Episode 109: Early Decision and Early Action Anxiety in College Admissions–Part II

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This is the third in our series of episodes discussing issues in higher education, and it’s the second part of a two-parter that looks at the Early Decision and Early Action options for high school students who will be applying to colleges next fall. I mentioned last week that I was infuriated by this issue. I meant that I was infuriated on behalf of the kids and families who are trying to figure out how to play this college admissions game, which is hard enough without having to calculate the advantages and disadvantages of various Early Decision and Early Action options at various colleges and how those options interact with each other.

Last week, we discussed the pros and cons of Early Decision. I won’t repeat all of the reasoning here, but I will repeat my conclusion, which is this: Early Decision is better for an individual applicant than it is for the pool of applicants. In other words, Early Decision might be great for your own teenager, even though it could well be concerning for the futures of all of our teenagers collectively. Of course, you have the luxury of thinking only about your own teenager. You aren’t setting policy for colleges or high schools across the country, and you don’t have to be fair to all high school seniors. You are likely to do what is best for your own teenager.

In that world, I believe that many of you will end up considering an Early Decision option very seriously, given everything we said last week. However, if your teenager just isn’t ready to make such a big decision around November 1–a decision that will be a binding decision–then let’s look at an alternative option for you. That alternative option is Early Action, the option that some would call the kinder, gentler option in the early admissions game.

1. Early Action

Under the Early Action option, high school seniors can still apply early–around November 1–but they are not ethically committed to enroll at the college if accepted. That is, the decision to apply Early Action is not a binding decision by a high school senior to attend that college and only that college. Early Action enables kids to apply to more than one college that offers an Early Action option and hold onto any acceptances until April–before having to make a final decision among all of the acceptances that come in on both the early and the regular schedules.

In counseling students myself, I encourage them to apply under the Early Action option to as many of the colleges on their final list as they can. I just don’t see a downside. And it can certainly take the pressure off a student to know in December that he or she has a guaranteed acceptance from a college or two or three well before April comes.

Here is one thing you have to keep in mind, however. Students have to take the SAT or ACT early enough to have the scores before November 1, and a student has to believe that the scores he or she has by November 1 is about as good as he or she can get. Because most students are going to take the SAT and/or the ACT more than once, that means taking the exam in the late spring of the junior year and again in the early fall of the senior year. Or, perhaps, it means taking the exam in late summer and again in the fall. There are, of course, pros and cons to these choices.

For example, we often advise good students who have had a rigorous high school program to take the test in the late spring of the junior year, to study and prep over the summer, and to take it again in the early fall of the senior year. Students who might not be as strong and who are not well prepared by the spring of their junior year might be better off studying and prepping over the summer and taking the test for the first time in September of the senior year. Here is one thing we do know: Taking the test just a couple of months apart and doing nothing to prepare in between the two testing dates is a waste of time and money; not much is going to be gained in regular school learning or in maturation in a couple of months.

Here is another option we have recommended. Apply Early Action to one or more colleges using your available test scores if you think you are likely to be accepted. In this case, the Early Action colleges would likely be your safety schools–that is, schools you can probably get into without improving your scores. If there are more selective colleges that you are holding out hope for, but for which you need better scores, re-take the SAT or ACT in November or December and don’t apply to those colleges until the regular deadline of January 1 or later.

2. Single-Choice Early Action or Restrictive Early Action

Let’s look at a mixed approach that has now been taken by some colleges, including some prestigious ones, and that is an option called Single-Choice Early Action, or Restrictive Early Action. This option means that applicants cannot apply to any other college under an Early Action or Early Decision option, but may apply on a regular decision timeline. If an applicant is admitted under this single-choice or restrictive option, that student may have until about May 1 to make a decision. Could it get any more confusing?

So, Single-Choice Early Action, or Restrictive Early Action, is like Early Decision in that the student is permitted to apply to only one college early, but it’s like Early Action in that the student is permitted to wait until regular decision acceptances come in before making a final decision about enrolling. You can see how that is pretty good for the student and pretty good for the college, though not ideal for either one. You can also see how this option just further complicates an already-complicated admissions process. This option, we believe, is not nearly as widespread among colleges as either Early Decision or regular Early Action.

3. The Craziness of Some College Admissions Options

I must confess that I myself have had to read and re-read some colleges’ website information on admissions many times to figure out what all the options meant. I cannot imagine how a high school kid by himself or herself ever completes and submits a college application anymore, especially if that kid has parents who do not speak English or cannot help for whatever reason. That’s probably the subject for an episode of its own!

Before we look at a few examples of colleges with crazy admissions options, let’s put one more option on the table: two rounds of Early Decision, or Early Decision I and Early Decision II. (By the way, colleges may also have Early Action I and II, though Early Decision I and II appear to be more common.)

So, why Early Decision I and II, with Early Decision II having a later deadline? One reason is that some students want the college to have access to later college admission test scores or to their first semester senior grades, in case either of those is better than earlier scores or grades. Another reason is that a student who gets rejected from his or her first-choice Early Decision college in December can then apply to his or her second-choice college in a round II of Early Decision. Both of these situations happen to favor the student.

But another reason is that having two rounds of Early Decision is a way for a college to improve its own statistics–in this case, the “yield rate,” or the percentage of students who are admitted and then attend. It has been said that this statistic might affect a college’s ranking on some publication’s list or other. So, that might be reason enough for how we got to this place.

Now, let’s look at a few real examples of colleges, all of which shall remain nameless:

  • Take this private Southern university, which has both Early Action and Single-Choice Early Action options, but no Early Decision option.
  • Or this public Southern university, which has three options: Early Decision I (with notification in late December), Early Decision II (for those who need a little more time to apply, with notification in mid-February), and Early Action (with notification in late January).
  • Or this Midwestern college with only about 1,000 undergraduates, which offers Early Action I and Early Decision I as well as Early Action II and Early Decision II options (with all decisions no later than February 15)–plus a regular decision option, of course. That’s five options!
  • Take this private Northeastern college, which offers the following information, quoted from the website:

Students who apply by the November 15 deadline for [Early Decision] Round I will be notified of the decision on their application in mid-December. Those who apply by the January 15 [Early Decision] Round II deadline will hear by February 15, as will those who convert Regular Decision applications to Early Decision by February 1. While Early Decision candidates may initiate applications to other colleges, if they are accepted under one of the Early Decision plans they must immediately withdraw all other applications and enroll at [this college].

  • Or this Ivy League university, which offers the following information, quoted from the website:

If you are a Single-Choice Early Action applicant to [this university], you may apply to another institution’s early admission program as follows:

  • You may apply to any college’s non-binding rolling admission program.

