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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Report’s Recommendations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Listen to the podcast to find out about…

  • How easy it might be for colleges to take these recommendations
  • How high schools could make a difference
  • How history might have predicted some of these recommendations

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Episode 59: What’s Happening to Low-Income Smart Kids?

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What's Happening to Low-Income Smart Kids? on NYCollegeChat podcast

For a few weeks now, we have been talking about news stories about higher education—some that might immediately influence your teenager’s decision about where to apply or later about where to attend and others that might take longer to impact your family.

In this episode, we are going to take a look at a new report just out this month that could impact thousands and thousands of families every year. It has a message that needs to be heard.

I want to thank Sarah D. Sparks, who wrote about this new report at Inside School Research, one of the blogs sponsored by Education Week. Her article—entitled “Three Myths Keeping Bright Kids in Poverty from Going to Top Colleges” (January 11, 2016)—was so good that I immediately went to look for the full report. You would, too, after reading her lead:

If you are at the top of your class in a high-poverty school, you have a significantly better chance of dying in a car crash than attending an Ivy League school. (quoted from the article)

Hard to believe. She later quotes Harold Levy, former chancellor of the New York City Public Schools and currently executive director of the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation, which co-authored the report with The Century Foundation. Levy said:

‘College admissions for kids in poverty is profoundly unfair. . . . I thought if you were really poor and really smart you wrote your own ticket, and that turns out to be just wrong.’ (quoted from the article)

1. The Report

The 50-page report is entitled True Merit: Ensuring Our Brightest Students Have Access to Our Best Colleges and Universities. Although I can’t read the whole thing to you in this episode, I would like to present some hard-to-swallow statistics and some conclusions offered—all of which should make you interested enough to take a look at the whole report:

  • At the most competitive colleges, only 3 percent of students come from families with incomes in the bottom 25 percent of the income distribution, but 72 percent of students come from families with incomes in the top 25 percent. At highly competitive and very competitive colleges (the next two categories), only 7 percent of students in each group of colleges come from families in the bottom 25 percent. The report comments that there are “thousands of students from economically disadvantaged households who, despite attending less-resourced schools and growing up with less intellectual stimulation and advantages, do extremely well in school, love learning, are extraordinarily bright and capable, and would do very well at selective institutions if offered admissions. They are just being ignored.”
  • The report goes on to explain that the “underrepresentation of high-achieving, low-income students at the nation’s selective institutions stems from two factors: low-income students are less likely to apply to selective schools, and low-income students who do apply receive inadequate consideration in the admissions and financial aid process.” That is quite an indictment of the system.
  • Looking further into that explanation, the report notes that its authors’ “research shows that only 23 percent of high-achieving, low-income students apply to a selective school, compared with 48 percent of high-achieving, high-income students. . . . Termed ‘under-matching’ by researchers, many high-achieving, low-income students choose not to apply to schools whose student bodies have high levels of academic ability on par with their own, and instead apply to schools where the average student’s academic capacity is lower than their own.”
  • The report’s authors found that “high-achieving students from the wealthiest families were three times as likely to enroll in a highly selective college as those from the poorest families (24 versus 8 percent). Other researchers have demonstrated that this trend holds true even among the most talented low-income students who score in the top ten percent nationwide on the SAT or ACT.”
  • So, how important is it, in the long run, to attend a highly selective college? The report speaks quite clearly to this question:       “. . .       our analysis is unequivocal: high-achieving students who attend more selective schools graduate at higher rates, earn higher incomes, and are more likely to pursue a graduate degree. . . . This remains true even after controlling for [students’] academic ability. In other words, where you go to school matters.”
  • And here is one big example of why that statement is so true. In the report’s own words, “Top employers typically recruit from selective colleges and universities. And, selective institutions cultivate our nation’s leadership: 49 percent of corporate industry leaders and 50 percent of government leaders graduated from only 12 selective colleges and universities. If we want a nation where at least some of our leaders know first-hand what it is like to grow up poor, then the doors of selective institutions must be open to students from all communities. Low-income students depend on higher education as a route to social mobility, but college will never be the great equalizer if the brightest of the poor cannot even get in the door.”
  • Turning to the topic of financial aid, the report says this: “Our analysis of applications submitted through the Common Application organization (“Common App”) finds that 84 percent of high-achieving students with family incomes below $20,000 fail to obtain the Common App fee waiver for their college applications, despite clearly being eligible for one. This finding suggests that it is often a lack of knowledge about how college financial aid works that stands in the way of students applying, not students’ actual desires or financial circumstances.”
  • But here is the good news that the report offers its readers: “Research is clear that changing high-achieving, low-income students’ understanding of how college financial aid works can dramatically increase the number of applications they submit to selective schools. By sending students an inexpensive mailing costing $6, researchers were able to increase the percent of high-achieving, low-income students who applied and were admitted to a match institution by 31 percent. Other studies have found that simply sending semi-customized text messages to students’ cell phones can increase their completion of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), a necessary precursor to obtaining a federal Pell grant. This is a critical first step as our research suggests that only 71 percent of high-achieving, low-income students complete the FAFSA.”
  • And here is something that the report said and that we have said many times at NYCollegeChat: “While the cost of higher education has been rising for decades, the stated tuition and fees at elite colleges (especially private institutions) have skyrocketed, even after adjusting for inflation. Low-income families, seeing these ‘sticker prices,’ often fail to understand that with financial aid, attending a selective school might actually cost them less than their local public university.”

