Episode 26: Why Look at Colleges Outside Your Comfort Zone

In our last episode, we talked about why high school guidance counselors are not enough of a help to you and your child in your college search, and we speculated that one reason such a high percentage of students attend college in their home state is because guidance counselors do not have the time or background or information or inclination to help them look any farther away. A new report that just came out (March, 2015) has added some support for our argument.

The report is called A National Look at the High School Counseling Office. It was produced by the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC), using data from 2009 to 2012. Here are some notable findings (as reported by Caralee Adams in Education Week, March 26, 2015):

Just over half of guidance counselors said that their high school counseling department spends less than 20 percent of its time on college readiness, selection, and applications. So, let’s call that a day a week by each of however many guidance counselors your child’s high school has. Now think about how many juniors and seniors need college-going help, and you can quickly see that there is just not enough time to go around.

(By the way, the American School Counselor Association recommends a student load of 250 students per guidance counselor, but most states, on the average, do not come close to that. Even if you had the recommended number of students per counselor in your school, how hard do you think it would be for one person to advise that many students on college searches and college decision making?)

Just over 60 percent of high school juniors and just about half of parents of high school juniors met with a guidance counselor to discuss college and other post-high-school options. It is not possible to tell whether these pitifully low numbers are because guidance counselors do not have time to have such meetings or because students and parents do not think counselors can help them or because students and parents do not think they need any help. Actually, another approximately 15 percent of students and parents did hire a counselor outside of school to help them; so they, at least, felt that they needed help. Given what these private counselors cost, it is my guess that an even higher percentage of low-income high school juniors and their parents from inner-city schools could not have or did not access the help of guidance counselors when applying to colleges.

And finally, here is something I have known for a long time, something that has been confirmed by studies my own nonprofit organization has done over the years. Who is the main influence on students as they choose a college? The answer we get is always parents. According to the NACAC report, about 40 percent of students named parents, while just about 5 percent named either a guidance counselor or a privately hired counselor. Some people might say that parents are so influential because they are paying the bill, and I am sure that there is some truth to that. However, it was clear to us in the high school we worked with in Brooklyn that parents’ own feelings were a force to be reckoned with for their children—that is, parents’ feelings about colleges they had attended, or colleges a family member had attended, or colleges that were well-known because they were close by, or colleges they simply thought they knew something about (even when it was not true). If parents are the most influential and counselors are hardly influential at all, it is even more important that parents do what they need to do to get the right information for their children. Of course, we are hoping that NYCollegeChat is part of how you are getting that information. But get it, you must.

Past episodes you may want to listen to before talking to your child about college options are:

Episode 24: Having the Money Talk
Episode 9: What Are Some of the Decisive Factors in Putting Colleges on Your List?
Episode 10: What Are Some More of the Decisive Factors in Putting Colleges on Your List?

In our last episode, we also talked about getting you outside your geographic comfort zone—to look at colleges outside your hometown and, really, outside your home state. I know that is going to be hard for New Yorkers, who are proud of their state and believe that there are plenty of good options right here—and indeed there are a lot of good options right here. And I know that is going to be hard for our listeners from other states, too, because many of you feel that there are plenty of good options where you live as well—and you are probably right.
1. Good Reasons To Go Away

However, let’s talk for a minute about two key reasons you should consider going outside of your home state. Both reasons are based on the fact that most colleges seek geographic diversity in their freshman class; in other words, most colleges want to attract and admit students from across the U.S.—and even from foreign countries—so that the college has an interesting and stimulating variety of students and so that the college can advertise that it has students from a large number of states and foreign countries for the prestige value of that statement. I just read a post on LinkedIn from my own alma mater, Cornell University, which said this:

Cornell’s newly admitted class of freshmen is the most diverse and international in its 150-year history, with prospective undergraduates representing 100 nations from around the world, based on citizenship.

Because colleges want that geographic diversity in their freshman class, your child is more likely to be accepted at a selective college farther away from home than at the same sort of college close to home. For example, if you live in New York, your child probably has a better chance of getting into the top public university in Colorado than the top public university in New York because public colleges in Colorado are interested in attracting good students from New York and from other states in the East to balance out all of the good Colorado students who want to enroll.

