Episode 108: Early Decision and Early Action Anxiety in College Admissions–Part I

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Welcome back to Series 10, Issues in Higher Education. This is the second in our series of episodes discussing a variety of issues in higher education, and it’s a two-parter. Today’s and next week’s issue is one that, to put it bluntly, I find infuriating. This infuriation has likely been felt by anyone who has tried to navigate the world of Early Decision and Early Action admission to colleges in these past five or six months. So, let’s get started sorting it all out.

We will talk about Early Decision today; next week, we will look at Early Action and then talk about some colleges that offer both Early Decision and Early Action–and indeed some that offer more than one round of one and/or the other. It’s close to insane.

More than a decade and a half ago in September of 2001, The Atlantic published a long and fascinating article by James Fallows, entitled “The Early-Decision Racket.” We believe that title really says it all–now more than ever. For those of you interested in how we got here, read the article and get a brief history.

1. Early Decision Cons

In the olden days, it used to be that a student could apply to one college and one college only under an Early Decision plan–meaning that the student would apply early, get an answer early, and agree to attend that college if accepted. For students, it was–and still is–a binding decision. Furthermore, Early Decision was also the only “early” game in town.

Perhaps the most important reason that lots of folks grew to dislike the Early Decision option was–and likely still is–that a student accepted under this plan had to agree to attend the college before he or she had any other acceptances and before he or she had any idea what scholarships and other financial aid might be offered by any other colleges. For students who depended on financial aid to pay for college–and that’s more and more students these days, for sure–having to choose a college without being able to compare financial aid packages put those students and their families under undue financial pressure.

Many critics of Early Decision today express a legitimate concern that Early Decision favors the children of the wealthy, who do not need to worry about paying for college and comparing financial aid packages. Frank Bruni, a New York Times writer whose work we have read from twice before at USACollegeChat, wrote a column entitled “The Plague of ‘Early Decision’” last December. Talking about his view of the biggest problem with Early Decision at selective colleges, Mr. Bruni wrote this:

[Early decision] significantly disadvantages students from low-income and middle-income families, who are already underrepresented at such schools. There’s plenty of evidence that applying early improves odds of admission and that the students who do so–largely to gain a competitive edge–come disproportionately from privileged backgrounds with parents and counselors who know how to game the system and can assemble the necessary test scores and references by the November deadline.

These students also aren’t concerned about weighing disparate financial-aid offers from different schools and can commit themselves to one through early decision. Less privileged students need to shop around, so early decision doesn’t really work for them. (quoted from the article)

Mr. Bruni went on to quote one of our favorite experts here at USACollegeChat: Harold O. Levy, the executive director of the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation. (You can listen to our interview with Harold here.) According to Mr. Bruni, Harold said, “That’s just unfair in a profound way.” We know from our own earlier interview with Harold and from the Foundation’s excellent work that they are all about trying to ensure that our nation’s selective colleges open their doors to more low-income bright kids, who are often under-recruited and overlooked by these colleges.

Mr. Bruni goes on to register his own concern about a still different aspect of the Early Decision landscape:

[W]hat worries me . . . is how the early-application process intensifies much of what’s perverse about college admissions today: the anxiety-fueling, disappointment-seeding sense that one school above all others glimmers in the distance as the perfect prize; the assessment of the most exclusive environments as . . . the superior ones.

To follow up on Mr. Bruni’s notion, let me point to a story reported last December in The New York Times by Anemona Hartocollis and Richard Pérez-Peña. The title says it all: “Agony as Tulane Applicants Learn Acceptance Emails Are in Error.”

In a nutshell, 130 kids who had applied under an Early Decision option to Tulane University, a very good private university in New Orleans, received acceptance emails as a result of a glitch in new computer software even though they had not been accepted (in fact, some had been accepted for the following spring term, while others had been deferred to the regular decision pool of applicants). Admittedly, this is an awful and embarrassing situation for Tulane. But here is the “anxiety-fueling, disappointment-seeding” part that Mr. Bruni spoke of: The student being interviewed for The New York Times article “asked not to be fully identified because she was humiliated and did not want to be associated with what she called a scandal.” Humiliated? Really? Because she was not accepted Early Decision to Tulane (even though she was, in fact, accepted for the following spring term)? Maybe things have just gone too far.

