Episode 146: The Biggest College Application Mistake You Are About To Make

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As you head into December and draw near to the looming college application deadlines that follow in the first two weeks of January, we are sure you have a lot on your minds, parents.  Almost all of you are worried about how you are going to pay for whatever college your teenager eventually enrolls in. Most of you are worried about whether your teenager is going to get into his or her first choice.  Many of you are worried about whether your teenager will get into any of his or her top several choices.  Some of you are worried about whether your teenager will get into any of the colleges that are your top choices for him or her.  And a few of you, undoubtedly, are worried about whether your teenager will get into any college at all.

But, here is something you already know:  Parents, you have no control over what colleges choose to admit your teenager, so you might as well stop worrying about that.  On the other hand, here is something else you already know, but rarely think as hard about as that first thing:  Parents, you have plenty of control over the number of applications your teenager submits.  And that is the subject of this episode on the biggest college application mistake you are about to make.

1. What Is the Mistake?

This mistake that you and your teenager are about to make could be the biggest mistake of the whole college application process that has been going on in your family perhaps for the past six months–or longer.  And the mistake couldn’t be simpler to recognize or easier to correct.

Quite simply, make sure that your teenager applies to enough colleges.  If there are a few colleges that you aren’t quite sure about even at this point in December, our advice would be to go ahead and have your teenager apply to them.  One might be a reach school that your teenager hasn’t quite gotten out of his or her system.  Another might be a target school that you thought your teenager didn’t need because he or she had enough of those on the list.  Another might be a safety school that was an interesting idea, but a bit outside your comfort zone.  Frankly, it doesn’t matter what those additional colleges might be.  Just go ahead and have your teenager apply.  Why?  Because having colleges to choose from next April is priceless, as they say.

2. Looking at the Numbers

When we took up this topic about 18 months ago (way back in Episode 77), we quoted from an article by Mike McPhate in The New York Times on April 11, 2016, which explained that students were applying to more colleges than they used to:

In 1990, just 9 percent of students applied to seven or more schools, according to the National Association for College Admission Counseling.  By 2013, that group had grown to 32 percent. (quoted from the article)

And, if I had to guess, based on all the articles we read and chatter we hear, I would say that the 32 percent is likely still higher now in the 2017-2018 round of applications.

You already know all of the reasons for that rise in the number of applications–from the fact that The Common Application now makes it so easy to apply to additional colleges with just the click of a button–at least when those additional colleges don’t have supplementary application questions and essays to complete–to lots of talk about how certain colleges are receiving record numbers of applications and, therefore, lowering their acceptance rates.  According to a U.S. News & World Report article by Delece Smith-Barrow last September, California placed eight public institutions on the list of the 10 U.S. colleges that received the most applications for fall, 2016.  Great for public California higher education institutions, maybe not so great for California kids!  As we mentioned a couple of weeks ago, UCLA had over 102,000 freshman applicants for this past fall, up another approximately 5,000 applications from the 2016 number in this news article.  Joining UCLA on the list are five other University of California campuses (including the flagship UC Berkeley campus, with about 82,000 applications), two California State University campuses, and two private universities whose names make them sound public:  New York University and Boston University.  Each of these institutions received more than 57,000 applications almost two years ago now.

Of course, as more students apply to more colleges for fear they won’t get into any, more applications are received by each college, and the whole thing becomes a vicious cycle.  You might recall that we have talked recently about the fact that high school graduates are shrinking in number and, consequently, that college enrollment is also shrinking.  Experts say that the worst of the admissions crunch might be over for high school seniors and their parents.  Nonetheless, we have also noted that the great colleges and the most selective colleges (which might or might not always be the same thing) are not really hurting for applicants.  And, I don’t think ever will be in my lifetime.  So, getting into top colleges and getting into popular colleges (again, which might or might not be the same thing) will still be a concern for lots of you out there, for sure.

By the way, according to The Common Application website, the “total number of applications submitted through November 1[of this year] was 1,518,131 (+20% over 2016) from 510,912 unique applicants (+13.3% over 2016).”  By November 15, that number was up to almost 2 million applications and another 100,000 unique applicants.  So, it’s not just that more applications are being made; it’s that more are being made under Early Decision and Early Action plans.  And we have said that before, too.

According to a Common Application spokeswoman about 18 months ago, about 4 or 5 applications is what the typical student submitted for admission in fall, 2017.  Of course, in addition, this typical student could have submitted applications to colleges that do not use The Common App, but my guess is that would perhaps just add one or two colleges to the list.

3. What Is the Magic Number?

So, what is the magic number of applications to submit?  The first thing to say is that, according to The College Board’s website, there is no magic number.  I am sorry to hear that because I was hoping there was a magic number that we could just tell all of you and you could quit worrying about it!  But The College Board’s website goes on to say that 5 to 8 applications are usually sufficient to get a good match for a student.

In a more recent July article also by Delece Smith-Barrow at U.S. News & World Report, Ms. Smith-Barrow quotes Matthew Proto, vice president and dean of admissions and financial aid at Colby College, a lovely liberal arts college in Waterville, Maine, as saying, “I don’t know if there is an actual best number.” But she goes on to note:

While there may not be a specific number applicants should aim for, experts say, there is a specific range. Prospective students should have between four and eight schools on their list, experts say. (quoted from the article)

Interesting, because I don’t think that we actually agree with this advice, generally speaking.  The article also says this:

Applicants should carefully weigh the number of schools where they’ll submit applications to maximize their chances of being a strong candidate, and to avoid the drawbacks that can come with applying to too many or too few schools, admissions experts say.

Applying takes work, experts say, and submitting applications to a large number of schools may ruin the quality of the prospective student’s applications. (quoted from the article)

Really?  A drawback to applying to too many colleges is that you will have to work hard on each application so that each one is of high quality?  I would say this to students: “Get over it.  If you can’t work hard enough to do a bunch of applications over perhaps four months (when most of them are maybe 80 percent the same), then I am worried about your chances of succeeding in any college.  Really.”

While we have talked in plenty of other episodes about the variety of colleges we think your teenager should have on the list of colleges he or she will actually apply to (different sizes, different locations, both public and private institutions), we are not going to go into that here.  Today is just a numbers game.

So, what is the right number?  Every expert (you just heard from a couple of them) and every college counselor has a number.  Some of these numbers–like the 4 to 8 or the 5 to 8 we just heard–seem low to me, but maybe that’s because I like teenagers to have plenty of good options available to them next April.

In our first book (How To Find the Right College: A Workbook for Parents of High School Students, still available through Amazon), Marie and I offered a recommendation of applying to 8 to 12 colleges.  We do know that most–though not all–applications cost money.  We also know that, if you are eligible, you can get fee waivers for many of them.  And, since those of you who listen often already know that I am not very cost sensitive about a decision this important to your teenager’s future, I am going to suggest that several hundred dollars (to even $1,000) spent now on application fees might save your family a lot of heartache next spring.

Now, I am going to say, like the late great Jerry Orbach said in Dirty Dancing, “When I’m wrong, I say I’m wrong.”  When Marie and I did our most recent book How To Explore Your College Options: A Workbook for High School Students (also available at Amazon), we said that 15 college applications is probably a sensible average, plus or minus 5.  So, that’s a bit more than our earlier advice.  We are pretty sure that we are right this time, and we trust that you can keep your teenager working through this month to produce high-quality applications until the very last one is submitted.  Good luck!

