tackle the academic work at a four-year college, then that might be a decisive factor for you. The range of four-year colleges is so broad in what they offer, where they are located, how much they cost, and how selective they are that choosing to put only four-year colleges on your list still leaves a lot of options open to you.

3. Public or Private Colleges?

In our last series, Understanding the World of College, in Episode 1, we talked a lot about public colleges vs. private colleges vs. proprietary institutions and the pros and cons of each. The question now is whether your family wants to consider both public colleges and private colleges (by the way, all proprietary schools are private) for your teenager’s first step into higher education.

The main factor here is cost. Public colleges are less expensive than private colleges when it comes to tuition. But considering the cost of college can be complicated, as we said. A private college that offers your teenager a substantial scholarship could turn out to cost your family less than a public university that does not offer you any scholarship money. Of course, you cannot count on a scholarship. So, where does that leave you?

If money is a critical factor in where to send your child to college, then think hard about looking only at public colleges. And have that serious discussion with your teenager. Talk about whether applying to private colleges is a good idea, knowing that a scholarship would be required. Or does that simply set your teenager up for a disappointment down the road if no scholarship is forthcoming? Talk about whether summer and part-time jobs could make up the difference in what you can provide financially and what would be needed. But help your teenager understand that working while in college—though many, many students do it—is actually very demanding.

With all that being said, if the best choice for your teenager could be a public college or could be a private college—because of majors being offered or location or size or special focus or even family sentiment—then public vs. private college is not a deal breaker for you.

4. Large or Small Colleges?

You might believe that a small college provides the best academic and social environment for your teenager. If so, you probably believe that a small college is more nurturing; that your teenager is less likely to “get lost” in it; that classes are smaller, affording students more attention from professors (and not from teaching assistants); that it is easier to join extracurricular clubs and sports teams; and that it is better to be a big fish in a little pond. Many people would agree with that.

On the other hand, you might believe that a large college provides the best academic and social environment for your teenager. If so, you probably believe that a large college offers more courses and a greater variety of majors to choose from; that a large college has more laboratories and libraries and theaters and other academic facilities; that there are more and better social activities available, including fraternities and sororities; that sports teams are of a higher caliber; and that there are more alumni to help connect your teenager to the outside world after graduation. Many people would agree with that.

Of course, you could split the difference and prefer medium-sized colleges. Remember, the question now is whether the size of the college is a decisive factor either for you or for your teenager. For example, do you want to put only small colleges, or only small and medium-sized colleges (but no large colleges), or only large colleges on your list? If you can accept the advantages and disadvantages of each, then size is not a deal breaker for you.

Listen to the podcast to find out about…

  • Why up-front honesty with your teenager is the best policy
  • Why starting college close to home and then going away can be a good compromise
  • Why your teenager’s personality might dictate large vs. small colleges

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Episode 6: Still More Colleges with Special Emphases (Part 3)

We’re continuing our series on understanding the world of college this week by exploring faith-based colleges and universities, and institutions for students with special needs. Complete show notes to this episode, with links to all the colleges we mention, are available at http://usacollegechat.org/6.

Listen to the podcast to find out about…
Why people think a Jesuit education is so great
What to do for your child with special needs before he or she leaves high school
The job of student support services personnel at colleges and universities

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Subscribing to NYCollegeChat on iTunes, Spreaker, Stitcher, or TuneIn!
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Reviewing parent materials we have available at Policy Studies in Education http://www.policystudies.org
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Calling our hotline at (516) 900-NYCC
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We’re continuing our series on understanding the world of college this week by exploring faith-based colleges and universities, and institutions for students with special needs.

NYCollegeChat Episode 6 Still More Colleges with Special Emphases (Part 3)

NYCollegeChat is now available on iTunes, Spreaker, Stitcher, and TuneIn!

1. Faith-Based Colleges and Universities

Faith-based, or religious, colleges and universities are a broader category than you might think. They range from hundreds of small Bible colleges, which are dedicated to religious life and religion study, to very large universities that offer all fields of study, though with an underlying religious or moral or service-to-others orientation, like the University of Notre Dame. In addition, of course, are theological seminaries, which are designed mainly for individuals wishing to become ministers and are typically graduate schools.

