Episode 171: Why the College’s Academics Matter–Obviously

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Today’s episode is about Step 8 of your kid’s summer homework. That’s 8 out of 14 steps, all of which are explained in our series of episodes this summer and also, with more examples and details, in our workbook How To Explore Your College Options: A Workbook for High School Students. Workbooks are still available from Amazon if you want one for your son or daughter.

Step 8 is about the topic that most people think is most critical to choosing a college–that is, academics. Most people would say that it is what college is all about–or, at least, mainly about; or, at least, hopefully mainly about. Our College Profile Worksheet from the workbook has six questions in this section, which can be answered by reviewing each college’s website.

1. Schools and Colleges

First, let’s talk about the divisions that make up universities, in case your son or daughter has any on his or her Long List of College Options (that’s LLCO, for short). And, by the way, we hope that there are at least two or three. Here is what we explained to students in the workbook:

As you know by now, universities and large institutes (like Massachusetts Institute of Technology) are made up of schools and/or colleges that focus on different disciplines. Some of these institutions are composed of a small number of schools/colleges (say, four or five), but some are composed of quite a large number (as many as 15 or more). Some schools/colleges are only for graduate or professional students, who already have a bachelor’s degree; examples of these are law, medicine, dentistry, and veterinary medicine. Some schools/colleges within a university or institute are only for undergraduate students. And some schools/colleges within a university or institute serve both undergraduate and graduate students. You have to do some careful reading when researching which are which, but you will find all of them listed in the Academics section of a college’s website.

By the time you answer this question for five or six institutions, you will see that lots of their colleges/schools have the same name, like Business, Management, Education, Health Care, Social Work, Journalism, Engineering, and Architecture. Some have quite similar names, like various versions of Arts and Sciences for the liberal arts and sciences school that virtually all large institutions have. But some have really novel and interesting names, too.

You will need to figure out which school/college you are most interested in applying to because many institutions will not let you apply to more than one school/college within the institution. Think hard about that right now, while you are taking the time to read about all of them.

Question 19 asks your kid to jot down the schools/colleges within each institution on his or her LLCO and, then, to check off the ones that serve undergraduate students and double check the one that he or she is most interested in.

2. Academic Departments and Majors

Next, your son or daughter will need to go two steps further: first, to look at the academic departments at each institution and, then, to look at possible majors. This is what we said in the workbook:

Universities obviously have more departments across all of its schools/colleges than smaller liberal arts colleges have. There is often an alphabetical listing of all of the departments in the Academics section of a college’s website.

You can’t possibly write them all down and don’t need to. Just start focusing on the ones that interest you most. Even if you are not sure what you want to study in college, you will need to narrow the field in order to complete most college applications.

We know that this will begin to seem like a lot of detail if you are not at all sure what you want to study. Unfortunately, many college applications will ask you to specify a major. Some applications will also ask you to specify a second choice and even a third choice for a major. We say “unfortunately” because we know that many high school students are not ready to make this decision yet. We also know that many college students change their minds after they choose a major–even after a couple of college semesters. All that is to be expected from college freshmen and sophomores.

Nonetheless, you are likely to have to make a tentative decision about a major in order to complete at least some of your college applications. So, now is the time to start that research.

Getting a head start on thinking about majors will also give you a chance to talk to your high school teachers about your choices. For example, those of you who imagine majoring in biology and going to medical school eventually will notice that large universities have many majors within the Biology Department. If you can’t figure out which exact major(s) would be right for you, you won’t make a convincing case for yourself in your application.

Question 20 asks your kid to jot down at least several academic departments that he or she is interested in, and Question 21 asks him or her to jot down at least several majors that he or she is interested in.

3. Core Curriculum

Now, let’s dig a little deeper into what, if any, core curriculum each institution offers. This is what we wrote:

For the purpose of this discussion, we will refer to this centuries-old curriculum concept as a “core curriculum,” though you might hear it referred to as a “general education curriculum” or as “distribution requirements.” What it means is that all students in a college or in a specific college/school within a larger university or institute are usually required to take one or two courses in each of a broad range of academic disciplines, such as mathematics, or in each of a broad range of groups of disciplines, such as natural sciences, languages and literature, social sciences, and so on. Each college seems to have its own unique way of defining core requirements, and some definitions are more understandable than others.

Some colleges have quite strict requirements, meaning that there are many different requirements that have to be met, which might add up to 10 or more courses before it’s all over. Some colleges have far fewer requirements for either the number of courses or the exact courses that have to be taken. And some colleges have no core curriculum at all.

Let’s take a moment to reflect on the purpose of a core curriculum. The concept comes from the liberal arts tradition, where students are supposed to be well rounded in their studies and in their understanding of the intellectual content and issues raised in many fields. People in favor of this tradition would say that students do not know exactly where their careers and lives will take them and that the ability to solve problems and think critically across a range of academic subjects could make a difference in how well they succeed in their careers (likely in their multiple careers) and indeed in their lives. It is no surprise that many liberal arts colleges as well as the arts and sciences college/school within many large institutions would require and proudly support a core curriculum for its students. . . .

