Episode 120: Lots of College Options in Our New Workbook

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

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.

Find our books on Amazon!

Ask your questions or share your feedback by…

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

Connect with us through…

Episode 95: Narrowing Down Your Teenager’s College List–Step 3

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

In our last two episodes, we have been talking with you about how to narrow down your teenager’s long summer list of college options in case it is too long. As that list begins to get shorter, I am beginning to feel as though we should have let you keep it long. Well, not crazy long–but 15 colleges or so is still reasonable to me, at this point in the process. As we have said before, there are quite a few colleges out there that would likely be a good match for your teenager. Don’t feel that you need to take colleges off the list if you can imagine your teenager’s being happy there. You should not be aiming for some arbitrary number of options.

Again, let us remind you to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA. Fill it out and file it now. Get whatever help you need to fill it out. But do it, even if you are not sure you will need it and even if you are not expecting to qualify for a lot of financial aid.

And, let us remind you again, that those Early Decision and Early Action deadlines are coming up quickly–mostly around November 1. I cannot see any good reason not to apply for Early Action if colleges your teenager is interested in offer it.

In Episode 93, we took Step 1 in narrowing down your teenager’s list by looking at college selectivity–in other words, is your teenager likely to get in. In Episode 94, we took Step 2 by looking at the availability of your teenager’s current favorite major, the presence of any core curriculum or distribution requirements, and the attractiveness of traditional and innovative college term schedules or grading practices.

1. Step 3: College Enrollment Filter

Today, we are discussing Step 3 in narrowing down the list–if you think it needs to be narrowed down any further–and that is using college enrollment as a filter. In our previous episodes, we have looked at college enrollment in a variety of ways, and you might want to use some of those ways as a filter now.

First, does the size of the student body matter? You can look back at summer Assignment #1 (in Episode 81) and double check the size of the undergraduate enrollment (and the graduate enrollment, if you think it is desirable to send your teenager to a college that also offers graduate study). Personally (and I think I might be alone in this attitude), I think that this filter is over-used by lots of teenagers and their parents.   I hear kids say things like this, “I think I would like to go to a small school. (Fill in the blank) university seems too big to me.” Okay, I get it. A big university might seem overwhelming at first to a high school senior. But perhaps that is because that teenager has had no reason at all to be in a large university setting, and I believe that a teenager has no rational basis for making a valid judgment about it.

Furthermore, I don’t think you can judge the size of a college based on the size of your high school, though I am sure it is tempting. I can understand that a teenager coming from a small public high school or a small private school might feel that he or she would get lost in the shuffle in a large university. I can understand that, for such a teenager, a large academic setting might be outside his or her 17-year-old comfort zone. But that is no reason to assume that such a teenager would not do well in that larger academic setting, given half a chance.

When my husband was applying to college many years ago, his parents thought that he should go to a small liberal arts college. I am not sure why they thought that, but they did. As a result, he applied only to good small liberal arts colleges, and so, of course, he ended up attending one. He did well at it and liked it, but I believe he would have done equally well at a large university and would have liked it equally well. (By the way, he went on to Columbia University for graduate school and did not seem one bit fazed by its size.) In other words, size should never have been a filter for him–and I believe it should not be a filter for most teenagers. My guess is that many of you parents have some intuitive feeling about the best college size for your teenager (just as my in-laws did)–let’s call it a bias. I don’t know where you got it–perhaps from your own college education or from your own view about how outgoing and self-sufficient your teenager is or isn’t. Unless you have some kind of actual evidence that you are right, you might want to think twice about using college size as a filter for taking colleges off your teenager’s list.

Second, let’s look at size a different way, as we did in Assignment #5 (in Episode 85). There we took a closer look at both student-to-faculty ratio and class size (that is, how many students are sitting in the classroom when your teenager is trying to learn organic chemistry). As we said in Episode 85, student-to-faculty ratios are usually lower at small private colleges than at large public universities, which is not surprising. Small private colleges advertise the college culture that comes with a low ratio as one of the reasons to choose a small private college instead of a large public university. Further, when you see a very selective private university with a student-to-faculty ratio that makes it look more like a small private college, you have to be impressed. And I have to admit that there might indeed be a difference in faculty accessibility between a college with a student-to-faculty ratio of 9-to-1 and one with a ratio of, say, 18-to-1. If personal attention from and personal relationships with professors is something that is quite important to you or your teenager, you might want to think about a student-to-faculty ratio filter.