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Episode 138: It’s Early Decision/Early Action Time Again

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Let’s open today with an acknowledgment of a reasonably impressive milestone. We have just passed the third anniversary of our podcast. That’s three whole years of trying to put the college applications and college admissions process into perspective and within the grasp of the all-too-many parents and teenagers who have been left out of the conversation. When we started the podcast, we thought that it would be most helpful to parents who had not been to college themselves and to their first-generation-to-college kids. But we have found that parents of all educational backgrounds have learned from the episodes, and we are, of course, happy about that. As Marie and I say almost every week, “Here’s something we didn’t know ourselves, and we do this for a living.” As with all things, there is always more to learn.

Speaking of learning, as we come to this episode in our series Researching College Options, I must admit that I would like to re-edit our new book How To Explore Your College Options: A Workbook for High School Students. Marie hates it when I say this; but, like all authors or maybe just all English majors, I know that I could make that book better (even though I have to admit that it is already pretty useful).

Today’s episode is about something we left out of the book, but should have put in. So, if you have the book (and, if you don’t have it, go get it right now at amazon.com!), you all should add one more question at the end of our 52-item questionnaire about things your teenager needs to find out about a college before applying.

Here is the question we missed and the topic of today’s episode: “Does the college offer an Early Decision and/or Early Action application round–or, perhaps, even more than one such round?” And we should have added: “Jot down all of the particulars of these early admissions plans, including how restrictive they are when it comes to whether you are allowed to apply to other colleges at the same time.” I am constantly surprised about how little parents know about Early Decision and Early Action plans, and they could make all the difference for a kid.

1. Why We Are Infuriated

So, for those of you who were listening to USACollegeChat about seven months ago, you will recall that we tackled this Early Decision/Early Action issue then. However, it is even more timely now here at the beginning of October, and we think that it is worth recapping for all of you who have kids just starting their senior year. As many of you know, November 1 or November 15 (or thereabouts) is the Early Decision and/or Early Action deadline for most colleges, if a college has either of those early admissions plans in place. So, that is just a few short weeks away, and decisions about whether to make those early applications need to be made ASAP.

As we said back in Episode 108 and Episode 109, I find this Early Decision/Early Action game infuriating. I continue to be infuriated on behalf of teenagers and their families who are in the midst of figuring out how to research and apply to a whole bunch of colleges, which is hard enough without having to calculate the advantages and disadvantages of Early Decision and Early Action options at some of those or all of those colleges and how those options interact, often poorly, with each other. I believe that lots of parents find this to be a daunting task. So, let us help.

2. Early Decision Cons

Let’s look first at Early Decision, the older of the two options and the one that started us all down this now-confusing and controversial path. Many years ago, it used to be that a student could apply to one college under an Early Decision plan (the only type of early application available)–meaning that the student would apply early, get an answer early, and agree to attend that college if accepted. For students, Early Decision was?and, in fact, still is–a binding decision. In other words, if you get in, you go.

Perhaps the most important reason that some educators and many parents grew to dislike the Early Decision option was–and likely still is–that a student accepted under this plan had to agree to attend the college before he or she had any other acceptances and before he or she had any idea what scholarships and other financial aid might be offered by any other colleges. For students who depended on financial aid to pay for college–and that’s more and more students these days–having to choose a college without being able to compare financial aid packages put those students and their families under unnecessary and, some would say, unfair financial pressure.

When we talked about this issue months ago, we quoted from Frank Bruni’s excellent New York Times column entitled “The Plague of ‘Early Decision.'” You should go back and read his piece again. Mr. Bruni wrote this about his view of the biggest problem with Early Decision at selective colleges:

[Early decision] significantly disadvantages students from low-income and middle-income families, who are already underrepresented at such schools. There’s plenty of evidence that applying early improves odds of admission and that the students who do so–largely to gain a competitive edge–come disproportionately from privileged backgrounds with parents and counselors who know how to game the system and can assemble the necessary test scores and references by the November deadline.

These students also aren’t concerned about weighing disparate financial-aid offers from different schools and can commit themselves to one through early decision. Less privileged students need to shop around, so early decision doesn’t really work for them. (quoted from the article)

Did we really need one more thing about college admissions that disadvantages low-income kids or kids from racial and ethnic minorities who are underrepresented in colleges? Clearly, as a nation, we did not. Regular listeners will recall that, recently in Episode 132, we spoke about a study of grade inflation in high schools that shows that the grade inflation trend disproportionately favors students from whiter, wealthier high schools. Is Early Decision just one more strike against kids who need a fairer shake?

Mr. Bruni also gave us one memorable statistic from a well-to-do Boston suburban high school, noting that “while 60 percent of the seniors there submitted early applications seven years ago, it’s above 86 percent now.” (quoted from the article) And that was last year, so who knows how much higher that number can go this year? The point is that lots of kids are applying to college early, and that is going to make it just that much harder for your kid this year.

Although we have talked recently about a steady decline in college enrollment in the U.S. in Episode 128 and a steady decline especially in male college enrollment in the U.S. in Episode 136, the nation’s very good and great colleges are still doing fine. They continue to have many, many more applicants than they need–both the private ones and the public ones. So, if any of our very selective private or public colleges are on your kid’s long list of college options (or shorter, refined list of college options), your kid is in for some stiff competition from a lot of kids who are ready to commit in November. Any kids who have to overcome any kind of barrier when making their college applications–whether that is financial constraints or English as a second language or lack of college counseling or parents who cannot help?are, sadly, going to be just that much further behind.

3. Early Decision Pros

On the other hand, if your kid is one of the lucky ones or if you can get whatever help you need to get your kid past whatever barriers exist for your family, it seems to us that Early Decision is a great option for you. The larger problem is, of course, that Early Decision could be a great option for your own kid, even if there are too many kids who cannot take advantage of it for one reason or another. With my nonprofit president’s hat on, I have to say that Early Decision worries me increasingly; but with my advocate-for-your-one-kid’s hat on, I am very likely to recommend it to you.

If your own teenager is absolutely clear about what his or her first-choice college is, then Early Decision is the way to go if that college has an Early Decision option. (We are going to talk about Early Action in a minute. Making one Early Decision application does not necessarily preclude also making one or more Early Action applications.)

Why might Early Decision be a good move for your kid? First, your family could get the entire college admissions process over with as efficiently as possible by December. As we have already mentioned, the application is usually due November 1 or November 15, with a decision usually coming in December. If your kid is accepted, you are done. No more worries about not getting into a college your kid loves and no more stress of completing numerous applications! Even though the Common Application cuts down on some of that stress, it means that no more supplemental essays would have to be written and no more application fees would have to be paid.

Second–and this is why we feel almost obligated to recommend Early Decision for kids who are ready to make a serious choice–your kid might actually have a much better chance of being accepted if he or she applies Early Decision. There continues to be a lot of press about this fact. Back in Episode 108, we quoted shocking statistics from an excellent article by Nick Anderson in The Washington Post, which offered acceptance statistics from 2015 from 64 “prominent colleges and universities.” His article was aptly entitled “A college-admissions edge for the wealthy: Early decision.” Go back and take a look at those many, many numbers. And here are a few more: same story, different verse.

These are some facts and figures from an article by Kaitlin Mulhere in Money magazine. Her article makes this important point:

Most selective colleges–specifically, the 100 or so four-year schools that admit a third or less of their applicants–publicize one overall acceptance rate. On its face, that makes sense, and it’s simple for families to grasp. The problem is that many students pin their hopes on that rate, even though it may conceal dramatic differences in the odds for different applicant pools.