The article about Tulane continues this way:

Students and parents, already full of anxiety over the high-stakes admissions process, expressed their disbelief and agony online.

“These kids are already so anxious, and the whole process has become so crazy, so this is really a horrible, horrible thing to put them through,” said Phillip Trout, a college counselor at Minnetonka High School in Minnetonka, Minn., and past president of the National Association for College Admission Counseling. (quoted from the article)

Yes, Mr. Trout. The process looks pretty crazy to many of us watching it, too.

So, Mr. Bruni offers us yet another perspective on the Early Decision issue, and it is this:

Early decision moves the admissions process forward on the calendar, so that high school students start obsessing sooner. They press themselves to single out a college at the start of senior year, when they may not understand themselves as well as they will toward the end of it. (quoted from the article)

Well, yes, high school seniors mature a bit and can think through complex problems better as the year goes on. I am not sure that there is much difference between applying to a college on November 1 under an Early Decision option and on January 1 under a regular deadline. However, there might indeed be a difference between a student’s making a final decision about a college to attend on November 1 (because the student’s decision would be binding if he or she were accepted in December) and making that final decision the following April from among, hopefully, several choices. So, I’ll give Mr. Bruni that point.

And here’s one last note from Mr. Bruni’s article:

Marla Schay, the head of guidance at Weston High School, in an affluent suburb outside Boston, told me that while 60 percent of the seniors there submitted early applications seven years ago, it’s above 86 percent now. (quoted from the article)

Wow, 86 percent of those likely well-off suburban kids applying early. Times have changed, and the race is clearly escalating. Any high school seniors who have to overcome any kind of barrier when making their college applications–whether that is financial worries or English as a second language or lack of college counseling or parents who cannot help?are going to be just that much further behind.

2. Early Decision Pros

On the other hand, if you can put those very substantial negatives aside, it seems to us that Early Decision is still a great option for some kids. I guess the problem is that Early Decision could be a great option for your own teenager, even if it might be a bad option for teenagers in general. With my education leader’s hat on, I have to say that Early Decision worries me increasingly; but with my advocate-for-one-particular-kid’s hat on, I still might recommend it for that one kid.

If your own teenager is absolutely clear about what his or her first-choice college is, then Early Decision is the way to go if that college has an Early Decision option. Many colleges have the option, but not all colleges have it.

Why might Early Decision be a good move for your teenager? There are two primary reasons. First, your family could get this whole college admissions process over with as efficiently as possible at some point in December. As we have already mentioned, the application is usually due around November 1, with a decision usually coming in December. And that would occasion a huge sigh of relief from everyone concerned! In fact, it also would save all of the stress of completing numerous applications. Even with the Common Application’s cutting down on some of that stress, it means that no more supplemental essays would have to be written and no more application fees would have to be paid.

The second reason might be even more important, and it is why we are hard-pressed not to recommend Early Decision for kids who are ready. It is that your child might actually have a better chance–even a much better chance–of being accepted if he or she applies Early Decision. There has been a lot of press about that recently, but I am going to go back to an excellent article by Nick Anderson in The Washington Post from last March, which offered some really rather astonishing statistics on 2015 numbers from 64 “prominent colleges and universities” (my guess is that this year’s numbers won’t be very different and, if anything, could well be more favorable toward Early Decision applicants). His article was aptly entitled “A college-admissions edge for the wealthy: Early decision.” Unfortunately, it’s just what critics fear. 

Here are the acceptance rates for Early Decision applicants (listed first) compared to the overall acceptance rates (that includes both early and regular admissions) for all applicants (listed second) from a selection of great colleges:

  • University of Pennsylvania: 24% vs. 10%
  • Tufts University: 39% vs. 16%
  • Kenyon College: 58% vs. 24%
  • Barnard College: 43% vs. 20%
  • Northwestern University: 38% vs. 13%
  • Duke University: 27% vs. 12%
  • Williams College: 41% vs. 18%
  • Haverford College: 46% vs. 25%
  • Johns Hopkins University: 29% vs. 13%
  • Smith College: 57% vs. 38%
  • Oberlin College: 54% vs. 29%

By the way, inasmuch as the overall acceptance rate includes both early and regular acceptance rates, the regular acceptance rate by itself would actually be even lower than the second numbers we just read.