Another advantage of a core curriculum is that it causes students to look into academic fields that are rarely taught in high schools–like anthropology or sociology or art history or linguistics. Without require­ments in a variety of academic fields or groups of fields, many students would never take a look at some of these fields and would never know what they had missed.

Now, let’s talk about those colleges that go one step further and require certain courses of all students–the actual courses, not just a number of courses in certain academic fields. . . . When a college decides to require specific courses, it is because its professors feel that those courses are most critical to developing the foundation for more advanced college study and/or to developing a broad understanding of and ability to engage in the modern world. . . .

In our virtual college tour, we often talked about the core curriculum requirements of a college. We did that for two reasons. First, we were truly impressed with some of them, even though we could tell that they would be quite challenging for students. Second, we knew that some students would love the idea of a core curriculum, while other students would hate it.

Question 22 asks students to check off whether each college on their LLCO has a core curriculum and, if so, to jot down the exact requirements listed on the website.

4. Study Abroad Options

And now, one of my favorite topics and one that I feel quite strongly about! We wrote this to students:

When you were making your LLCO, we suggested that you put one college outside the U.S. on your list. We were serious about that. By the way, you are likely to find that the college you picked is actually cheaper to attend than a private college here in the U.S., and you will see that many colleges offer degree programs taught in English.

But, for those of you who don’t want to go to a college for four years in another country, take a close look at the study abroad options available at each college on your LLCO. These days, many colleges have fantastic study abroad programs, which make it logistically easy for you to study outside the U.S. These programs are already carefully set up, and they offer housing and other support while you are there. Some colleges have their own campuses in foreign countries, while others partner with a foreign university.

Some colleges strongly encourage their students to take a semester abroad. And a few colleges even require their students to study abroad. [See the workbook for examples.]

For future reference, if a college you love doesn’t have its own study abroad program, don’t forget about what the American Institute for Foreign Study (AIFS) has to offer. Based in Stamford, Connecticut, AIFS operates a wide range of outstanding summer, semester-long, and year-long programs in over 20 countries on five continents. . . . All of our firsthand experiences with AIFS have been fantastic.

Question 23 on the College Profile Worksheet asks students to jot down the study abroad options that the college offers–both locations and programs, including any important details.

5. Grading Practices

And, finally, here is something we didn’t start thinking about ourselves till more recently, and I regret that. Here is what the workbook says:

We bet that grading practices are not something most students consider before choosing a college–perhaps because they assume that colleges are quite traditional when it comes to awarding final course grades. Most colleges do, in fact, use some kind of numerical scale (typically, with a 4.0 as an A) or letter scale (typically, from A though F). These traditional grading practices might seem just fine to you.

However, there are some colleges that are anything but traditional when it comes to evaluating student progress. For example, take Hampshire College (an excellent and innovative private college in Amherst, Massachusetts), where students receive written narrative evaluations from professors on their assignments and as their final course grades. No numbers and no letters. . . .

Colleges that use narrative evaluations instead of traditional grades praise their value in teaching their students more about their own strengths and weaknesses, in getting their students to focus on their learning instead of on their grades, and in building better and more stimulating relationships between their students and their professors.

Who knew this was an option? Question 24 asks students to check off whether the college has a traditional grading system and, if not, to jot down the way that student work is evaluated instead.

Well, that brings us to the end of six critical questions about what your kid’s academic life might be at college. And what could be more important than that?

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Episode 150: College Acceptance for the Spring Semester?

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Today’s topic is something I have never thought much about at all.  And that’s true even though my oldest child was in this situation, and no one seemed to think much about it when he was accepted to Berklee College of Music a dozen years ago.  When Jimmy applied to Berklee (the college we like to say that offers the best contemporary music education in the world), he was admitted for the following spring semester rather than for the fall.  I looked at that as a great opportunity for him to study abroad for a semester.  I found a great fall semester program sponsored by the American Institute for Foreign Study (everybody should check out AIFS’s huge variety of excellent programs).  I knew he would still graduate on time since he had college credits from courses he had taken while in high school, and I figured that he would have even more from studying abroad.  It sounded great to me!

Of course, I now realize that is not how many students–who just applied to college under Early Action or Early Decision plans and were admitted for next spring instead of next fall–likely feel.  Some of them–perhaps many of them–and their parents are clearly disappointed with their recent news.

So, let’s take a look at spring admissions and how families should feel about that decision, regardless of how you feel about it now.

1. Tulane University’s Spring Scholars

A couple of weeks ago, we quoted from a blog written by Jeff Schiffman, the Director of Admission at Tulane University, a great school in the even greater city of New Orleans.  At the time, he was giving some advice to students who had applied early and been deferred till the regular decision round.  When I was reading Mr. Schiffman’s blog, I noticed another post from December 18, and I’d like to read some excerpts from it now.  This is about spring admissions at Tulane to a program Tulane calls Spring Scholars (feel free to go to his blog and read the whole piece):

The most common question I get from Spring Scholars is, “Why was I admitted for the spring?” The answer has to do with how we review applications and the increase in popularity Tulane has seen over the past few years. Our admission office is very big on the holistic review process. That means we spend a great deal of time creating a class of students based on everything you present to us in your application. Spring Scholars have excellent applications in nearly all regards. There are amazing alumni interviews, great “Why Tulane?” statements, and outstanding letters of recommendation in every application. When reading your application, we knew immediately that you want to come to Tulane and that you would be a great fit here. That said, Tulane has become an increasingly popular university and that has made it more and more competitive to gain admission here.