Take, for example, Vanderbilt University, where the overall rate was 12% for the fall 2015 freshman class. Yet students either apply in an early pool or the regular pool, which have 24% and 8% acceptance rates, respectively. Nobody has a 12% chance, says Steve Frappier, director of college counseling at the Westminster Schools, a prep school in Atlanta. (quoted from the article)

There are two critical things to notice here. First, there is the simple fact that one averaged acceptance rate–the one that is published widely–actually might mean nothing. Second, there is the simple fact that your chances of getting into a college could be three times as good–or more–if you apply under an early application plan. While this is not true for every college in the U.S., it is true for many selective colleges in the U.S. Here are two more examples of great small private liberal arts colleges from the Money magazine article:

  • Swarthmore College: 35% early decision acceptance rate vs. 10.7% regular decision acceptance rate
  • Colorado College: 31% and 17% in two early rounds vs. 6% in the regular round

The article makes the point that savvy consumers pay attention to the differences among the figures that colleges post on their websites: early acceptance rates, regular decision acceptance rates, and overall acceptance rates. The relationships among these figures change from college to college, so buyer beware!

Those figures have got to make you think twice before you as a family dismiss the notion of applying early. Here is another perhaps surprising statistic from The Washington Post article for a sample of great colleges–the estimated percentage of the freshman class that is made up of Early Decision acceptances:

To sum it up, about half of the seats in the freshman classes of these selective, academically first-rate colleges are filled before the applications of high school seniors applying on the regular schedule are even looked at. You really have to stop and think about these statistics. No kidding. What are your kid’s odds of getting into a place when one-half of the seats are already taken?

Some colleges are publicizing now that students who are accepted on an Early Decision schedule are getting nearly as much financial aid as those accepted on a regular decision schedule, so that’s a good thing for low-income kids who want to better their acceptance chances at a favorite college. And there is usually a disclaimer in college website information that a student may be released from a binding Early Decision acceptance if the financial aid package offered does not make it possible for that student to attend the college–though I have never personally tried to test that.

By the way, is it obvious why a college would want so many Early Decision students? It should be. A college wants good students who really want to be at that college. It doesn’t want to play the admissions game any more than the applicants do.

To sum it up, here is a brief quotation from the website of Boston University, a very good private university, about the reasons that students should consider Early Decision:

  • Competition is keen. Think about this–would you rather be considered for admission as 1 of more than 60,000 applicants or 1 of just over 4,000 applicants?

  • Applying Early Decision is the ultimate way to demonstrate your interest in BU, which is an opportunity for you to differentiate yourself from the rest of the crowd.

  • Early Decision applicants receive the same consideration for financial aid as regular decision applicants.Last year, BU awarded $55 million in aid to incoming freshmen.

  • If you’re offered admission, your search process will be completed early. You could be one of the first among your classmates to wear your BU sweatshirt and show your Terrier Pride!

4. Early Action

Now, let’s look at the Early Action option, under which high school seniors still apply early–around November 1 or November 15–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. Early Action enables kids to apply to more than one college that offers an Early Action option and to 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. This plan, understandably, came into being as a result of concerns that the Early Decision option put too much pressure on kids to make final decisions too soon.

In counseling kids myself, I encourage them to apply under the Early Action option to as many of the colleges on their final short list as they can. I just don’t see a downside. Furthermore, I believe kids should apply Early Action to every one of their safety schools if those schools have an Early Action option. 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, for both Early Action and Early Decision. Students have to take the SAT and/or ACT no later than an October testing date to have the scores by early November, and a student has to believe that the scores he or she has by then are about as good as they are ever going to be.

Or here is an option: Apply Early Action to one or more of your safety schools, using your available test scores–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.

5. 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 later 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.

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. This option, we believe, is not nearly as widespread among colleges as either Early Decision or regular Early Action.

6. Other College Admissions Options

Parents: Don’t feel bad when you have to read a college’s website information more than once to figure out what all the application options mean. I have to do that, too. 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.

And here’s another option you might run into: two rounds of Early Decision, or Early Decision I and Early Decision II; and two rounds of Early Action, or Early Action I and II.

So, why Early Decision I and II, with Early Decision II having a later deadline? One reason is that some kids want the college to have access to later college admission test scores or to 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 second round of Early Decision. Both of these options are possibly great for the student, though complicated, to be sure.

Another reason for having two rounds of Early Decision is that it’s 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. This statistic might affect a college’s ranking on some list or other. So, that might be reason enough for how we got to this place.

Go back and listen to Episode 109 if you want to hear even more complicated plans, which mix every conceivable Early Action and Early Decision variation. But those are only examples. The only plans that matter are the ones your kid faces at the colleges on his or her list. And they might be crazy enough!

7. The Bottom Line

One last word, parents: Remember that your kid 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 kid 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.

I know that’s a lot to take in. What’s the bottom line? Apply Early Decision if your kid has a clear first-choice college that you can live with. Simultaneously, apply Early Action to all of the colleges on his or her list (including all of the safety schools) that have Early Action plans. There’s just no downside.

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Episode 61: New Admissions Report Focuses on Student Service—Part One

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This is our seventh episode focusing on news stories about higher education—some that might immediately change your thoughts about colleges for your teenager and others that might take a bit longer to consider.  Today’s story and next week’s story look at a new report that grew out of a meeting a year ago hosted by a Harvard Graduate School of Education project called Making Caring Common.  The meeting brought together college admissions deans, high school folks, and others to discuss the state of college admissions.  The report is entitled Turning the Tide: Inspiring Concern for Others and the Common Good through College Admissions.

NYCollegeChat Episode 61 New Admissions Report Focuses on Student Service—Part One

In a recent Education Week commentary (“College Admission 2.0: Service Over Self,” January 19, 2016), project co-director Richard Weissbourd said this:

For perhaps the first time in history, a broad range of colleges have come together to send a powerful collective message that what’s important in admissions is not high numbers of impressive accomplishments or long ‘brag sheets.’  Yes, academic engagement matters, but so does meaningful ethical engagement, especially as shown in concern for others and the common good.  The report also redefines ethical and intellectual contributions to more fairly capture the strengths of students across race, culture, and class.  (quoted from the article)

I hope this is true, but I am not totally convinced just yet.  Who signed on to this report?  Well, the list of “endorsers” included every Ivy League school plus an impressive list of about 50 more higher education institutions, including some of our nation’s best small liberal arts colleges, best public flagship universities, and best private universities, including Amherst College, Boston College, Boston University, Bowdoin College, Brandeis University, College of the Holy Cross, Emory University, Kenyon College, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Michigan State University, Oberlin College, Purdue University, Reed College, Rice University, Smith College, Swarthmore College, the University of Chicago, the University of Michigan, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the University of Virginia, the University of Washington, Wabash College, and Wake Forest University.  Incidentally, we talked about every one of these institutions during our virtual tour of colleges nationwide.  They are great schools.

The question now is simply this:  How much do they mean it?

