Episode 81: Assignment #1–Expanding, Not Narrowing, the College Search

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This series is entitled The Search Begins and, as we have said, it is aimed directly at those of you who are parents of juniors, and it is designed to help you all navigate summer tasks related to college applications in the fall. (Of course, it never hurts parents of freshmen and sophomores to get a head start on the college admissions game. So, stick with us during these summer episodes.)

Today’s topic focuses on something that you are just about to do totally wrong. Furthermore, our advice on this topic probably runs counter to what many “experts” are telling you to do right now, which is to start narrowing your list of colleges so that your teenager can get ready to apply in the fall.

In this episode, we are going to take the position that you should do the exact opposite, which is to start expanding your teenager’s list of colleges immediately so that you all are truly ready to narrow it in the fall. While that might seem unnecessary–even wasteful, given the thousand things you are trying to do this summer–we would contend that expanding the options now could make the difference between an okay college choice for your teenager and a great college choice for your teenager when it is time to accept a college’s offer next spring. Here’s why.

Episode 81: Assignment 1--Expanding, Not Narrowing, The College Search on USA CollegeChat podcast, with free printable

1. One More Research Study

Nicholas W. Hillman, an assistant professor at the University of Wisconsin–Madison (a great public flagship university, which we discussed in Episode 27) has written a recent paper, published in the American Educational Research Journal and entitled “Geography of College Opportunity: The Case of Education Deserts.” Catherine Gewertz reported on Hillman’s paper recently in the High School & Beyond blog in Education Week (“Why College Access Depends on Your ZIP Code,” June 24, 2016).

You loyal listeners might remember that we first met Professor Hillman back in Episode 66 when we talked about his earlier report entitled Education Deserts: The Continued Significance of “Place” in the Twenty-First Century (co-authored with Taylor Weichman). One statistic that the authors quoted in that report is this: About 57 percent of incoming freshmen at public four-year colleges attend a college within 50 miles of home. Now, think about that from a freshman’s point of view. If you are a freshman standing on your four-year public college campus, more than half of your classmates live within 50 miles of where you are standing. Clearly, those students did not get outside of their “geographic comfort zone,” which is one of our most talked about and least favorite concepts here at USACollegeChat. (Remember that about 70 percent of high school graduates attend college in their home state. That’s just too many kids staying within their geographic comfort zone, in our opinion.)

This time around, Hillman maps both public and private two-year and four-year colleges and universities in 709 “commuting zones” across the U.S.–that is, in 709 bunches of mostly contiguous counties where people live and work. And, when I say “maps,” I mean that he locates the colleges and universities on a map of the U.S. and colors in the commuting zones where they are located so that anyone can see at a glance which commuting zones have a lot of colleges (five or more is the top of his scale) and which don’t have even one.

We are going to skip over private two-year colleges, inasmuch as they are the rarest of college types, and look first at public two-year colleges. Looking at Hillman’s map, we notice that there are relatively fewer public two-year colleges west of the Mississippi River until you get to the Far West and Southwest border states. Turning to public four-year colleges, we notice that there are even fewer public four-year colleges than public two-year colleges in the Plains and Rocky Mountain states. And finally, coming to private four-year colleges, we notice that the coverage is especially good east of the Mississippi–particularly in New England and the Mid-Atlantic states–and again in parts of the Far West.

So, where is the “education desert”? The maps would say, generally speaking, that it is in the Rocky Mountain and Plains states. What that means is that college students who live there are likely to have fewer nearby options than students in other commuting zones–say, those in the Northeast. Of course, even in the Northeast, you might live in a particular commuting zone that just doesn’t have many colleges. And that matters because so many kids stay close to home for college–perhaps too close.

But that’s not the worst of it. Gewertz explains:

Hillman found that zones of opportunity put specific groups at a disadvantage. Latino and African-American communities tend to have the fewest colleges, and less-selective colleges, nearby, while white and Asian communities tend to have more colleges, and more selective institutions, nearby to choose from. . . .   Hillman argues that most policy that seeks to improve college access focuses on the process of opportunity–with initiatives that aim to get more information into students’ hands, so they can make good college choices–instead of the geography of opportunity. (quoted from the article)

Well, now we have a societal problem as well as an individual student problem. As Hillman noted in his first report, the college decisions of students from working-class homes and the college decisions of students of color are most negatively affected by home-to-college distance. So, when it turns out that there are relatively fewer college options and relatively fewer selective college options in Latino and African-American communities and when we know that lots of those kids do not travel very far to attend college, for whatever reason, those students end up not having the range of college choices that they deserve.