  • You may apply to any public institution at any time provided that admission is non-binding.

  • You may apply to another college’s Early Decision II program, but only if the notification of admission occurs after January 1. If you are admitted through another college’s Early Decision II binding program, you must withdraw your application from [this university].

  • You may apply to another college’s Early Action II program.

  • You may apply to any institution outside of the United States at any time.

My view is this, not that the university asked: If a student can follow that, he or she deserves to be admitted right now!

And one last word, parents: Remember that your teenager can be deferred when applying early, in which case the application will go into the pile to be considered with the applications submitted on the regular decision timeline. Or, your teenager can be rejected, in which case he or she cannot re-apply in some cases on the regular decision timeline. So that’s one more piece of the puzzle that you will need to consider.

4. A Personal Anecdote

Permit me a final personal anecdote. It may give you an idea of what awaits you next fall. This is a real story about a high school senior we worked with last fall. Let’s call her Kate. Kate had great grades (straight A’s, including in AP courses and honors courses), great activities (including excellent community service activities, a variety of school activities, and championship school and community sports teams), and satisfactory (but not great) SAT scores.

We helped Kate apply under Early Action plans to three universities, where we thought she would be accepted, based on her record. In fact, Kate got three Early Action acceptances in December: from Binghamton University (one of New York State’s best public universities), from the University of Colorado Boulder (a great public flagship university in one of the most beautiful settings in the U.S.), and from Baylor University (a very good private Southern university, which gave birth to one of the great medical schools in the U.S.). Kate got good scholarships from both the University of Colorado Boulder and Baylor. By the way, listeners, this is what it means to get outside your geographic comfort zone; be the New Yorker applying to colleges in Colorado and Texas. So, three Early Action acceptances are making life in Kate’s household a lot easier these days–while she waits on answers from eight more highly selective private universities, including two Ivies, in April.

Now, I will be the first to tell you that I lobbied hard for Kate to apply to Cornell’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences under its Early Decision plan. Kate wants to go to medical school eventually, and the Ag School (as we Cornellians call it) is a good stepping stone to that. I believed that she might barely get into the Ag School on the Early Decision plan, given her academic record and the high proportion of Early Decision applicants who are accepted into the Ag School’s freshman class. Furthermore, she is a New York State resident, and the Ag School is one of the State-supported colleges within Cornell (which is a unique private-public partnership that we have spoken about several times at USACollegeChat). Finally, I did not believe that Kate would get into Cornell on a regular decision timeline, largely because of her less-than-stupendous SAT scores.

Here was the problem: Kate had her heart set on Yale or Georgetown. I was pretty sure she would not get into Yale, and I doubted that she would get into Georgetown. I thought Early Decision at the Ag School would be her best chance to get into a highly selective university, but that meant giving up any hope of Yale or Georgetown. In the end, I was not persuasive, so I settled for getting her to do those three Early Action applications. Now we are all waiting for April. Since I believe she will be happy at either Boulder or Baylor, I am less concerned than I might otherwise have been. She is less concerned, too–thankfully–and that is the beauty of Early Action.

So, what’s our advice? Well, it’s nothing straightforward. You are going to have to lay out the Early Action and Early Decision options and rules for each college your teenager is going to apply to next fall and figure out the best path. We are afraid that each case is unique. We are convinced, however, that making some use of some early options is likely to be in your teenager’s favor. Good luck, and call us when you get stuck.

Ask your questions or share your feedback by…

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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
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Episode 52: So, How Many Colleges Did You Say?

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Episode 52: So, How Many Colleges Did You Say? on NYCollegeChat podcast: How many colleges should your high school student apply to on NYCollegeChat podcastToday’s episode is an official stop on our blog tour to get the word out about our new book—How To Find the Right College: A Workbook for Parents of High School Students. We appreciate the hosts of the other blogs we have visited on our tour—both through written guest posts we have done and recorded interviews where we have had the chance to chat with great hosts. We have enjoyed all of it. Here are the links to our virtual tour so far:

November 2: ParentChat with Regina

November 4: The College Money Maze

November 5: Parents’ Guide to the College Puzzle

November 6: Mission: Authors Talk About It

November 11: Together with Family

November 12: NYCollegeChat

November 13: The Staten Island Family

November 16: Road2College

November 18: Viva Fifty

November 19: Paying For College 101 Facebook group

November 20: Underground Crafter

November 24: High School Survival Guide

How To Find the Right College is now available for sale as a Kindle ebook or as a paperback workbook on Amazon or Barnes & Noble.

The great thing about the tour was that the hosts of the blogs we visited told us what they wanted us to talk about, so all we had to do was talk. On this stop, we had to decide what to talk about. As we thought through what is likely to be going through the minds of our listeners who have high school seniors right now, we decided to talk about a question that will keep coming up over the next two months: How many colleges should my child be applying to?

You would think that this question would have gotten asked and answered at the beginning of the college search, but we believe that it gets asked and answered over and over again as the time to finish up college applications gets closer and closer.

In the interest of full disclosure, it happened to me. When my daughter was applying to colleges five years ago, we developed our list carefully—partly because she was looking for a dance major and that limited our choices significantly. We got almost to the end of the application season before we realized that she didn’t really have a safety school on the list—that is, a school that we were confident she would be admitted to. At the last minute, I remember saying something like, “Oh, no. We had better get a safety school on this list. Let’s choose a great campus of The City University of New York.” And we did, and that put our minds at ease—even though she didn’t end up needing that acceptance after all.

So, let’s talk about safety schools and about how many schools should be on your list. For more information on both of these topics, check out our book as well as our recent episodes of NYCollegeChat, which have taken our listeners on a virtual tour of public and private colleges in every region of the U.S.

As we said a few weeks ago when we did an episode about putting the final touches on that all-important college application essay, we had an opportunity recently to talk with about 100 high school seniors from one of New York City’s best public high schools—the kind of high school where students have to take an admissions test to get in. In addition to looking at their college essay topics (go back and listen to Episode 49 for that discussion), we asked them to make a list of colleges that they intended to apply to and a list of colleges that they would like to apply to, but weren’t for whatever reason (e.g., it was too expensive, it was too far from home, it was too hard to get into). After looking over their lists, here is what we noticed:

  1. Too many students do not spell the names of colleges correctly. Okay, I know this seems like a low hurdle, but you would be surprised at the mistakes we saw. For example, one of the premier campuses of the public State University of New York is Stony Brook University, which we talked about in Episode 50.  That’s S-T-O-N-Y, not S-T-O-N-E-Y. Another of the premier campuses of the public State University of New York is Binghamton University. That’s B-I-N-G-H-A-M-T-O-N, not B-I-N-G-H-A-M-P-T-O-N. And here’s one that adults sometimes get wrong, and it’s not really a spelling mistake: It’s Johns Hopkins University, not John Hopkins University—named for its benefactor, 19th-century philanthropist Johns Hopkins, an entrepreneur and abolitionist.
  2. For most students, there appeared to be little difference between the two lists of colleges—they were equally hard to get into, equally near and far away, equally expensive, and so on. In other words, I couldn’t figure out why the students weren’t applying to colleges on both lists. This observation led me to believe that they had not done a very good job of sorting through college options and applying their own criteria (that is, their own deal breakers, as we call them in our book) to the full set of college options in order to create their own list.
  3. As good students in a highly respected New York City high school, these kids had two great options for safety schools—the campuses of the public State University of New York (SUNY) and the campuses of the public City University of New York (CUNY). And yet, there were a lot of second-tier and third-tier private colleges on their lists—colleges that I imagine were meant to be safety schools for these kids students from a well-known high school. These second-tier and third-tier private colleges were not as good or as respected as many of the public SUNY and CUNY campuses. So, why were they on the lists? As we have said repeatedly in our NYCollegeChat episodes, there is no prestige in going to a private college—just because it is private—when it is worse than a good public university.
  4. Very few students had any public flagship universities outside of New York State on their lists. As we have said repeatedly in our NYCollegeChat episodes, we believe that public flagship universities are the hidden jewels of the higher education system. Here’s what we said in our book:

For many students, the public flagship state university is the place to be. Just remember, the best and the brightest high school students who live in the state really want to go to their flagship state university. Why? Because these universities are relatively inexpensive, academically respectable, well regarded across the state and across the country, often very competitive in sports arenas, chocked full of student clubs and activities, within driving distance of home, and a social hub for lots of their high school classmates. What could be better?

Some of my favorite colleges to talk to kids about are these great flagship universities, which many families, especially here in New York, never even consider. Many of the best flagship universities are as hard to get into as any top-tier private college—for example, the University of Michigan, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the University of Virginia, UC Berkeley, and more. But some are less selective than those, making them super-appealing choices from many perspectives, including cost, caliber of the students, caliber of the faculty, and campus life. High on my list of great universities you didn’t consider: the University of Colorado Boulder. High on my list of intriguing universities you never dreamt of: the University of Hawai‘i at Manoa. High on my list of interesting choices that a good, if not quite great, student from the Northeast can likely be admitted to: the University of Mississippi (Ole Miss) in Oxford and Louisiana State University (LSU) in Baton Rouge. For a good out-of-state student from a different part of the country, Ole Miss and LSU could serve as interesting safety schools.

So, looking at your child’s college list one more time, how many colleges is enough? Here is what we said in our book:

Of course, there is no right answer to that question. Through some common sense thinking and discussion, we could probably agree that applying to just two or three colleges sounds like too few and that applying to, say, 15 colleges sounds like too many. The right answer for your teenager probably lies somewhere in between, depending on how much variety there is in the kinds of colleges you are considering and depending on how many deal breakers you and your teenager have [when it comes to the types of colleges to put on the list].

For example, you can see right away that deciding to keep a student close to home for college—maybe even within commuting distance—would limit the number of options available to that student (unless, of course, home is a major metropolitan area, like New York City). Such a student might feel that five or six applications would be a reasonable sample of the variety of opportunities available close to home. On the other hand, deciding to send a student away to college would open up an almost limitless number of options. Such a student might feel that even a dozen applications would not be an adequate sample of all the opportunities out there.

As you and your teenager add more deal breakers—that is, more restrictions on the colleges you want to consider—you probably will feel better that fewer applications can cover the remaining college options. For example, let’s say you and your teenager have decided to limit your applications to small, private, four-year colleges in upstate New York that have French majors. With all of those restrictions, four or five applications might feel like plenty (though you might need a safety school, in that case, and perhaps a public one).

One more point: Your teenager should apply only to colleges that he or she actually knows something about and wants to attend. That might sound obvious to you, but it is not nearly so obvious to high school students as you might think. We find that students sometimes cannot explain why they are considering a certain college and sometimes cannot even find it on a map—even on a map of their home state. We have often used this minimum standard: If a student cannot find a college on a map, then he or she probably shouldn’t apply to it. Such students need more help in applying their deal breakers to a list of possible colleges, in finding out about a good many of them, and then in narrowing down the possibilities to a reasonable number—probably about eight to 12.

So, we notice that a couple of sources, like The College Board, are suggesting that the right number is probably from five or six to eight colleges. I think five or six is low, and here’s why. I want every kid to have some options—after any acceptances come in—for two reasons. First, a kid who has some choices likely feels better about his or her decision about which college to attend; a student who has only one acceptance—unless it was based on an Early Decision application and it is the kid’s dream choice—might feel a bit less excited about attending that college. Second, a kid who has some choice likely feels better about himself or herself when chatting with classmates in school and outside of school as all the kids compare their college acceptances. Now, I admit that maybe this is the mother in me speaking and that this is what I wanted for my own children. But I would like kids to feel satisfied with—even proud of—their college choice so that they will do the very best they can when they get there.

So, College Board or not, I am sticking with eight to 12 applications. By the way, as you are looking over the application requirements for each college on your list, we think you are going to find that some applications require little to no more effort than the work you have already done to complete others, especially if those colleges accept the Common Application and have no required additional essays. Other than perhaps paying an additional application fee, you really lose nothing by going ahead and applying.

Even though it is the second week of November, if you have a senior at home, we believe that you still would find our book to be helpful in these next two crucial months. And if you have a younger teenager at home, you will definitely find our book to be helpful as you and your child discuss your deal breakers and make that perhaps life-changing college list.

Check out these higher education institutions and organizations we mention…

In New York State

Outside of New York State

Listen to the podcast to find out about…

  • Why you should check out the percentage of applicants a college accepts when choosing a safety school
  • Why your child should apply to more than one SUNY or CUNY campus at a time
  • Why eight is not enough

Learn more about these topics in previous episodes…

Ask your questions or share your feedback by…

  • Leaving a comment here on the show notes for this episode
  • 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

Connect with us through…

Listen to the episode in the player, download it here, or subscribe on iTunes, Stitcher, or TuneIn.

Episode 50: Colleges in New York State—Part I

Listen to the episode in the player, download it here, or subscribe on iTunes, Stitcher, or TuneIn.

In recent episodes, we have focused our virtual tour of colleges on the public and private higher education institutions in the Mid-Atlantic region: Maryland, Delaware, the District of Columbia, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. As we explained then, we put off a look at colleges in New York (which is, of course, part of the Mid-Atlantic region) because we knew that it was the home state of many of our listeners, and we knew that they would be especially interested in it. It is possible that other listeners are also interested in New York State, perhaps because it has more four-year colleges than any other state—about 130.