The Report’s Recommendations

The report makes 11 recommendations (the report actually has the recommendations divided into three sections), which I am going to quote for you in these episodes, and we will talk about them one by one.  We will do the first half of the recommendations in this episode, so here we go:

1) “Meaningful, Sustained Community Service:  We recommend that students engage in forms of service that are authentically chosen—that emerge from a student’s particular passions and interests—that are consistent and well-structured, and that provide opportunity for reflection both individually and with peers and adults.  We also recommend that students undertake at least a year of sustained service or community engagement . . . .  This service can take the form of substantial and sustained contributions to one’s family, such as working outside the home to provide needed income.  Just as important, it’s vital that the admissions process squarely challenges misconceptions about what types of service are valued in admissions.  Some students seek to ‘game’ service by taking up high-profile or exotic forms of community service, sometimes in faraway places, that have little meaning to them but appear to demonstrate their entrepreneurial spirit and leadership.  The admissions process should clearly convey that what counts is not whether service occurred locally or in some distant place or whether students were leaders, but whether students immersed themselves in an experience and the emotional and ethical awareness and skills generated by that experience.”  (quoted from the report)

So, that’s a mouthful.  What does it all mean?  That the service be something that your teenager is actually interested in and invested in; that the service be something your teenager thinks about, talks about with other kids and with adults, and learns from; that the service last at least a year; and that the service may be something that your teenager does in order to support or help your own family, such as working at a paid job if financial help is needed or taking care of a younger sibling or an elderly relative if that kind of family support is needed.  To be sure, Marie and I saw kids at the high school we co-founded in New York City who had substantial family responsibilities, which made it very difficult for them to engage in the other kinds of service that students without such responsibilities had the free time to undertake.  I think that the report’s notion that the service last at least a year is also significant.  In other words, the college might not look so favorably on a one-week community service project—unless perhaps a student did those projects summer after summer and during other school vacations.

2) “Collective Action that Takes on Community Challenges:  While individual service can be valuable, we also encourage young people to consider various forms of community engagement, including working in groups on community problems, whether the problem is a local park that needs attention, bullying in their schools or communities or some form of environmental degradation.  These types of activities can help young people develop key emotional and ethical capacities, including problem-solving skills and group awareness, as well as greater understanding of and investment in the common good.”  (quoted from the report)

It strikes me that these community engagement projects could be run by local government agencies, community nonprofit organizations, or religious organizations.  However, these projects are the kinds that could also be run by high schools, which would help not only their communities, but also their students on their college applications.  These projects might be run as after-school clubs or as after-school semester-long or year-long projects of a science or social studies class or as long-term PTA-sponsored efforts.  If I were a high school principal, I would be talking to my teachers and counselors and PTA officers right now about this idea—because projects like these are truly valuable learning opportunities for kids, regardless of their usefulness on college applications.

3) “Authentic, Meaningful Experiences with Diversity:  We encourage students to undertake community service and engagement that deepens their appreciation of diversity.  Too often, current forms of service are patronizing to recipients and don’t spark in those providing service a deeper understanding of social structures and inequalities.  Rather than students “doing for” students from different backgrounds, for example, we encourage students to “do with”—to work in diverse groups for sustained periods of time on school and community challenges, groups in which students learn from one another.  Importantly, these experiences of diversity should be carefully constructed and facilitated.”  (quoted from the report)

Now, this might be a tall order, especially in some not-too-diverse communities.  I also strongly believe that students can “do for” others without being patronizing.  For many years, I served on the board of an after-school homework-help and enrichment program for low-income kids, including some newly arrived in the U.S., who would otherwise have gone home to empty apartments.  Teenagers from local high schools volunteered in the afternoons to work with our elementary-school-aged kids.  Were some of the teenagers patronizing?  Probably so, even when they didn’t mean to be.  But did they go away with “a deeper understanding of social structures and inequalities”?  Yes, many of them did.  With that said, I also see the value of the “doing with” philosophy.  Could high schools play a role in putting together these projects, where kids from diverse backgrounds work together toward a worthwhile goal?  I believe so; but, as the recommendation says, “these experiences of diversity should be carefully constructed and facilitated.”  That takes a dedicated high school staff member or two or three to pull off.

4) “Service that Develops Gratitude and a Sense of Responsibility for the Future:  We encourage students to take up forms of community engagement, service and reflection that help them appreciate the contributions of the generations before them—how their lives are built on the service of others—and their responsibility to their descendants.  Working within a tradition, whether religious or secular, such as 4H clubs, can help generate this kind of gratitude and responsibility.”  (quoted from the report)

My guess is that this type of service is probably best left to community groups and religious organizations.  Any community project that is devoted to recording or celebrating the history of the area or of its people could qualify.  For example, I can imagine a great project where Brooklyn students volunteer their time to give tours of the historic buildings or do educational events with younger students at Weeksville, which was a community founded by African-American freedmen in the mid-1800s.  That would be a way to honor previous generations and give to future generations.  I can also imagine that, in communities where many high school graduates continue to live and work, intergenerational community service activities between older alums and current high school students could prove rewarding.

5) “Contributions to One’s Family:  The admissions process should clearly send the message to students, parents and other caregivers that not only community engagement and service, but also students’ family contributions, such as caring for younger siblings, taking on major household duties or working outside the home to provide needed income, are highly valued in the admissions process.  Far too often there is a perception that high-profile, brief forms of service tend to count in admissions, while these far more consistent, demanding, and deeper family contributions are overlooked.  Students should have clear opportunities to report these family contributions on their applications.”  (quoted from the report)

Marie and I certainly agree that this is an issue with lots of kids, especially perhaps lower-income urban kids.  I do not think that college applications always make it obvious to kids where they should write about these kinds of family responsibilities.  They can list paid jobs held or other family care activities done during the summer, for example, but those lists do not always give kids a chance to describe their family situation or explain all that they really do.  Sometimes family responsibilities can be the focus of an essay on an application, especially a supplemental essay or the second essay in the Common App where kids are asked to add anything else they want to say.  But I don’t think that these options are really the “clear opportunities” that the report is calling for.  A specific question about family care and support would be better—but I worry that all kids will now feel that this is one more thing they have to be able to respond to in order to get into college, which rather weakens the point of adding the question in the first place.

6) “Assessing Students’ Daily Awareness of and Contributions to Others:  The admissions process should seek to assess more effectively whether students are ethically responsible and concerned for others and their communities in their daily lives.  The nature of students’ day-to-day conduct should be weighed more heavily in admissions than the nature of students’ stints of service.”  (quoted from the report)

Wow.  That is more than I imagine almost any college application can actually do.  The only way I can see to make this happen is to suggest on recommendation forms that teachers and guidance counselors and other adults (like clergy, internship supervisors, and employers) consider this character trait and individual behavior when writing their college recommendations for students.  Some of these adults have a window into the daily or at least weekly activities of students and might be able to comment on how they see a student interacting with others, reaching out to help others, or serving as a role model or leader for others at school, at work, in places of worship, or in the greater community.

So there you have the first six of the 11 report recommendations.  They are an interesting bunch.  More next week!

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Episode 42: Colleges in the New England Region—Part II

In last week’s episode, we picked up our virtual tour of colleges with the public universities and academies in the six states of the New England region: Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and Connecticut. This week, we will spotlight the private higher education institutions in New England.

Virtual #college tour of New England Region on NYCollegeChat #podcast. Available at http://usacollegechat.org/42

We are going to talk about a group of nationally known higher education institutions, which draw students internationally; a selection of institutions with one or another kind of special focus; a host of smaller liberal arts colleges; and a few institutions that are probably best known in the New England region. Let us say now that there are a surprising number of well-known institutions in these New England states, even though the states themselves are quite small. A lot of those institutions are in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. We cannot possibly do them all justice—or even mention them all. To that end, we are going to split this content into two episodes—this week and next week.