2. Your Assignment #1

Download the Assignment #1 printable worksheet

Why are we telling you this? Because all of you should expand the college options for your teenager before you narrow them, and this is especially true if you live in an area that has few nearby colleges or few good nearby colleges. Whether you are Latino, African American, Asian, or white, those of you living in an education desert must look outside your geographic area in order to find a choice of good options for your teenager. Why should you be content with the only option in town no matter how good it is? For many of you, the chances are that it is not good enough.

But, to repeat, this advice is not just for those of you living in education deserts. This advice is for all of you who are busy making up a short list of colleges for your child to visit this summer and apply to in the fall. It simply is not time yet to be making up that short list, to be narrowing down the choices, to be closing off opportunities, and to be settling either for colleges that are nearby or for colleges that you already know about. It is unnecessarily soon–even for those of you who want to look at an Early Decision or Early Action option.

So, since it is July 1 and your teenager might have a bit of free time, we are ready to give him or her–and you–an assignment every week until September. The more you can get your teenager to do the work, the easier it will be for you; however, you will need to provide some life experience and adult judgment throughout the assignments. We do guarantee that you both will be better equipped by September 1 to start the actual college application process.

We thought hard about what your first summer assignment should be and settled on this: With your teenager, listen to our virtual nationwide college tour (Episodes 27 through 53) again?or for the first time?or skim the show notes if you prefer. By the way, these episodes do a good job of differentiating between the public and private colleges, which could well be one of the first decisions you will make when it is time to shorten your teenager’s list in September.

Together, choose at least one college in every state to put on your teenager’s list. Put those 50 on what we will call “your teenager’s long summer list of college options.” Just add them to any colleges you already have on the list.

Okay, if that’s too outlandish, try this: Choose at least one college in each of 25 states of your choice to put on your teenager’s list. Heck, that’s only half the states. You are getting off easy. Put those on your teenager’s long summer list of college options.

Still too tough? How about this: Choose at least two colleges in every geographic region of the U.S. to put on your teenager’s long summer list of college options. Remember that the Bureau of Economic Analysis (an agency of the U.S. Department of Commerce) has divided the U.S. into eight regions, with each region’s covering four to 12 states. So, that would give you 16 colleges–plus, let’s say, add two extra colleges in your home state for good measure.

But wait: Put five public flagship universities on your teenager’s long summer list of college options. Any five. You choose. This will ensure that your teenager has some great public options to consider, too. As we have said before, public flagship universities might be the hidden jewels in the college landscape.

And those of you who are longtime listeners know that this piece of advice is coming: Choose at least one college not in the U.S. to put on your teenager’s long summer list of college options. The global future is here. Join it.

Now that you have the long summer list of 20 or 30 or 40 or, better yet, 50 colleges, have your teenager read about each one on the college’s website before talking with you and recommending whether it should be kept on the list. Believe me, you can learn a lot from reading a college website. Furthermore, you can learn not only about that one college, but also about colleges in general and what to look for on the next website. It’s an education in itself.

Our virtual tour gave you a lot of the information you should consider already, but let your teenager confirm it and look further into particular things that interest him or her about the college. Make sure your teenager checks out at least these topics:

  • Enrollment, broken down by undergraduate and graduate (if any) students
  • Retention and graduation rates (search the site for “common data set” or go to College Navigator, sponsored by the National Center for Education Statistics)
  • The history of the college (always my favorite topic)
  • Academic divisions in the institution (that is, colleges or schools within a university)
  • Academic departments and majors offered
  • Study abroad options
  • Extracurricular activities (including fraternities and sororities)
  • Intercollegiate and intramural sports
  • Tuition and housing costs (of course)

Finally, make sure that your teenager writes down (or makes a spreadsheet of) the information they find on each college. Believe me, after about four colleges, it’s impossible to remember which college has which attractive and unattractive features.

