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.

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

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

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

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

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

1. One More Research Study

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. Your Assignment #1

Download the Assignment #1 printable worksheet

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Download the Assignment #1 printable worksheet

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

Ask your questions or share your feedback by…

  • Leaving a comment on the show notes for this episode at http://usacollegechat.org/episode81
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Episode 52: So, How Many Colleges Did You Say?

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

November 2: ParentChat with Regina

November 4: The College Money Maze

November 5: Parents’ Guide to the College Puzzle

November 6: Mission: Authors Talk About It

November 11: Together with Family

November 12: NYCollegeChat

November 13: The Staten Island Family

November 16: Road2College

November 18: Viva Fifty

November 19: Paying For College 101 Facebook group

November 20: Underground Crafter

November 24: High School Survival Guide

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Check out these higher education institutions and organizations we mention…

In New York State

Outside of New York State

Listen to the podcast to find out about…

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

Learn more about these topics in previous episodes…

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  • Leaving a comment here on the show notes for this episode
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Episode 51: Colleges in New York State—Part II

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Last week, we brought our virtual tour home—here to New York State, with a look at public four-year colleges in New York. We focused on our two systems of public higher education, two of the very biggest in the nation: The State University of New York, with its 64 two-year and four-year colleges and universities, and The City University of New York, with its 24 two-year and four-year colleges located in the five boroughs of New York City.

Virtual tour of private universities in New York State on NYCollegeChat podcast Episode 51This week, we are going to start our examination of private options in New York State. While the institutions we will be discussing will be only a sample of the more than 100 private colleges and universities in New York, we do want to say that there are many, many great private options in the state for our own high school students, but—just as important and maybe more important—for high school students from other states to consider. This is your chance, non-New Yorkers, to move outside your geographic comfort zone and come see New York. So, let’s start with a double handful of nationally known higher education universities—some in New York City and some in upstate New York.

And once again, no college—not even our own alma maters, which will be discussed in this episode—has asked us or paid us anything to include it. These are our own choices.

1. Ivy League Institutions

Let’s start with New York’s two Ivy League institutions: Cornell University in the upstate town of Ithaca and Columbia University in upper Manhattan in New York City. While we are talking about Columbia, we will take a look at Barnard College, which is one of the Seven Sisters women’s colleges we have mentioned in a couple of previous episodes and which is affiliated with Columbia—the only women’s college affiliated with an Ivy League institution that has kept its own separate identity (others have become part of their universities at Penn, Harvard, and Brown).

Now, I hesitate to start with Cornell and Columbia and Barnard because Marie and I went to them and, therefore, we could talk about them for hours. My undergraduate days were at Cornell, and my graduate days were at Columbia (as were my husband’s). Marie’s undergraduate days were at Barnard, and her first graduate school days were at Columbia.   We have said relatively little about the Ivy League schools in our episodes so far, reasoning that lots of people are already aware of them, that they are even harder to get into now than when we went there some years ago, and that they are ridiculously expensive—though many other colleges are also ridiculously expensive, as we have learned on our virtual tour. Nonetheless, if you have a child with excellent grades and excellent test scores, we alumnae can’t resist saying a few things to you.

So, here are five reasons you should send your child to Cornell:

  1. Because, while perhaps not an ideal location for anything else, Cornell’s campus in Ithaca is an idyllic spot to go to undergraduate school. It is a bit remote, so students don’t leave on the weekends. There is a lot of natural beauty in the Finger Lakes region. There is cold and snow and rain—but they never put a damper on anything. The campus is large, but accessible.  The old buildings are lovely and very collegiate, and the new buildings are—well, new. And parts of the campus look like a picture postcard that should be entitled “The Great American University.”
  2. Because as founder Ezra Cornell said, Cornell is “an institution where any person can find instruction in any study.” The “any person” meant women as well as men and meant students of all racial, ethnic, religious, and cultural backgrounds. In 1865, Cornell was the last Ivy League school founded and the first founded with that mission. It is why my father—a die-hard University of Pennsylvania fan and alumnus—sent me to Cornell. Because it was the only Ivy League school where women and men had been treated equally from the first day. Today, “any person” means 14,000 undergraduates and another 7,000 graduate and professional students. The undergraduate students are almost evenly split between men and women (just as Ezra Cornell would have wanted it), and almost 40 percent of the U.S. students are African American, Asian American, Hispanic American, or Native American.
  3. Because as founder Ezra Cornell said, Cornell is “an institution where any person can find instruction in any study.” We talked last week about the three Cornell schools that serve undergraduate and graduate students and are partnered with the State University of New York and are essentially public:       the School of Industrial and Labor Relations, the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, and the College of Human Ecology. But we also have four private schools that serve undergraduate and graduate students: the College of Architecture, Art, and Planning; the College of Engineering; the School of Hotel Administration (with its own hotel on campus); and the very best, the College of Arts and Sciences (where I majored in English, but also studied Latin, French, psychology, U.S. and world history, biology, art history, and more). While the broad range of subject fields offered by the seven undergraduate schools is impressive academically, the fact that, as a student, you live with and play with undergraduate students who are pursuing their studies in all of those fields makes your life on campus and even after you graduate truly stimulating. (Let me also note, in passing, that Cornell has some excellent graduate schools, too: a very fine SUNY-partnered College of Veterinary Medicine, a law school, and a management school in Ithaca as well as a medical school and the new Cornell Tech graduate campus in New York City.)
  4. Because there are a million productive and enjoyable ways to spend whatever extra time you have when you aren’t studying—from writing for The Cornell Daily Sun, which used to be “Ithaca’s Only Morning Newspaper”; to joining one of 36 fraternities or 13 sororities; to participating in more than 1,000 student organizations; to playing on one of 36 varsity sports teams (yes, we all remember the year that football star Ed Marinaro didn’t win the Heisman Trophy).
  5. Because there are brilliant professors, some of whom you will remember forever. Every student had his or her favorites—from the super-popular genius lecturer and sleep research expert James Maas, who taught me Psychology 101 in my freshman year, along with 1,800 other students in a huge concert hall; to Stephen Parrish, a quiet Wordsworth scholar, who was editing a 20-volume series of Wordsworth’s poems from their earliest drafts to final publication while I took his class; to the inimitable Pulitzer Prize winner Michael Kammen, who wrote and lectured about American history like nobody else and who, from his lofty perch, somehow managed to know that I covered sports for The Cornell Daily Sun.

I have to say that I loved my four years at Cornell—both while I was there and in retrospect—but I never really thought about why until I wrote those five reasons.

Let’s move south to New York City and talk about Columbia University, where Marie and I both got master’s degrees. Columbia was founded in 1754 by royal charter from King George II and thus was named King’s College. Today more than 250 years later, Columbia enrolls about 8,500 undergraduates and about 19,000 graduate and professional students. Columbia undergraduates study at Columbia College (which is a college of arts and sciences) or The Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science. In addition, Barnard College enrolls about 2,400 undergraduate women.

Columbia is well known for its Core Curriculum, which is described this way:

The Core Curriculum is the set of common courses required of all undergraduates and considered the necessary general education for students, irrespective of their choice in major. The communal learning—with all students encountering the same texts and issues at the same time—and the critical dialogue experienced in small seminars are the distinctive features of the Core…. Not only academically rigorous but also personally transformative for students, the Core seminar thrives on oral debate of the most difficult questions about human experience. (quoted from the website)

The Core courses include literature, writing, art, music, civilization, science, and more. You can see the common texts that students will be reading and discussing by checking out the website; it’s a greatest-hits-of anything-ever-written list. And here is a remarkable statement from the website of The Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science:

Engineering has been called the newest liberal art. At Columbia Engineering, students not only study science and mathematics and gain technical skills but also study literature, philosophy, art history, music theory, and major civilizations through the Core Curriculum in the humanities. (quoted from the website)

But we did not come here today to talk about Columbia College or Fu, no matter how impressive they both are; we came to talk about Barnard. Here are Marie’s top five reasons for sending your daughter to Barnard (you will see that her theme is that Barnard is “the best of both worlds”):