Let’s recap the class size discussion we had where I claimed that class size might just be a matter of personal choice. I said that I had preferred large classes in collegehuge lectures by a brilliant professor. But I allowed that many students prefer small seminars where students get to express their own opinions and talk back and forth with each other and with the professor. What I truly believe is that there is a good chance that your teenager doesn’t know which of these he or she would prefersince most high school students have never experienced huge lectures by brilliant professors, or indeed small seminars that are intellectually demanding, for that matter. Does that make it difficult to choose class size as a filter? I would say that it does.

So far, it seems that I am arguing against a lot of these filters. All of these characteristics of colleges are good information to have, but maybe aren’t necessarily filters to use before even applying. Maybe I just hate for you to rule out too many options before you see where your teenager might be accepted and what decisions might be available to him or her next spring.

Let’s try a third filter, and that is whether the breakdown of the student body matters. You can look back at summer Assignment #4 (in Episode 84) and double check the percentage of part-time vs. full-time students, the male-female split, the variety and size of various racial and ethnic groups, and the states or foreign countries that students come from. For many students, none of these might be necessary as filters. However, your teenager might have some thoughts about attending a college where his or her own racial or ethnic group is only a very small minority of students. Or, your teenager might not want to attend a college that does not have a substantial mix of students from many racial and ethnic backgrounds as well as from many states and foreign countries. Attitudes about the inclusivity of students of all backgrounds might be linked strongly to your values as a family. Or not. Is your teenager more comfortable with students like himself or herself or with students just from your own geographic area? Should he or she be?

Now is the time to have that discussion with your teenager and to remember that college is one great time to broaden his or her views and explore key values about diversity. While you are doing that, take a quick look back at Assignment #10 (in Episode 90) to see whether you want to re-think your decision to include HBCUs, HSIs, single-sex colleges, or faith-based colleges on your list or to eliminate them at this time. Some of these colleges obviously offer less diversity than others, though they serve a different and perhaps equally valuable purpose.

2. Do You Have Enough Left on the List?

So, are you losing any colleges from your teenager’s list, based on filtering for overall enrollment size, the class size or student-to-faculty ratio, or the breakdown of the student body by race, ethnicity, gender, or some other important demographic characteristic? Try to let your teenager talk through his or her opinions about each of these, but let your teenager know that none of these has to become a filter.

In one sense, the fewer filters, the better. Each filter gives your teenager fewer chances to be happy next April.

So, Step 3 is done. Enrollment breakdown and size have been considered. Did you lose any colleges from your teenager’s list? I’m okay if you still have 15 or so on the list as we move forward to Step 4 next week. If you are already down to just a handful of colleges, you might want to take a few Steps back and reconsider some of those colleges that you have lost.

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

Ask your questions or share your feedback by…

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

Connect with us through…

Download this episode!

Episode 87: Assignment #7–Looking at Core Curricula

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

Well, this is Assignment #7, which means that your teenager and perhaps you have done a lot of work so far. Take a look back and look at all you have accomplished this summer:

This episode’s assignment takes us back inside the college and right into the middle of the college curriculum, especially as it plays out for freshmen and sophomores.

Episode 87 Looking at College Core Curricula on USACollegeChat podcast

1. Your Assignment #7

Download the Assignment #7 Worksheet

For Assignment #7, your teenager and you are going to look at whether the college has a “core curriculum”–or what might be called “general education” credits or requirements or what we called “distribution requirements” in the old days.

2. What Is a Core Curriculum?

For the purpose of this episode, we will refer to this likely centuries-old curriculum concept as a “core curriculum.” What it means is that all students in a college, or in a specific college or school within a larger university, have to take typically one or two courses in each of a broad range of academic disciplines, such as mathematics, or in each of a broad range of groups of disciplines, such as natural sciences, languages and literature, social sciences, and so on. Each college seems to have its own unique way of defining these groups of disciplines, with some more understandable than others.

