Episode 120: Lots of College Options in Our New Workbook

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

1. Colleges in the Spotlight

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

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

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

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

2. Now, It’s Up to You

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Episode 101: College Application Fees–Oh, My!

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Welcome back after our Thanksgiving break. We hope your holiday was not ruined by college application hysteria. With about a month to go until many application deadlines hit, we would like to take up a practical topic that might affect how many applications your teenager is thinking about submitting in a few weeks. That topic is application fees.

college-application-fees-oh-my-on-usacollegechat-podcast1. The Cost

For some of you, the cost of submitting an application–which is likely to be somewhere between $35 and $75 per application–is not a big deal. Even if your teenager applies to 10 or 15 schools with fees on the higher side, that cost of perhaps $1,000 is not critical in your financial picture.

However, for many families, coming up with even $500 is a significant issue. A lot is written in the education press about the notion that application fees, even reasonable ones, do actually keep some kids from applying to college–especially lower-income kids and first-generation college-goers. All of us interested in improving the educational lives of our nation’s kids should view that as a problem.

The Jack Kent Cooke Foundation, headed by USACollegeChat‘s good friend Harold O. Levy, published an Issue Brief last June, entitled “Opening College Doors To Equal Educational Opportunity: Removing Barriers That Keep Most High-Achieving Students From Low-Income Families Out of Top Colleges and Universities.” (You can listen to our interview with Harold here.) Among the thoughtful recommendations in the Foundation’s excellent examination of college-going is this one: “Automatically waive application fees for students who appear to be from low-income families. Our previous research suggests that not all low-income applicants eligible for fee waivers request them.”

2. The Process

We wholeheartedly agree with the Foundation. Clearly, some families are intimidated by the prospect of figuring out how to get a waiver for those application fees, even though this is one thing that most high school guidance counselors are well equipped to handle. And there are several routes to those waivers.

The Common App makes it relatively easy. In completing the Common App, your teenager will be asked to declare whether and why he or she is eligible for a fee waiver. The question offers all of the choices for confirming eligibility: receiving an ACT/SAT testing fee waiver, getting free or reduced-price lunch at school, meeting family income eligibility guidelines, being enrolled in a government program that aids students from low-income families, receiving public assistance, being homeless or living in a foster home, being a ward of the state or an orphan, or being able to supply a statement from a local school or community official.

If your teenager has already received a fee waiver for taking the SAT or a Subject Test, the College Board will automatically provide four FREE college application fee waivers. The National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) also has a form that can be used to request fee waivers. NACAC suggests using its fee waivers for up to four colleges.

In most cases, at some point, your teenager’s guidance counselor will be asked to verify eligibility for the waiver. So, it is important to stay in contact with the guidance counselor to make sure that the guidance counselor knows that your teenager has applied for the waivers and that process is working. I think it is fair to say that, just as technology has made it easier to apply to colleges, it has also made it easier to get and use application fee waivers. But that doesn’t mean that some families won’t still be intimidated and/or confused by the process, especially if parents are not native English speakers.

3. Interesting Cases

Let’s look at a few cases of colleges that have recently dropped the application fee. Starting this year, Bowdoin College (Brunswick, ME), an excellent small liberal arts college, will automatically waive the $65 application fee “for students applying for financial aid and first-generation-to-college students (neither parent graduated from a four-year college or university),” according to its website. Trinity College (Hartford, CT), another great small liberal arts college, has eliminated its $65 application fee for first-generation college students.

While it is undoubtedly helpful that colleges are making accommodations for families who need them, it was surprising to me to learn just how many colleges–including top-ranked colleges–do not have any application fees at all. For example, Reed College (Portland, OR) eliminated its $50 fee. Its website explains the decision this way:

‘It’s a small but meaningful step,’ said Crystal Williams, Dean for Institutional Diversity. ‘We want Reed to be a more inclusive community and cutting the admission fee levels the playing field at the earliest stage of the game and allows prospective students a chance to explore all their opportunities.’ (quoted from the website)

Here is a short list of great colleges with no fee, in addition to our excellent military academies (you can find them all just by Googling “colleges without application fees,” just as I did):

There are many, many more. To tell you the truth, I couldn’t have been more surprised. We should note, by the way, that some colleges charge a fee for a paper application, even when they do not charge a fee for an online application, like the Common App.