Personally, I wouldn’t have your teenager start poring over admission standards just yet. I would rather he or she look at the range of great opportunities out there and perhaps get a bit motivated by what those websites offer. Your teenager needs an education about higher education first. Some of those websites are so good, in fact, that they make me want to go back to college.

And, by the way, I wouldn’t have your teenager start looking at two-year colleges yet, either. Those of you who listen to us know that we have some reservations about two-year colleges, especially for students who have just graduated from high school and are moving directly into college full time. We know that they are a great choice for saving money and for helping kids who need a bit more maturity or a bit more academic preparation, but we worry because the transfer rates to four-year colleges are scandalously low, and we worry about what opportunities that fact closes off for too many kids. Two-year colleges can easily be added to the list in September, because we are assuming that the choice of a two-year college is largely affected by geography and that students are most likely to attend the one closest to them.

So, what is the point of today’s episode? It is simply that expanding your options now–before narrowing them in the fall–is a way to let both you and your teenager consider colleges you have never thought about. That’s because there are some really interesting ones out there, including perhaps the one that is best for your teenager.

Depending where you live, here are a few public and private choices you probably aren’t thinking about (some that are very selective, and others that are not):

By the way, I really do not want to hear one more of my friends here in New York say, “Oh, she can just go to Binghamton. It’s a good school.” With apologies to Binghamton, which is a fine state university in upstate New York, I would like my friends to look around first. I would like many more colleges on their teenager’s long list. I would like many colleges on that list to be outside New York State. I would like some of them to be outside the Northeast. I would like some of them to be public and some of them to be private. Binghamton isn’t going anywhere. It will still be there in the fall.

Download the Assignment #1 printable 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.

Ask your questions or share your feedback by…

  • Leaving a comment on the show notes for this episode at http://usacollegechat.org/episode81
  • Calling us at (516) 900-6922 to record a question on our USACollegeChat voicemail if you want us to answer your question live on our podcast

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Episode 29: Colleges in the Southeast Region—Part I

We are continuing our series on looking at colleges outside your comfort zone by starting a virtual tour of public colleges and universities in the Southeast region. Detailed show notes with links to all the colleges mentioned in today’s episode are at http://usacollegechat.org/29

In our last two episodes, we started our virtual tour of colleges across the U.S. to try to stretch your thinking about colleges that might be attractive to your child. As you recall, we started with five states in the Great Lakes region. As we said then, we are looking at four-year colleges only, reasoning that students headed to a public two-year college are highly likely to go to one in their home state and are not, therefore, looking to leave their own geographic region—at least not right away.

Again, we want to make it clear that there is no statistical basis for the colleges we are going to spotlight in this episode. No college has asked us to choose it, and no college has paid us anything to choose it. These are entirely our own choices.

To be sure, some of the colleges we are spotlighting will require that your child have very good high school grades and college admission test scores to get in. Others will be a bit easier, especially if a college is looking for out-of-state students to enhance its student body’s geographic diversity. But, because each student’s profile of grades and test scores and extracurricular activities and outside-of-school experiences is his or her own unique package, it will be up to you to look at your child’s high school record to see which colleges might be most appropriate.

Two general notes: First, when we talk about the colleges and universities in this episode, we are going to be talking about the main campus—that is, the one that most people associate with that institution—in those cases where an institution has more than one campus. Second, because enrollment figures are not necessarily comparable as reported by various colleges, you should use the figures we provide here just as an approximation of the actual campus enrollment, but one that is good enough to help you understand whether the student body is the right size for your child—roughly, small, medium, or really huge.

1. The Southeast Region

As we said, the Bureau of Economic Analysis (an agency of the U.S. Department of Commerce) has divided the U.S. into eight regions, with each region’s covering four to 12 states. Today, we are going to start to look at the states that make up the Bureau’s Southeast region, which has 12 states. Because we thought that would be a lot of states to investigate as a group, we have divided the Bureau’s Southeast region into the Southern Southeast region and the Northern Southeast region. We will start with the six states in what we call the Southern Southeast region: Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina.

For those of you who are listening in our home state of New York or up into the New England states or across the country in the Pacific Northwest, I am going to guess that most of you do not consider almost any colleges in these states for your child, with a rare exception. We would like to see whether we might change your mind about that.