I suspect that our overall admit rate this year will be lower than last year’s which was around 21%. Unfortunately, that means that over 80% of the students who apply to Tulane this year will not be admitted for either the fall or spring. By the numbers, we also saw our strongest Early Action pool in history, with a middle 50% range on the ACT between 31-34 and SAT between 1440-1540. These are by no means cutoffs, but it does give you a sense of just how competitive Tulane is this year. We can’t take every academically qualified student who applies, but for a small group who we believe will be fantastic fits, we admit them as a part of our Spring Scholars program.

With those facts in mind, I have some suggestions for next steps to take if you have been admitted as a Spring Scholar. First, take some time to think about it. I know your preference would be to start class in the fall, but the Spring Scholars option is a final decision?it’s non-binding and you have until May 1st to decide. There will be no Spring Scholars switched to the fall semester at any point. Before you reach out with questions, take some time to read the FAQx for the program; there’s some great info in there about housing (we guarantee it!) and Greek life (you can still go through the recruitment process!) (quoted from the blog)

Okay, so let’s look at the numbers.  These are some pretty impressive numbers for Tulane (and they help explain why some students I know did not get in under Early Action, even though they were great students with all the necessary qualifications).  And, these numbers underline again what we said two weeks ago:  Expect a bumpy road for the next couple of months if you are waiting for admission decisions from very good and great colleges.  The numbers are not very student friendly.

And then, Mr. Schiffman makes some good points to the Spring Scholars:  You have absolutely been admitted, you will absolutely have campus housing even though you will be arriving in the middle of the year, and you will absolutely be able to go through fraternity and sorority rush (which you actually cannot at some colleges with this spring admissions plan, and it is very important to some students and is more important at some colleges than others).

What Mr. Schiffman does next in his blog is downright fascinating:  He prints a full-color photo of The American University of Paris, with a caption that reads, “Your other fall campus option!”  What?  Here’s my view:  One of the only cities in the world that is lovelier than New Orleans is Paris!  How clever is that!  Here is what Mr. Schiffman wrote:

Next, consider your options for the fall. We’re so excited about the fall abroad programming we offer Spring Scholars in both Rome and Paris. You’ll have the option to spend your fall term with a cohort of Tulane students at one of two incredible universities abroad: The John Cabot University in Rome or The American University of Paris (AUP). Schools like Northeastern, Cornell, Miami, Delaware, and the University of Southern California also have freshmen at these campuses during the fall. . . .  If you’d prefer to stay stateside, you can take classes as a non-degree-seeking student at a school of your choice, participate in a gap semester program, take a semester to work, or maybe participate in service. It’s really up to you! (quoted from the blog)

Here is what Mr. Schiffman wrote next:

Next, plan a visit to campus during one of our two dedicated Spring Scholar Destination Tulane dates. The dates you should plan on coming are either February 17th or April 21st. This event is tailor-made for Spring Scholars. You’ll be able to meet other students admitted into the Spring Scholars program this year, hear from current Spring Scholars, and attend presentations from both John Cabot and AUP. . . .

If Tulane truly is where you see yourself, we’d love to have you join us in January 2019. Currently, we have 75 Spring Scholars excited to start at Tulane in just a few weeks!

Oh, and expect a visit from me in Paris or Rome in the fall. I’m not joking! (quoted from the blog)

It sounds to me like Mr. Schiffman has made the best possible overture to the new Spring Scholars and has offered them a super-attractive plan for what to do next fall, which might sound even better to some students than starting at Tulane in the fall.  Smart move!

2. Where Else?

Well, of course, it’s not just Tulane.  As it happens, my own alma mater, Cornell University, posted this on its website about its First-Year Spring Admission program for its College of Arts and Sciences and its College of Agriculture and Life Sciences:

Over the past decade, Cornell University has experienced a more than 100% increase in first-year admissions applications. For this year’s class, Cornell reviewed close to 47,000 applications for a class of 3,275 new first-year students. In order to allow more students to benefit from a Cornell education, the university has developed an exciting option. In January 2018, Cornell University will welcome approximately 60 freshmen to begin their Cornell experience starting in the spring semester. . . .

Students selected for spring semester enrollment are exceptional candidates whom we are unable to admit for fall because of on-campus space constraints. Students with a record of academic achievement and who exhibit the important qualities of leadership and initiative have been selected for this special program. . . .