I have to say that I feel a bit uncomfortable making extra episodes for one of the regions of the country that is nearest to our home base in New York—just when I am trying to get our listeners outside of their comfort zone. But I can rationalize this action in one of two ways. First, these states have been states since the very beginning of our country and, thus, have lots and lots of colleges and universities—the oldest of which were founded more than 100 years earlier than any of those in our Western states. Second, I have to believe that many of our New York State listeners, who make up a big percentage of our audience and who are worried about sending their kids away to college, might be persuaded to send them away—but not too far away. New England might be about right. So, we will do the best we can to cover as many institutions as we can this week and next week.

Finally, as we say in every episode, no college has asked us or paid us anything to include it. These are our own choices.

1. Nationally Known Higher Education Institutions

Let’s start by saying that four of the eight Ivy League schools are located in New England: Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island; Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire; Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts; and Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut.

Founded between 1636 and 1769, all four were operating before the American Revolution and all four were founded by religious groups—Congregationalists for three of them and Baptists for Brown. Today, they serve from 4,000 to about 7,000 undergraduates, with about 6,000 to more than 20,000 total undergraduate, graduate, and professional students. Dartmouth is the smallest Ivy League school, and Harvard is one of the largest.

Ivy League schools are well known for their high academic standards, wide range of undergraduate and graduate majors, longtime traditions, famous professors, beautiful campuses, and the extreme selectivity of their admissions process. That is one reason I am not going to talk too much about them.

Their tuition is sky-high, though they have a surprising amount of financial aid available for students whose family resources are very limited. However, your child would first have to have extraordinary high school grades and college admission test scores to be accepted.

I think it is fair to say that one thing that the Ivies do not do as well as many large public universities is varsity sports. In the interest of full disclosure, let me say that my father was the Sports Information Director at the University of Pennsylvania (another of the Ivies and his alma mater), and he helped to establish the Ivy League athletic conference in the 1950s. I have been attending Ivy League sports contests since I was in elementary school. I later covered sports for my own Ivy League school’s newspaper, The Cornell Daily Sun. So, I know what I am talking about. I am not saying that we don’t have some talented athletes and, on occasion, some incredible individual athletes and even teams. Nonetheless, most students don’t come to an Ivy League school for sports.

An equally prestigious and equally selective institution is the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Founded much later in 1861, MIT now serves about 4,500 undergraduates (about 25 percent are underrepresented minority students) and a total of about 11,000 undergraduate, graduate, and professional students. MIT has schools of Architecture and Planning, Engineering, Management, Science, and—last, but not least—the School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences. While we think of MIT as turning out first-rate engineers and scientists, students can also major in subjects in the School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences; by the way, all undergraduates at MIT take eight courses in this school (about 25 percent of their undergraduate program) so they truly become well-rounded students and citizens. But, like the Ivies, your child would need extraordinary high school grades and college admission test scores to get in.

Now let’s look briefly at three great nationally known universities—all well respected, but slightly less selective. They all happen to be in or near Boston. Starting with the smallest, we have Tufts University, with its main campus located on Walnut Hill in Medford, just outside of Boston. Founded in 1852, Tufts currently enrolls about 5,000 undergraduates and a total of about 11,000 undergraduate, graduate, and professional students in nine schools—five of which are related to medical and health sciences. Undergraduates study in two of those schools: the School of Arts and Sciences and the School of Engineering. Over 20 percent of Arts and Sciences students major in International Relations, and many students participate in Tufts’ 10 study abroad programs or in coursework at Tufts’ own European Center in France. Tufts also has a graduate school of international affairs, with intriguing interdisciplinary majors.

Tufts offers 14 men’s and 14 women’s varsity sports as well as club and intramural sports. The Jonathan M. Tisch College of Citizenship and Public Service is a unique University-wide venture that provides curricular and extracurricular programming that all students are able to participate in; Tufts students and faculty members practice their active citizenship skills both locally and internationally. Average SAT scores for the Class of 2018 are a trio of scores in the low 700s, so the students are plenty smart. Like other first-rate universities, undergraduate tuition and fees are high at about $48,500.

Moving to a larger university in Boston proper, we find Northeastern University, founded in 1898. The University offers about 17,500 undergraduates (out of a total of about 24,500 undergraduate, graduate, and professional students) more than 90 majors and concentrations across seven colleges and schools: Arts, Media and Design; Business; Computer and Information Science; Engineering; Health Sciences; Science; and Social Sciences and Humanities. Northeastern has added more than 55 interdisciplinary undergraduate majors in the past eight years. But the hallmark of Northeastern’s programming is cooperative education, which began at Northeastern more than 100 years ago:

Experiential learning, anchored by our signature cooperative education program, lies at the heart of academic life at Northeastern. The integration of study and professional experience enables students to put ideas into action through work, research, international study, and service in 93 countries around the world. . . .

Co-op is different from internships – our students alternate classroom studies with full-time work in career related jobs for six months.  This allows employers to get real work done while evaluating talent before making any long-term commitments. Our employer relations team is dedicated to collaborating with employers to develop innovative and meaningful programs to engage our talented students. We deliver an individualized approach to building and maintaining partnerships that contribute to the employers’ success and ours. Our various recruitment options provide employers with cost effective approaches to hiring, training, evaluating and on-boarding talent. (quoted from the website)

About 90 percent of students do at least one co-op program (with one of the 3,000 co-op employers worldwide); many students do two. Many students also stay for a fifth year and complete three co-op programs. About 50 percent of students get a job offer from their co-op employer, and about 99 percent would recommend co-op education to a friend.

Northeastern offers over 300 student organizations, 18 varsity sports, and 22 Living Learning Communities built around themes for freshmen (e.g., creative expression, globalization, sustainability). Average SAT scores for students who entered in 2014 were a pair of scores in the low 700s, and about 65 percent of incoming freshmen ranked in the top 10 percent of their high school class. So, these students, too, are plenty smart. And, in the past 10 years, Northeastern has seen huge increases in the percentages of students of color, of international students, and of students coming from outside of New England and the Mid-Atlantic states. In keeping with its competitors, Northeastern’s tuition and fees are about $45,000 per year.

Moving to a still larger university in Boston proper, we come to Boston University (BU), which had a great beginning:

LaRoy Sunderland, an ardent abolitionist and leading figure in Boston’s Bromfield Street Church, in 1839 persuaded his fellow church members to found the United Methodist Church’s first seminary. Their collective goal, we should note, was to provide a higher quality of training to their ministers than was then available. The school was founded in Vermont and relocated several times, in 1867 reopening on 30 acres in nearby Brookline as the “Boston School of Theology.” The president of that school, William Fairfield Warren, persuaded three of the school’s trustees—all wealthy Boston merchants—to petition the Massachusetts legislature in 1869 to charter “Boston University.” The petition was granted, and today’s BU was born. . . . Thanks to the Methodists’ strong belief in social equality, the new University would be accessible to all members of society, without regard to race, class, sex, or creed. (quoted from the website)

Today, BU serves about 16,500 undergraduates and a total of about 30,500 undergraduate, graduate, and professional students (including about 7,000 students from 130 foreign countries) in 17 colleges and schools. Undergraduates can pursue majors in about half of those: Arts and Sciences, Communication, Engineering, Fine Arts, Business, Education, Global Studies, and Hospitality Administration. As if that’s not enough, BU annually sends about 2,200 undergraduates to study abroad in 83 programs in 21 countries.