2. Flagship Public State Universities

Let’s start with the flagship public state universities in these six states. Each state has one, though some are better known nationally than others. They are all good schools, and I would argue that at least a couple of them are great schools. While these universities have smaller branch campuses in other locations in their states, it is the main location—that is, the flagship of each state’s public system—that we will talk about here because that is the campus that is most respected and most widely recognized both in the state and outside the state.

Some of these flagship campuses attract students from far away states more often than others. For some, an application from a student in New York is not so commonplace; in those cases, a New York student with decent, but not spectacular, high school grades and college admission test scores might have a real chance of being accepted. As we have said before, colleges like to have geographic diversity in the student body.

And remember what we said in Episode 27 about flagship campuses: They are the place to be, if you graduated from high school in that state. Why? Because they are relatively inexpensive, academically respectable, well regarded across the state and across the country, super-competitive in sports arenas, chocked full of student clubs and activities, within driving distance of home, and a social hub for high school classmates. So, these flagship campuses draw a large portion of the best high school students in the state, which understandably drives up the average high school GPA of entering freshmen.

So, what are these flagship campuses in the Southern Southeast region? They are the University of Mississippi in Oxford (commonly known as Ole Miss), University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, University of Florida in Gainesville, University of Georgia in Athens, University of South Carolina in Columbia, and in Baton Rouge. These universities are located in different kinds of settings—from picturesque small college towns to small cities to state capitals—but they have a lot in common, like enviable warm weather.

These flagship campuses have a lot of students. The typical number of undergraduates at these campuses is around 25,000, but with closer to 33,000 at Florida and only about half that many at Ole Miss. The total undergraduate, graduate, and professional student enrollment tops out at Florida with almost 50,000 students. All of these campuses are going to feel big to incoming freshmen. Partly because of the small-town charm of Oxford, Ole Miss might feel the least intimidating.

The history of racial integration of the student bodies of some of these schools is part of our national memory and the personal memories of those of us who were alive in the early 1960s. We remember the 1962 enrollment of James Meredith, the first African-American student at Ole Miss. But something that I did not know was that the University of South Carolina had first admitted African-American students in 1873, thus becoming the only Southern public university to admit African-American students during the nation’s period of Reconstruction after the Civil War. Then the University closed for financial reasons in 1877. When conservative leaders re-opened it a few years later, it opened as an all-white institution.

And while we are talking about “firsts,” I also recently learned that the University of Georgia was established by the General Assembly of Georgia in 1785, making it the first state-supported public higher education institution in these United States. That’s quite a legacy.

These flagship universities have from 12 to 17 undergraduate, graduate, and professional schools and colleges—from liberal arts and sciences to every kind of career-related field you can imagine. Here are some of the more unusual ones: LSU has a School of the Coast and Environment; South Carolina has a College of Hospitality, Retail and Sport Management; Georgia has the Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources; and Ole Miss has the Patterson School of Accountancy. Overall, these universities offer from about 70 to 140 undergraduate majors—which should be plenty to choose from.

Like other big universities, each one has hundreds of student clubs and organizations and about 15 to 20 men’s and women’s varsity sports teams (plus club sports and intramurals). They are all part of the Southeastern Conference, and they treat their sports and sports rivalries seriously (can you say Crimson Tide?). Attending sports events are a part of college life at these universities—as are fraternities and sororities for many students.

Each of these six flagship universities is well enough known to attract students from many states and foreign countries, but the most of the undergraduate students attending these campuses are home grown. For some of the universities, that could mean that a solid application from outside of the state would be viewed favorably, and your child could likely get a great education at a cost lower than a private school in your home state—that is, before any financial aid package is figured in. More important, as we said in an earlier episode, these six flagship universities are better academically and more widely recognized than many private colleges in the U.S., and there is no prestige in attending a private college that is not as good as a great public university.

All of these flagship universities have proud alumni and alumnae, many still living in the state and sharing a network of friends who are also alums—and returning to the campus on weekends to see the big football game. In fact, since 1851, 25 governors of Georgia graduated from the University of Georgia. So, I guess it is turning out a quality product.

When we attended the National Association for College Admission Counseling’s college fair in New York City a couple of weeks ago, we had a good conversation with Anastasia Sailer, the University of South Carolina’s Regional Admissions Representative for New York, who did a quick audio pitch for NYCollegeChat. Be sure to listen to it in our recorded episode.