Virtual tour of public colleges in New York State in NYCollegeChat podcast

Today, we will look at public four-year colleges in New York. They can be found in two massive systems of public higher education, two of the very biggest in the nation: The State University of New York and The City University of New York (located, of course, in the five boroughs of New York City). Plus, there are a couple of special additional public choices we will take a glance at.

And, as we say every time, no college—not even one in our home state—has asked us or paid us anything to include it. These are our own choices.

1. The State University of New York

Founded in 1948 with the consolidation of 29 existing higher education institutions, The State University of New York (commonly referred to as SUNY) is, in fact, the largest comprehensive university system in the U.S. Currently, SUNY comprises 64 institutions, almost half of which (30) are community colleges. Here is an interesting fact: “93 percent of New Yorkers live within 15 miles of a SUNY campus, and nearly 100 percent live within 30 miles” (quoted from the website). And here is another: “One out of three New York State high school graduates choose SUNY, and the total enrollment of nearly 463,000 full-time and part-time students represents 37 percent of New York State’s higher education student population” (quoted from the website).

Now, during our virtual tour, we have talked a fair amount about how New York State really doesn’t have a flagship university that high school students in the state are dying to attend—not in the same way as Texas or Ohio or Mississippi or North Carolina or lots of other states in the South and Midwest especially. But we have also talked a fair amount about how 70 percent or so of high school students stay in their home state for college. So, one of three New York high school students chooses a SUNY campus—and that doesn’t count those who choose a public City University of New York campus or a private college in the state.

Students can apply to most SUNY campuses by completing one online application and submitting all of their documents just once. SUNY advises students to apply by December 1 to ensure optimal financial aid, degree program choice, and campus housing.

Four University Centers. SUNY has four “university centers.” They are perhaps SUNY’s idea of four flagship-like campuses. The four are Stony Brook University on Long Island, Binghamton University in upstate New York, the University at Buffalo, and the University at Albany. I think that most New Yorkers would argue that Stony Brook and Binghamton are the two top universities in the SUNY system. So, let’s start with Stony Brook, which is located on a large rural-like campus in the far-out suburbs about 60 miles east of New York City, easily accessible by the reliable Long Island Rail Road.

Founded in 1957 to educate secondary school teachers of science and math, Stony Brook was directed by the State Board of Regents in 1960 to become an institution that would “stand with the finest in the country”—perhaps the Board of Regents’ idea of a flagship university. Today, it offers about 17,000 undergraduates and about 8,500 graduate and professional students 68 undergraduate degree programs and more than 140 graduate degree programs in its colleges and schools of arts and sciences, business, engineering and applied sciences, journalism (the only undergraduate school of journalism in a public New York university), marine and atmospheric sciences, social welfare, nursing, health technology and management, dental medicine, and medicine. It is well known and respected for its science, engineering, and medical programs, and it co-manages Brookhaven National Laboratory, a federal research laboratory. Stony Brook is one of the universities of choice for bright New York City students who are looking to attend a public college for financial reasons. About 25 percent of its undergraduates are Asian.

Stony Brook’s first-year students are assigned to one of six “Undergraduate Colleges,” which are organized around themes of interest to students: Arts, Culture, and Humanities; Global Studies; Human Development; Information and Technology Studies; Leadership and Service; and Science and Society. Students in each Undergraduate College receive “customized advising and support, special educational and social programs, and opportunities for close interaction with faculty and fellow students around themes of common interest. Both commuter and residential students are welcomed into College life. First-year resident members of each College are housed together in the same residential quadrangle.” (quoted from the website) With two freshman seminars and a host of educational and social activities, these Undergraduate Colleges help freshmen adjust to life at a university with 17,000 undergraduate students. Like other SUNY campuses, undergraduates are required to take a broad array of liberal arts and sciences courses to satisfy general education distribution requirements.

Like most major universities, Stony Brook offers a variety of study abroad opportunities and 20 varsity sports teams. And, of course, there are plenty of activities on campus, though my understanding is that some students who live on Long Island or in New York City go home on weekends.

Stony Brook’s incoming freshmen this fall posted average SAT scores in the mid-600s for mathematics and about 600 for critical reading and writing. Their average high school GPA was about a 3.8. Almost 90 percent of Stony Brook’s recent graduates are either employed or enrolled in graduate or professional school—a good record for a public university.

Binghamton University is in the relatively small upstate New York suburb of Vestal. Established in 1946 to serve the educational needs of World War II veterans, Binghamton was originally a branch of private Syracuse University and became a part of SUNY four years later. Today it offers about 13,500 undergraduates and about 3,500 graduate and professional students studies in seven schools and colleges: arts and sciences, community and public affairs, nursing, management, engineering and applied science, and education (graduate students only). A new graduate School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences will open in 2018.

About 20 percent of its undergraduates stay at Binghamton to earn a graduate degree. Almost 70 percent of undergraduates earn their degrees in the Harpur College of Arts and Sciences, the oldest college at Binghamton. Like Stony Brook, Binghamton has broad liberal arts and sciences general education requirements for its undergraduate students.

Binghamton fields 21 varsity sports teams and offers a lot of outdoor recreational activities in nearby state parks. It is one of 16 colleges to earn “the highest score on The Princeton Review’s annual ‘green rating’ for campus environmentally-related policies, practices and academic offerings” (quoted from the website).

Binghamton’s incoming freshmen last fall posted average SAT scores in the mid-600s for mathematics and just a bit lower for critical reading and writing. Their average high school GPA was about a 3.6.

If students prefer a more urban location, then either the University at Buffalo or the University at Albany might be preferable to Binghamton and Stony Brook. Undergraduate enrollment at Buffalo is the highest of the four university centers at about 20,000 students, while undergraduate enrollment at Albany is the lowest at about 13,000 students. So these are all substantial universities, which would seem really big to any freshman—albeit nothing close to the largest of the flagship universities we have talked about earlier in our virtual tour. Incoming freshman SAT scores are just a bit lower at Buffalo and Albany, which might put them in reach of more students.

In-state tuition and fees at the university centers run a remarkably reasonable $9,000 per year, with out-of-state tuition and fees at about $22,000 to $24,000.