  1. Because it is a single-sex college (which is great for developing smart, strong women), but with many coeducational opportunities conveniently located across the street at Columbia (including many chances for Barnard students to take courses at Columbia and vice versa).
  2. Because it is a small college with all of those inherent advantages, but located within a large research university with all of the resources that such an institution can make available to its students.
  3. Because it has flexible pathways through the curriculum, but also some structure for guidance, such as certain distribution requirements.
  4. Because it houses 90 percent of students on campus and offers all of the activities that would make campus living exciting, but does not require students to live on campus if they prefer to live at home or in an off-campus apartment.
  5. Because it is 125 years old and has an impressive history, but is not stodgy and creates innovative programs to keep the curriculum up to date.

Though we have not spent much time on our virtual tour talking about graduate schools, we have mentioned them, and we need to mention ours. Columbia has an amazing set of graduate schools in architecture, planning and preservation; the arts; arts and sciences; business; medicine; dental medicine; nursing; engineering; international and public affairs; journalism; law; theology; and social work. In addition to those, Marie attended the Mailman School of Public Health, and I attended Teachers College. Both were outstanding. No one asked me, but I have to believe that Columbia University is one of the best graduate institutions in the U.S., if not in the world—for its rigor and its diverse students and its professors and its enormous range of graduate and professional schools and programs. And it is in a world-class city, with all that offers.

I will say that I enjoyed my undergraduate days in the protected atmosphere of Ithaca on Cornell’s ivy-covered campus, putting off the high-energy craziness that can be New York City until my graduate days when I could better handle it. It was the best of both worlds—and, for me, done in the right order. Of course, I never left New York City once I had seen Broadway, to paraphrase the old song. So, for those of you who are imagining that your child will get both an undergraduate degree and a graduate or professional degree, give some serious thought to lining up colleges and locations in the best order for your child. That kind of planning could be a lot more important than you think.

2. Other Nationally Known Institutions in New York City

Let’s turn now to the largest private university in the U.S., with a name that sounds as though it should be public: New York University (commonly known as NYU), located in New York City in Manhattan’s famed Greenwich Village. Marie got her second graduate degree, an M.B.A., at NYU from the Leonard N. Stern School of Business, and she worked in student affairs there as well.

NYU offers its approximately 25,000 undergraduates a choice of studies in colleges and schools in the arts and sciences; dentistry; nursing, business; social work; engineering; and culture, education, and human development. It also has the Tisch School for the Arts, which is well known in the New York City performing arts community, and the interesting Gallatin School of Individualized Study, where students create their own programs (named for Albert Gallatin, U.S. Secretary of the Treasury, who founded NYU in 1831).

NYU’s approximately 24,000 graduate and professional students have additional choices, including highly respected law and medical schools and the Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service. NYU also has a variety of intriguing undergraduate and graduate study abroad programs, including Liberal Studies freshman programs (in which students spend their first year at NYU in Paris, Florence, London, or Washington, D.C.) and campuses in Abu Dhabi and Shanghai. About 25 percent of NYU’s students are international students. At home in Greenwich Village, NYU is a truly urban university; but, unlike Columbia, NYU does not have Columbia’s retreat-like fenced and walled and gated campus.

Like the Ivies, NYU is hard to get into. Its recent incoming freshmen posted SAT subtest scores in the high 600s and an average unweighted high school GPA of about 3.5. And, like the Ivies, I don’t think you choose to go to NYU for its athletics—though it fields 21 varsity teams. And, like the Ivies, NYU is expensive—about $48,000 in tuition and fees per year, and that’s not counting trying to live in New York City (campus housing runs, on the average, about $12,000 per year).

Heading uptown from the Village, let’s take a look at Fordham University, with two New York City campuses: the main Rose Hill campus in the Bronx—a lovely green oasis, filled with beautiful collegiate buildings—and the newer Lincoln Center campus, which operates out of a cluster of attractive high-rise buildings within spitting distance of impressive Lincoln Center, the home of dance, music, and theater arts in Manhattan. We have mentioned Fordham in earlier episodes of NYCollegeChat when we talked about faith-based institutions and institutions with a special focus on the arts.