3. Other Public State Universities

In these six Southern Southeast states, there are also other public universities—not branches of the flagship campus, but other universities in their own right, some of which are as well known as the flagship campus.

Like the state of Michigan, which we talked about in Episode 27, with the University of Michigan and Michigan State University, both Mississippi and Florida have very substantial second well-known public institutions: Mississippi State University in Starkville and Florida State University in the state capital of Tallahassee. Each has about the same number of undergraduate students as its state’s flagship university: Mississippi State with about 16,000 undergraduates and Florida State with about twice that many. Each offers a broad array of colleges and undergraduate majors: Mississippi State with eight colleges and about 65 undergraduate majors and Florida State with 16 colleges and about 85 undergraduate majors. Each is a good choice for lots and lots of students.

Interestingly, the state of Florida also has a newer public university (established in 1963) that has grown to be larger than both of Florida’s historic public universities. That newer one is the University of Central Florida (UCF), with its main campus located in Orlando plus a double handful of regional campuses in the central part of the state. According to UCF’s website, UCF is the second largest university in the U.S., with a total of about 61,000 students, about 52,000 of them undergraduates. UCF has 12 undergraduate and graduate colleges and offers about 90 undergraduate majors. The most unusual of those colleges is the College of Optics and Photonics, which is the science and technology of light—that is, lasers, LEDs, LCDs, optical fibers, and imaging systems for applications in industry and medicine.

South Carolina and Alabama both have nationally recognized public universities (perhaps especially during football season) that I bet many people think are private, given their nonpublic-sounding names: Clemson University in South Carolina and Auburn University in Alabama.

Clemson was founded on the estate of Congressman and two-time U.S. Vice President John C. Calhoun, who passed it on to his daughter and son-in-law Thomas Clemson, our country’s first Secretary of Agriculture. Clemson Agricultural College, originally an all-male military school, opened in 1893. Today, Clemson is a coeducational university with a broad array of eight schools and colleges, including, of course, the College of Agriculture, Forestry and Life Sciences. The University serves about 16,000 undergraduates and 4,000 graduate students—mostly, from South Carolina, but with several hundred each from states as far away as New Jersey, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and New York.

Let’s look at Auburn, which started as an all-male private liberal arts college back in 1859 and now is home to a full slate of 13 undergraduate, graduate, and professional colleges and schools and a total of about 26,000 students (about 21,000 of them undergraduates). With 15 varsity sports, Auburn is another proud member of the Southeastern Conference. While most students come from Alabama and, next most often, from nearby Georgia and Florida, Auburn draws from states across the U.S. Fewer than 100 come from New York, however, so Auburn might be interested in a good applicant from our home state.

One more word about public schools in South Carolina: The College of Charleston, located in what some people believe is the prettiest city in the South, serves a somewhat smaller student body of about 10,000 undergraduates and just 1,000 graduate students, including some New Yorkers and New Jerseyans. Undergraduates have a choice of 59 majors in seven schools, focused mostly on the liberal arts and sciences (plus business and education). And a note about the College’s history: Founded in 1770, the College of Charleston is the oldest higher education institution south of Virginia and the 13th oldest in the U.S. Its founders included three signers of the Declaration of Independence and three framers of the Constitution. It was both a private college and a city-supported college before it became part of the state’s public system in 1970.

There is one last public institution to spotlight today, and that is Georgia Institute of Technology (commonly known as Georgia Tech), located in Atlanta. A top-ranked public university by anyone’s standards, Georgia Tech provides a “focused, technologically based education” (taken from the website) for about 14,000 undergraduates and 7,000 graduate students. It offers degrees in six colleges (Architecture, Computing, Engineering, Sciences, Business, and Liberal Arts), with “more than 100 centers focused on interdisciplinary research that consistently contribute vital research and innovation to American government, industry, and business” (taken from the website). Your child is going to need excellent high school grades and college admission test scores to get into Georgia Tech. To help balance out its academically rigorous reputation, Georgia Tech also has 39 fraternities and 16 sororities on campus and 17 men’s and women’s athletic teams. John Heisman, remembered for the Heisman Trophy that bears his name, became Georgia Tech’s first full-time football coach in 1903 (interestingly, he had previously coached at both Auburn and Clemson).