Students offered the opportunity to enroll in January will be asked to submit an enrollment deposit to confirm their place. During the summer, we will contact you to confirm your plans for the fall semester (e.g. taking classes, traveling abroad, participating in public service, working, etc.). Cornell will then contact you in September to confirm that you are indeed planning to enroll in January. Once confirmed, we will work with you to pre-register for courses for the spring semester and have you start other processes (such as applying for housing and dining options). You will participate in an orientation program when you arrive in January (a few days before classes begin) to ensure that you are ready for success. (quoted from the website)

Okay, Big Red, I have to say that doesn’t sound quite as exciting as Tulane’s Spring Scholars, and it certainly doesn’t have Mr. Schiffman’s hype (which I don’t say pejoratively).  Plus–and this is also true of the Tulane program–just how big a deal is this program when it is admitting 60 kids when the freshman class was over 3,000.  I have to say that I have not quite figured that out yet.  It should, on the other hand, make the spring students feel genuinely good about themselves and their qualifications because they are really part of a relatively tiny select group.  Would I advise a student to wait to attend Cornell until the spring if that’s the best admissions deal the student could get?  Frankly, I would . . . in a heartbeat.

And then there’s Middlebury College, an excellent liberal arts college in Vermont, perhaps best known for its outstanding language programs.  For about 30 years, Middlebury has been enrolling about 100 students for its spring semester, which begins in February.  Clearly, 100 students is a bigger proportion of the total of about 700 freshmen admitted at Middlebury at about 15 percent (compared to not quite 2 percent at Cornell and perhaps about double that percentage at Tulane).  Here is some background on Middlebury’s idea:

February admission is a program developed by former Dean of Admissions Fred Neuberger in a creative effort to fill dorm space that was empty during spring semester because so many Middlebury students study abroad. Rather than admit a large class of transfer students, the College decided to admit another class of first-year students, or “Febs.” (quoted from the website)

Okay, so that’s interesting.  February admission solved a problem for the college rather than a problem for the students.  Of course, that really isn’t suprising, but it doesn’t make it a bad idea.  The website continues:

February students are chosen from the same applicant pool as September students and all students are notified of their admission at the same time in late March or early April. Students may indicate on the application their preference for a starting date (September only, February only, or either), but this is ultimately an Admissions Office decision. Some students who indicate an interest in September may be offered a place in our February class. Many applicants now tell us they’d prefer to be “Febs,” and some even outline their plans for the fall in their applications. (quoted from the website)

Well, that’s not surprising, either, given the increasing interest by high school students in taking a gap year (feel free to go back and listen to our Episode 115 from last spring).  I guess if a program is well established at a college, the way Middlebury’s appears to be, that gives students one more reasonable option to consider during the whole application process.  The website continues:

Being admitted as a Feb is a full admission to the College community. We choose our Febs because we see in them students who will use wisely the time between high school graduation and their studies at Middlebury. “Febs” tend to be highly energetic leaders in their school communities, or students who have already sought unconventional and creative opportunities in their high school careers. Febs typically come to Middlebury ready to “hit the ground running.”

Before arriving on campus, Febs have several months that are entirely their own. The College does not seek to direct or recommend certain pursuits. . . . Some Febs work to save money and then travel. Other Febs pursue service opportunities or internships.

As February first-years, students enter in February and leave four years later in February–in their caps and gowns, but also on skis, snowshoes, or sleds at Middlebury’s own ski area, the Snow Bowl! The February celebration has become a hallmark of a Middlebury winter. February seniors and their families enjoy a full weekend of festivities on campus and at the Middlebury College Snow Bowl. February admission does not imply that students will graduate in three and a half years. Any student (September or Feb) may choose to use AP credits, or other transferable credit, to accelerate his course of study, but that’s not the intention of the Feb admission program.  (quoted from the website)

Middlebury has clearly made “Febs” an integral part of the College.

3. The Trends

So, what are the trends in spring admissions programs?  Here are a few.  Colleges are not trying to push spring starters out in three and a half years; spring starters are expected to be there for four full years, but are certainly welcome to get out in three and a half by taking some courses elsewhere or using college credits earned during high school.  Spring starters are going to live on campus, often with students of their own age.  Spring starters will participate fully in all of the extracurricular activities that colleges offer (including fraternity and sorority life, but perhaps on a slightly delayed schedule for that).  Spring starters who play on varsity sports teams will have four full seasons of athletic eligibility available to them.  And spring starters will probably get some kind of special orientation designed for them so that they can immediately feel at home in the college community.

So, what’s the downside of spring admissions?  Maybe not much at all?especially if it gets a student into a great school that he or she has at the top of the list.

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Episode 122: A Truly American International University

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Before we start today’s episode, which will take us abroad, let us remind you to rush out right now and get our new book if you have a junior at home (and even if you have a freshman or sophomore). That’s “rush out right now” figuratively speaking, because the book is available at amazon.com, so there is no need to leave home to get it. But why now? Because using the book is a perfect way for your teenager to spend some time this summer–that is, researching colleges of interest to him or her and/or colleges of interest to you for him or her!

In case you missed our recent episodes, the book is How To Explore Your College Options: A Workbook for High School Students. And, as we have said before, it is a WORKbook. It makes the point that many of us learned the hard way: that is, it takes a lot of work to figure out the best colleges for your teenager to apply to. And, as some parents we have worked with recently can tell you, deciding where to apply is probably more important than deciding where to enroll. If your teenager (with your help) chooses colleges to apply to wisely and with enthusiasm, then the choice of where to enroll ends up being a lot happier and easier to make.