Those percentages have got to make you think twice before you as a family dismiss the notion of applying on an Early Decision schedule. But if those numbers weren’t convincing enough, here is another eye-opening statistic from a sample of great colleges–the estimated percentage of the freshman class that is made up of Early Decision acceptances:

  • University of Pennsylvania:       54%
  • Middlebury College:       53%
  • Emory University: 53%
  • Vanderbilt University:       51%
  • Kenyon College: 51%
  • Barnard College: 51%
  • Northwestern University:       50%
  • Hamilton College: 50%
  • Swarthmore College:       50%
  • Bowdoin College: 49%
  • Duke University: 47%
  • Colorado College: 45%
  • Dartmouth College: 43%

Do you get the picture? Just about half of the seats in the freshman classes of these selective, academically first-rate colleges are filled before the applications of high school seniors applying on the regular schedule are even looked at. In fact, The Washington Post article declared that, of the top-60 national liberal arts universities and colleges, as ranked by U.S. News & World Report, 48 filled one-third or more of their seats with Early Decision applicants (including two more Ivy League schools, Brown University and Cornell University, with 38 percent shares each) and 16 filled one-half or more of their seats with Early Decision applicants.

You really have to stop and think about these statistics. No kidding. What are your teenager’s odds of getting into a place when one-third or one-half of the seats are already taken?

Some colleges are publicizing now that students who are accepted on an Early Decision schedule are getting nearly as much financial aid as those accepted on a regular decision schedule, so that’s a good thing for low-income kids who want to better their acceptance chances at a favorite college. And there is usually a disclaimer in college website information that a student may be released from a binding Early Decision acceptance if the financial aid package offered does not make it possible for that student to attend the college–though I have never tried to test that and, therefore, don’t know how sticky a college would make that withdrawal.

By the way, is it obvious why a college would want so many Early Decision students? It should be. A college wants good students who really want to be at that college. It doesn’t want to play the admissions game any more than the applicants do. It doesn’t want to be worried about the incoming class in April, either.

But somehow, my concern is still on the side of the students. And the number of Early Decision applications is going up, as more and more families hear the numbers you have just heard. Where will it all end?

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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 30: Colleges in the Southeast Region—Part II

Colleges in the Southeast Region—Part II
For show notes including links to all the colleges we mention, visit http://usacollegechat.org/30

In our last episode, we continued our virtual tour of colleges by focusing in on the six states in the Southern Southeast region: Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina. We looked at public universities—both the flagship state public universities and other public universities in those states. In this episode, we will continue our look into the Southern Southeast states by switching our focus to private colleges and universities.

Again, we want to make it clear that no college has asked us or paid us anything to name it. These are entirely our own choices.

Some of the colleges we will spotlight in this episode will require that your child have very good high school grades and college admission test scores to get in. Others will be a bit easier, especially if a college is looking for out-of-state students to enhance its student body’s geographic diversity.

Two general notes: First, when we talk about the colleges and universities in this episode, we are going to be talking about the main campus—that is, the one that most people associate with that institution—in those cases where an institution has more than one campus. Second, because enrollment figures are not necessarily comparable as reported by various colleges, you should use the figures we provide here just as an approximation of the actual campus enrollment, but one that is good enough to help you understand whether the student body is the right size for your child—roughly, small, medium, or really huge.

1. Private Colleges and Universities

The Southern Southeast states have a wide array of private higher education institutions—from small Bible colleges to small liberal arts colleges to larger universities. Let’s start with two private universities that most people have long considered two of the best in the South and that also enjoy a great national reputation: Emory University and Tulane University. Your child would need very good high school grades and college admission test scores to be admitted to either one.

