Episode 120: Lots of College Options in Our New Workbook

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Today, we have figured out a way to talk both about our new book–How To Explore Your College Options: A Workbook for High School Students–and to make good on the title of our current series, Colleges in the Spotlight. As we were writing the book, we realized that we could use a lot of college examples, drawn from our earlier podcast episodes, to illuminate the points we were trying to make. I thought it would be interesting to see just how many colleges were mentioned in the book–and by “mentioned,” I mean that they were used to illustrate the answers to some of the 52 questions that teenagers are asked to find the answers to for each college on their Long List of College Options (LLCO). In a way, these colleges are in our spotlight for things that they are doing right or for characteristics they have that are noteworthy. To find out why we mentioned each college, you are going to have to get the book!

1. Colleges in the Spotlight

So, here we go. Here are the colleges that we thought were worth mentioning–for some reason or other (they are listed roughly in the order in which they are mentioned in the book, and I might have missed a few):

That’s more than 60 colleges, which is actually quite a few. Of course, you can always refer back to the virtual college tour we did in Episodes 27 through 53 for a discussion of even more colleges, organized by geographic region of the U.S.

But the new book doesn’t stop with those 60-plus. We also name some great college towns–“great,” according to one of the lists of great college towns that publications love to compile. Do you know what colleges are located in these towns?

  • College Station, TX
  • Charlottesville, VA
  • Saratoga Springs, NY
  • Asheville, NC
  • Flagstaff, AZ
  • Boulder, CO
  • Santa Cruz, CA
  • St. Augustine, FL
  • Burlington, VT
  • Annapolis, MD
  • Ann Arbor, MI
  • Athens, GA
  • Oxford, MS
  • Iowa City, IA

2. Now, It’s Up to You

Now, it’s up to you. At least, that is what we say at the end of the book. We wrote this to each student, assuming that he or she had done the assignments as they were presented: 

You have done a lot of work to gather information about the colleges on your LLCO. You have completed a College Profile Worksheet on quite a few colleges by now. You have learned more than many high school students know about a variety of specific colleges and about higher education generally. 

So, it’s time to start comparing and contrasting the colleges you have researched. That will be a long process, which will require analysis and evaluation by you and your parents and perhaps other important family members. And it’s okay that it is a long process because this is a big decision for all of you. 

Remember that choosing which colleges to apply to can be every bit as important as choosing which college to attend. In an ideal world, you should be happy with every college you apply to because that will take the pressure off as you wait for acceptances to come in. 

Of course, you might be more excited about some choices than others, but don’t apply to any college that you would not want to attend. That is a waste of your time and money. We are confident that there is a college that you can be admitted to that will make you happy. Even safety schools don’t have to be disappointing choices. If they are for you now, you just haven’t looked hard enough yet! Get busy.

We mean that last point really sincerely: If your teenager’s safety schools are disappointing choices for him or her, you all just haven’t looked hard enough yet. There are great colleges–especially some public flagship universities and some large private universities–that are very likely to admit good students, especially those who come from other states. Having a safety school that your teenager does not want to go to is really not having any safety school at all.

We mean it when we say, “Look harder.” We hope that our new book will help your teenager look harder, think harder, and work harder to expand his or her LLCO, to get exciting colleges onto that LLCO, to learn as much as possible about each one of them (by completing a College Profile Worksheet for each one), and to feel satisfied when all of the applications are submitted–that is, satisfied that all of the colleges he or she applied to are good choices, just for different reasons. And a satisfied teenager is likely to produce a satisfied parent. Or at least it should.

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Episode 87: Assignment #7–Looking at Core Curricula

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

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

Episode 87 Looking at College Core Curricula on USACollegeChat podcast

1. Your Assignment #7

Download the Assignment #7 Worksheet

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

2. What Is a Core Curriculum?

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

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

3. What Is the Purpose of a Core Curriculum?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4. Examples of a Core Curriculum

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Download the Assignment #7 Worksheet

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

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Episode 40: Colleges in the Far West Region—Part II

In last week’s episode, we continued our virtual tour of colleges by looking at the six states of the Far West region: Washington, Oregon, California, Nevada, Alaska, and Hawai‘i. We talked about public universities—both the flagship state public universities and other public universities in those states. Today, we will continue our tour of the Far West states by focusing on private higher education institutions.