But back to our current series, Colleges in the Spotlight. As many of our regular listeners know, I spent last week in London attending my daughter’s graduation from her master’s degree program. My son had previously attended the same university for his bachelor’s degree, and I was looking forward to doing the graduation ceremony a second time. It is not surprising, I guess, that the alma mater of two of my kids would become today’s episode. That’s not because, by the way, it is the alma mater of two of my kids, but rather because it is a university–or one of a group of similar universities–that just might persuade some of you to leave your geographic comfort zone.

1. Spotlight on Richmond

At the beginning of our new book, we ask students to expand their college options by investigating all geographic regions of the U.S. and putting together their own personal long list of college options (or LLCO). Then, we go one step further and ask students to make sure that they have at least one college that is not in the U.S. on their LLCO. In the book, we talk to students about studying outside the U.S.:

This is a favorite topic of ours, and we can’t say enough about it. There are truly great options outside the U.S. We hope that every one of you will take advantage of studying abroad for at least a semester, no matter where you end up in college. Studying abroad is for everyone these days–not just for rich kids, not just for kids studying foreign languages, not just for kids at private liberal arts colleges. But you can actually study outside the U.S. for more than a semester or even for more than one year; you can simply go to a college outside the U.S. full time for four years.

You might want to check out one of our favorite options: Richmond, The American International University in London. Jointly accredited in the U.S. and the U.K., it is a one-of-a-kind institution. It offers students four-year bachelor’s degrees–first, on an idyllic campus in Richmond-upon-Thames (just outside London) for freshmen and sophomores and, then, on an ideal Kensington campus in the heart of London for juniors and seniors. We have seen Richmond up close for a decade and still love it. (P.S. Richmond offers master’s degrees, too, if you’d rather wait for your study abroad experience.) The global future is here, kids. Join it.

Well, that could not be more true. There are plenty of universities to choose from outside the U.S., but let me talk to you a bit today about Richmond, the American International University in London because it is the one that I know the best. I have known its students; I have known its professors (with whom I have been very impressed); I have known its staff members. I have seen it as the parent of an undergraduate student for four years and as the parent of a graduate student for a little over a year.

I have seen what being an international university is all about. At the graduation ceremony last week, after the Master of Arts and Master of Business Administration students were presented with diplomas, we had the roll call of undergraduate students. There were about 180 undergraduate candidates for Bachelor of Arts degrees–and they represented 42 countries.

Now, when we did our virtual nationwide tour of colleges (way back in Episodes 27 through 53), we often commented on the number of foreign countries that U.S. colleges claimed they drew students from. Some colleges–especially large universities–were fond of saying that they drew students from 100 foreign countries, and we always thought that was great. But those colleges typically had thousands of students, so I am not sure how international each class students sat in actually seemed to the students.

At Richmond, 42 countries were represented in just 180 college seniors. Every class students sat in was international–just like every dorm hallway and every group of students just hanging out and chatting. I remember well how international my son’s group of friends really was. This year, about 63 graduating seniors at Richmond came from the U.S., about 41 from the U.K., and the remaining 78 from the following countries: 9 from Spain, 7 from Italy, 7 from Bulgaria, 6 from France, 5 from Germany, 4 from Sweden, 4 from Lebanon, 4 from Belgium, 3 from Nigeria, 2 each from Brazil and Norway, and 1 each from Kuwait, Cameroon, Estonia, Guam, the Dominican Republic, Hungary, the Netherlands, Romania, Libya, Bahrain, Greece, Albania, Jordan, Portugal, India, Zambia, Pakistan, Kenya, Cyprus, Finland, Montenegro, the Republic of Kosovo, Egypt, Malaysia, the Czech Republic, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Canada, and Australia.

Wow. It was amazing to see all the kids and to see the very obvious cross-cultural bonds that had been forged, but it was also amazing to see all of the families and to hear all of the languages being spoken by the proud families of the graduates. It left no doubt in my mind about the value of the truly international experience that these kids had enjoyed.

For the record, Richmond is dually accredited in both the U.S. and the U.K. Richmond describes itself as a liberal arts university, and we have talked about the merits of liberal arts study frequently here at USACollegeChat. In fact, one of the speakers at graduation last week spoke about the liberal arts tradition at Richmond and its significance. Richmond prizes what it believes to be the result of a liberal arts education: namely, students who can think critically and creatively and who can make connections among a broad range of subjects they have studied.

In our new book, one of the topics we call on high school students to investigate when exploring their college options is the presence of a core curriculum. As we have said before, some colleges have quite an extensive required core curriculum, including specific required courses; some colleges have a less specific required core curriculum, including a choice of courses in specified, but broad, fields of study (like the humanities); and some colleges have no required core curriculum at all. Depending on what you or your teenager wants, having a core curriculum can be either a positive or a negative in a college you are considering.