Emory is located in Atlanta, Georgia, an impressive Southern city, which is the home of quite a few higher education institutions, both public and private. Emory is made up of nine undergraduate, graduate, and professional schools and colleges and offers undergraduates a chance to study the liberal arts and sciences, business, or nursing. It serves about 8,000 undergraduates and about 7,000 graduate and professional students. Emory has a unique program at its Oxford College, the site of the original Emory campus before it was moved to Atlanta. Oxford College now offers the first two years of a liberal arts college program on its smaller, residential campus east of Atlanta. Oxford “concentrates on the intellectual, social, and developmental needs of first- and second-year students. Oxford faculty are hired and promoted on the quality of their teaching and community service. Classes are intimate, with much discussion and interaction.” (Text taken from the website) After finishing the two years at Oxford, students can join any of the undergraduate schools on Emory’s Atlanta campus. What an interesting transition this is to life on a big urban university campus. Founded by Georgia Methodists, Emory also has an excellent graduate school of theology.

Turning to New Orleans, one of the true gems of the South, let’s look at Tulane. Tulane has five undergraduate schools—the School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine, the School of Science and Engineering, the School of Architecture, the A.B. Freeman School of Business, and the School of Liberal Arts—plus graduate and professional schools for law, medicine, and social work. Tulane enrolls about 8,000 undergraduates and about 5,000 graduate and professional students, drawn nationally and internationally. It also has something that I know Marie is going to love—the Newcomb College Institute, named for the original H. Sophie Newcomb Memorial College, which opened as the women’s college of Tulane in 1886. With its programming on women’s issues available to the whole university community, the Institute has the following mission: “To cultivate lifelong leadership among undergraduate women; to empower women by integrating teaching, research, and community engagement; to preserve, document, produce, and disseminate knowledge about women; and to honor the memory of H. Sophie Newcomb and carry forward the work of Newcomb College by providing a woman-centered experience in a co-ed institution” (text taken from the website). And did I say it was in New Orleans? No better place to be.

Let’s talk about one more private university—the University of Miami, with about 11,000 undergraduates and 5,000 graduate and professional students, drawn nationally and internationally. Located in suburban Coral Gables, the University of Miami has a name that sounds as though it might be public, but it is, in fact, private. It has grown in reputation over the past decade and a half during the presidency of Donna Shalala (who is resigning this year). Shalala was the former president of Hunter College here in New York City, the Chancellor of the University of Wisconsin–Madison (which we talked about in this Great Lakes episode), the U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services under President Clinton, and, most importantly, my professor at Teachers College, Columbia University, in 1975. The Coral Gables Campus of the University of Miami houses two colleges and seven schools, including the Frost School of Music, one of two original schools when the University was founded in 1926. The University’s Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science is located in Biscayne Bay, and there is a separate Medical Campus, which includes three hospitals. Undergraduates can earn degrees in 115 bachelor’s programs.

A Look at Five Interesting Choices. As we said in Episode 28, Colleges That Change Lives is a nonprofit organization that was founded after the publication of the book Colleges That Change Lives, by Loren Pope, a retired New York Times education editor. There are now 44 colleges and universities profiled in the book and on the organization’s website. Those that are included are not necessarily famous institutions, but they all care deeply about individual students and strive to make the college into a community to support students. Many of the institutions have engaging and experiential aspects to their programs—such as internships, international and intercultural programs, and service-learning projects. Most of the institutions are smaller colleges and universities that have proved to be successful at developing students both personally and academically so that they can succeed in life after their undergraduate college years.

Five of the 44 institutions on the list are located in the Southern Southeast states. You should read about them in the book or on the website, because you will learn much more about them than I can tell you here. Here are the five:

In Alabama: Birmingham–Southern College
In Mississippi: Millsaps College
In Florida: New College of Florida and Eckerd College
In Georgia: Agnes Scott College
New College of Florida, located in Sarasota, is an interesting choice because it was founded as a private college in 1960 and then joined the public State University System as part of the University of South Florida in 1975. In 2001, it was designated as the Honors College for the state of Florida. It enrolls just 800 students from 40 states and 15 foreign countries. Agnes Scott College, located in Decatur (right outside Atlanta), is an interesting choice because it is one of the just over 40 remaining women’s colleges in the U.S. It enrolls about 900 women, drawn from 36 states and 36 foreign countries. A liberal arts college, it offers 34 majors.