Some colleges have quite strict requirements, meaning usually that there are many different requirements that have to be met and that might amount to a double handful of courses before it’s all over. Some colleges have a core curriculum, but have far fewer requirements for the courses or number of courses that have to be taken. And some colleges have no core curriculum at all. Would the presence of core curriculum requirements make a difference to your teenager in choosing a college?

3. What Is the Purpose of a Core Curriculum?

So, what is the purpose of a core curriculum? The concept comes from the liberal arts tradition, where students are supposed to be well rounded in their studies and in their understanding of the intellectual content and issues of many fields. People in favor of this tradition would say that students do not know exactly where their careers and lives will take them and that the ability to solve problems and think critically across a range of content could make the difference in how well they succeed in their careers (likely in their multiple careers) and indeed in their lives. It is no surprise that liberal arts colleges and that the arts and sciences college or school within large universities would support and require a core curriculum for its students.

However, some non-liberal-arts colleges and schools within large universities also have instituted a core curriculum. My favorite example of this (and we have talked and written about it before) is the Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science at Columbia University, which has this impressive and perhaps surprising statement on its website:

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.

Students are encouraged to consider the wide range of possibilities open to them, both academically and professionally. To this end, the first and second years of the four-year undergraduate program comprise approximately 66 semester points of credit that expose students to a cross-fertilization of ideas from different disciplines within the University. The sequence of study proceeds from an engagement with engineering and scientific fundamentals, along with humanities and social sciences, toward an increasingly focused training in the third and fourth years designed to give students mastery of certain principles and arts central to engineering and applied science. (quoted from the website)

So, at Fu, students are required to take some liberal arts courses early on in their engineering program in order to provide some humanities balance to the heavy load of mathematics and sciences that all engineering students take. The brilliance of this position comes in the notion that students who find that engineering is not what they had expected–for whatever reason–are well equipped to transfer to another field of study and move many of these core credits with them. For some engineering students, these liberal arts courses could be a drag; for other engineering students, they could turn out to save the day.

One important advantage of a core curriculum is that it causes students to look into whole academic fields that are rarely taught in high schools?like anthropology or sociology or art history or linguistics. Without requirements in a variety of academic fields or groups of fields, many students would never take a look at some of them and would never know what they had missed.

As it turns out, some colleges go one step further and require certain courses of all students?the actual courses, not just the academic fields. So, instead of saying to students that they must take two courses in the languages and literature, for example, the college will specify that all students must take Writing 101 and Public Speaking 101. In those cases, the college has decided to require those specific courses that its professors feel are most fundamental to developing the foundation for more advanced college study and to developing a broad understanding of and ability to engage in the modern world. Because all students have taken these same required core courses, professors can use that shared knowledge to help students make connections across subject fields every year from then on.

4. Examples of a Core Curriculum

When we did our nationwide virtual tour of colleges back in Episodes 27 through 54, we often talked about the core curriculum requirements of a college. We did that for two reasons. First, we were super-impressed with some of them, even though we could tell that they would be quite demanding of students. Second, we knew that some students would love the idea of a core curriculum, while other students would hate the idea of a core curriculum. There are two groups of students who are likely to hate the idea the most. One group is students who do not feel confident in a range of academic fields (this often comes in the form of “I’d like to go to a college where I don’t have to take advanced science or math”). The other group is students who are anxious to get on with what exactly they already know they want to study and don’t want to waste time with other things (this often comes in the form of “I want to be a computer scientist, and I don’t see a need for these humanities requirements”).

Nonetheless, here are a handful of examples of some of the core curricula we talked about during our nationwide virtual tour of colleges:

Let’s start with a tiny Catholic college with a student enrollment of fewer than 200 undergraduates: Wyoming Catholic College, located in Lander and the only four-year private college in the state of Wyoming. According to its website, this faith-based college offers a classical liberal arts curriculum, which includes a study of the Great Books of Western culture and a serious set of distribution requirements, which includes 24 credits of theology, 13 credits of leadership, 10 credits of philosophy, and 16 credits of Latin. Interestingly, students graduate with a B.A. in Liberal Arts?not in a specific subject field.