Furthermore, as one college admissions officer wrote in an article recently, if there are two students looking for a scholarship and only one can be given, is it more likely that the scholarship will be given to the student next door or the student from far away? To the one from far away, she said—because of the desire for geographic diversity we just discussed.

Now it is certainly true that there are some flagship public universities that are cutting back on admitting students from outside their states because budget issues are forcing them to make sure that their own residents are well taken care of with the state taxpayers’ money. This is true for political reasons even though out-of-state students bring more money with them. So you will need to do a little research on specific public universities before throwing your child’s hat into those rings.

But the summary of our advice is still this: Look outside your home state for colleges that might hold more opportunity for your child than those at home do.

For more information about visiting out-of-state colleges, listen to Episode 12: To Visit Or Not To Visit?
2. Geographic Regions of the U.S. and Colleges on Our Virtual Tour

We had to decide how to divide up the U.S. to take you on our planned virtual tour of colleges you never thought about. We looked at a number of ways agencies and organizations have divided up the U.S. before deciding to use the regions used by the Bureau of Economic Analysis (an agency of the U.S. Department of Commerce), which is responsible for producing an array of economic statistics for comparing parts of the country. The Bureau has divided the U.S. into eight regions, with each region’s comprising from four to 12 states. We are planning to do an episode for each region—though we will see how that goes once we get started.

As we mentioned in our last episode, we are going to look at some colleges for students with great grades and admissions test scores and some colleges for students with more average grades and admissions test scores. But, because every child’s high school record is its own mix of grades and test scores and leadership positions and extracurricular activities and out-of-school experiences, we are not going to try to tell you as a family which colleges your child is likely to get into. We will tell you that there are a lot of colleges you should consider that you probably haven’t, and you will need to look at your child’s own record against the profile of accepted students to see which ones might be right for you.

We will include both public and private colleges, both large and small colleges, and both liberal arts and technical colleges—that is, a wide variety of colleges so that there will be some, for sure, that might interest your child. However, we are going to focus on four-year colleges, reasoning that students headed to a public two-year college are highly likely to go to one in their home state and are not, therefore, looking to leave their own geographic region right away. Of course, we know that some of those students will eventually go on to four-year colleges after a year or two at the two-year college, so perhaps our information will be helpful to those families in the future.

We want to make it clear that there is no statistical basis for the colleges we are going to name in each region. They are mostly colleges that we know something about for various reasons, and certainly there are some states that we are more familiar with than others. We do not promise to name great colleges in every state, though I am sure they exist. We do promise to name a lot of great colleges.

If you have a college you would like us to talk about on the air, please email us or call us and tell us what it is and why it is great, and we will certainly consider it. We welcome those calls. Let us also say that no college has asked us to name it and that no college has paid us anything to name it. The choices in the next episodes in this series are ours and ours alone.

Our next episode will begin our virtual college tour with one of the eight regions of the U.S. Please join us.

Listen to the podcast to find out about…
Why parents must get information on their own for the college application process
How to visit colleges when you are looking outside your home state
Why you should attend an upcoming national college fair in NYC

Visit the show notes for this episode at http://usacollegechat.org/26 to find links to the higher education institutions and events we mention.

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

Ask your questions or share your feedback by…
Leaving us a comment or question at http://usacollegechat.org/26
Calling us at (516) 900-NYCC to record a question on our NYCollegeChat voicemail if you want us to answer your question live in our podcast
Emailing us at paul@policystudies.org to ask a question if you want us to answer it privately

In our last episode, we talked about why high school guidance counselors are not enough of a help to you and your child in your college search, and we speculated that one reason such a high percentage of students attend college in their home state is because guidance counselors do not have the time or background or information or inclination to help them look any farther away. A new report that just came out (March, 2015) has added some support for our argument.