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

2. Colleges with a Special Academic Focus

In episode 4 of NYCollegeChat, we talked about colleges that have a special focus, whether it is an academic focus or a focus on certain student populations or something else. In our last episode, we spotlighted Georgia Tech, with its focus on technologically based fields.

Now let’s look at an institution with an arts focus, and that is Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD), located in Georgia’s prettiest town—and, I would argue, the prettiest town almost anywhere. Founded relatively recently in 1978, SCAD offers more than 40 undergraduate and graduate majors. The top five majors in 2014 were animation, graphic design, illustration, fashion, and film and television (though it also offers more traditional fine arts majors, like painting, sculpture, photography, and even writing). In the general education course requirements, students take courses in the humanities and fine arts, natural sciences and mathematics, social and behavioral sciences, written and oral communication, and computer literacy. SCAD enrolls a total of about 11,000 students, drawn nationally and internationally (almost 25 percent of the student body is international). Its rolling admissions process seems quite individualized, and portfolios will be an important part of the application process for some programs.

A more unusual special focus among higher education institutions is military service. In a much earlier episode of NYCollegeChat, we talked about the U.S. military service academies: the United States Naval Academy in Maryland (often referred to as Annapolis), the United States Military Academy in New York (commonly referred to as West Point), the Air Force Academy in Colorado, the United States Coast Guard Academy in Connecticut, and the United States Merchant Marine Academy in New York.

But now let’s look at the Military College of South Carolina, The Citadel, which is a public college located in Charleston. Founded in 1842, The Citadel has about 2,300 undergraduates (about half from South Carolina), who make up the South Carolina Corps of Cadets, and about 1,000 students in The Citadel Graduate College, a civilian evening program, which also offers undergraduate studies. As described on its website, “The men and women in the Corps live and study under a classical military system that makes leadership and character development an essential part of the educational experience.” 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. About one-third of graduating cadets are commissioned into military service, mostly into the Army.

A Look at Historically Black Colleges and Universities. In Episode 4 in Series 1 of NYCollegeChat, we talked about historically black colleges and universities (commonly referred to as HBCUs), which were established with the mission of educating African-American students solely or primarily—that is, a mission of serving students who had been excluded from many other higher education institutions because of their race. You might recall that there are just over 100 HBCUs—public and private, rural and urban, large and small (even very small), two-year and four-year and graduate schools. Many were founded in the South shortly after the Civil War, and these HBCUs share a proud history of becoming the first collegiate homes for family members of freed slaves.

As we explained in our earlier episode, HBCUs today enroll students who are not black. Some people say that it has become harder for HBCUs to recruit African-American students, who are now welcome at both selective and nonselective colleges across the U.S. Nonetheless, there is still a strong sense of community among the alumni/alumnae of HBCUs and a strong sense of tradition and shared culture on HBCU campuses.

As it turns out, a large number of HBCUs are located in the six Southern Southeast states—about 35 four-year HBCUs, plus the only HBCU public system, the Southern University and A & M College System in Louisiana, with campuses in Baton Rouge, Shreveport, and New Orleans. Southern University’s main campus in Baton Rouge enrolls about 6,000 undergraduates and 1,000 graduate and professional students, with another approximately 3,000 undergraduates at each of the New Orleans and Shreveport campuses. In Baton Rouge, undergraduate students can study in 34 majors across six colleges, including the College of Sciences and Agriculture and the College of Engineering and Computer Science, as befits an A & M (agricultural and mechanical) university.

Also in Louisiana is Xavier University of Louisiana, the only Catholic HBCU, which offers about 3,000 undergraduate, graduate, and professional students a choice of 46 majors. Xavier was founded as a high school by Sister Katharine Drexel and her Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament, a religious community dedicated to the education of African Americans and Native Americans. The college program was added in 1925.

One of the most famous HBCUs is Tuskegee University, founded in Alabama in 1881 by Booker T. Washington, who was the institution’s first teacher and its head until his death in 1915. Booker T. Washington brought George Washington Carver to Tuskegee to head its agricultural studies, and it was at Tuskegee that Carver did his work on peanuts and sweet potatoes and mobile classrooms to educate farmers and more. Both Washington and Carver are buried on Tuskegee grounds. Now serving about 3,000 students in seven schools and colleges, Tuskegee is the only HBCU to award a doctoral degree in veterinary medicine (from its College of Veterinary Medicine, Nursing & Allied Health), and it is the only college campus to be designated a National Historic Site by the U.S. Congress.