Grinnell College in the “rolling farmland” of central Iowa offers a unique Individually Advised Curriculum, described this way on the website:

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

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

Let’s turn to St. John’s College, which has two campuses, with students often transferring for a year between the two: St. John’s Annapolis in Maryland and St. John’s Santa Fe in New Mexico. But the real unique idea at St. John’s is its liberal arts curriculum, based on collaborative inquiry in small class discussions, with the professor acting as a tutor and mentor?all based on the original texts of great authors in almost every subject field. The Seminar, as St. John’s calls it, is the foundation for the curriculum, and it is described this way on the website:

Students participate in far-reaching and free but disciplined conversations about major works of literature, philosophy, political theory, theology, history, economics, and psychology from Homer and the Greek historians, playwrights, and philosophers in the freshman year, through the Renaissance in the sophomore year and the Enlightenment in the junior year, to the contemporary world in the senior year. (quoted from the website)

Students at St. John’s are also required to take four years of mathematics, three years of laboratory science, two years of music (including singing in the Freshman Chorus together), and four years of a second language (two years of Ancient Greek and two years of modern French). Clearly, this is one serious set of core curriculum requirements.

Let’s move on to Middlebury College in Vermont, perhaps best known for its excellent language programs for a hundred years. In the classic liberal arts tradition, Middlebury students must fulfill two sets of distribution requirements: (1) one course in seven of eight academic fields (including foreign language); and (2) one course in each of four cultures and civilizations areas:

a. Courses that focus on some aspect of the cultures and civilizations of Africa, Asia, Latin America, the Middle East, and the Caribbean

  1. Courses that focus on the process of comparison between and among cultures and civilizations, or courses that focus on the identity and experience of separable groups within cultures and civilizations

  2. Courses that focus on some aspect of European cultures and civilizations

  3. Courses that focus on some aspect of the cultures and civilizations of northern America (United States and Canada) (quoted from the website)

Georgetown University, the oldest Catholic and Jesuit university in the U.S., offers its undergraduates the opportunity to study in the schools of foreign service, business, or nursing and health studies or in Georgetown College, the liberal arts college that first established the institution. Before pursuing one of more than 40 majors, students in the College must complete core requirements in a wide range of humanities and science fields, including two courses in theology, starting with either The Problem of God or Introduction to Biblical Literature as freshmen.

Colgate University, a small liberal arts university in upstate New York, has undergraduates studying in 54 majors, which come from a strong and broad liberal arts Core Curriculum. Students are required to take four courses in their first two years: Legacies of the Ancient World, Challenges of Modernity, Communities and Identities, and Scientific Perspectives on the World. Students are also required to take one course with a Global Engagements designation and six more courses from three liberal arts and sciences areas.

Undergraduate students at Morehouse College, the all-men HBCU in Atlanta, are required to complete a core curriculum, which includes four courses in the humanities?one in religion, one in philosophy, one in art history, and one in music history. That is about as liberal arts as it gets.

But it’s not just small private colleges that have a core curriculum. The huge flagship University of Texas at Austin puts all of its freshmen into the School of Undergraduate Studies, where they explore their interests through a liberal-arts-and-sciences core curriculum of 42 credits. In their freshman year, students take UT’s Signature Course, which is actually an array of 150 course offerings for students to choose from, all of which provide college-level experiences in thinking and writing and speaking and research. Students are encouraged to go outside their comfort zone when choosing from the Signature Courses, which are often interdisciplinary, like Astronomy and the Humanities. UT students leave the School of Undergraduate Studies by the end of their second year to pursue their major course of study.

At Penn State, typical undergraduates take almost one-third of their courses in the College of Liberal Arts. All students are required to take 45 credits of General Education courses, including three credits of writing-intensive coursework, a course in U.S. cultures, a course in international cultures, and coursework that covers social and behavioral sciences, humanities, natural sciences, quantitative skills, the arts, and health and physical activity.