While a lot of colleges we just named are private liberal arts colleges, let’s take a final look at a very different case–and that is The City University of New York (CUNY), with its 11 four-year colleges and seven community colleges. Elizabeth Harris at The New York Times reported on CUNY’s recent application fee changes for this application season:

New York City public school students from low-income families will no longer have to pay a fee to apply to the City University of New York, . . . part of an effort to encourage more young people to go to college.

Under the initiative, all high school students who meet one of a handful of criteria will be able to apply to CUNY free. The city estimated that the change will affect 37,500 students, up from about 6,500 students in recent years. More than half of the city’s public school students who enroll in college attend CUNY schools.

The application fee is $65 per student, but Mayor Bill de Blasio said that while the amount can seem trivial to some, for many families it is not. And for students who are not sure about applying to college, it is one more hurdle standing in the way of their continued education. . . .

In the past, CUNY granted fee waivers to students with the greatest need, according to the city’s Education Department. Now, any student who qualifies for free or reduced-price lunch, who is homeless or in foster care, or whose family lives in federally subsidized public housing or receives public assistance will automatically be given a waiver. Undocumented students in those categories will also be eligible.

The city’s schools chancellor, Carmen Fariña, said students would not need to apply to skip the fee, so this requires no extra step. (quoted from the article)

I think this is a great move by CUNY, but let me go one step more. Why should any student have to pay an application fee to a public university in his or her own home state? It seems to me that no application fee should be one of the perks of public higher education–if not for all students, then at least for students in that state. If an application fee is an obstacle to students–as many have said it is–then shouldn’t that obstacle be removed in public higher education? Maybe then we would have more students from low-income families and even middle-income families applying to the great public flagship university in their own state or to the public universities in states that are lucky enough to have more than one.

4. A Final Thought

While application fee waivers can help solve the problem of getting more lower-income students to apply to college and even to apply to more colleges so that they can have a wider selection of colleges to choose from next spring, what about kids from middle-income families and even upper-income families who do not qualify for the waivers? I think we have said this before, but it bears repeating right now: Limiting the number of colleges your teenager can apply to because of the cost of making the applications could be penny wise and pound foolish.

We continue to believe that it is important for kids to have as many options as possible once those acceptance letters come in. If a couple of hundred dollars now means that your teenager is looking at more options next April, then we think it is worth it. We don’t say that lightly, but we know that giving teenagers their best chance to choose a college from among a handful of acceptances can be priceless and can be a sound investment for many years to come. So, it’s still not too late to add a few colleges to the list–especially if you have not maxed out your Common App slots!

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

Ask your questions or share your feedback by…

  • Leaving a comment below on the show notes for this episode
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Episode 89: Assignment #9–Looking at College Schedules

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Assignment #9 is going to give your teenager and you a chance to see some of the most innovative ideas some colleges have, in my opinion. And it’s such a simple topic: that is, how is the academic year scheduled into terms–semesters, trimester, quarters, or whatever. But, first, let’s review what you have already done (and that’s a lot with eight assignments completed, we hope):

That list is getting so long that it’s hard to review it each week. Good for you, listeners, if you are keeping up with all of the assignments.

Episode 89: Assignment #9--Looking at College Schedules on USACollegeChat podcast

1. Your Assignment #9

Download the Assignment #9 Worksheet

So, for Assignment #9, your teenager and you are going to examine the way each college divides up its academic year into terms. This information is readily available on the college’s website. For many colleges, this question will produce a rather traditional response something like this: a fall semester and a spring semester, each running about 15 weeks, give or take a week. Yes, there will also be a summer term or two, and there might even be a super-short winter term between the two semesters. But there are other ways to skin that cat.

2. Why Does Scheduling Matter?

Various schedules can be differently appealing to various students. Some students prefer working on several subjects and projects at the same time because that keeps them from getting bored and the ones they like a lot help make up for others that they have to do, for example, to meet distribution requirements. Other students prefer concentrating on one subject or project because that allows them to pay close attention to that one thing and do the very best job they can with it.