We find two well-known and highly respected HBCUs in Atlanta: the all-female Spelman College and the all-male Morehouse College, both founded by Baptist leaders. Spelman is a liberal arts college that offers 27 majors to just over 2,000 undergraduate women, drawn from most states (with New York as one of the top five states sending students to Spelman). It has an enviable student to faculty ratio of 10:1, meaning that students should typically be in small classes and get close attention from faculty members. Morehouse enrolls about 2,500 undergraduate men and offers 26 majors across three liberal arts and sciences academic divisions. Students 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. Morehouse has a roster of famous alumni, ranging from Martin Luther King, Jr., to Samuel L. Jackson and Spike Lee. Both Spelman and Morehouse have especially strong senses of tradition and pride in their college communities and among their alumni/alumnae.

If you are interested in an HBCU for your child, the Southern Southeast region is a particularly fertile spot to find one. There are 30 more in this region that you can read about on your own. Just search for the White House Initiative on HBCUs for a complete list.

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In our last episode, we continued our virtual tour of colleges by focusing in on the six states in the Southern Southeast region: Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina. We looked at public universities—both the flagship state public universities and other public universities in those states. In this episode, we will continue our look into the Southern Southeast states by switching our focus to private colleges and universities.

A virtual tour of private colleges in the Southeast Region of the US on NYCollegeChat podcast

Again, we want to make it clear that no college has asked us or paid us anything to name it. These are entirely our own choices.

Some of the colleges we will spotlight in this episode will require that your child have very good high school grades and college admission test scores to get in. Others will be a bit easier, especially if a college is looking for out-of-state students to enhance its student body’s geographic diversity.

Two general notes: First, when we talk about the colleges and universities in this episode, we are going to be talking about the main campus—that is, the one that most people associate with that institution—in those cases where an institution has more than one campus. Second, because enrollment figures are not necessarily comparable as reported by various colleges, you should use the figures we provide here just as an approximation of the actual campus enrollment, but one that is good enough to help you understand whether the student body is the right size for your child—roughly, small, medium, or really huge.

1. Private Colleges and Universities

The Southern Southeast states have a wide array of private higher education institutions—from small Bible colleges to small liberal arts colleges to larger universities. Let’s start with two private universities that most people have long considered two of the best in the South and that also enjoy a great national reputation: Emory University and Tulane University. Your child would need very good high school grades and college admission test scores to be admitted to either one.

Emory is located in Atlanta, Georgia, an impressive Southern city, which is the home of quite a few higher education institutions, both public and private. Emory is made up of nine undergraduate, graduate, and professional schools and colleges and offers undergraduates a chance to study the liberal arts and sciences, business, or nursing. It serves about 8,000 undergraduates and about 7,000 graduate and professional students. Emory has a unique program at its Oxford College, the site of the original Emory campus before it was moved to Atlanta. Oxford College now offers the first two years of a liberal arts college program on its smaller, residential campus east of Atlanta. Oxford “concentrates on the intellectual, social, and developmental needs of first- and second-year students. Oxford faculty are hired and promoted on the quality of their teaching and community service. Classes are intimate, with much discussion and interaction.” (Text taken from the website) After finishing the two years at Oxford, students can join any of the undergraduate schools on Emory’s Atlanta campus. What an interesting transition this is to life on a big urban university campus. Founded by Georgia Methodists, Emory also has an excellent graduate school of theology.