It is hard to do this episode without a nod to our own two undergraduate alma maters, so let’s look at them. Here are the “distribution requirements” and the “breadth requirements” in Cornell University‘s College of Arts and Sciences curriculum (and these are in addition to two first-year writing seminars, a serious intermediate-level foreign language requirement–which many high-ranked colleges have, two physical education courses plus a swimming test):

  • 2 courses in physical and biological sciences
  • 1 course in mathematics and quantitative reasoning
  • 1 course that is in either sciences or mathematics
  • Five arts and sciences courses from at least 4 of the following social sciences, humanities, and arts categories:
  • Cultural analysis
  • Historical analysis
  • Knowledge, cognition, and moral reasoning
  • Literature and the arts
  • Social and behavioral analysis
  • Geographic breadth requirement: 1 course that focuses on an area or a people other than those of the United States, Canada, or Europe
  • Historic breadth requirement: 1 course that focuses on an historic period before the 20th century

While I would applaud these requirements for my own children and for the children of all of my friends, I can tell you that the requirements were not quite so demanding in the early 1970s. And, for that, I believe I am grateful.

So, let’s take a look at Barnard College‘s brand new curriculum, called Foundations, which I know you didn’t have, Marie, because it applies for the first time to students entering this fall. Barnard has what it calls “distributional requirements” and “modes of thinking” (in addition to a first-year writing course, first-year seminar, and one physical education course):

  • 2 courses in the languages
  • 2 courses in the arts/humanities
  • 2 courses in the social sciences
  • 2 courses in the sciences (1 with a lab)
  • 1 course in thinking locally–New York City
  • 1 course in thinking through global inquiry
  • 1 course in thinking about social difference
  • 1 course in thinking with historical perspective
  • 1 course in thinking quantitatively and empirically
  • 1 course in thinking technologically and digitally

I would have to say that those requirements are also quite demanding, especially for a student who, right or wrong, is not interested in broadening her horizons.

So, if all this is just too much, take a look at just a few colleges that do not have a standard core curriculum of courses:

Let’s start with The Evergreen State College, a public liberal arts college in Washington’s capital city of Olympia. Students at Evergreen take one interdisciplinary course, called a program, at a time, which might last one, two, or even three quarters. Built around a theme, a program integrates several subjects and is taught by a team of two to four professors from different subject fields. Students participate in a mixture of lectures, seminars, tutorials, field trips, labs, and the like during each program. There are no required programs and no distribution requirements and no major requirements (because there are no majors) for earning a Bachelor of Arts degree. A Bachelor of Science or a Bachelor of Arts and Science does have some math, science, or computer science requirements.

At Hamilton College in upstate New York, students pursue studies in 51 fields, based on a broad liberal arts and sciences curriculum that each student works out with his or her advisor. There are a few requirements?such as at least three writing-intensive courses?but there seems to be quite a bit of freedom in operationalizing the spirit of a liberal arts education.

Pitzer College, one of the five undergraduate colleges in The Claremont Colleges consortium in California, offers its 1,000 students about 40 fields of study in an “interdisciplinary liberal arts education emphasizing social justice, intercultural understanding and environmental sensitivity” (quoted from the website). Students are expected to engage in community service and are given the freedom to create their own academic programs; there are no traditional core course requirements.

So, have your teenager take the Assignment #7 worksheet and complete one for each college on his or her long summer list of college options, and I hope it is still long. First, note whether there is a core curriculum, or general education course, or distribution requirements, or breadth requirements, or whatever that college might call the list of academic fields or groups of fields or even specific courses all students must take. Remember, if it is a university, make sure that your teenager checks the college or school of interest to him or her; requirements may well not be the same for all of the colleges and schools in the university. Second, write down exactly what the requirements are. When the time comes to decide which colleges stay on the list, the number and rigor and breadth of the requirements might be something you all will want to consider.

Download the Assignment #7 Worksheet

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

Ask your questions or share your feedback by..

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

Connect with us through…

Episode 55: The Liberal Arts Debate

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

As we said last week when we kicked off Series 5, it seems to me that we have been reading and hearing a lot about higher education in the news. So we are going to dedicate some weeks to looking at news stories that are inspiring, upsetting, or just plain surprising—either about specific colleges or about higher education more generally.