NYCollegeChat, a weekly podcast for parents brought to you by Policy Studies in Education.  Episode 26 Why Look at Colleges Outside Your Comfort ZoneThe report is called A National Look at the High School Counseling Office. It was produced by the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC), using data from 2009 to 2012. Here are some notable findings (as reported by Caralee Adams in Education Week, March 26, 2015):

  • Just over half of guidance counselors said that their high school counseling department spends less than 20 percent of its time on college readiness, selection, and applications. So, let’s call that a day a week by each of however many guidance counselors your child’s high school has. Now think about how many juniors and seniors need college-going help, and you can quickly see that there is just not enough time to go around.

(By the way, the American School Counselor Association recommends a student load of 250 students per guidance counselor, but most states, on the average, do not come close to that. Even if you had the recommended number of students per counselor in your school, how hard do you think it would be for one person to advise that many students on college searches and college decision making?)

  • Just over 60 percent of high school juniors and just about half of parents of high school juniors met with a guidance counselor to discuss college and other post-high-school options. It is not possible to tell whether these pitifully low numbers are because guidance counselors do not have time to have such meetings or because students and parents do not think counselors can help them or because students and parents do not think they need any help. Actually, another approximately 15 percent of students and parents did hire a counselor outside of school to help them; so they, at least, felt that they needed help. Given what these private counselors cost, it is my guess that an even higher percentage of low-income high school juniors and their parents from inner-city schools could not have or did not access the help of guidance counselors when applying to colleges.
  • And finally, here is something I have known for a long time, something that has been confirmed by studies my own nonprofit organization has done over the years. Who is the main influence on students as they choose a college? The answer we get is always parents. According to the NACAC report, about 40 percent of students named parents, while just about 5 percent named either a guidance counselor or a privately hired counselor. Some people might say that parents are so influential because they are paying the bill, and I am sure that there is some truth to that. However, it was clear to us in the high school we worked with in Brooklyn that parents’ own feelings were a force to be reckoned with for their children—that is, parents’ feelings about colleges they had attended, or colleges a family member had attended, or colleges that were well-known because they were close by, or colleges they simply thought they knew something about (even when it was not true). If parents are the most influential and counselors are hardly influential at all, it is even more important that parents do what they need to do to get the right information for their children. Of course, we are hoping that NYCollegeChat is part of how you are getting that information. But get it, you must.

Past episodes you may want to listen to before talking to your child about college options are:

In our last episode, we also talked about getting you outside your geographic comfort zone—to look at colleges outside your hometown and, really, outside your home state. I know that is going to be hard for New Yorkers, who are proud of their state and believe that there are plenty of good options right here—and indeed there are a lot of good options right here. And I know that is going to be hard for our listeners from other states, too, because many of you feel that there are plenty of good options where you live as well—and you are probably right.

1. Good Reasons To Go Away

However, let’s talk for a minute about two key reasons you should consider going outside of your home state. Both reasons are based on the fact that most colleges seek geographic diversity in their freshman class; in other words, most colleges want to attract and admit students from across the U.S.—and even from foreign countries—so that the college has an interesting and stimulating variety of students and so that the college can advertise that it has students from a large number of states and foreign countries for the prestige value of that statement. I just read a post on LinkedIn from my own alma mater, Cornell University, which said this:

Cornell’s newly admitted class of freshmen is the most diverse and international in its 150-year history, with prospective undergraduates representing 100 nations from around the world, based on citizenship.

Because colleges want that geographic diversity in their freshman class, your child is more likely to be accepted at a selective college farther away from home than at the same sort of college close to home. For example, if you live in New York, your child probably has a better chance of getting into the top public university in Colorado than the top public university in New York because public colleges in Colorado are interested in attracting good students from New York and from other states in the East to balance out all of the good Colorado students who want to enroll.

Furthermore, as one college admissions officer wrote in an article recently, if there are two students looking for a scholarship and only one can be given, is it more likely that the scholarship will be given to the student next door or the student from far away? To the one from far away, she said—because of the desire for geographic diversity we just discussed.

Now it is certainly true that there are some flagship public universities that are cutting back on admitting students from outside their states because budget issues are forcing them to make sure that their own residents are well taken care of with the state taxpayers’ money. This is true for political reasons even though out-of-state students bring more money with them. So you will need to do a little research on specific public universities before throwing your child’s hat into those rings.