As we said earlier, all of these public universities (and there are even more in these states than those we mentioned here) would cost an out-of-state student more than a public university in his or her own state, but less than most private colleges. So, consider looking at public universities beyond just the flagship university, for the special programs or the appealing locations or the sense of history and tradition that they offer.

Listen to the podcast to find out about…
The disparity between high school grades and college admission test scores for students at some flagship public state universities
Weather conditions that you might want to alert your child to in these states
Writing a college application essay especially for a college outside your geographic region

Find links to all the higher education institutions and programs we mention in this episode at http://usacollegechat.org/29

Connect with us through…
Leaving a comment on today’s episode at http://usacollegechat.org/29
Subscribing to NYCollegeChat on iTunes, Stitcher, or TuneIn!
Following us on Twitter @NYCollegeChat
Reviewing parent materials we have available at Policy Studies in Education at http://policystudies.org/parents
Inquiring about our consulting services if you need individualized help
Following us on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/nycollegechat

Ask your questions or share your feedback by…
Calling us at (516) 900-NYCC to record a question on our NYCollegeChat voicemail if you want us to answer your question live on our podcast
Emailing us at paul@policystudies.org to ask a question if you want us to answer it privately

We are continuing our series on looking at colleges outside your comfort zone by starting a virtual tour of public colleges and universities in the Southeast region.

Episode 29:  Colleges in the Southeast Region—Part I on the NYCollegeChat podcast

In our last two episodes, we started our virtual tour of colleges across the U.S. to try to stretch your thinking about colleges that might be attractive to your child. As you recall, we started with five states in the Great Lakes region. As we said then, we are looking at four-year colleges only, reasoning that students headed to a public two-year college are highly likely to go to one in their home state and are not, therefore, looking to leave their own geographic region—at least not right away.

Again, we want to make it clear that there is no statistical basis for the colleges we are going to spotlight in this episode. No college has asked us to choose it, and no college has paid us anything to choose it. These are entirely our own choices.

To be sure, some of the colleges we are spotlighting will require that your child have very good high school grades and college admission test scores to get in. Others will be a bit easier, especially if a college is looking for out-of-state students to enhance its student body’s geographic diversity. But, because each student’s profile of grades and test scores and extracurricular activities and outside-of-school experiences is his or her own unique package, it will be up to you to look at your child’s high school record to see which colleges might be most appropriate.

Two general notes: First, when we talk about the colleges and universities in this episode, we are going to be talking about the main campus—that is, the one that most people associate with that institution—in those cases where an institution has more than one campus. Second, because enrollment figures are not necessarily comparable as reported by various colleges, you should use the figures we provide here just as an approximation of the actual campus enrollment, but one that is good enough to help you understand whether the student body is the right size for your child—roughly, small, medium, or really huge.

1. The Southeast Region

As we said, the Bureau of Economic Analysis (an agency of the U.S. Department of Commerce) has divided the U.S. into eight regions, with each region’s covering four to 12 states. Today, we are going to start to look at the states that make up the Bureau’s Southeast region, which has 12 states. Because we thought that would be a lot of states to investigate as a group, we have divided the Bureau’s Southeast region into the Southern Southeast region and the Northern Southeast region. We will start with the six states in what we call the Southern Southeast region: Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina.

For those of you who are listening in our home state of New York or up into the New England states or across the country in the Pacific Northwest, I am going to guess that most of you do not consider almost any colleges in these states for your child, with a rare exception. We would like to see whether we might change your mind about that.

2. Flagship Public State Universities

Let’s start with the flagship public state universities in these six states. Each state has one, though some are better known nationally than others. They are all good schools, and I would argue that at least a couple of them are great schools. While these universities have smaller branch campuses in other locations in their states, it is the main location—that is, the flagship of each state’s public system—that we will talk about here because that is the campus that is most respected and most widely recognized both in the state and outside the state.

Some of these flagship campuses attract students from far away states more often than others. For some, an application from a student in New York is not so commonplace; in those cases, a New York student with decent, but not spectacular, high school grades and college admission test scores might have a real chance of being accepted. As we have said before, colleges like to have geographic diversity in the student body.