Episode 55: The Liberal Arts Debate on NYCollegeChat podcast http://usacollegechat.org/episode55 Listen on iTunes, Stitcher, TuneIn

Some of the stories might immediately influence your teenager’s decisions about where to apply or later about where to attend, and other stories might take longer to impact your family. Either way, we think these are things parents should know and even act on.

Today’s topic is the liberal arts. While some parents believe that their teenagers should major in a field that leads directly to a job after college graduation rather than in the liberal arts, some colleges—including some unexpected ones— are stepping forward to praise the value of studying the liberal arts.

Let’s start by saying that studying the “liberal arts” means that students take courses in a variety of academic subjects, typically including literature, history, mathematics, fine arts, philosophy, foreign languages, biological and/or physical sciences (also called the natural sciences), and one or more of the social sciences, like psychology, sociology, or anthropology. Sometimes these subjects as a group are also called the “liberal arts and sciences” or just “arts and sciences” or “humanities and sciences.”

Our new book (that’s How To Find the Right College: A Workbook for Parents of High School Students, available electronically and in print at Amazon.com) talks about choosing liberal arts study vs. technical study for a whole chapter. We explain the debate and give the pros and cons for having a student study or major in one or the other. So we won’t repeat all of that reasoning here.

However, before we talk about an article on this topic that I read in The Hechinger Report last October, I want to say in the interest of full disclosure that both Marie and I took the liberal arts route for our undergraduate degrees—mine in English literature and Marie’s in sociology. So, it is possible that we are a bit biased in favor of having a liberal arts foundation. In Marie’s case, she never would have known that the field of sociology existed had it not been for the distribution requirements mandated by her traditional liberal arts college, Barnard. All three of my own children were gently guided in the past 10 years—both by their father and me and by their own colleges’ distribution requirements—into getting a liberal arts grounding first, before they went on to study for quite specialized bachelor’s degrees (in music performance, in visual arts and media, and in dance). All of us would take the liberal arts route again if we had it to do over. But that’s enough about us.

1. Two Unexpected Cases

In his article “The surprising institutions that refuse to drop the liberal arts,” Jon Marcus talks about two institutions that, by their very names, would appear to come down strongly on the side of technical study at the expense of liberal arts study. They are the United States Military Academy (commonly referred to as West Point) and the Culinary Institute of America—both located on the Hudson River a bit north of New York City. One produces soldiers, and one produces chefs—albeit some of the best soldiers and some of the best chefs anywhere.

Interestingly enough, however, West Point cadets choose from 40 academic majors that cover a broad array of disciplines—including American politics; art, philosophy and literature; foreign languages; history; sociology; and psychology; as well as management and the engineering and sciences you might expect. There are a lot of traditional liberal arts choices in that list. The Hechinger Report article quotes Brigadier General Timothy Trainor, the academic dean at West Point, on this subject:

It’s important to develop in young people the ability to think broadly, to operate in the context of other societies and become agile and adaptive thinkers. What you’re trying to do is teach them to deal with complexity, diversity, and change. They’re having to deal with people from other cultures. They have to think very intuitively to solve problems on the ground. (quoted from the article)

It is this critical thinking, problem solving, analysis, judgment, dealing with consequences, cultural sensitivity, and the sociology of their interactions with others that the proponents of the liberal arts claim can be taught most effectively through courses in liberal arts fields of study. And West Point seems to agree.

So does Michael Sperling, vice president for academic affairs at the private, nonprofit Culinary Institute of America, who is quoted in the article as saying this:

There’s a certain level of anti-intellectualism in the popular culture that inappropriately sees the pursuit of core disciplines as frivolous. And that’s unfortunate, because the kind of things you learn in philosophy courses and history courses deepens your ability to act in the world. (quoted from the article)

I think that “frivolous” is exactly the word that some parents would use to describe liberal arts study, and I hope that those parents are rethinking that position now.

Ted Russin, associate dean for culinary science, earned his degree in philosophy. He is quoted in the article as saying that Culinary Institute of America students “would definitely have technical skills. They could make a croissant and it would be exquisite. But there’s a difference between knowing how to do something and understanding what’s happening.” The bigger and broader understanding of what’s happening is what, some experts claim, the liberal arts provide.