Some faith-based institutions require more theology or religion or Bible study than others. Some require students to attend chapel services; some do not. Consequently, students who are not of the same faith as the college’s founding church will be more or less comfortable attending them. Interestingly, many colleges and universities have actually been founded by religious denominations, some of which retain their denomination affiliation and some of which do not.

Some faith-based institutions are Catholic, some Jewish, and some Protestant (including African Methodist Episcopal, Baptist, Presbyterian, Methodist, Lutheran, and more). Perhaps the two best-known Jewish universities in the U.S. are here in the Northeast: Yeshiva University in New York City, which combines an academic and religious education, and Brandeis University located outside Boston, which is a nonsectarian Jewish-supported institution.

The world of some 200 Catholic colleges and universities in the U.S. is complicated by the fact that they have been founded by various orders (like the Jesuits, Dominicans, Lasallians, and Franciscans) and by other groups within the Catholic community. Well-known and respected Catholic institutions include University of Notre Dame, Georgetown University, Boston College, Fordham University here in New York City, Villanova University, and the College of the Holy Cross and some that do not sound as though they are Catholic, like the University of Dallas, Manhattan College, Saint Louis University, Santa Clara University, and the University of San Diego.

The list of colleges affiliated with or founded by Protestant denominations is very, very long. If you are interested, you can easily find them online by looking up “Methodist colleges,” “Presbyterian colleges,” and so on. Some are associated with a denomination mainly through historical traditions, and others are more actively affiliated today. To find out how influential religion is in everyday life at a college, you will need to read about the college’s academic offerings and student life online or better still, call and ask. For example, Baylor University describes itself online as “a private Christian university and a nationally ranked research institution,” which was “chartered in 1845 by the Republic of Texas through the efforts of Baptist pioneers.” On the other hand, American University, Southern Methodist University, and Duke University had early Methodist affiliations, but they are not considered faith-based today.

2. Colleges and Universities for Students with Special Needs

While students with special needs can succeed at a wide variety of colleges and universities and while there are colleges and universities that have special programs for those students, there are also some that are dedicated to serving students with special needs.

Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C., was established as a college by an Act of Congress in 1864 to serve deaf and hard-of-hearing students. It was then and still is the world’s only such institution. The President of the United States signed the first diplomas of graduates in 1869, a tradition that continues to this day. Interestingly, up to 5 percent of the seats in each incoming class are open to hearing students. Gallaudet’s more than 1,700 students are pursuing both undergraduate and graduate degrees in what Gallaudet itself describes as a “bilingual, diverse, multicultural institution.” As an added bonus, its tuition is remarkably reasonable at about $14,000 a year because it is actually a public college.

In upstate New York at the Rochester Institute of Technology, students can find the National Technical Institute for the Deaf, one of nine colleges of RIT. Established by an Act of Congress in 1965, NTID is the world’s first and largest technological college for students who are deaf or hard of hearing. NTID offers career-oriented associate’s degrees in technical fields and associate’s degrees that lead directly into bachelor’s degrees study at RIT’s other colleges. It also offers the support services that deaf and hard-of-hearing students would need to study in the other RIT colleges. Because it is a public college, even though it is within a private university, the tuition is quite reasonable.

Let’s look at Landmark College in Vermont, founded in 1985 to help students with dyslexia succeed in college. Offering several associate’s degrees and a Bachelor of Arts in Liberal Studies, Landmark now serves a variety of students who learn differently—that is, students with learning disabilities, autism spectrum disorder, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. The College provides an impressive array of academic and personal support services to help Landmark students cope with college courses and college life. Summer programs are also available to rising high school juniors and seniors who learn differently and could benefit from Landmark’s approach.

Listen to the podcast to find out about…

  • Why people think a Jesuit education is so great
  • What to do for your child with special needs before he or she leaves high school
  • The job of student support services personnel at colleges and universities

Check out these higher education institutions we mention…

In New York State

Outside of New York State

Connect with us through…

Ask your questions or share your feedback by…