Virtual tour of private colleges and universities in the Far West Region on NYCollegeChat. Episode an notes available at http://usacollegechat.org/40 #college #collegeaccess #parentsWe are going to check out several national universities, which really draw students internationally, as well as a handful of universities best known in their own region and a handful of smaller liberal arts colleges. Many of them happen to be located in the very large state of California. We feel that these are the private institutions in the Far West that are most likely to attract out-of-state students.

As we say in every one of our episodes, we want to make it clear that no college has asked us or paid us anything to name it. These are simply our choices.

1. Private Universities

Let’s look at three large private universities in California, all of which are excellent and all of which will require great to incredible high school GPAs and college admission test scores to get into. First, there is California Institute of Technology (commonly known as Caltech)—a first-rate university akin to Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Georgia Institute of Technology.

Founded in 1891 in lovely Pasadena, Caltech is “a world-renowned science and engineering research and education institution, where extraordinary faculty and students seek answers to complex questions, discover new knowledge, lead innovation, and transform our future,” according to its website. In most cases, I take website statements with a grain of salt; but, I believe this one is actually accurate.

About 1,000 undergraduate students study in 26 programs across six academic divisions: Biology and Biological Engineering, Chemistry and Chemical Engineering, Engineering and Applied Science, Geological and Planetary Sciences, Humanities and Social Sciences, and Physics, Mathematics and Astronomy. Caltech also enrolls about 1,200 graduate students—so, more graduate than undergraduate students.

Caltech boasts a student-to-faculty ratio of 3:1—so low a ratio that it is literally unbelievable (before this, the lowest we had seen was Rice University’s 6:1, which also seemed shockingly low). This means that students have unprecedented access to faculty in class and in research labs and likely outside of class as well. About 80 percent of Caltech undergraduate degree-holders go on to earn a graduate degree.

Despite enrolling really brainy students, Caltech fields 17 men’s and women’s varsity sports teams. Undergraduates live in eight Houses, each with its own character and each of which they visit during a process called Rotation.

New freshmen in the Class of 2018 are about 60 percent male and 40 percent female—a bit more balanced than the overall institution. Their average SAT scores are about 750 or better on each subtest. So, this is an institution for a very particular kind of student with very particular academic interests.

At about $45,000 in tuition and fees annually, Caltech’s cost is comparable to other top-tier universities and not surprising, given the equipment and lab expenses of operating a higher education institution focused on engineering and science.

Just a short drive away in Los Angeles, we find the University of Southern California (known as USC and, to its amazingly active alumni/alumnae, as SC). Founded in 1880 with 53 students, before Los Angeles had paved streets, USC now serves about 19,000 undergraduates and another 24,000 graduate and professional students—again, more graduate than undergraduate students and a very, very big student body for a private university. Almost one-quarter of its students are drawn internationally.

USC’s incoming freshmen have an average high school GPA of 3.73 and an average of close to 700 on each of the three SAT subtests; that’s a lot of smart kids. USC students are also athletic. USC was home to 418 Olympic athletes (between 1904 and 2010), the most of any U.S. university. And, it offers 20 men’s and women’s varsity sports teams. If you know any USC alums, you know that the Trojans play some serious football and you know that loyal alums into their eighties attend games in state and out of state. USC also offers students over 850 student organizations, including fraternities and sororities, to join.

USC has 21 undergraduate, graduate, and professional schools and colleges—as many as we have ever seen—including, its College of Letters, Arts and Sciences and a wide variety of career-related schools, such as its Schools of Cinematic Arts, Architecture, Dance, Business, Education, Music, Engineering, Art and Design, Accounting, Communication and Journalism, Public Policy, Dramatic Arts, and more. All undergraduates take a core of general education, writing, and diversity-themed courses.