Richmond, in fact, has a sort of mixed core curriculum consisting of 10 three-credit courses taken in the freshman year. Its core curriculum includes some specific courses like Research and Writing I and II, Creative Expression, Scientific Reasoning, and Transitions: London Calling I and II (which focuses on service learning and answers the question, “How can you use London, with all its attractions and all its problems, to help others whilst helping yourself?”) But, less restrictively, the core curriculum also includes a Quantitative Reasoning course (which depends on the student’s major), the student’s choice of any one of 17 Humanities and Social Science course options, and two additional courses of the student’s own choosing outside the major. So, the core is there–with a little wiggle room. Frankly, I am glad as a parent that it was there because I am quite sure that my son would have otherwise avoided quantitative reasoning at all costs.

And let me mention one more very attractive feature of Richmond’s undergraduate program, and this is something else we suggest that students look for when exploring their college options. It is Richmond’s far-reaching study abroad programs, which are available through partnerships in Europe, North and South America, the South Pacific, Asia, South East Asia and the Middle East, but also through Richmond’s own mini-campuses in Rome and Florence. My son did a summer at the Rome campus as a high school student, and both my son and daughter did a semester at the Florence campus during their undergraduate study. (By the way, your college student can study at Richmond’s Florence campus through the American Institute for Foreign Study from whatever college he or she chooses in the U.S. My daughter Polly went there for a semester from Fordham University.)

Richmond’s Florence program is outstanding in many ways, including for the variety of art and art history courses that are offered and for the Italian language classes that are offered. Students can earn a full year of language credit in just one semester because of the required one-week full-time Italian course that students take prior to the beginning of the actual semester, followed by a second Italian course at the appropriate level during the semester.

Finally, I just learned that Richmond now offers a full freshman year at the Florence campus. I am sorry I don’t have any children left to send! What could be better than a year in Florence, a year in Richmond-upon-Thames, and two years in London? That’s a truly international university, as I might have mentioned already.

2. What’s the Downside?

At graduation, I happened to be seated next to the mother of one of the American graduating seniors. The family had lived in London for 14 years before moving back to the U.S. We marveled at the great opportunity that Richmond was for our kids. We wondered why everyone didn’t do it.

But surely there is a downside? Frankly, I am not sure that there is. Perhaps surprisingly, the cost is actually not the downside. Tuition this coming year for U.S. students is $38,000?not as cheap as your state’s public university for sure, but not as expensive as many private colleges in the U.S. And, yes, the kids do have to travel back and forth to London, which isn’t cheap. However, the kids tend to leave only at the semester break because they enjoy visiting the homes of their classmates in Europe for shorter breaks. So, it really amounts to two round trips per year.

I understand that, for some parents, the real downside is having their children so far away from home that they really can’t see them more than during the month-long semester breaks and summer vacations. There really is no argument to make if that is your concern, parents. However, I will tell you that you are likely to miss your children a lot more than they will miss you. I am sure that some have a bit of homesickness at the beginning, but there is so much new to see and do that I don’t believe it lasts very long. And at smaller colleges, like Richmond, there is a bit of a family atmosphere anyway, with small classes and many opportunities to build close relationships both with the other students and with the professors.

3. The Master’s Degrees

The real “deal” at Richmond, by the way, is the M.A. program, which costs about $15,500 (the M.B.A. is a little bit pricier) and is completed in just one full calendar year (that is, two academic semesters and a summer). That’s compared to the two years (or four academic semesters) you would have to pay for at a far higher annual price at many private U.S. colleges.

As I mentioned in a Facebook Live chat I did with my daughter when she was home in New York City doing her internship last summer, I thought that her M.A. program in Visual Arts Management and Curating was excellent. She worked hard and graduated “with Distinction,” but that is thanks to the outstanding professors she had and how committed they were to the students. My daughter and her classmates traveled to many museums and galleries for classes, they met with working professionals in London in and outside of classes, and they had easy access to their professors.

So, if you have an older child graduating from college next year, consider whether a good and reasonably priced graduate program in London–or somewhere else outside the U.S–might be the way to go.

4. Next Week

Next week, we will turn our college spotlight on colleges north of the border–that is, colleges in Canada, which are becoming more attractive to U.S. students. We’ll tell you why, so stay tuned.

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Episode 44: College Study Abroad—One More Time

We are taking a one-week break from our virtual tour of colleges across the U.S. to reflect on the notion of study abroad opportunities for U.S. college students. 

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We are doing this because I just returned from London, where I was taking my daughter to graduate school, and I found that London seemed full of students from all over the world.  Now, we know that about 70 percent of high school students stay in their home state for college.  The virtual tour of U.S. colleges that we have been taking with you over the past four months was designed to take you outside your geographical comfort zone and get you to look at other regions of the U.S. as possible locations for a college for your teenager.  College study abroad is going to take many of you way outside your geographical comfort zone.  But we think it is a trip worth taking.