And remember what we said in Episode 27 about flagship campuses: They are the place to be, if you graduated from high school in that state. Why? Because they are relatively inexpensive, academically respectable, well regarded across the state and across the country, super-competitive in sports arenas, chocked full of student clubs and activities, within driving distance of home, and a social hub for high school classmates. So, these flagship campuses draw a large portion of the best high school students in the state, which understandably drives up the average high school GPA of entering freshmen.

So, what are these flagship campuses in the Southern Southeast region? They are the University of Mississippi in Oxford (commonly known as Ole Miss), University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, University of Florida in Gainesville, University of Georgia in Athens, University of South Carolina in Columbia, and  in Baton Rouge. These universities are located in different kinds of settings—from picturesque small college towns to small cities to state capitals—but they have a lot in common, like enviable warm weather.

These flagship campuses have a lot of students. The typical number of undergraduates at these campuses is around 25,000, but with closer to 33,000 at Florida and only about half that many at Ole Miss. The total undergraduate, graduate, and professional student enrollment tops out at Florida with almost 50,000 students. All of these campuses are going to feel big to incoming freshmen. Partly because of the small-town charm of Oxford, Ole Miss might feel the least intimidating.

The history of racial integration of the student bodies of some of these schools is part of our national memory and the personal memories of those of us who were alive in the early 1960s. We remember the 1962 enrollment of James Meredith, the first African-American student at Ole Miss. But something that I did not know was that the University of South Carolina had first admitted African-American students in 1873, thus becoming the only Southern public university to admit African-American students during the nation’s period of Reconstruction after the Civil War. Then the University closed for financial reasons in 1877. When conservative leaders re-opened it a few years later, it opened as an all-white institution.

And while we are talking about “firsts,” I also recently learned that the University of Georgia was established by the General Assembly of Georgia in 1785, making it the first state-supported public higher education institution in these United States. That’s quite a legacy.

These flagship universities have from 12 to 17 undergraduate, graduate, and professional schools and colleges—from liberal arts and sciences to every kind of career-related field you can imagine. Here are some of the more unusual ones: LSU has a School of the Coast and Environment; South Carolina has a College of Hospitality, Retail and Sport Management; Georgia has the Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources; and Ole Miss has the Patterson School of Accountancy. Overall, these universities offer from about 70 to 140 undergraduate majors—which should be plenty to choose from.

Like other big universities, each one has hundreds of student clubs and organizations and about 15 to 20 men’s and women’s varsity sports teams (plus club sports and intramurals). They are all part of the Southeastern Conference, and they treat their sports and sports rivalries seriously (can you say Crimson Tide?). Attending sports events are a part of college life at these universities—as are fraternities and sororities for many students.

Each of these six flagship universities is well enough known to attract students from many states and foreign countries, but the most of the undergraduate students attending these campuses are home grown. For some of the universities, that could mean that a solid application from outside of the state would be viewed favorably, and your child could likely get a great education at a cost lower than a private school in your home state—that is, before any financial aid package is figured in. More important, as we said in an earlier episode, these six flagship universities are better academically and more widely recognized than many private colleges in the U.S., and there is no prestige in attending a private college that is not as good as a great public university.

All of these flagship universities have proud alumni and alumnae, many still living in the state and sharing a network of friends who are also alums—and returning to the campus on weekends to see the big football game. In fact, since 1851, 25 governors of Georgia graduated from the University of Georgia. So, I guess it is turning out a quality product.

When we attended the National Association for College Admission Counseling’s college fair in New York City a couple of weeks ago, we had a good conversation with Anastasia Sailer, the University of South Carolina’s Regional Admissions Representative for New York, who did a quick audio pitch for NYCollegeChat. Be sure to listen to it in our recorded episode.

3. Other Public State Universities

In these six Southern Southeast states, there are also other public universities—not branches of the flagship campus, but other universities in their own right, some of which are as well known as the flagship campus.

Like the state of Michigan, which we talked about in Episode 27, with the University of Michigan and Michigan State University, both Mississippi and Florida have very substantial second well-known public institutions: Mississippi State University in Starkville and Florida State University in the state capital of Tallahassee. Each has about the same number of undergraduate students as its state’s flagship university: Mississippi State with about 16,000 undergraduates and Florida State with about twice that many. Each offers a broad array of colleges and undergraduate majors: Mississippi State with eight colleges and about 65 undergraduate majors and Florida State with 16 colleges and about 85 undergraduate majors. Each is a good choice for lots and lots of students.