Like most universities of its size—and it is a very large size for a private university—BU offers over 450 student organizations and 24 varsity sports teams (10 men’s and 14 women’s).

There were almost 55,000 applications for the 3,600 spots in the incoming freshman class. The average overall high school grade was an A– (with an average class rank in the top 8 percent), and the average SAT scores were a trio of scores in the very high 600s. Just like Tufts, undergraduate tuition and fees are high at about $48,500.

As we said in our last episode, Boston itself is a very attractive place for students to study, including for foreign students coming to the U.S. It has culture and sports and business and a beautiful waterfront and more than 100 colleges nearby. It is easy to see why there are so many good private options available.

2. Institutions with a Special Focus

New England also has a large number of well-known institutions that have a special focus, including faith-based and single-sex institutions and institutions with an academic focus or a focus on students with special needs. So here we go.

Faith-Based Institutions

New England has a wide selection of faith-based universities that are well regarded, including both outstanding Catholic institutions and a first-class Jewish institution. Among the many Catholic institutions in these states are three of the 28 Catholic Jesuit universities in the U.S.: The College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts, a liberal arts college with about 2,900 undergraduate students; Fairfield University in Fairfield, Connecticut, with about 4,000 undergraduates and a total of about 5,000 undergraduate, graduate, and professional students; and Boston College (BC) in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts—by far the largest of the three—with about 9,000 undergraduates and a total of about 14,000 undergraduate, graduate, and professional students.

In 1843, Holy Cross became the first Catholic college to be established in New England; its first valedictorian was the son of a slave. Holy Cross was soon followed by BC in 1863 and, much later, by Fairfield in 1942. They all offer strong liberal arts programs, with BC and Fairfield also offering undergraduate majors in career fields—nursing, business, education, and engineering, between them. They are all traditional colleges with lovely campuses and plenty of student organizations and varsity sports teams.

Admitted freshmen post SAT subtest scores in the low 600s at Fairfield, the mid-600s at Holy Cross, and the very high 600s at BC. Pricewise, their annual tuition and fees are in the $45,000 to $47,000 range.

As we have said in previous episodes, the Society of Jesus, which was founded in Paris in the 1500s, traces its commitment to education to St. Ignatius of Loyola, who founded the first Jesuit college in Messina, Sicily, in 1548. Jesuit institutions today place a strong emphasis on intellectual rigor and a liberal arts foundation, social justice issues worldwide, and a life of service. While about 70 percent of students at BC are Catholic, students of all faiths are welcome and comfortable at Jesuit institutions.

And let’s take a quick look at Providence College in Rhode Island, located close to downtown Providence. Founded in 1917 by the Diocese of Providence and Dominican Friars, it is the only Dominican college in the U.S. and the only one with Dominican Friars in their habits teaching on campus. Its charter, however, states that no one should be refused admission because of the “religious opinion he may entertain.” Students are required to take two courses in philosophy and two courses in theology, and masses that are conducted on campus are well attended. While most students and faculty members are Catholic, the College also has a long-standing relationship with Rhode Island’s Jewish community.

Providence College offers its nearly 4,000 undergraduate students 49 majors, predominantly in the liberal arts and sciences, but including business, education, computer science, and health sciences. It also offers a double handful of master’s degree programs. All undergraduates complete 16 credits in the Development of Western Civilization over four semesters—seminars on significant texts from Western and other world civilizations for three semesters and a team-taught colloquium in the fourth semester that focuses on a contemporary issue.

Incoming freshmen in the Class of 2017 posted an average 3.37 high school GPA and SAT subtest scores in the high 500s. Annual tuition and fees are about $45,000, right in the ballpark with its competitors. And, speaking of competitors, I think that the Providence Friars play some pretty competitive basketball.

Turning to a different faith-based tradition, we have Brandeis University, located in Waltham, Massachusetts, just west of Boston. Brandeis describes itself this way:

Characterized by academic excellence since its founding in 1948, Brandeis is one of the youngest private research universities, as well as the only nonsectarian Jewish-sponsored college or university in the country.

Named for the late Justice Louis Dembitz Brandeis of the U.S. Supreme Court, Brandeis University combines the faculty and resources of a world-class research institution with the intimacy and personal attention of a small liberal arts college. (quoted from the website)

And here is my favorite piece of Brandeis history trivia:

Former first lady Eleanor Roosevelt had a long and successful relationship with Brandeis. In addition to serving on the board of trustees, she hosted a public television series on campus, taught International Relations and delivered the university’s first commencement address. (quoted from the website)

Brandeis offers its approximately 3,700 undergraduates an enviable student-to-faculty ratio of 10:1. Its undergraduates study in the College of Arts and Sciences—an undergraduate liberal arts college in a research university, as Brandeis says—in 43 majors and 46 minors (some in career fields). Brandeis serves about 2,200 graduate students in four graduate schools as well.

There are more than 260 student organizations and 19 men’s and women’s varsity sports teams to keep students engaged. Entering freshmen in 2014 posted an SAT average critical reading score around 650 and an SAT average mathematics score around 740. The tuition of about $46,000 is right in the range we have been seeing for private institutions in New England.

Single-Sex Institutions

Three of the “Seven Sisters” colleges are found in Massachusetts: Mount Holyoke in South Hadley, Smith College in Northampton, and Wellesley College in Wellesley. The Mount Holyoke website gives us a little background:

The Seven Sisters, a consortium of prestigious East Coast liberal arts colleges for women, originally included Mount Holyoke, Vassar, Smith, Wellesley, Bryn Mawr, Barnard, and Radcliffe colleges. Today, five of the Seven Sisters remain women’s colleges; Vassar is coeducational and Radcliffe has merged with Harvard, becoming the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study.

The female equivalent of the once predominantly male Ivy League, the Seven Sisters originated in 1915, when Mount Holyoke, Vassar, Smith, and Wellesley colleges held a conference to discuss fund-raising strategies. This historic meeting led to additional conferences over the next decade, at Bryn Mawr, Barnard, and Radcliffe. By 1927 these seven elite women’s colleges were known as the Seven Sisters and over the years have continued to meet to discuss issues of common concern, such as institutional goals, admissions, financial aid, and curriculum matters.

The name “Seven Sisters” has its origins in Greek mythology. It refers to the Pleiades, the seven daughters of Atlas who, according to one myth, were changed into stars by Zeus. (quoted from the website)

Interestingly, Mt. Holyoke, Smith, and Wellesley now all admit men to some of their graduate programs and/or nondegree coursework, but not to their undergraduate programs, which remain for women only.

These three liberal arts colleges are traditionally as difficult to get into as the Ivy League schools, so your daughter would need outstanding academic credentials to consider applying. Mt. Holyoke and Smith do not require college admission test scores. At Wellesley, which does require them, about 80 percent of admitted students have a trio of SAT subtest scores over 700. About 55 to 60 percent of admitted students to Mount Holyoke and Smith are in the top 10 percent of their high school class.