But the summary of our advice is still this: Look outside your home state for colleges that might hold more opportunity for your child than those at home do.

For more information about visiting out-of-state colleges, listen to Episode 12:  To Visit Or Not To Visit?

2. Geographic Regions of the U.S. and Colleges on Our Virtual Tour

We had to decide how to divide up the U.S. to take you on our planned virtual tour of colleges you never thought about. We looked at a number of ways agencies and organizations have divided up the U.S. before deciding to use the regions used by the Bureau of Economic Analysis (an agency of the U.S. Department of Commerce), which is responsible for producing an array of economic statistics for comparing parts of the country. The Bureau has divided the U.S. into eight regions, with each region’s comprising from four to 12 states. We are planning to do an episode for each region—though we will see how that goes once we get started.

As we mentioned in our last episode, we are going to look at some colleges for students with great grades and admissions test scores and some colleges for students with more average grades and admissions test scores. But, because every child’s high school record is its own mix of grades and test scores and leadership positions and extracurricular activities and out-of-school experiences, we are not going to try to tell you as a family which colleges your child is likely to get into. We will tell you that there are a lot of colleges you should consider that you probably haven’t, and you will need to look at your child’s own record against the profile of accepted students to see which ones might be right for you.

We will include both public and private colleges, both large and small colleges, and both liberal arts and technical colleges—that is, a wide variety of colleges so that there will be some, for sure, that might interest your child. However, we are going to focus on four-year colleges, reasoning that students headed to a public two-year college are highly likely to go to one in their home state and are not, therefore, looking to leave their own geographic region right away. Of course, we know that some of those students will eventually go on to four-year colleges after a year or two at the two-year college, so perhaps our information will be helpful to those families in the future.

We want to make it clear that there is no statistical basis for the colleges we are going to name in each region. They are mostly colleges that we know something about for various reasons, and certainly there are some states that we are more familiar with than others. We do not promise to name great colleges in every state, though I am sure they exist. We do promise to name a lot of great colleges.

If you have a college you would like us to talk about on the air, please email us or call us and tell us what it is and why it is great, and we will certainly consider it. We welcome those calls. Let us also say that no college has asked us to name it and that no college has paid us anything to name it. The choices in the next episodes in this series are ours and ours alone.

Our next episode will begin our virtual college tour with one of the eight regions of the U.S. Please join us.

Listen to the podcast to find out about…

  • Why parents must get information on their own for the college application process
  • How to visit colleges when you are looking outside your home state
  • Why you should attend an upcoming national college fair in NYC

Check out these higher education institutions and events we mention…

In New York State

Connect with us through…

Ask your questions or share your feedback by…

 

Episode 12: To Visit Or Not To Visit?

This week, we’re continuing our series on choosing where your child should apply to college by talking about campus visits.

Listen to the podcast to find out about…
When your teenager should visit a college without you
How to take advantage of financial help from colleges to cover travel costs
How to arrange a weekend visit to a college for your teenager

Episode show notes are available at http://usacollegechat.org/12

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

Ask your questions or share your feedback by…
Calling our hotline at 516-900-NYCC
Emailing us at paul@policystudies.org to ask a question if you want us to answer it privately

This week, we’re continuing our series on choosing where your child should apply to college by talking about how many colleges should be added to your list.

NYCollegeChat is now available on iTunes, Spreaker, Stitcher, and TuneIn!

NYCollegeChat Episode 12: To Visit or Not to Visit? - How important is the campus visit?For many decades, one rite of passage for American high schoolers and their parents alike has been the “college tour,” where a parent takes an anxious or blasé teenager (depending on your child) on a tour of colleges that might or might not turn out to be appealing schools to attend. During these college visits, there are campus tours led by college students, question-and-answer sessions with administrators, sometimes a chance to sit in on a class or two, and perhaps the nerve-wracking one-on-one admissions interview.

So, as you and your teenager enter the college applications process, let’s ask this question: How important are college visits? You will actually hear, in our three options, that the answer is always “very important.” Just the when or how those visits occur is what we are going to talk about.