Specialized Institutions. There are three specialized SUNY institutions worth a quick mention, even though they will likely be of interest only to a limited audience:

  • “The College of Environmental Science and Forestry (ESF) is . . . focused on the science, design, engineering and management of natural resources and the environment. [It] offers 23 undergraduate and 30 graduate degree programs . . . . Students study at the Syracuse campus and on 25,000 acres of property throughout New York State. ESF also offers numerous opportunities to study abroad. Career-related internships provide invaluable work experience and can often pave the way to permanent positions after graduation. ESF’s special relationship with neighboring Syracuse University provides ESF students with access to selected SU courses, student services and activities.” (excerpted and quoted from the SUNY website) ESF serves just about 1,700 undergraduate students.
  • “Founded in 1874, Maritime College [is the] oldest and largest maritime school in the country. . . .   [It] is located in historic Fort Schuyler, [the]Bronx. . . . Maritime offers undergraduate programs in engineering, naval architecture, marine transportation, maritime studies, marine environmental science and international transportation and trade. . . .       Maritime students may pursue a U.S. Coast Guard License. These students participate in Maritime’s structured Regiment of Cadets, as well as summer sea terms aboard the Empire State VI training ship. There is no military obligation for Maritime graduates unless they choose to participate in one of four ROTC programs. Graduates enjoy a nearly 100% career placement rate and earn some of the nation’s highest average starting salaries.” (excerpted and quoted from the SUNY website) Maritime serves just about 1,600 undergraduate students.
  • “The Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) is . . . a renowned college of art and design, business and technology, with more than 40 degree programs. Majors span a wide range of fields, from photography and toy design to international trade and cosmetics and fragrance marketing.       Each major includes a full liberal arts education. A faculty of academics and working professionals integrates hands-on teaching with real-world expertise, and industry connections provide unrivaled internship and career opportunities.” (excerpted and quoted from the SUNY website)       FIT is located in the heart of Manhattan in New York City and serves about 9,500 undergraduate students.

Any of these three colleges could be the right choice for a student who is interested in these specialized fields of study. And, while we said that Maritime and Environmental Science and Forestry serve only about 1,600 to 1,700 undergraduates—making them quite small by SUNY standards—remember that we have talked about quite a few colleges, especially small private colleges, that are a lot smaller than that.

Two Comprehensive Colleges. When talking about the state public higher education systems in other states on our virtual tour, we have typically talked only about individual colleges that we thought were attractive enough to draw out-of-state students away from the public colleges in their own state in order to attend them. That is a high standard, I think. I am not sure that any of the many other SUNY campuses are sufficiently attractive to do that, but let us mention two that might be. Both are well known here in the southern part of the state and are certainly better known regionally than nationally: SUNY New Paltz and SUNY Purchase.

Founded in 1828 as the New Paltz Classical School (teaching Latin, Greek, reading, writing, and arithmetic to local children), SUNY New Paltz became a normal school for training teachers and was one of the founding institutions of the SUNY system. It is located in a small town about 90 minutes north of New York City in the picturesque Hudson River Valley, with lots of nearby outdoor activities that draw vacationers from all over. A popular campus that typically receives more than 14,000 applications for 1,100 slots, New Paltz admits freshmen that are good students, academically on par with the University at Albany. This fall, about 93 percent of New Paltz freshmen were New York residents.

New Paltz offers its approximately 6,500 undergraduates a choice of 105 majors across five schools/colleges: liberal arts and sciences (the largest of the schools/colleges), education, business, fine and performing arts, and science and engineering. As we have already said about SUNY campuses, undergraduates are required to complete a general education core, covering a broad array of arts and sciences fields. New Paltz undergraduates take about 12 to 14 courses, more in the arts than in the sciences. New Paltz also serves about 1,000 graduate students.

New Paltz fields 15 varsity sports teams and sponsors over 200 student organizations. It offers students a full-fledged campus life in what many people consider an idyllic setting.

SUNY Purchase (also known as Purchase College) is located just outside New York City in suburban Westchester County. It was founded in 1967 by Governor Nelson Rockefeller to “combine on one campus conservatory training in the visual and performing arts with programs in the liberal arts and sciences” (quoted from the website). Today, within its School of Liberal Arts and Sciences (where about 65 percent of Purchase students study), it has schools of film and media studies, humanities, and natural and social sciences. Within its School of the Arts (where about 35 percent of Purchase students study), it has a School of Art + Design and conservatories of dance, music, and theatre art (including its own dance company and its own theatre repertory company); it also offers a bachelor’s degree in arts management and a master’s degree in entrepreneurship in the arts. In total, Purchase offers about 47 bachelor’s degree majors—six of which are in music (one in production, two in composition, and three in performance)! These arts degree programs make Purchase a truly unique public opportunity for about 4,500 undergraduate students and just over 100 graduate students.

In addition to its dancers, Purchase fields 17 varsity sports teams. It offers a variety of special housing options, including freshman-year housing, conservatory floors, and residential learning communities built around themes (e.g., psychology and social justice, spirituality and society, leadership). Freshmen admitted to Purchase this fall had SAT subtest scores averaging in the mid-500s and a high school GPA of about a 3.1. So that puts it in range of just-above-average students. Of course, those students applying to the arts programs must meet audition or portfolio standards, too.

In-state tuition and fees at the comprehensive colleges run about $7,500 per year, with out-of-state costs at about $17,500—so, a bit lower than the university centers and, again, a great price.

Four Undergraduate Statutory Colleges. SUNY also has four colleges housed at two universities that are, otherwise, private. They are the New York State College of Ceramics at Alfred University and Cornell University’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, and College of Human Ecology (that is, three of Cornell’s seven undergraduate colleges/schools). Let’s take a quick look:

  • Since 1900, the NYS College of Ceramics at Alfred University has blended visual fine arts, design and the science of ceramics, glass and materials. It is . . . home to the School of Art & Design and the Inamori School of Engineering. These high quality, internationally known programs offer opportunities for small classes and individual attention at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. . . . The School of Art & Design, with BFA, BS (Art History) and MFA programs, works with internationally acclaimed artists in one of the nation’s finest art facilities. The Inamori School of Engineering, with BS, MS, and PhD programs, educates over one-third of all ceramic engineering graduates in the U.S. and is one of 10 centers for advanced research in New York.” (excerpted and quoted from the SUNY website) The College serves just about 600 undergraduates with these very special interests and talents.
  • Cornell’s “School of Industrial and Labor Relations is the only undergraduate school of its kind in the U.S. The ILR School has a unique program that uses the social sciences to examine the full range of ‘people’ issues faced in the workplace. ILR provides preparation for leadership positions in business, law, politics, social justice and public policy. The ILR curriculum provides a strong liberal arts foundation through classes in economics, sociology, psychology, history, law and statistics. From there, students can develop their special interests in a number of areas including management, law, human resources, dispute resolution, employee relations, labor economics, organizational behavior and international labor rights.” (quoted from the SUNY website) The ILR School serves just about 1,000 undergraduates.
  • Cornell’s “College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS) . . . is the only college of agriculture and life sciences in the Ivy League and the second largest college at Cornell. The college is committed to research, education and outreach [and] . . . offers over 20 majors, all focusing on the four college priorities: Life Sciences, Applied Social Sciences, Environmental Sciences and Agriculture and Food. Undergraduates have the chance to use their skills and knowledge to answer some of the world’s most pressing social, economic and scientific challenges.” (excerpted and quoted from the SUNY website) The College serves about 3,500 undergraduates, who enjoy an enviable 7:1 student-to-faculty ratio.
  • Cornell’s “College of Human Ecology . . .       examines human life from a scientific, social and aesthetic perspective. By blending academic disciplines with a global point of view, students and faculty use their knowledge to explore and develop solutions to contemporary human issues. Students explore liberal arts disciplines including biology, chemistry, economics, psychology and sociology, and apply their knowledge in fields such as health, design, nutrition, public policy and marketing.       Students are prepared for medical, law or other graduate programs, and for careers in business, education, communications or other fields of health and human services.”       (excerpted and quoted from the SUNY website) The College serves about 1,250 undergraduates.