Episode 44: College Study Abroad—One More Time on NYCollegeChat podcast. Listen at http://usacollegechat.org/44The practice of sending college students to study abroad for at least part of their undergraduate degree coursework has exploded over the past several decades.  Now a number of colleges make foreign study a regular part of college life.  In fact, we have talked about colleges in other episodes where the vast majority of students study abroad for at least a semester as well as colleges where students are required to study abroad.  Those of you who have been listening to our virtual tour might remember, for example, our discussion of Centre College in Kentucky, one of the Colleges That Change Lives (see the website or book of the same name for further information).  At Centre College, about 85 percent of students study abroad at least once and about 25 percent at least twice. 

We have talked in past episodes and in our book—How To Find the Right College, now available at amazon.com—about all of the practical and philosophical reasons for sending U.S. students to study in foreign countries.  We have also talked about the everyday difficulties (like medical problems) and the crazy amount of paperwork that has to be done to secure student visas, and we aren’t going to repeat all of that now. 

Part-Time Study Abroad

So, a part-time short study abroad program could be the way to get started for your teenager.  It could be for a summer or for a semester or even for a full school year. 

As we have said before, a college might have its own study abroad program on its own campus in another country, or it might offer a program on the campus of a foreign partner university in another country.  Or a college might join a group of colleges that offer study abroad programs together in facilities in another country.  I have been intrigued by the colleges we have profiled on our virtual tour that have fabulous campuses abroad.

For example, take Saint Louis University in St. Louis, Missouri, but also in Madrid:  Saint Louis University, The American Jesuit University in Spain.  Starting as a simple study abroad program in the 1960s, the Madrid campus is now home to about 675 students, who are 50 percent American, 20 percent Spanish, and 30 percent from over 65 other countries.  It has a faculty of 115 members, and a student-to-faculty ratio of 11:1.  It offers complete degrees in business, art history, communication, economics, international studies, political science, psychology, and Spanish—and in English and history, with just one semester back at the Missouri campus.  Furthermore, students from the Missouri campus can come and take courses for a year or two that can count toward the Missouri campus’s almost 100 majors.  For many of the Madrid students, Saint Louis University is actually full-time, not part-time, study abroad.

If study abroad is something that you know your teenager is interested in or if this is something you are interested in for your teenager—and I hope you are—check out what study abroad options are available at colleges you are getting ready to put on your teenager’s list of colleges to apply to.  And check out how many students at those colleges study abroad; the figures are readily available on college websites in the “Study Abroad” or “Study Away” program descriptions.

And don’t forget to take a look at what the American Institute for Foreign Study (AIFS) has to offer.  Based in Stamford, Connecticut, AIFS operates a wide range of summer, semester-long, and year-long programs in over 20 countries on five continents.  (All three of my own children have done AIFS programs, with great success.)

In AIFS programs, students take college courses taught in English and receive college credits, which can be transferred back to the student’s own college.  If a student chooses to attend a program in a non-English-speaking country, then language courses are usually required.  For example, in just a one-semester program, which opens with an intensive full-time two-week language course before the semester starts and continues with regular language classes during the semester, students can earn a full year of foreign language credits, which many liberal arts students need to fulfill bachelor’s degree requirements. 

By the way, whatever financial aid students have at their home college can usually be used to cover the costs of attending a semester or two abroad, and AIFS has scholarships available for their programs as well.  We have found that it can actually be cheaper to spend a semester abroad through AIFS than to pay for tuition and living expenses at a private college in the U.S.  I will say that some colleges that have their own study abroad programs might prefer that students use them rather than go through AIFS, so that is also something to keep in mind. 

Full-Time Study Abroad

So, what if you have a teenager wants to go to a college that is located outside the U.S.—either because he or she just wants to study outside of the U.S. or because there is one certain college of particular interest to your child?  Of course, there are thousands of colleges available in many countries across the world—many of which have much longer and more remarkable histories than any college history we have recounted to you in our virtual tour of the U.S.  Admissions requirements, however, can be quite different from what U.S. colleges expect, partly because the systems of primary and secondary education in other countries are typically quite different from ours.  So here are two easier options to consider.

One great choice is Richmond, The American International University in London.  I have talked about Richmond on several occasions, partly because I know it so well.  My son did his undergraduate work there, and my daughter just started her master’s degree there last week.  Richmond is accredited in both the U.S. and the United Kingdom so that admissions (there is a U.S. admissions office in Boston) and everything else is vastly simplified.  As I have undoubtedly said before, Richmond    offers bachelor’s and master’s degree programs to students from over 100 countries.  It offers a lovely picture-postcard campus for freshmen and sophomores in Richmond-upon-Thames (a beautiful suburban location just a tube ride away from central London) and a group of buildings in the prestigious neighborhood of Kensington in London for juniors, seniors, and graduate students.  Richmond also has two outstanding study abroad centers in Rome and Florence, Italy, where both the curricula and the settings are unbeatable.  So both its locations and its students are truly international, but U.S. students have the comfort of taking classes in English.  By the way, Richmond also offers “study abroad” with partner universities in a variety of cities across the globe, so your U.S. student can study abroad abroad.  And, when you are in London, you realize quickly that British English is not really the same as American English, so studying in London really is studying abroad.  Incidentally, attending Richmond is no more expensive than attending a comparable private college in the U.S. (and tuition might actually be a little lower). 