1. Very Important, So Visit Now . . .

. . . because there is no substitute for standing in the main quadrangle or in a classroom building or in a dorm or on the soccer field or on the library steps. It is impossible to convey the feeling of a college’s physical and social and intellectual environment without being there. Why would anyone want to sign up to spend two years or four years at a place that he or she had never seen? By the way, this is true for students who are living on campus and who are living off campus. Your teenager will spend a lot of time at the college—regardless of living in the dorms—and should want to get a feeling for its buildings and its grounds and its setting within its surroundings and, of course, its students, staff, and faculty.

Visiting colleges before applying to them makes a lot of sense because even all colleges of a certain type are not the same. In other words, you cannot visit one or two private four-year colleges and, based on them, know what private four-year colleges are like. You cannot visit one or two public community colleges and, based on them, know what public community colleges are like. You cannot visit one or two urban campuses (or urban colleges with barely any “campus”) and, based on them, know what urban colleges are like.

Visiting a college before applying might convince your teenager not to apply, thus saving you that time and effort and money. But, visiting colleges is not free—especially when they are not in your hometown. Many families cannot afford to take the time off or spend the travel money that it takes to make a college swing through several states—or even through your own state, if it is as large as New York, where you cannot make an inexpensive day trip from one end to the other.

On the other hand, if you have decided to limit your applications to colleges in your hometown or very close by, then you absolutely should visit before applying. Make sure you take a tour of the campus, that you talk with current students, and that you sit in on a class or two, if possible. There is no reason to miss out on this chance to find out what everyday life is like on that campus and how different it might feel from another college campus that could be just minutes away. For example, if you live in New York City and want to stay in New York City for college, you would find out how different the campuses of just these four-year colleges were if you were to visit them: New York University and The New School in Greenwich Village, Columbia University and Barnard College in Morningside Heights, Fordham University at Lincoln Center, Hunter College in midtown, Pace University in downtown—and we have not left Manhattan yet. All of these schools are just a subway ride away for New Yorkers.

2. Very Important, But Visit Later . . .

. . . after acceptances have been received and your teenager is trying to decide which college to attend. After all, it is cheaper to pay the application fee for a college than to spend the money to visit it ahead of time (unless it is in your hometown).

If your teenager is accepted at more than one college, perhaps that is soon enough to spend the time and money to visit those colleges if you are trying to decide among them. It might be that visiting your teenager’s first choice is all that is needed—if the visit is successful and confirms that that college is indeed the right one. Nothing is more cost-effective than that.

3. Very Important, But Visiting Is Not an Option

Sometimes it is just not possible for a family to arrange for a campus visit to several colleges or even to one college, even after acceptances have come in.

In that case, you all can—and should—talk to anyone you can find who has visited any college on your list as a kind of substitute for making the trip yourself. That might be a family friend, a high school friend, a teacher, a school administrator, a guidance counselor, or someone else. Some colleges use alumni interviewers, who could serve this function nicely, too.

Firsthand impressions from someone who has walked on the campus in different seasons of the year, has seen inside the dorms, has talked with faculty or visited a class, has talked with current students or recent graduates, has eaten in the cafeteria, has attended a sports event or a cultural event—all of these impressions can help your teenager make a better decision about where to enroll. Ideally, at least some of those substitutes would be individuals who had been on the campus recently—and preferably someone with a more in-depth feel for the college than one can get from simply walking across the campus. A current professor or current student or recent graduate would be a great choice.

Remember that it is not only about the physical surroundings, but also about the intellectual and social surroundings, which the casual visitor might not be able to pick up on so readily. Photographs in a brochure or on a website or even a virtual campus tour on a website might resolve your questions about the physical surroundings, but cannot answer your questions about the intellectual and social surroundings, which are more likely to affect your satisfaction with your college choice.

Listen to the podcast to find out about…

  • When your teenager should visit a college without you
  • How to take advantage of financial help from colleges to cover travel costs
  • How to arrange a weekend visit to a college for your teenager

Check out these higher education institutions and programs we mention…

In New York State

Outside of New York State

Connect with us through…

Ask your questions or share your feedback by…