Some students like to study something over many weeks because that allows them time for calm reflection and for breaks every once in a while. Other students like to study something over a shorter time period because that keeps them better engaged and focused and allows less time for forgetting.

Some students can do very well when asked to concentrate on subjects or projects in short bursts, but have trouble sustaining interest and attention over longer time frames. Other students are just the opposite.

Colleges can take all of these factors into account in putting together a schedule that does not have to conform to the traditional semester schedule.

3. Examples of Innovative Scheduling

Here are some innovative scheduling options we mentioned when we did our virtual nationwide tour of colleges (Episodes 27 through 54).   Maybe your teenager would be intrigued by schedules like these:

  • Carleton College (in Northfield, Minnesota) operates on a trimester schedule of three 10-week terms, with students taking just three courses at a time, rather than the typical four or five. This schedule allows for the in-depth thinking Carleton prides itself on having students do in their courses.
  • At Bennington College (in Bennington, Vermont), some courses run three weeks, some seven weeks, and some the full 14 weeks each term, with credits assigned accordingly. So, that is something for everyone and allows for lots of changes during the semester as courses come and go.
  • Sterling College (in Craftsbury Common, Vermont) is a federally recognized Work College?one of seven in the U.S.?which means that all residential students earn money toward their tuition by working in a job that supports the operation of the College or nearby community. Interestingly, Sterling operates three full semesters per year?fall, spring, and summer?and students may attend all three (and finish college 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.
  • Perhaps the most interesting thing about Colorado College (in Colorado Springs) is its unique Block Plan, where students take all of their courses on a one-at-a-time schedule, studying in each course for three and a half weeks, typically from 9:00 a.m. to noon each weekday?followed by a four-day break to relax and enjoy the natural beauty of Colorado’s mountains and forests and canyons. Each block is the equivalent of one college course; students take four blocks per semester, or eight blocks per year, or 32 blocks during their time at the College. Personally, I find this schedule totally persuasive and wildly appealing.

4. Examples of Cooperative Education Schedules

Let’s take a look at two colleges that do something even more dramatic in their scheduling, which is to make room for significant cooperative work experiences:

  • A hallmark of Drexel University (in Philadelphia) is its cooperative education program, described this way on Drexel’s website:

Drexel Co-op is based on paid employment in practical, major-related positions consistent with the interests and abilities of participating students. The benefits are obvious?during their time at Drexel, students experience up to three different co-ops.?

Through the co-op program:

Students choose from more than 1,600 employers in 33 states and 48 international locations, or conduct an independent search.

The average paid six-month co-op salary is more than $16,000.

Co-op students are entrusted with projects vital to the day-to-day functioning of the workplace. (quoted from the website)

Drexel operates on 10-week quarters (rather than two longer semesters), which helps when it comes time to schedule co-op programs.

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. (quoted from the website)

About 90 percent of students at Northeastern do at least one co-op program (with one of the 3,000 co-op employers worldwide); many students do two. In fact, many students actually stay for a fifth year in order to complete a third co-op program.

So, have your teenager take the Assignment #9 worksheet about college scheduling and complete one for each college on his or her long summer list of college options.

Download the Assignment #9 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 below on the show notes for this episode
  • Calling us at (516) 900-6922 to record a question on our USACollegeChat voicemail if you want us to answer your question live on our podcast

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

Listen to the episode in the player, download it here, or subscribe on Google Play MusiciTunesStitcher, or TuneIn.

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

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

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

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

1. One More Research Study

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. Your Assignment #1

Download the Assignment #1 printable worksheet

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Download the Assignment #1 printable worksheet

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

Ask your questions or share your feedback by…

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

Connect with us through…

Episode 36: Colleges in the Plains Region—Part II

In last week’s episode, we continued our virtual tour of colleges by looking at the seven states of the Plains region: Kansas, Nebraska, South Dakota, North Dakota, Missouri, Iowa, and Minnesota. We talked about public universities—both the flagship state public universities and other public universities in those states. Today, we will continue our tour of the Plains states by focusing on private higher education institutions.