Founded between 1837 and 1871, these colleges now serve about 2,200 to 2,500 undergraduates, who study in about 50 to 55 liberal arts majors. All three have excellent student-to faculty ratios—from Mount Holyoke’s 10:1 down to Wellesley’s remarkable 7:1. Mount Holyoke and Smith are members of the Five College Consortium, which we talked about last week with UMass Amherst; so their women can take courses at any of the five campuses (the two remaining campuses will be discussed in next week’s episode). Wellesley, on the other hand, has exchange programs with about 15 other colleges of various types and in various locations—from MIT and Brandeis nearby to Spelman College and Mills College far away.

Priced from about $44,000 to $46,000 in tuition and fees, these Seven Sisters colleges are no bargain—though I am quite sure that most of their graduates believe they were worth it. Like most women’s colleges, each has a strong and loyal group of alumnae, including quite a few well-known women in all career fields.

Another women’s college, located in Boston proper, is Simmons College, which was founded in 1899 by businessman John Simmons who believed that “women should be able to earn independent livelihoods and lead meaningful lives” (quoted from the website)—which doesn’t sound that unusual now, but which was likely unusual for 1899. Today, Simmons offers 1,700 undergraduate women (about 250 are adult women) a predominantly liberal arts program of about 50 majors (but including some business majors, health sciences and nursing, social work, and computer studies), combined with professional work experience. Simmons has the only M.B.A. program designed especially for women as well as graduate programs in a variety of liberal arts and career fields for about 4,000 women and men.

Interestingly, about 70 percent of its faculty members are women, and Simmons, too, has an attractive 10:1 student-to-faculty ratio. Its Class of 2019 posted, on average, a pair of SAT subtest scores in the very high 500s and an average high school GPA of 3.37. And with tuition and fees of about $37,000, Simmons is, hopefully, in reach for more young women.

Institutions with a Special Academic Focus

We mentioned some of these institutions in an early episode of NYCollegeChat, when we first introduced the idea that some institutions are devoted, more or less, to the study of certain disciplines.

The Arts. For example, we talked about two institutions that have the arts as their academic focus—Berklee College of Music and Rhode Island School of Design (commonly referred to as RISD—pronounced RIZ-dee). Berklee is the premier higher education institution in the world for the study of contemporary music of all styles and cultures—unlike traditional conservatories that focus on classical music. (In the interest of full disclosure, my oldest child got an undergraduate degree from Berklee in Boston and then a graduate degree from its relatively new and architecturally impressive campus, designed by Santiago Calatrava, in gorgeous Valencia, Spain). Founded by Lawrence Berk in 1945, it was the first U.S. school to teach jazz. It became Berklee School of Music in 1954 and then Berklee College of Music in 1970, several years after it began offering bachelor’s degrees. Roger H. Brown currently serves as only the third president in Berklee’s 70-year history, and my personal observations of him in a variety of settings is that he is an impressive guy.

Currently, Berklee offers 12 undergraduate majors to its just over 4,000 students—from music performance to music therapy to film scoring to composition to songwriting to music education to music business to electronic production and design and more. In addition to singing, 29 different principal instruments can be studied (including hand percussion, banjo, and mandolin as the ones the most recently added). All students take both a core music curriculum (e.g., ear training, arranging, harmony) and a core liberal arts curriculum in the humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences and mathematics.

About 30 percent of Berklee’s students come from other countries to study at this unique school. Berklee’s professors are, typically, both great teachers and great practicing musicians. As befits a music school where individual instruction is a key component, the student-to-faculty ratio is an understandable and appealing 8:1. There are hundreds of Grammy winners among its faculty and its graduates. Its annual concert given by graduating seniors on the night before graduation is simply mind-blowing. Berklee does not require college admission test scores, but does require an intensive live audition and interview. Perhaps not surprisingly, its annual tuition and fees are about $41,000—and, I can tell you, Berklee is totally worth it.

Let’s look at RISD, a top-tier art and design school founded in 1877 and located in lovely Providence, Rhode Island. RISD offers 16 undergraduate degree programs to just over 2,000 students (as well as 16 graduate degree programs to about 500 more students). About 30 percent of students are international, and about 30 percent are students of color. RISD’s most popular majors are illustration, industrial design, graphic design, film/animation/video, and painting, but students can also earn degrees in glass, jewelry and metalsmithing, furniture design, textiles, photography, architecture, landscape architecture, and more. Most undergraduates at RISD earn a Bachelor of Fine Arts (B.F.A.) degree, but RISD also offers a Bachelor of Architecture degree for students in that field.

Interestingly, RISD and Brown, one of the Ivies, have campuses next to each other, and students can register for some courses at the other school at no extra cost. RISD students typically look to Brown for foreign language and advanced math and science courses, all of which can be used to satisfy some of RISD’s liberal arts requirements. Not surprisingly, the RISD Museum, which serves southeastern New England, has an excellent and large collection, ranging from ancient art to contemporary art and including well-known artists from many countries and cultures.

Average SAT scores for incoming freshmen last fall were a trio of scores in the mid-600s. Applicants must also submit online a portfolio of 12 to 20 examples of their best recent artwork in any medium as well as two specific drawings, as described in the application. RISD’s tuition and fees at about $46,000 are in line with the other private schools we have been discussing.

Business. In an early episode, we also talked about two institutions in New England that focused on business: Babson College and Bentley University. Let’s start with Babson—founded relatively recently in 1919 and located in Wellesley, Massachusetts—which has a very definite focus, even within business, according to its website:

We develop entrepreneurs of all kinds.

At Babson, we believe that entrepreneurship can be a powerful force within organizations of all types and sizes, in established businesses as well as new ventures. In any industry, in any position, it takes Entrepreneurial Thought and Action® to solve problems and make an impact.

We were the first to understand that thinking and acting entrepreneurially is more than just an inclination. It can be taught. And we do it better than anyone.

Today in our collaborative community, students gain the fundamental business skills and liberal arts knowledge necessary to cultivate an entrepreneurial mindset. They then use that mindset to navigate real business situations, putting what they learn into practice and becoming leaders equipped to make a difference on campus and around the world.

Serving about 2,100 undergraduates and another approximately 900 graduate students, Babson students study with faculty members who have both academic credentials in their field and practical business experience as executives and entrepreneurs themselves. They write case studies about specific businesses and industries in specific regions to teach from. And “cocurricular programs provide students with hands-on experience through internships, volunteer opportunities, and consulting projects” (quoted from the website).

At Babson, at least half of students’ courses are in the liberal arts, including the study of a language that is useful in business dealings today—perhaps a bit surprising for a business-focused institution. In addition to a slate of foundation business courses, students may choose up to two concentrations from 27 options.

Students admitted in the Class of 2018 posted a trio of average SAT scores in the mid- to high 600s. Babson’s tuition is admittedly high at $47,000 a year, though it does charge this flat rate for up to and including 20 credits—meaning that students do not have to pay additional tuition fees charged by many colleges beyond the more typical 16 credits or so (that could save some money and encourage students to move through courses faster).

Turning to Bentley University, located just outside Boston in Waltham, this business school allows its just over 4,000 undergraduate students to “choose from a wide range of programs that address all functional areas including accountancy, finance, marketing, management and liberal arts — all anchored in technology” (quoted from the website). Bentley is also home to another approximately 1,500 graduate students.

Bentley offers its undergraduates 23 majors in 11 business fields and five arts and sciences disciplines. In fact, about 20 percent of undergraduates double major in business and Bentley’s Liberal Studies Major (with eight interdisciplinary concentrations). Students majoring in the arts and sciences must complete either a Business Studies Major (which is a core of eight business courses) or a business minor. About 90 percent of students complete one professional internship during their four years; about 60 percent complete more than one.