With all of that available at USC, $48,000 in annual tuition and fees is perhaps understandable—though, obviously, still quite high.

Moving north, we come to Stanford University, located a bit south of San Francisco on a lovely campus with beautiful California Mission-style buildings of sandstone with red-tiled roofs. Leland Stanford Junior University was founded in 1885 by U.S. Senator Leland Stanford and his wife in memory of their son. They hired famous landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted to design the campus—and it shows. Stanford University was co-educational and nondenominational at a time when most private universities were neither.

It now serves about 7,000 undergraduates and about 9,000 graduate and professional students in seven schools, three of which serve undergraduate students: Earth, Energy and Environmental Sciences; Engineering; and Humanities and Sciences. Undergraduates choose from about 65 majors, with the top five majors all being in the sciences and engineering. Like Caltech, Stanford has an extraordinarily low and appealing student-to-faculty ratio of 4:1.

Surprisingly, given its first-rate national reputation, about 40 percent of undergraduates are Californians. Not surprisingly, given its outstanding academic reputation, about 75 percent of new freshmen have a high school GPA of 4.0 or higher and have a 700 or better on each of the three SAT subtests (including about 25 percent with perfect 800 scores).

About 96 percent of undergraduates live on campus and undoubtedly take part in approximately 650 student organizations. There are about 13,000 bicycles being ridden on campus every day. Stanford also provides a robust varsity sports program of 36 men’s, women’s, and co-educational teams. For a straight 38 years, at least one Stanford team has won a national championship (in 2013–14, it was women’s water polo).

At $45,000 in tuition and fees annually, its costs are high, but in line with other top universities.

2. Private Faith-Based Universities

The Far West has an interesting selection of faith-based universities that are well regarded, if not especially well known outside of the region. First, the Far West is home to four of the 28 Catholic Jesuit universities in the U.S.: Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, with about 6,000 undergraduates and a total of about 9,500 undergraduate, graduate, and professional students; Santa Clara University in Santa Clara, California, with about 5,500 undergraduates and a total of about 9,000 undergraduate, graduate, and professional students; Gonzaga University in Spokane, Washington, with about 5,000 undergraduates and a total of about 7,500 undergraduate, graduate, and professional students; and Seattle University in Seattle, Washington, with about 4,500 undergraduates and a total of about 7,500 undergraduate, graduate, and professional students. These are all substantial institutions. Pricewise, their annual tuition and fees range from about $38,000 to $44,000, with the ones in Washington being a bit cheaper than the ones in California.

As we have said in previous episodes, the Jesuits trace their commitment to education to St. Ignatius of Loyola, who founded the first Jesuit college in Messina, Sicily, in 1548. Jesuit institutions today place a strong emphasis on intellectual rigor and a liberal arts foundation, social justice issues worldwide, and a life of service. Students of all faiths are welcome at Jesuit institutions, and I believe that most students feel quite comfortable there, even if they are not Catholic.

Turning to a different faith-based tradition, Hawai‘i has a branch of Brigham Young University, operated by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, in a perfect locale just north of Honolulu. Its approximately 2,500 undergraduates drawn from 70 countries study in a relatively strict Mormon intellectual, ethical, and social setting, as we described in Episode 34 about the Rocky Mountain region’s Brigham Young University campuses in Utah and Idaho.

Moving on to another faith-based tradition, or perhaps more like a philosophy-based tradition, we have Soka University of America (SUA), located in Aliso Viejo in Orange County, California—a short drive from the beach. “Proudly founded upon the Buddhist principles of peace, human rights and the sanctity of life, SUA offers a non-sectarian curriculum” and welcomes students of all beliefs (quoted from the website).   With tuition of about $29,000, SUA offers full tuition scholarships to eligible students whose annual family income is $60,000 or less.