We are going to check out a couple of national—well, really, international universities—as well as a handful of small liberal arts colleges.

A virtual audio tour of private #colleges in the Plains Regions on @NYCollegeChat #podcast

As we say in every one of these episodes, we want to make it clear that no college has asked us or paid us anything to name it. These are entirely our own choices.

And to repeat: Because enrollment figures are not necessarily comparable as reported by various colleges, you should use the figures we provide here just as an approximation of the actual campus enrollment, but one that is good enough to help you understand whether the student body is the right size for your child—roughly, small, medium, or large.

1. Private Universities

Let’s start with a university that ranks in the very top tier of almost everyone’s list: Washington University in St. Louis (known fondly as WashU). Yes, it is in St. Louis, Missouri—no connection to the state of Washington or to Washington, D.C. With about 6,500 undergraduates, 6,500 graduate and professional students, and another 1,000 nontraditional evening and weekend students, WashU describes itself as a medium-sized university. I mention the nontraditional evening and weekend enrollment because, interestingly enough, WashU was founded in 1853 as an evening program especially designed for the many newcomers who had been flooding the relatively new state and who needed industrial training and basic education courses. Its students are drawn from 50 states and more than 100 foreign countries, with only about 10 percent coming from Missouri; it is indeed an international university. While I believe that an undergraduate student body of 6,500 will still feel rather large to an incoming freshman, WashU claims to have a student-to-faculty ratio of an astoundingly low 8:1. I believe that is the lowest I have seen, including from small liberal arts colleges, and I imagine that is one thing that helps freshmen feel engaged quickly.

Situated on a hilltop, the campus was laid out in 1895 by Frederick Law Olmsted, landscape architect extraordinaire, who also happened to design two little parks we have in New York City—Central Park in Manhattan and Prospect Park in Brooklyn. Despite this beautiful setting, 40 percent of WashU students still study abroad.

WashU offers undergraduates a choice of about 90 fields of study, spread out over colleges/schools of arts and sciences, business, engineering, art, and architecture. It also has graduate schools of law, medicine, arts and sciences, and social work and public heath. Like all medium-sized and large universities we have seen, WashU fields a lot of varsity sports teams—nine men’s and 10 women’s teams, to be exact— and offers 37 club sports. A surprisingly high 75 percent of students participate in single-sex and coeducational intramural sports. And, with about 370 student organizations, WashU students can be kept quite busy.

Let us just note that the tuition at WashU is a staggeringly high $47,000 per year, but that is unfortunately in keeping with the best private universities in the U.S. While the WashU website indicates that the University will work with families to make satisfactory financial arrangements and while children of lower-income families are awarded grants that do not have to be repaid, let’s admit that the tuition sounds like a lot of money.

Without leaving Missouri, let’s look at a Catholic university of about the same size as WashU, and that is Saint Louis University, in St. Louis. It is a Jesuit university founded in 1818—the first university west of the Mississippi River. It is one of 28 Jesuit universities in the U.S. We spoke about Jesuit institutions in an early episode of NYCollegeChat; as we said then, they have excellent academic reputations and include colleges like Georgetown University, Boston College, Fordham University, and the College of the Holy Cross. The Jesuit vision of education is a student who excels academically, serves others, and seeks social justice relentlessly. Saint Louis University prides itself on educating the whole person—“mind, body, heart and spirit” (quoted from the website). As evidence of the Jesuit commitment to serving others, Saint Louis students, faculty, and staff contribute one million volunteer service hours each year, and service learning is integrated into quite a few academic courses.

Saint Louis offers about 100 undergraduate majors across undergraduate schools/colleges of arts and sciences, public health and social justice, business, education and public service, health sciences, nursing, social work, and engineering, aviation, and technology. It also offers undergraduate training leading to the priesthood and graduate schools of law and medicine, among other fields. Like other universities, it offers varsity sports teams— seven men’s and nine women’s teams—and more than 150 student organizations, plus fraternities and sororities. Its price tag is hefty at about $39,000 in tuition per year, but the website claims that 97 percent of first-time freshmen get financial aid.