Turning to New Orleans, one of the true gems of the South, let’s look at Tulane. Tulane has five undergraduate schools—the School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine, the School of Science and Engineering, the School of Architecture, the A.B. Freeman School of Business, and the School of Liberal Arts—plus graduate and professional schools for law, medicine, and social work. Tulane enrolls about 8,000 undergraduates and about 5,000 graduate and professional students, drawn nationally and internationally. It also has something that I know Marie is going to love—the Newcomb College Institute, named for the original H. Sophie Newcomb Memorial College, which opened as the women’s college of Tulane in 1886. With its programming on women’s issues available to the whole university community, the Institute has the following mission: “To cultivate lifelong leadership among undergraduate women; to empower women by integrating teaching, research, and community engagement; to preserve, document, produce, and disseminate knowledge about women; and to honor the memory of H. Sophie Newcomb and carry forward the work of Newcomb College by providing a woman-centered experience in a co-ed institution” (text taken from the website). And did I say it was in New Orleans? No better place to be.

Let’s talk about one more private university—the University of Miami, with about 11,000 undergraduates and 5,000 graduate and professional students, drawn nationally and internationally. Located in suburban Coral Gables, the University of Miami has a name that sounds as though it might be public, but it is, in fact, private. It has grown in reputation over the past decade and a half during the presidency of Donna Shalala (who is resigning this year). Shalala was the former president of Hunter College here in New York City, the Chancellor of the University of Wisconsin–Madison (which we talked about in this Great Lakes episode), the U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services under President Clinton, and, most importantly, my professor at Teachers College, Columbia University, in 1975. The Coral Gables Campus of the University of Miami houses two colleges and seven schools, including the Frost School of Music, one of two original schools when the University was founded in 1926. The University’s Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science is located in Biscayne Bay, and there is a separate Medical Campus, which includes three hospitals. Undergraduates can earn degrees in 115 bachelor’s programs.

A Look at Five Interesting Choices. As we said in Episode 28, Colleges That Change Lives is a nonprofit organization that was founded after the publication of the book Colleges That Change Lives, by Loren Pope, a retired New York Times education editor. There are now 44 colleges and universities profiled in the book and on the organization’s website. Those that are included are not necessarily famous institutions, but they all care deeply about individual students and strive to make the college into a community to support students. Many of the institutions have engaging and experiential aspects to their programs—such as internships, international and intercultural programs, and service-learning projects.   Most of the institutions are smaller colleges and universities that have proved to be successful at developing students both personally and academically so that they can succeed in life after their undergraduate college years.

Five of the 44 institutions on the list are located in the Southern Southeast states. You should read about them in the book or on the website, because you will learn much more about them than I can tell you here. Here are the five:

New College of Florida, located in Sarasota, is an interesting choice because it was founded as a private college in 1960 and then joined the public State University System as part of the University of South Florida in 1975. In 2001, it was designated as the Honors College for the state of Florida. It enrolls just 800 students from 40 states and 15 foreign countries. Agnes Scott College, located in Decatur (right outside Atlanta), is an interesting choice because it is one of the just over 40 remaining women’s colleges in the U.S. It enrolls about 900 women, drawn from 36 states and 36 foreign countries. A liberal arts college, it offers 34 majors.

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

2. Colleges with a Special Academic Focus

In episode 4 of NYCollegeChat, we talked about colleges that have a special focus, whether it is an academic focus or a focus on certain student populations or something else. In our last episode, we spotlighted Georgia Tech, with its focus on technologically based fields.

Now let’s look at an institution with an arts focus, and that is Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD), located in Georgia’s prettiest town—and, I would argue, the prettiest town almost anywhere. Founded relatively recently in 1978, SCAD offers more than 40 undergraduate and graduate majors. The top five majors in 2014 were animation, graphic design, illustration, fashion, and film and television (though it also offers more traditional fine arts majors, like painting, sculpture, photography, and even writing). In the general education course requirements, students take courses in the humanities and fine arts, natural sciences and mathematics, social and behavioral sciences, written and oral communication, and computer literacy. SCAD enrolls a total of about 11,000 students, drawn nationally and internationally (almost 25 percent of the student body is international). Its rolling admissions process seems quite individualized, and portfolios will be an important part of the application process for some programs.

A more unusual special focus among higher education institutions is military service. In a much earlier episode of NYCollegeChat, we talked about the U.S. military service academies: the United States Naval Academy in Maryland (often referred to as Annapolis), the United States Military Academy in New York (commonly referred to as West Point), the Air Force Academy in Colorado, the United States Coast Guard Academy in Connecticut, and the United States Merchant Marine Academy in New York.