Soka means “to create value.” The mission of SUA is to “foster a steady stream of global citizens committed to living a contributive life” (quoted from the website). Soka schools—from kindergarten through college in Japan—are based on the work of a Japanese educator, imprisoned by Japanese authorities for opposing World War II and defending religious freedom. The education society that he founded is now one of the world’s largest Buddhist organizations made up of laypersons.

Founded in 1987, SUA has just about 400 undergraduate students and a handful of graduate students today—about half from the U.S. All undergraduates earn a B.A. in Liberal Arts, with a concentration in Environmental Studies, Humanities, International Studies, or Social and Behavioral Sciences. All students study abroad for one semester of their junior year, after four courses of language study in their choice of Chinese, French, Japanese, or Spanish—a required international perspective.

Finally, let’s look at Pepperdine University in Malibu, California, just north of Los Angeles. If you ever see its gorgeous campus perched high above the Pacific Ocean, you will never forget it. Pepperdine describes itself as “a Christian university committed to the highest standards of academic excellence and Christian values, where students are strengthened for lives of purpose, service and leadership” (quoted from the website). Founded in 1937, George Pepperdine spoke to students with these words that still guide the University:

There are many good colleges and universities which can give you standard academic training, but if our school does not give you more than that, it really has no reason to exist. The great difference between this college and other colleges is that we are endeavoring to place adequate emphasis and greater stress upon religious teaching and Christian character. We want to present to you, in teaching and example, the Christian way of life. We do not compel you to accept it. You are free to make your own choice, but we want you to know what it is. (quoted from the website)

Today, Pepperdine’s approximately 3,200 undergraduates (by the way, there are graduate programs in five schools as well) study in 44 majors in Seaver College of Letters, Arts, and Sciences, after a common core of 19 liberal arts courses, including three required religion courses: one on the Old Testament, one on the New Testament, and one on Christianity’s influences on culture (for example, the arts, education, social issues, and law). There are more than 115 student organizations and 17 men’s and women’s varsity sports teams to keep students busy. More than 60 percent study abroad at one of six Pepperdine facilities—in Buenos Aires, Florence, Heidelberg, Lausanne, London, and Shanghai. There is also a Washington, D.C., facility for “study abroad at home.”

Entering freshmen post an average high school GPA of 3.6 or a bit higher and SAT scores of about 625 to 650 on each of three subtests. About 55 percent of students come from California (maybe because not many kids from across the U.S. have seen Malibu yet). Tuition is hefty at $48,000 per year, but that view of the Pacific might be worth it.

3. Colleges That Change Lives

As we have said in several earlier episodes, 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. Most 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.

Six of the 44 institutions profiled are located in our Far West region. You should read about them in the book or on the website to learn more about them. They are The Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington, which we spoke about in detail in our last episode on public colleges; the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, Washington; Whitman College in Walla Walla, Washington; St. Mary’s College of California in Moraga, California; Willamette University in Salem, Oregon; and Reed College in Portland, Oregon.

Let’s focus on Reed for a moment and its approximately 1,400 undergraduate students studying in 40 majors (there are also some graduate students). Long known as a nontraditional college for smart students, Reed has been committed to a liberal arts education since its founding in 1908 from the estates of Oregon pioneers Simeon and Amanda Reed. Its freshmen take a year-long interdisciplinary humanities course, its juniors sit for a qualifying exam in their major, and its seniors write an original research or artistic thesis and defend it orally. Feedback from professors to students in their courses is through narrative comments rather than through traditional grades.

Reed is characterized by free thinking, lack of rules and regulations, its Honor Principle that governs both academic and social life, and small classes with open discussion. About 70 percent of its students go on to graduate or professional school, and about 25 percent go on to earn a Ph.D.

Reed offers club sports and outdoor programs, but no varsity sports. It does offer a wide variety of student organizations, funded by a student vote. Its incoming freshmen boast an average high school GPA of 3.9 and a pair of SAT subtest scores around 700—so these are bright kids in an intriguing and free-spirited academic environment. Almost 30 percent of students are from underrepresented minority groups, and about 50 percent come from the Far West states. Undergraduate tuition and fees are admittedly super high at about $50,000 per year.