One super-attractive feature of Saint Louis University is its own campus in Madrid, which serves about 675 undergraduate and graduate students. Just half are from the U.S. Opened in 1967 and recently renovated, undergraduates can study in 11 business and liberal arts degree fields. Courses are taught in English, with some selected courses taught in Spanish. Saint Louis undergraduates can study in Madrid for a semester or for their entire four years, depending on their majors.

2. Private Liberal Arts Colleges

Let’s start with two small liberal arts colleges in Minnesota: Carleton College and Macalester College. Carleton is located in Northfield, about 40 miles south of the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul, home to the University of Minnesota and other colleges. Founded in 1866 by the General Conference of Congregational Churches, it has no religious affiliation today.

Carleton is a classic liberal arts college (that is, undergraduate education only), offering 37 majors in the arts and sciences and 15 mostly interdisciplinary concentrations. It enrolls about 2,000 students, drawn nationally and internationally. While more students come from Minnesota than any other state, with California not far behind, both New York and Illinois send about half the number of those leading states to Carleton. Entering freshmen have very high SAT and ACT scores, and about 75 percent of them graduated in the top 10 percent of their high school classes. About 25 percent identify as “people of color.”

Freshmen are required to live on campus, and about 90 percent stay on campus, contributing to the close-knit community feel and an unusually close engagement with professors, both in and out of classes. The student-to-faculty ratio is an unusually low 9:1, meaning that professors spend a lot of time getting to know students. About 98 percent of Carleton seniors say that they were happy with the quality of instruction in their classes. The four-year graduation rate is an enviably high 90 percent (the national average is about 38 percent). Furthermore, over 80 percent of Carleton graduates go on to graduate or professional school within 10 years.

Carleton operates on a trimester schedule of three 10-week terms, with students taking three courses at a time, rather than the typical four or five. This schedule allows for the in-depth thinking Carleton prides itself on having students do in their courses. More than 70 percent of students study abroad during their four years.

Though much smaller than the private and public universities we have been looking at, Carleton still fields nine men’s and nine women’s varsity sports teams and offers more than 50 student-organized club sports and intramurals. About 90 percent of all Carleton students participate in some sport at some level. Carleton’s Cowling Arboretum, which provides trails for walkers, runners, bicyclists, and cross-country skiers, was named one of the top 10 places to run by Runner’s World magazine. Carleton also has 250 student organizations.

You can imagine that all this comes at a price, and that price is $48,000 in tuition each year. Carleton does say that it is “committed to meeting 100 percent of financial aid for all admitted students, all four years” (quoted from the website). Interestingly, about 80 percent of students have jobs on campus.

Macalester College is similar to Carleton in many ways. Both colleges are on many lists of the top 25 liberal arts colleges in the U.S., with Carleton usually ranking in the top 10. Macalester is located in a residential area of St. Paul, so its students can take advantage of everything the Twin Cities have to offer. Founded in 1874 by Rev. Edward Neill, it is Presbyterian affiliated, but nonsectarian. Neill was a missionary to the Minnesota territory, who later served as the first president of the University of Minnesota. But he was concerned about educating future leaders and believed that the best way to do that was in a small private college. And so Macalester was born, with a donation from a Philadelphia philanthropist.

Like Carleton, Macalester is a classic liberal arts college, offering 38 majors in the arts and sciences. It also enrolls just over 2,000 students, drawn nationally and internationally. Similar to Carleton, about 70 percent of incoming freshmen graduated in the top 10 percent of their high school classes. Like Carleton, about 25 percent of students identify as students of color.

The student-to-faculty ratio is also low at 10:1, meaning that students have a chance to get to know their professors well. Similar to Carleton, the four-year graduation rate is an enviably high 85 percent, and about 65 percent of Macalester graduates go on to graduate or professional school within five years.

About 60 percent of Macalester students study abroad during their four years, and about 75 percent have internships. A whopping 95 percent do volunteer work in the Twin Cities at some point, with about half of Macalester students volunteering in any given semester.