Another interesting choice outside the U.S. is The American University of Paris (AUP), a small, but incredibly diverse, institution—as the brochure says, “1000 Students, 100 Nationalities.”  A liberal arts university founded in 1962, AUP is one of the oldest American higher education institutions in Europe.  So, it’s American, which might feel a lot more comfortable to American students than studying in a foreign university.  It offers bachelor’s degrees in a variety of arts and sciences, plus international business administration, and it offers master’s degrees in six fields.  Of course, studying in Paris allows students to take full advantage of the enormous number of cultural opportunities there outside of classes—the museums, the theaters, the historical sites, and the most beautiful urban setting in the world.  If I had it to do over again, I might well go there myself. 

When Marie and I attended the National Association for College Admission Counseling’s college fair in New York City last April, we spoke with Julie Sappington, an AUP admissions counselor and recruiter.  Julie offered the following audio pitch for AUP for NYCollegeChat. (Be sure to listen to it in our recorded episode.)

Graduate Study Abroad

Another choice is to have your teenager wait until graduate school to study abroad, assuming he or she is interested in graduate school eventually.  Some U.S. colleges operate graduate programs abroad, and there are thousands of graduate programs offered by foreign universities as well, of course.  At that time in their lives, students will likely be more mature, will have a better handle on what they want to do for a career, will be more focused on making the best use of their time abroad, and might be able to assume more of the cost themselves. 

I love the idea of graduate study abroad—so much so that all three of my children did their master’s degree study abroad:  Jimmy at Berklee College of Music, an American university with its own graduate campus in drop-dead gorgeous Valencia, Spain; Bobby at the University of East Anglia, a British university he attended after graduating from Richmond; and Polly, of course, who just started at Richmond.  Those were all great decisions.

But I have to say that all of them also studied abroad as undergraduates:  Jimmy in a summer program at the University of Limerick in Ireland through AIFS, Bobby full time at Richmond, and Polly for a semester in Florence through AIFS and Richmond.  I think that international experience as undergraduates made a remarkable difference in all of them—both personally and academically—and I have no doubt that it contributed to their willingness to study abroad full time as graduate students. 

So, here is my two cents’ worth of advice:  Don’t wait.  Help your teenager see the value of studying in another country and being immersed in another culture, hopefully with students from around the world.  Studying abroad is not just for rich kids, as I imagine it once was some decades ago.  Most students have student loans and scholarships, just as they do in the U.S., and most are on pretty tight budgets while they are abroad.  Parents:  Figure out a way to pay for it (it won’t be any harder than paying for everything else).  Because the experience will be, as they say, priceless.

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Episode 8: The World Abroad

We’re finishing our series on understanding the world of college this week by exploring study abroad and exchange programs.
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We’re finishing our series on understanding the world of college this week by exploring study abroad and exchange programs.

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

NYCollegeChat Episode 8: The World Abroad

1. Part-Time Study Abroad

If a student is interested in exploring the culture of another country, a short study abroad program is a perfect opportunity. It could be for a summer or for a semester or for a year.

When exploring colleges, look to see what study abroad options they have. A college might have its own study abroad program, on its own campus in another country or on the campus of a partner university in another country. Students typically go for one or both semesters during their junior year and take a full course load while there so they do not get behind in their progress toward graduation.

Or check out the American Institute for Foreign Study (AIFS), based in Stamford, Connecticut. AIFS operates a wide range of summer, semester-long, and year-long programs around the world for college students. Some summer programs are as short as three weeks—time enough to learn a lot, but not enough time to get homesick. (AIFS also offers wonderful summer programs for high school students, which we will talk about in a later episode.) In AIFS college programs, students take college courses taught in English and receive college credits, which can be transferred back to the student’s own college. If a student chooses to attend a program in a non-English-speaking country, then language courses are usually required. In just one semester, students can sometimes earn a full year of foreign language credit, which many liberal arts students need to fulfill bachelor’s degree requirements.

By the way, whatever financial aid students have can usually be used to cover the costs of attending a semester or two abroad, and AIFS has scholarships available for their programs as well.

2. Going to a Foreign College

So, a student wants to go to college outside the U.S. Of course, there are thousands of colleges available in many countries across the world. Admissions requirements, however, can be quite different from what U.S. colleges expect. And full-time study abroad means a lot of “red tape” for families—including complicated student visa applications at the U.S. consulates of foreign countries. (This is also true for many semester-long study abroad programs, though some U.S. colleges and AIFS help families handle that paperwork.) At foreign colleges, classes will not be taught in English unless, of course, the college is in an English-speaking country.

One unique choice for full-time study abroad is Richmond, the American International University in London. Richmond is accredited in both the U.S. and the United Kingdom so that admissions and potential transfer of credits back to U.S. colleges are simplified. Richmond offers bachelor’s and master’s degree programs to students from over 100 countries. While it offers a beautiful campus in Richmond for freshmen and sophomores and a location in London for juniors, seniors, and graduate students, it also has two outstanding study abroad centers in Rome and Florence, Italy. Truly international!

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