2. Other Cases

Those of you who are faithful listeners to NYCollegeChat are likely to recall other higher education institutions we have talked about during our virtual college tour over the last few months—institutions that required more or offered more liberal arts courses and majors than you might have expected.

Let’s look at a few of our other military academies. We talked about the United States Naval Academy (commonly referred to as Annapolis). Young men and women at Annapolis graduate with Bachelor of Science degrees in a choice of about 25 majors—mostly in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics related to their future careers. But they can major instead in Arabic, Chinese, economics, English, history, or political science (and minor in other foreign languages).

We talked about the U.S. Coast Guard Academy, located in Connecticut, where seven of 24 core curriculum courses are from its Humanities Department, so cadets are well versed in the liberal arts when they graduate. Cadets may major in government (about 25 percent typically do) in addition to marine and environmental sciences and majors more directly related to maritime studies.

We talked about the Military College of South Carolina, The Citadel. The Citadel offers 20 undergraduate majors—with mandatory leadership and ethics studies—in the schools of business, education, engineering, science and mathematics, and humanities and social sciences.

Let’s look at some arts institutions. We talked about the Curtis Institute of Music and the University of the Arts in Philadelphia and the Rhode Island School of Design, where both the arts and the liberal arts are required parts of the curricula.

We talked about Berklee College of Music in Boston, which offers 12 different undergraduate music-related majors. But all Berklee students take both a core music curriculum (e.g., ear training, arranging, harmony) and a core liberal arts curriculum in the humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences and mathematics.

We talked about one of our nation’s finest art colleges: the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC), located adjacent to the world-famous art museum in downtown Chicago. SAIC offers a wide variety of art and design majors—along with a full array of liberal arts courses.

We talked about Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD), located in one of our nation’s prettiest towns. SCAD offers more than 40 undergraduate and graduate majors related to the arts and design, including writing. But, as part of the general education course requirements for undergraduates, students take liberal arts courses in the humanities and fine arts, natural sciences and mathematics, social and behavioral sciences, written and oral communication, and computer literacy.

Let’s look at a couple of Massachusetts colleges, which are known primarily as business colleges. We talked about Babson College, where at least half of students’ courses are in the liberal arts, including the study of a language that is useful in business dealings today—perhaps a bit surprising for a business-focused institution.

We talked about Bentley College, which offers its undergraduates 23 majors in 11 business fields and five arts and sciences disciplines. In fact, about 20 percent of undergraduates double major in business and Bentley’s Liberal Studies Major (which has eight interdisciplinary concentrations).

Let’s look at some high-tech institutions. We talked about Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, New Jersey, which comprises schools of Engineering and Science, Business, and Systems and Enterprises—as well as a College of Arts and Letters, where students can major in art, music, literature and communications, philosophy, history, and the social sciences and “benefit from pursuing these disciplines charged by the latest advances in technology, science, and innovation and the fundamental idea that science and technology can be used as intellectual tools of inquiry” (quoted from the website).

We talked about the Georgia Institute of Technology (commonly known as Georgia Tech), located in Atlanta. Georgia Tech provides a “focused, technologically based education” (taken from the website) and offers degrees in six colleges—Architecture, Computing, Engineering, Sciences, Business, and Liberal Arts—with “more than 100 centers focused on interdisciplinary research that consistently contribute vital research and innovation to American government, industry, and business” (taken from the website).

We talked about Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) in Massachusetts, which offers 12 types of engineering and 50 undergraduate and graduate degree programs in science, technology, management, the social sciences, and the humanities and arts. A Humanities and Arts requirement ensures that WPI students are well rounded; it consists of six courses of the student’s choosing, including courses from at least two different liberal arts disciplines, or a six-course sequence in Spanish, German, or Chinese—along with a final project.

We talked about the Colorado School of Mines, a highly selective and highly specialized engineering college. In addition to its applied science and mathematics majors, its geoscience and resource engineering majors, and a variety of other engineering majors, Mines requires a core curriculum, which includes humanities and social sciences courses.