Similar to Carleton, Macalester fields nine men’s and 10 women’s varsity sports teams. About half of Macalester students participate in intramural sports. It also has more than 90 student organizations.

Unfortunately, the price is also comparable at about $49,000 in tuition each year. But like Carleton, Macalester says that it will meet 100 percent of demonstrated financial need of admitted students, making Macalester and Carleton two of 70 U.S. colleges that will do that.

A third college that also typically ranks in the top 25 national private liberal arts colleges on all kinds of lists is Grinnell College in Grinnell in the “rolling farmland” of central Iowa. Founded in 1846, Grinnell is another college with Congregational Church roots.

A bit smaller than Carleton and Macalester, Grinnell has an enrollment of about 1,600 students, drawn nationally and internationally, again with about 25 percent students of color.

Grinnell offers 26 arts and sciences majors and 11 interdisciplinary concentrations and also has a very favorable student-to-teacher ratio of 9:1. Here is an explanation of Grinnell’s unique Individually Advised Curriculum:

Every first-year student at Grinnell enrolls in the First-Year Tutorial, a small group of students [limited to 12] working with a faculty member to study a subject of interest to both students and tutor. The tutor also is the academic adviser for each student in the group, so that teaching and learning are closely linked with the planning of programs of study. In teaching, the tutor discovers the aptitudes and interests of the students, who in turn receive academic advice, not from an infrequently consulted stranger, but from a teacher who sees them several times each week. In planning a program of study, the student and the tutor balance the cultivation of existing interests with the discovery of new ones. An entering student should regard the first year as a time for gaining breadth in the arts and sciences, confidence in exploring a variety of disciplines, and a more mature understanding of the place of each of these in liberal education as a whole. (quoted from the website)

Grinnell does expect students to become proficient in written English by taking at least one appropriate course, to develop knowledge of mathematics and/or a foreign language, and to take courses in these three areas: humanities, science, and social studies. So, there are some distribution requirements, but extreme freedom in what exactly to take. When a student finally chooses a major, his or her academic advisor will be assigned from that subject field.

In addition, Grinnell is a strong proponent of independent study for its students—that is, “guided readings, independent projects, mentored summer research, and course-linked projects that add credits to an existing course” (quoted from the website).

Abut 60 percent of Grinnell students spend time studying abroad and, according to the website, “Grinnell is among the leaders in sending graduates to the Peace Corps and supports its own Grinnell Corps — a yearlong postgraduate service opportunity in Asia, Africa, and North America — underscoring the College’s strong commitment to social responsibility and action.”

Grinnell offers more than 200 student organizations and nine men’s and nine women’s varsity sports teams. To help students develop skills of getting along with each other as a community, Grinnell’s residence halls are self-governed by the students.

As with the other small liberal arts college we have looked at, tuition at Grinnell is a high $45,000 per year.

3. Colleges That Change Lives

As we have said in several earlier episodes, Colleges That Change Lives is a nonprofit organization that was founded after the publication of the book Colleges That Change Lives, by Loren Pope, a retired New York Times education editor. There are now 44 colleges and universities profiled in the book and on the organization’s website. Those that are included are not necessarily famous institutions. Most are smaller colleges and universities that have proved to be successful at developing students both personally and academically so that they can succeed in life after their undergraduate college years.

Two of the 44 institutions profiled are located in the Plains states. You should read about them in the book or on the website to learn more about both of them. They are St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota (also the home of Carleton College), with about 3,000 students; and Cornell College in Mount Vernon, Iowa, with just about 1,100 students. Interestingly, Cornell College (not to be confused with Cornell University in Ithaca, New York) uses the same fascinating one-at-a-time course schedule that Colorado College uses, as we discussed in Episode 34.

Because these Colleges That Change Lives institutions are relatively small and thus are not particularly well known outside of their geographic region, it is my feeling that out-of-state students with a decent high school record might have a good chance of being accepted.

Listen to the podcast to find out about…

  • How to make study abroad easy
  • Why student-to-teacher ratio might matter
  • What “100 percent of demonstrated financial need” really means

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