Founded in 1841, Fordham is a Catholic university in the Jesuit tradition. I have often told the story of sending my daughter to Fordham for its prestigious joint B.F.A. program with The Ailey School of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. She graduated last May with her degree in dance, having worked with some of the finest dance teachers in the U.S., like Milton Myers and the late Dudley Williams. But she also graduated with a view of life and her responsibility for others that she got from Fordham’s Jesuit values and rigorous core curriculum—something I had not counted on, but am very grateful for. From the day of my daughter’s student orientation, when I heard Fordham’s president Father McShane speak, I knew the Jesuits were onto something. He once explained it this way:

We believe that students have to be invited to wrestle with the great ethical issues of their time. We want them to be bothered by the realization that they don’t know everything and [to be] bothered by injustice. (quoted from the website)

Fordham has almost 9,000 undergraduates and about 6,500 graduate and professional students (split about equally between its two New York City campuses), with undergraduates enrolling in Fordham College at Rose Hill and Fordham College at Lincoln Center, with their liberal arts and sciences curricula, and in the Gabelli School of Business. Undergraduate students are almost 30 percent underrepresented populations. Graduate students enroll in Gabelli as well as in graduate schools of arts and sciences, religion and religious education, education, social service, and law.

Fordham has 23 varsity sports teams and about 150 student organizations, including ones designed to put into practice the Jesuit commitment to serving others—“living a life beyond self, helping to feed the hungry, clothe the poor, heal the sick”(quoted from the website)—and logging more than one million community service hours in a year. Global Outreach (GO!) is one great service program in which “students learn about various issues of social, economic, political and environmental injustice while living a simple lifestyle that fosters communal and spiritual growth. [Fordham sends] teams consisting of approximately 10 students, one student leader, and one chaperone to live, work, and learn with partnering organizations in approximately 30 locations throughout the United States and countries in Asia, Africa, Latin America, and Europe” (quoted from the website). Programs are run during school breaks and last from one to several weeks.

Fordham is one of 23 Catholic colleges and universities in New York State and one of 28 Jesuit colleges and universities in the U.S. As we have said in looking at some of the other Jesuit institutions on our virtual tour, students who are not Catholic (like my daughter) feel comfortable and included in campus life—both socially and academically—which is not the case at all faith-based institutions.

Freshmen entering last year posted an average SAT critical reading and mathematics score of 1260 and an average high school GPA of 3.6. Fordham received almost 41,000 applications and accepted about half of those applicants, which means to me that a student with good SAT scores and a good high school average has a good chance of being accepted. Though Fordham draws students from 43 states and many foreign countries, it gets many of its students from New York State, which means to me that a good student from outside of New York State might be particularly attractive to the admissions officers. The joint B.F.A. in Dance program with The Ailey School requires an audition, of course, and is a highly selective program. As with most private universities we have been examining, Fordham’s undergraduate tuition and fees run about $47,000 per year, with housing in New York City again at a premium. But, as a parent who paid almost all of that myself (with some help from Direct Parent PLUS loans), I can tell you that it was worth every penny.

3. Other Nationally Known Institutions in Upstate New York

Moving upstate now, let’s go to Rochester, where the University of Rochester is located just two miles from downtown. Founded in 1850, the University prides itself on being a research university with a smaller college feel. Home to about 6,000 full-time undergraduates, the University draws its undergrads from all across the U.S., though about 30 percent of its freshmen last year came from New York State and about 25 percent from foreign countries.

Undergraduates study in the College of Arts, Sciences and Engineering or the Eastman School of Music (and some do a bachelor’s degree completion program in the School of Nursing). Arts, Sciences and Engineering, which offers about 75 majors and enrolls most University undergrads, allows students to choose their own courses, with close attention from their advisors. Although there are no required courses, students must take a “cluster” of three related courses in whichever two areas they don’t major in: arts and humanities; social sciences; and natural sciences, mathematics, and engineering (engineering students take courses in only one cluster rather than two). I would call that freedom, within some serious boundaries.