We talked about the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), with its schools of Architecture and Planning, Engineering, Management, Science, and—last, but not least—the School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences. While we think of MIT as turning out first-rate engineers and scientists, students can also major in subjects in the School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences. By the way, all undergraduates at MIT take eight courses in the School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences (about 25 percent of their undergraduate program), so they truly become balanced students and informed citizens.

We talked about Columbia University’s well-known undergraduate Core Curriculum for Columbia College, its undergraduate liberal arts college. The Core Curriculum includes courses in literature, writing, art, music, civilization, science, and more. We said that the common texts that students read and discuss is like a greatest-hits list. But here is the remarkable statement from the website of Columbia’s 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)

So, it is plain to see that specialized institutions—including institutions specializing in technical study—which seem unlikely champions of the liberal arts, are often, in fact, champions of the liberal arts.

3. What Some States Are Doing

Some states, however, have a different perspective. When dealing with financial cutbacks while trying to fund large public universities with taxpayers’ dollars, some states have questioned the value of the liberal arts—at least, some liberal arts fields anyway. Here are two ideas that have been proposed at the state level:

  • Charge students more tuition for liberal arts majors because the state does not believe that its economy needs them as much as it needs STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) majors and, thus, does not want to subsidize them to the same degree.
  • Encourage students who want to major in liberal arts fields to go to a private college to major in them and pay for that themselves—again, so the state does not have to subsidize those majors with public funds.

Some states have had their public universities cut back on some arts majors and some foreign language majors—not entire departments necessarily, but perhaps one language or one of the arts. Interestingly enough, these are the same two cuts that often get made at the high school level when public funds are tight. (Read Regina’s related blog post for more information.)

Maybe these states should have listened to what some colleges are saying—oh, and what employers are saying.

4. What Employers Are Saying

According to a survey by the Association of American Colleges and Universities, about 75 percent of the 318 corporate leaders surveyed “want more emphasis on critical thinking, problem-solving, written and oral communication, and applied knowledge . . . exactly the kinds of skills advocates for the liberal arts say they teach. Ninety-three percent agree that ‘a demonstrated capacity to think critically, communicate clearly, and solve complex problems’ is more important than a job candidate’s undergraduate major” (quoted from the article).

I am taking that to mean that a good job applicant who has an undergraduate liberal arts degree, who can speak and write and think and solve problems well, could be just as attractive to a corporation as a good job applicant who has an undergraduate business degree. So, parents, that is a viewpoint worth considering when it comes time for your teenager to choose a major for real as a college sophomore or junior or even to declare a tentative one on a college application.

5. A Few Practical Considerations

Let’s conclude with a few practical considerations. Marie and I have a preference for liberal arts study unless a student is absolutely dead certain that a technical field is his or her preference. That preference would have to be based on a long-time interest in that field, good grades in high school subjects that prepare a student for that field, discussions with people who work in that field, and some kind of internship or summer work experience in that field. All too often kids have an idea of a career they want to pursue without having any practical information about what that career is like in the real world.

And here’s one important thing to remember: Credits in liberal arts college courses (especially those taken in the first year of college) can be transferred far more easily among degree programs and even among colleges than credits in technical courses can. That means that a kid can change his or her mind after starting college (and many, many do) without losing too much time and, parents, too much of your money.

Listen to the podcast to find out about…

  • How all students get their vocational or technical education at some point in their lives
  • What other reasons some states have for not wanting to fund liberal arts studies
  • Whether foreign languages, a traditional liberal arts discipline, are actually a technical career skill

Check out these higher education institutions and organizations we mention…

In New York State

Outside of New York State

Ask your questions or share your feedback by…

  • Leaving a comment on the show notes for this episode below
  • Calling us at (516) 900-NYCC to record a question on our NYCollegeChat voicemail if you want us to answer your question live on our podcast
  • Emailing us at paul@policystudies.org to ask a question if you want us to answer it privately

Connect with us through…

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

Episode 51: Colleges in New York State—Part II

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

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
  • Calling us at (516) 900-NYCC to record a question on our NYCollegeChat voicemail if you want us to answer your question live on our podcast
  • Emailing us at paul@policystudies.org to ask a question if you want us to answer it privately

Connect with us through…

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