Interestingly, the state of Florida also has a newer public university (established in 1963) that has grown to be larger than both of Florida’s historic public universities. That newer one is the University of Central Florida (UCF), with its main campus located in Orlando plus a double handful of regional campuses in the central part of the state. According to UCF’s website, UCF is the second largest university in the U.S., with a total of about 61,000 students, about 52,000 of them undergraduates. UCF has 12 undergraduate and graduate colleges and offers about 90 undergraduate majors. The most unusual of those colleges is the College of Optics and Photonics, which is the science and technology of light—that is, lasers, LEDs, LCDs, optical fibers, and imaging systems for applications in industry and medicine.

South Carolina and Alabama both have nationally recognized public universities (perhaps especially during football season) that I bet many people think are private, given their nonpublic-sounding names: Clemson University in South Carolina and Auburn University in Alabama.

Clemson was founded on the estate of Congressman and two-time U.S. Vice President John C. Calhoun, who passed it on to his daughter and son-in-law Thomas Clemson, our country’s first Secretary of Agriculture. Clemson Agricultural College, originally an all-male military school, opened in 1893. Today, Clemson is a coeducational university with a broad array of eight schools and colleges, including, of course, the College of Agriculture, Forestry and Life Sciences. The University serves about 16,000 undergraduates and 4,000 graduate students—mostly, from South Carolina, but with several hundred each from states as far away as New Jersey, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and New York.

Let’s look at Auburn, which started as an all-male private liberal arts college back in 1859 and now is home to a full slate of 13 undergraduate, graduate, and professional colleges and schools and a total of about 26,000 students (about 21,000 of them undergraduates). With 15 varsity sports, Auburn is another proud member of the Southeastern Conference. While most students come from Alabama and, next most often, from nearby Georgia and Florida, Auburn draws from states across the U.S. Fewer than 100 come from New York, however, so Auburn might be interested in a good applicant from our home state.

One more word about public schools in South Carolina: The College of Charleston, located in what some people believe is the prettiest city in the South, serves a somewhat smaller student body of about 10,000 undergraduates and just 1,000 graduate students, including some New Yorkers and New Jerseyans. Undergraduates have a choice of 59 majors in seven schools, focused mostly on the liberal arts and sciences (plus business and education). And a note about the College’s history: Founded in 1770, the College of Charleston is the oldest higher education institution south of Virginia and the 13th oldest in the U.S. Its founders included three signers of the Declaration of Independence and three framers of the Constitution. It was both a private college and a city-supported college before it became part of the state’s public system in 1970.

There is one last public institution to spotlight today, and that is Georgia Institute of Technology (commonly known as Georgia Tech), located in Atlanta. A top-ranked public university by anyone’s standards, Georgia Tech provides a “focused, technologically based education” (taken from the website) for about 14,000 undergraduates and 7,000 graduate students. It offers degrees in six colleges (Architecture, Computing, Engineering, Sciences, Business, and Liberal Arts), with “more than 100 centers focused on interdisciplinary research that consistently contribute vital research and innovation to American government, industry, and business” (taken from the website). Your child is going to need excellent high school grades and college admission test scores to get into Georgia Tech. To help balance out its academically rigorous reputation, Georgia Tech also has 39 fraternities and 16 sororities on campus and 17 men’s and women’s athletic teams. John Heisman, remembered for the Heisman Trophy that bears his name, became Georgia Tech’s first full-time football coach in 1903 (interestingly, he had previously coached at both Auburn and Clemson).

As we said earlier, all of these public universities (and there are even more in these states than those we mentioned here) would cost an out-of-state student more than a public university in his or her own state, but less than most private colleges. So, consider looking at public universities beyond just the flagship university, for the special programs or the appealing locations or the sense of history and tradition that they offer.

Listen to the podcast to find out about…

  • The disparity between high school grades and college admission test scores for students at some flagship public state universities
  • Weather conditions that you might want to alert your child to in these states
  • Writing a college application essay especially for a college outside your geographic region

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