One of the scariest parts of the report for me was the section on the college admissions process—not the applications process, which is scary enough, but rather the admissions process, which is how colleges choose which students to admit from those who have applied. This section of the report does a good job of shining a spotlight on what happens behind the scenes as college admissions officers are pulled in this direction and that direction by various interest groups at the college and are faced with tens of thousands of applications to review and rank. The authors seem brutally frank in this section of the report. I have no reason to believe that it is not a true picture of what goes on, though I have no independent confirmation of it. Here is one of the conclusions that the authors draw:

The underrepresentation of high-achieving, low-income students is in large part the result of admissions practices utilized by selective colleges and universities that—presumably inadvertently—advantage privileged, wealthy students. Specifically, college and university admissions preferences provide advantages to athletes, children of alumni, and mediocre but full-paying students. Institutions compound the problem by giving advantages to students who visit the campus (which few low-income applicants can afford), apply early (which low-income students who must weigh aid packages in making college selection decisions cannot do), take the SAT or ACT multiple times and submit only their best scores (which is unavailable to low-income students who will be afforded a single fee waiver), and who do so after having been thoroughly coached (which few low-income students can afford). Additionally, low-income students tend not to have been exposed to college-level work or take AP/IB courses, which because of “weighting” by the high schools artificially inflates their GPA. Finally, the increasing reliance [on] standardized test scores in compiling an Academic Index to screen applications—so as not to overwhelm admissions officers with otherwise having to read thousands of applications—may unfairly eliminate disproportionate numbers of low-income students on the basis of small score differences, which we know are not predictive of college performance or indicative of any differences in ability. (quoted from the article)

2. What Can Be Done

Well, let’s start by saying that we probably cannot change the way that college admissions officers at highly selective colleges review applications against criteria set by those colleges. But here are some things that low-income parents of high-achieving kids can and should do:

  • Seriously consider whether your teenager should apply to a college under an Early Decision plan. If not, have your teenager apply under one or more Early Action plans, whenever possible. Either of these routes might well increase your teenager’s chance of acceptance.
  • Arrange for your teenager to take the SAT and/or ACT more than once, even if you have to pay for it. This act gives your teenager a chance to improve his or her scores, and we know that these scores are still important in most selective colleges.
  • Even better, figure out a way to get your teenager into a prep course for these college admission exams. Perhaps your school district or a nearby community center is offering one. The commercially available courses are expensive, to be sure—though even that might be worth it if your teenager’s scores need some major improvement.
  • If Advanced Placement (AP) courses are available at your high school, encourage your teenager to take one or more, if your teenager is academically ready to do so. Great alternatives to AP courses are dual-enrollment courses or Early College courses (if your high school is part of an Early College program); in both of these, students take actual college courses and earn actual college credits during high school, with the college credits typically free to the student. All of these options improve your teenager’s high school record, from the colleges’ point of view, by showing colleges that your teenager can handle college-level academic work.
  • Make sure your teenager applies for college application fee waivers, if your family is eligible. This means that your teenager can apply to a greater number and wider range of colleges since there is no cost to you.
  • Investigate highly selective colleges if your teenager has the grades and test scores to apply. Then, have your teenager apply! If you can’t get any help from the high school counselor in seeking out highly selective colleges, get help from somewhere else—a community leader, a teacher, or previous episodes of NYCollegeChat. We already know that high school counselors are overworked and underprepared to deal with many college issues.
  • Fill out the FAFSA as soon as it is available. Don’t miss the chance to apply for financial aid.
  • Once your teenager receives acceptances, encourage your teenager to go to the most selective college that accepted him or her. Hopefully, the financial aid offer from that college will make that possible.

Listen to the podcast to find out about…

  • More resources and forms of financial assistance available at colleges
  • More ways to improve the rigor of the senior year
  • More information on Early Decision and Early Action plans

Check out these websites we mention…

Learn more about these topics in previous episodes…

Ask your questions or share your feedback by…

  • Leaving a comment here on the show notes for this episode
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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.

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Subscribing to NYCollegeChat on iTunes, Stitcher, or TuneIn!
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Reviewing parent materials we have available at Policy Studies in Education
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Leaving us a comment or question at http://usacollegechat.org/26
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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

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