But now let’s look at the Military College of South Carolina, The Citadel, which is a public college located in Charleston. Founded in 1842, The Citadel has about 2,300 undergraduates (about half from South Carolina), who make up the South Carolina Corps of Cadets, and about 1,000 students in The Citadel Graduate College, a civilian evening program, which also offers undergraduate studies. As described on its website, “The men and women in the Corps live and study under a classical military system that makes leadership and character development an essential part of the educational experience.” 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. About one-third of graduating cadets are commissioned into military service, mostly into the Army.

3. Historically Black Colleges and Universities

In Episode 4 in Series 1 of NYCollegeChat, we talked about historically black colleges and universities (commonly referred to as HBCUs), which were established with the mission of educating African-American students solely or primarily—that is, a mission of serving students who had been excluded from many other higher education institutions because of their race. You might recall that there are just over 100 HBCUs—public and private, rural and urban, large and small (even very small), two-year and four-year and graduate schools. Many were founded in the South shortly after the Civil War, and these HBCUs share a proud history of becoming the first collegiate homes for family members of freed slaves.

As we explained in our earlier episode, HBCUs today enroll students who are not black. Some people say that it has become harder for HBCUs to recruit African-American students, who are now welcome at both selective and nonselective colleges across the U.S. Nonetheless, there is still a strong sense of community among the alumni/alumnae of HBCUs and a strong sense of tradition and shared culture on HBCU campuses.

As it turns out, a large number of HBCUs are located in the six Southern Southeast states—about 35 four-year HBCUs, plus the only HBCU public system, the Southern University and A & M College System in Louisiana, with campuses in Baton Rouge, Shreveport, and New Orleans. Southern University’s main campus in Baton Rouge enrolls about 6,000 undergraduates and 1,000 graduate and professional students, with another approximately 3,000 undergraduates at each of the New Orleans and Shreveport campuses. In Baton Rouge, undergraduate students can study in 34 majors across six colleges, including the College of Sciences and Agriculture and the College of Engineering and Computer Science, as befits an A & M (agricultural and mechanical) university.

Also in Louisiana is Xavier University of Louisiana, the only Catholic HBCU, which offers about 3,000 undergraduate, graduate, and professional students a choice of 46 majors. Xavier was founded as a high school by Sister Katharine Drexel and her Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament, a religious community dedicated to the education of African Americans and Native Americans. The college program was added in 1925.

One of the most famous HBCUs is Tuskegee University, founded in Alabama in 1881 by Booker T. Washington, who was the institution’s first teacher and its head until his death in 1915. Booker T. Washington brought George Washington Carver to Tuskegee to head its agricultural studies, and it was at Tuskegee that Carver did his work on peanuts and sweet potatoes and mobile classrooms to educate farmers and more. Both Washington and Carver are buried on Tuskegee grounds. Now serving about 3,000 students in seven schools and colleges, Tuskegee is the only HBCU to award a doctoral degree in veterinary medicine (from its College of Veterinary Medicine, Nursing & Allied Health), and it is the only college campus to be designated a National Historic Site by the U.S. Congress.

We find two well-known and highly respected HBCUs in Atlanta: the all-female Spelman College and the all-male Morehouse College, both founded by Baptist leaders. Spelman is a liberal arts college that offers 27 majors to just over 2,000 undergraduate women, drawn from most states (with New York as one of the top five states sending students to Spelman). It has an enviable student to faculty ratio of 10:1, meaning that students should typically be in small classes and get close attention from faculty members. Morehouse enrolls about 2,500 undergraduate men and offers 26 majors across three liberal arts and sciences academic divisions. Students 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. Morehouse has a roster of famous alumni, ranging from Martin Luther King, Jr., to Samuel L. Jackson and Spike Lee. Both Spelman and Morehouse have especially strong senses of tradition and pride in their college communities and among their alumni/alumnae.

If you are interested in an HBCU for your child, the Southern Southeast region is a particularly fertile spot to find one. There are 30 more in this region that you can read about on your own. Just search for the White House Initiative on HBCUs for a complete list.

Listen to the podcast to find out about…

  • Atlanta!
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  • Savannah!

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