We will hear a bit more about Cornell next week when we turn to private colleges in New York State.

2. The City University of New York

Today’s extraordinary City University of New York (CUNY), with a total of 24 two-year, four-year, and graduate campuses serving over a quarter of a million degree students, began as the Free Academy, with about 200 students in 1849. It became The College of the City of New York in 1866. The all-female, free Normal College of the City of New York, which became Hunter College, was established in 1870. CUNY has a long and fascinating history, full of political battles and fights over free tuition and outreach to New York City’s many immigrant populations as they arrived decade after decade. The website notes that in “the post-World War I era when discrimination against Jews was common at Ivy League universities and other private educational institutions, many Jewish students and academics found their intellectual home at New York’s public colleges, where ethnicity, religion and national background barred no one” (quoted from the website). City College became known as the “Harvard of the Proletariat.” In 1961, CUNY was formed from the public college campuses that had sprung up to serve New York City’s growing population in all five boroughs.

The 11 four-year colleges, which cover all five boroughs, have their own histories and their own identities. Though most are best known in New York City, a few have enjoyed a somewhat wider reputation. High school students in New York City can generally get decent advice from high school counselors about their CUNY options (indeed, I believe that these are the higher education options that New York City high school counselors know best). But for those of you outside the City who are intrigued by life in the big city and who might be interested in taking a look at a CUNY college, here are four that you might consider:

  • The City College of New York (CCNY), located in upper Manhattan on a lovely campus with buildings designated as landmarks, is the flagship college of the CUNY system. Its founder, Townsend Harris, said this: “Open the doors to all. Let the children of the rich and the poor take their seats together and know of no distinction save that of industry, good conduct, and intellect” (1847). Today, it boasts schools of architecture, education, and engineering; humanities, arts, and science divisions; the Colin Powell School for Civic and Global Leadership; and the highly respected Sophie Davis School of Biomedical Education. CCNY enrolls about 13,000 undergraduate students and another approximately 3,000 graduate students.
  • Hunter College is located on the Upper East Side in Manhattan; it’s in a great part of town, but has no campus to speak of. It is CUNY’s largest college, with a total enrollment of about 23,000 students. In its six schools, Hunter offers liberal arts and sciences majors to its undergraduate and graduate students as well as professional programs in nursing, health professions, urban public health, education, and social work. Today, its students come from more than 150 countries and speak about 150 languages. Many are first-generation college-goers.
  • Baruch College, located on the site of the Free Academy in downtown Manhattan, is noted for its business programs. It is named for alumnus Bernard M. Baruch, financier and statesman. It offers its approximately 12,500 undergraduates a choice of 23 majors in its three schools: business, arts and sciences, and public affairs. Baruch also serves about 3,000 graduate students. Its students come from more than 120 countries and speak more than 110 languages.
  • Queens College, located on an attractive campus in a residential neighborhood of Flushing in the borough of Queens, is one of the larger CUNY colleges, serving more than 20,000 undergraduate and graduate students from more than 150 countries. Founded in 1937, it offers a broad and deep liberal arts and sciences curriculum with over 140 undergraduate and graduate majors in four divisions: education, mathematics and natural sciences, social sciences, and arts and humanities (including the Aaron Copland School of Music, which offers three music degrees). Queens graduates more teachers than any other college in the tri-state area, and more than half of Queens undergraduates go on to pursue graduate degrees.

This year’s freshman class at the four colleges we just profiled had average high school GPAs from 88 to 90 (on a 100-point scale) and average SAT composite scores in critical reading and mathematics from about 1160 to 1260.

CUNY’s prestigious Macaulay Honors College is a highly selective college that enrolls undergraduates on eight of the four-year CUNY campuses. Macaulay students take classes at their home campus, but also meet together at the Macaulay building in Manhattan for lectures and other activities. Macaulay students receive a full scholarship and a laptop. But there is an early December 1 deadline, so move quickly if you are interested. This year’s freshman class posted an average high school GPA of 94 (on a 100-point scale) and an average SAT composite score in critical reading and mathematics of about 1400.

Of course, students can join student organizations and play on varsity sports teams at CUNY colleges, though I think it is unlikely that students who are seriously committed to varsity athletics would make CUNY their first choice.

Students can apply to as many as six CUNY colleges with one application and one application fee (though some colleges and some special programs have supplemental requirements, such as additional essays). We believe that, for very good students, one or more of these four-year CUNY colleges can serve as a reasonable safety school during the college application process. We do not believe that it makes sense for very good students to apply to a less prestigious private college as a safety school when they would likely be better off academically and financially at one of the good CUNY four-year colleges.

The CUNY colleges are quite inexpensive for New York City residents and qualified New York State residents—from about $4,500 in tuition per year for a two-year CUNY campus to about $6,000 in tuition per year for a four-year CUNY campus.

3. Paying for College in New York State

When Marie and I attended the National Association for College Admission Counseling’s college fair in New York City last April, we spoke with Michael Turner from the New York State Higher Education Services Corporation, who recorded this information for NYCollegeChat. (Be sure to listen to it in our recorded episode.)

4. Military Service Academies

New York State is home to two of the five military service academies: the U.S. Military Academy (commonly referred to as West Point) and the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy (USMMA), located in King’s Point on Long Island. These are public institutions, of course, funded by the federal government. Students pay no tuition or room and board, though they do incur an obligation to serve after graduation, as we have discussed in other episodes.

Let’s look briefly at the USMMA, which I think we probably know less about:

[USMMA] educates and graduates licensed Merchant Marine officers of exemplary character who serve America’s marine transportation and defense needs in peace and war. With 95 percent of the world’s products transported over water, these leaders are vital to the effective operation of our merchant fleet for both commercial and military transport during war and peace….