Bentley was founded as Bentley School of Accounting and Finance in 1917 by Harry C. Bentley, who taught accounting at BU and other institutions and wanted to open a school where he could teach using his own methods. He remained as president until 1953. Bentley offered its first bachelor’s degrees in 1961. Today, tuition and fees at Bentley are about $44,000 annually—in keeping with the figures we have seen so far in this episode.

Science and Technology. Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) is located in Worcester, Massachusetts, the second-largest city in New England and home to a double handful of colleges. Founded in 1865, it is the third-oldest private technological university in the U.S. Home to about 4,000 undergraduates and another almost 2,000 graduate and professional students, WPI describes its mission this way:

WPI was founded in 1865 to create and convey the latest science and engineering knowledge in ways that are most beneficial to society.

WPI’s founding motto of Theory and Practice continues to underlie our academic programs. WPI graduates emerge ready to take on critical challenges in science and technology, knowing how their work can impact society and improve the quality of life. (quoted from the website)

WPI offers 50 undergraduate and graduate degree programs in science, engineering, technology, management, the social sciences, and the humanities and arts. Going to its strength, WPI offers 12 types of engineering—all the regular ones plus aerospace, biomedical, environmental, robotics, and management engineering. It was the first university to offer a bachelor’s, master’s, and Ph.D. in robotics engineering. A Humanities and Arts requirement ensures that WPI students are well-rounded; it consists of six courses of the student’s choosing, including courses from at least two disciplines, or a six-course sequence in Spanish, German, or Chinese—along with a final project. Project-based learning helps students learn how to think about and propose solutions for real-world problems studied in WPI’s programs. Let’s look at one unique program feature:

WPI believes that in order to become the best engineers and scientists they can be, students should have a broad understanding of the cultural and social contexts of those fields, and thus be more effective and socially responsible practitioners and citizens.

That’s the intent of the Interactive Qualifying Project (IQP), a nine-credit-hour interdisciplinary requirement involving applied research that connects science or technology with social issues and human needs.

The IQP is not organized as a course, nor is it related to the major. Instead, small teams of students work under the guidance of faculty members from all disciplines to conduct research, using social science methods, directed at a specific problem or need. Students deliver findings and recommendations through formal reports and oral presentations to project sponsors (often nonprofit, municipal, or government agencies) and faculty advisors.

Sustainability serves as a common theme for IQPs, many of which address problems related to energy, environment, sustainable development, education, cultural preservation, and technology policy. About half of all IQPs are completed off-campus through the Global Project Program [at 38 sites in 25 countries]. (quoted from the website)

WPI teaches classes in four seven-week terms, with students taking three courses at a time. Faculty members issue grades of A, B, C, and NR (No Record)—to encourage students to explore their interests without fear of negatively affecting their GPA, WPI says.

Though a technological university, WPI has all of the student organizations (more than 200) and varsity sports (10 men’s and 10 women’s) that any traditional college student could want. Incoming freshmen post an average high school GPA of 3.85 and a trio of average SAT subtest scores in the mid-600s. WPI’s tuition and fees are about $44,500, which seems to be the norm.

Environmental Stewardship. Every once in a while, I find a college that I never heard of and that seems unusually intriguing. The one for this episode is Sterling College, located in rural Craftsbury Common, Vermont. While I cannot personally vouch for Sterling the way I can for many other colleges that I have visited, I do believe that it could be exactly the right thing for some students and their families. So, here we go.

Founded in 1958, this is the way Sterling describes itself:

Sterling was among the very first colleges in the United States to link the liberal arts to ecology, outdoor education, and sustainable agriculture. We believe that the wellbeing of humanity depends on small, interconnected communities, committed to conscientious and sustainable practices in agriculture and energy use, and in stewardship of our air, soil, and water. . . .

We were eating local food and advocating for sustainability in the 1970s, and we continue to do so today. Many colleges have a farm—Sterling College is a farm. Our campus is a living system that supports our community and our educational mission.

To be an environmental steward means having the skills to educate others, and introduce them to the natural world. Hiking, climbing, canoeing, camping, and skiing are only a few of the ways in which we interact with the wilderness around us. Most importantly, at Sterling you can learn important skills like starting a fire, how to use an axe, and how to find your way home from almost anywhere, including the top of a mountain.

Sterling is a federally recognized Work College—one of seven in the U.S.—which means that all residential students earn at least $1,650 per semester toward their tuition by working at least 80 hours each semester in a job that supports the operation of the College or nearby community. Everyone is a winner: The College wins by keeping its operational costs lower, and the student wins by getting work experience and lowering his or her own costs of attending.

Sterling’s approximately 120 undergraduate students choose from five majors or design their own; the five are ecology, outdoor education, sustainable agriculture, sustainable food systems, and environmental humanities. I could describe these majors, but I believe you would be better off reading about them firsthand on Sterling’s website. Not surprisingly, given the small student body that Sterling intends to keep just as it is, the student-to-faculty ratio is an attractive 7:1. Sterling prides itself on being a place where one weekly community meeting can include all students, faculty members, and staff and where everyone (including the president) is on a first-name basis.

Sterling operates three semesters per year—fall, spring, and summer—and students may attend all three (and finish sooner) or the traditional two per year. Student applications are reviewed on a rolling basis, and students may enter at any one of the three semesters. No college admission test scores are required. Tuition and fees run about $17,000 per semester, or about $34,000 for a two-semester year, which makes Sterling less expensive by $10,000 or more than a lot of the schools we have been talking about.

Students with Special Needs

In an early episode of NYCollegeChat, we talked about Landmark College in Putney, Vermont, founded in 1983 to help students with dyslexia succeed in college. Today, Landmark serves a variety of students who learn differently—that is, students with learning disabilities, autism spectrum disorder, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder—and also provides an impressive array of academic and personal support services to help its students cope with college courses and college life. Faculty members and staff help students understand their own learning styles and what that means for in-class and out-of-class work. They also provide students with up-to-date assistive technology (e.g., text-to-speech technology, digital pens), designed to make it easier for students to succeed in their coursework.

Landmark offers its approximately 500 students from 38 states and 10 foreign countries a choice of four associate’s degrees and three bachelor’s degrees—a Bachelor of Arts in Liberal Studies, a brand-new Bachelor of Arts in Studio Art, and a brand-new Bachelor of Science in Computer Science.  Almost one-third of Landmark students actually transfer to Landmark after struggling at another college.

Given the intensive support services, personalized approach, and remarkable 6:1 student-to-faculty ratio, Landmark’s high annual tuition and fees of about $52,000 are to be expected. Landmark claims that its students graduate from bachelor’s degree programs (either at Landmark or at colleges they transfer to subsequently) at a higher rate than the national average and at a significantly higher rate than the national average for students with similar learning disabilities. That could make even these very high tuition costs seem like a great deal.

By the way, summer programs are also available to rising high school juniors and seniors who learn differently and could benefit from Landmark’s approach; that could be a great head start for special needs high school students, regardless of where they go on to college.

Some students with special needs feel isolated or left out in an educational setting that is filled with all kinds of students and would prefer a school that focused on them, where they feel they could fit into a community of students they could easily relate to. For such students, Landmark could be an empowering, even life-changing, experience.

Listen to the podcast to find out about…

  • Postponing the Ivy League until graduate school
  • Being a socially conscious engineering student
  • Finding a good fit outside of traditional programs

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