The well-known Eastman School of Music was established in 1921 by George Eastman, founder of the Eastman Kodak Company. Its undergraduates (about 500 currently) earn Bachelor of Music degrees in five different majors. Eastman does not require college admission test scores, except for homeschooled students. The multi-step application process is rigorous, requiring a pre-audition recording so that admissions officers can choose which applicants they will invite to audition.

The University of Rochester also serves another approximately 3,500 full-time graduate and professional students, who also attend the College of Arts, Sciences and Engineering, Eastman, and the School of Nursing as well as graduate schools of medicine and dentistry, education, and business.

More than 90 percent of University students live in campus housing, making it easy for them to participate in some 250 student-run clubs and 21 varsity sports.

The University has an interesting test-flexible policy, described on the website this way:

Rochester [application] readers have grown more confident recommending for admission applicants with strong subject testing scores [like AP, IB, and SAT subject exams], even when the SAT or ACT scores were not in our typical 90th-100th percentile ranges. Since 2004, that confidence has proven well founded, as retention and graduation rates have risen rapidly. Students who entered up to 8 years ago with “modest” SAT and ACT scores have started businesses, persisted to medical and law school, and excelled in creative careers.

Now that confidence supports our new practice. For the Rochester Class of 2017 and beyond, applicants can submit any national or international test result along with their secondary school records of courses and grades. While SAT reasoning and ACT exams are among the scores we will accept, applicants are no longer required to submit either, if their A-level, IB, AP, . . . etc. results show their testing abilities well. (quoted from the website)

According to the admissions website, the typical University student has done the following:

  • Ranked in the top 10% of his or her high school class
  • Taken 2 to 7 Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate courses
  • Earned an average academic unweighted GPA of 3.8
  • Gotten an SAT score between 1900 and 2200 [on the average, a set of three subtest scores in the high 600s] or an ACT score between 29 and 33

So, the students are quite capable. Like the other universities we have been discussing, the University of Rochester’s tuition and fees run about $48,000 per year.

Heading east from Rochester, we come to Syracuse University in central New York State. Let me remind you that it gets really cold and snowy in Syracuse, but that could be great for students who love winter sports and activities. There is a good virtual tour on the University’s website—recorded in good weather, for obvious reasons—which shows off its very attractive campus on a hill overlooking the city of Syracuse. Founded in 1870, today Syracuse enrolls about 15,000 undergraduates and about 7,000 graduate and professional students. About 25 percent are minority students.

Syracuse undergraduate and graduate students study in the College of Arts and Sciences (the founding college of the University), the School of Education, the College of Engineering and Computer Science, the David B. Falk College of Sport and Human Dynamics, the School of Information Studies, The Martin J. Whitman School of Management, the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, and the College of Visual and Performing Arts—that is quite an array of subject fields being covered. Additionally, there are graduate schools of law and of citizenship and public affairs.

Syracuse fields 18 varsity sports teams, known as The Orange and easily recognizable by the bright orange in their uniforms. Syracuse has won 11 national men’s lacrosse championships since 1983, and, in 1961, football star Ernie Davis was the first African American to win the Heisman Trophy and then the first African American to be picked first overall in the NFL draft. At Syracuse, football, basketball, and lacrosse teams play in the Carrier Dome, the largest campus domed stadium in the U.S. My guess is that having a domed stadium solves a lot of weather problems that football and lacrosse teams would otherwise face. There are also more than 300 student organizations as well as fraternities and sororities to keep students engaged.

Last year’s incoming freshman class earned an average high school GPA of a 3.7 and had an average SAT critical reading and mathematics score of 1180. Though selective, Syracuse admits about half of its applicants. Undergraduate tuition and fees are about $43,000 per year.

Next week, we will look at some smaller liberal arts colleges, which New York has an abundance of.

Listen to the podcast to find out about…

  • High admission standards
  • High student enrollment figures
  • High tuition costs

Check out these higher education institutions and organizations we mention…

In New York State

Learn more about these topics in previous episodes…

Ask your questions or share your feedback by…

  • Leaving a comment on the show notes for this episode here
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Listen to the episode in the player, download it here, or subscribe on iTunes, Stitcher, or TuneIn.