Known for its rigorous academic program, USMMA requires more credit hours for a baccalaureate degree than any other Federal service academy.  This challenging coursework is augmented by the Academy’s Sea year experience, which affords midshipmen the opportunity to acquire hands-on, real-world experiences aboard working commercial vessels sailing to ports around the world.  Midshipmen who master this demanding curriculum earn a unique combination of credentials:

A highly regarded Bachelor of Science degree

A U.S. Coast Guard license

An officer’s commission in the U.S. Armed Forces

For this reason, Academy graduates are highly sought after as officers in the military and the merchant marine.  This merchant fleet of efficient and productive commercial ships owned by U.S. companies and registered and operated under the American flag, forms an essential part of our domestic and international transportation system….

All graduates have a service obligation upon graduation…

Five years in the United States maritime industry, with eight years of service as an officer in any reserve unit of the armed forces

Or five years active duty in any of the nation’s armed forces.

In time of war or national emergency, the U.S. Merchant Marine becomes vital to national security as a ‘fourth arm of defense.’ Our merchant ships bear the brunt of delivering military troops, supplies and equipment overseas to our forces and allies, operating as an auxiliary unit to the Navy. (quoted from the website)

Students at the USMMA take a core curriculum of liberal arts and sciences courses before choosing one of five majors in marine transportation and marine engineering.

To be eligible to join the approximately 950 young men and women at the USMMA, students must have a minimum SAT score of 560 on both the critical reading and mathematics subtests and must have taken an academically rigorous high school program. Students must also secure a nomination from a member of the U.S. Senate or House of Representatives from his or her home state. Such nominations should be sought ideally in May of the junior year of high school.

West Point was founded in 1802 and is located just north of New York City on the Hudson River. Its cadets choose from 40 academic majors that cover a broad array of disciplines—including American politics; art, philosophy and literature; foreign languages; history; sociology; management; and psychology; as well as the engineering and sciences you might expect. Throughout their four years, cadets take physical education courses (with their grades averaged into their GPAs) and are required to participate in competitive sports. And then there are the military skills:

“The heart of the military training takes place during the summer. The basic Soldier skills of rifle marksmanship, land navigation, and close combat are but the underpinnings of each cadet’s initial training the first summer; by graduation every cadet has participated in small-unit leadership training; attended military schools such as Airborne and Air Assault; served as senior leadership to junior cadets’ summer training; and interned . . . in active duty units across the globe.” (quoted from the website)

Average SAT scores of the incoming class of cadets were 608 in writing, 627 in critical reading, and 645 in mathematics. About 70 percent ranked in the top fifth of their high school graduating class. Of the approximately 4,000 high school students who were nominated by their Congressional representative, their U.S. Senator, or the Vice President of the U.S., only about 1,250 were accepted.

Here is what a West Point graduate can expect:

“Upon graduation, you will be commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Army and serve for five years on active duty (if you choose to depart the Army after five years, you will be required to serve three years in the Inactive Ready Reserve (IRR)). During your senior year, you’ll find out which specialized field, or “branch,” you will enter. Both the needs of the Army and your preferences will be considered.

In your first year after graduation, you’ll attend a Basic Officer Leader Course for general information and training. Upon its successful completion, you then take branch-specific courses to become competent in the technical aspects of your specialty.

Next, you’ll be sent to an Army unit where you will build experience in troop command for the next three years. You might lead a Military Police unit, a small artillery fire support team, or a Military Intelligence unit, for example.” (quoted from the website)

That is quite a bit of service—but also quite a bit of education and training. All free.

Listen to the podcast to find out about…

  • Streamlined applications processes for SUNY and CUNY colleges
  • Guaranteed admission to SUNY and CUNY colleges
  • New York State funds available for covering New York State college costs

Check out these higher education institutions and organizations we mention…

In New York State

Learn more about these topics in previous episodes…

Ask your questions or share your feedback by…

  • Leaving a comment here on the show notes for this episode
  • 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

Connect with us through…

Listen to the episode in the player, download it here, or subscribe on iTunes, Stitcher, or TuneIn.

Episode 14: Focus on The City University of New York and The State University of New York

This week, we’re continuing our series on choosing where your child should apply to college by focusing on the City University of New York (CUNY) and the State University of New York (SUNY).

Listen to the podcast to find out about…

Guaranteed admissions to CUNY and SUNY campuses

Impressive SUNY campuses most people never heard of

Impressive CUNY programs most people do not know about

Episode show notes are available at http://usacollegechat.org/14

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This week, we’re continuing our series on choosing where your child should apply to college by focusing on the public college and university options in New York State.

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NYCollegeChat podcast: Focus on the City University of New York and the State University of New York. Brought to you by Policy Studies in Education.

Because we are NYCollegeChat—emphasis on New York—we want talk in this episode about choosing between The City University of New York (CUNY) and The State University of New York (SUNY) as well as choosing among the branches of each of these college systems. Though most of our episodes have information useful for parents anywhere, this episode is especially for New York City and New York State parents—or indeed for parents anywhere who might like to send their children to our public higher education institutions.

1. Students Interested in CUNY Campuses

As we said in an earlier episode in our first series, Understanding the World of College, CUNY serves about 270,000 students taking credit courses on 24 campuses—11 four-year colleges (which CUNY refers to as “senior colleges”), 7 two-year community colleges, The Macaulay Honors College for undergraduate students, and 5 graduate and professional schools, located throughout New York City’s five boroughs. CUNY is the nation’s largest urban public higher education system.

If you currently have a high school junior who is an outstanding student, with a high GPA (in the 90s) and excellent SAT/ACT scores, you should have a look at The Macaulay Honors College right now. Tuition is free, and there are other financial incentives, too. There is also the prestige factor to consider. The Macaulay deadline is a bit earlier than the regular deadline for most colleges (it was December 1 this year, so it is too late for current seniors), so you have to be ready when school opens next fall to get the application put together. This year’s application was not too difficult (for example, it had just two relatively short essays), but you will need to get teacher and/or counselor recommendations lined up. During the admissions process, a Macaulay prospect is accepted first to whatever CUNY four-year campuses the student listed in the application. So, if the student is not accepted to Macaulay, he or she will still be able to enroll in one of CUNY’s four-year colleges and might even be accepted to an honors program at one of those colleges.

Now let’s look at the 7 two-year community colleges and 11 four-year colleges. The first question, of course, is whether you are interested in a two-year or four-year college. We talked extensively about this in our last series, Understanding the World of College. Generally speaking, stronger students with better high school records should choose four-year colleges, while students in need of boosting their academic skills and improving on their high school academic record should choose two-year colleges. But which two-year or four-year college?

The obvious next thing to consider is location. Because most New York City residents are likely to live at home while attending a CUNY college, the commute to the campus is an important factor in college choice. While subway transportation is relatively reliable, fast, and inexpensive, no student really wants to be commuting from the far end of Brooklyn to the Bronx to attend classes every day. Furthermore, some campuses are not as public transportation friendly as others. For example, Queensborough Community College is in a lovely, rather suburban location in Bayside, Queens, but there is no subway service close by; or, to take another example, unless you live on Staten Island, the College of Staten Island is not a quick ride away.

Another thing to consider—and likely the most important thing—is what majors the college offers. Because the colleges are part of a public system, all majors are not offered at all colleges. This is one way the government saves taxpayers’ money—that is, by not duplicating majors on all campuses and, thus, not running smaller-than-cost-efficient programs on campus after campus. For example, you can earn a bachelor’s degree in German at just two CUNY campuses or a bachelor’s degree in archeology at just one CUNY campus. Then, you also need to think about the colleges that specialize in certain fields—like New York City College of Technology, which specializes, obviously, in technical fields (like engineering and architecture and computer studies) or John Jay College of Criminal Justice, which specializes, obviously, in criminal justice, but also in pre-law, fire science, forensics, and studies focusing on social action.

Another thing to consider is reputation. All colleges are not created equal. You can learn about the two-year and four-year colleges by reading about them on their own websites (for example, the history of City College is fascinating and quite moving), and you can learn about their reputations by talking with professionals in any field who have lived in New York City for a while, by talking with graduates of the colleges, and by talking with some high school teachers and counselors, if they have experience with more than two or three of the CUNY campuses. For what it’s worth, five of the CUNY four-year colleges are ranked by U.S. News and World Report in the top 20 regional public colleges in the North: In no particular order, they are Baruch, Hunter, Queens, Brooklyn, and City College.

2. Students Interested in SUNY Campuses

As we said in an earlier episode in our first series, Understanding the World of College, SUNY serves about 460,000 degree and certificate students in 64 higher education institutions, including research universities, state colleges, colleges of technology, community colleges, medical schools, and an online learning network. The institutions are located throughout New York State—from Plattsburgh in the far north to Buffalo in the far west to Stony Brook in the far southeast. Looking at a map of New York State with the campuses located on it is actually quite impressive.

Just as with considering CUNY campuses, the first question when looking at SUNY campuses is whether you want a two-year community college or a four-year college—and, as we said earlier, we have already talked a lot about that decision. So let’s talk about the three other questions we raised about the CUNY campuses because they also apply to SUNY campuses: location, majors, and reputation.

If you thought that the CUNY campuses were spread out over the five boroughs of New York City, the SUNY campuses are really spread out—over virtually the entire state. For a student living in New York City, going to a SUNY campus in upstate in New York is hours farther away than going to a college in New Jersey or Connecticut or even parts of Massachusetts and Pennsylvania. As we have said before, we had students at the high school we co-founded in Brooklyn who had no idea where many of SUNY campuses were, yet they thought about going to them. To repeat our minimum standard for choosing a college is this: You should not go to a college you cannot find on a map.

And part of location, when it comes to SUNY campuses, is whether you want to be in a more urban, suburban, or rural location. They are all available—from the University at Buffalo or the University at Albany and the Fashion Institute of Technology in Manhattan (which people often forget is a SUNY campus) in the more urban category to Nassau Community College and the State University College at Old Westbury and Westchester Community College in the suburban category to the College of Technology at Canton and the State University College at New Paltz and Finger Lakes Community College in the rural category.

Just as with CUNY campuses, the most important thing to consider is what majors the college offers. Again, because the colleges are part of a public system, all majors are not offered at all colleges in order to save the taxpayers’ money, so you have to check carefully if your child has an interest in a particular subject field. What is definite is that almost whatever your child can think up to study, it is being taught on one SUNY campus or another.

Just as CUNY has New York City College of Technology, specializing in technical fields, SUNY has colleges that specialize in technology in Canton, Cobleskill, Delhi, and more. But SUNY also has colleges specializing in other technical fields—like the Fashion Institute of Technology, the Maritime College, the College of Environmental Science and Forestry, and the New York State College of Ceramics (which actually includes both engineering and art and design majors and is located at Alfred University, a private university).

For some students, the three public colleges that are part of private Cornell University are a great financial bargain. Cornell houses four private and three public colleges: the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, the College of Human Ecology, and the ILR (Industrial and Labor Relations) School—an Ivy League education at State tuition prices.

So what about the reputation of the SUNY colleges? There are probably many opinions about which colleges are the best and probably no way to prove which colleges are the best. In a list of top national public universities, U.S. News and World Report lists the College of Environmental Science and Forestry at number 30 and Stony Brook University and Binghamton University tied at number 38. In terms of campuses being known for specific academic programs, one of the clearest examples is Stony Brook, which is well known for its undergraduate and graduate science programs, including its School of Medicine, and for its co-managing of the prestigious Brookhaven National Laboratory on Long Island.

Generally speaking, among the four-year choices, the SUNY universities have more prestige and higher admissions standards than the SUNY state colleges and the colleges of technology—though that does not necessarily make one of the SUNY universities a better choice for your child.

3. Choosing Between CUNY and SUNY Campuses

The choice between applying to and indeed enrolling at a CUNY campus vs. a SUNY campus is probably most present in the minds of high school students who live in or near New York City. For those students, there are several factors to consider—including, at least, living arrangements and prestige (assuming, of course, that the campuses offer the right major). For New York City residents, CUNY colleges and SUNY colleges cost just about the same (and some New York State residents who live outside of the City might be eligible for the same CUNY tuition rates as City residents are). But the living arrangements can be substantially different. Is it cheaper to live at home in Queens and attend Queens College than to live in the dormitory at SUNY Albany? Of course it is. But would the student rather have the chance to live away at school as part of the whole college experience? If so, then attending a SUNY college outside of the City is the better choice.

Is a SUNY college automatically better than a CUNY college because it is part of the bigger State system? Definitely not, even when comparing the four-year SUNY universities and the four-year CUNY colleges. Again, which individual colleges are “better” than which other individual colleges is a matter for debate among educators and graduates and faculty members and interested observers. But it is clear that there are some excellent choices in both systems—choices that are right for New York’s best students as well as for New York’s average students.

Listen to the podcast to find out about…

  • Guaranteed admissions to CUNY and SUNY campuses
  • Impressive SUNY campuses most people never heard of
  • Impressive CUNY programs most people do not know about

 

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