Because these Colleges That Change Lives 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 good chance of being accepted (though that would need to be a really great high school record to be admitted to Reed).

4. Other Private Colleges

Of course, there are still more private colleges in these Far West states, especially in California—indeed, too many to discuss here. But I would like to mention one well-known consortium of colleges, The Claremont Colleges. Founded on the vision of James A. Blaisdell in 1925, The Claremont Colleges are described this way in Blaisdell’s own words:

My own very deep hope is that instead of one great, undifferentiated university, we might have a group of institutions divided into small colleges — somewhat of an Oxford type — around a library and other utilities which they would use in common. In this way I should hope to preserve the inestimable personal values of the small college while securing the facilities of the great university.

Blaisdell’s vision, which tries to have the best of both worlds, produced today’s consortium of five colleges—Pomona College, founded in 1887 and the founding college of this consortium almost five decades later; Scripps College in 1926; Claremont McKenna College in 1946; Harvey Mudd College in 1955; and Pitzer College in 1963—plus two graduate institutions and a support services entity. The colleges are located in Claremont, about 35 miles inland from Los Angeles—“within an hour of the Pacific Ocean, the Mojave Desert, the San Gabriel Mountains and the city of Los Angeles,” as the website boasts.

With a total enrollment of about 7,700 students, each college has its own campus within the same one square mile and its own students, but students are able to take a significant number of courses from the 2,500 offered across the five colleges or even to major in something at another of the five colleges. Here are the thumbnail descriptions of the five institutions:

  • Pomona College offers its 1,600 students a liberal arts curriculum, with 47 majors and a focus on the humanities, natural sciences, and social sciences. It has an attractive 8:1 student-to-faculty ratio. Despite its small size, it offers 21 varsity sports teams and over 220 student organizations.
  • Scripps College is a liberal arts college for just under 1,000 women; about 30 percent are students of color. Scripps offers 65 majors, a required Core Curriculum of three challenging interdisciplinary humanities courses, and a required senior thesis. It fields 21 varsity sports teams in collaboration with its consortium mates Claremont McKenna College and Harvey Mudd College.
  • Claremont McKenna College—once Claremont Men’s College, but now coeducational—offers its 1,300 students a liberal arts curriculum with 33 majors and a focus on economics, government, and international relations. It also has an attractive 8:1 student-to-faculty ratio.       About 90 percent of its students have an internship during their college years.
  • Harvey Mudd College offers majors in just six fields—biology, chemistry, computer science, engineering, mathematics, and physics, plus a few joint majors—but also requires a humanities course and a writing course of all students. Since 1963, its Clinic Program has engaged juniors and seniors in solving real-world problems for industry clients. Harvey Mudd has a student body of just about 800 undergraduates.
  • Pitzer College offers its 1,000 students about 40 fields of study in an “interdisciplinary liberal arts education emphasizing social justice, intercultural understanding and environmental sensitivity” (quoted from the website). Students are expected to engage in community service and are given the freedom to create their own academic programs; there are no traditional core course requirements. About 75 percent of Pitzer students study abroad.

The SAT subtest scores of entering freshmen at The Claremont Colleges are strong—about 680 to 735 across the board. In 2003, however, Pitzer adopted a test-optional admission policy “following a study that proved that there was no direct correlation between academic success at Pitzer and standardized testing. Since Pitzer stopped requiring the SAT or ACT for admission, the campus has seen a 58 percent increase in diversity, an 8 percent increase in GPA, and a 39 percent increase in applicants with a 10 percent increase in retention. The College has also doubled the number of students from low income, first generation backgrounds” (quoted from the website). And that is all quite impressive.

Tested or not, students at The Claremont Colleges are smart. For example, about 40 percent of the incoming freshmen in the Class of 2018 at Harvey Mudd were valedictorians or salutatorians of their high school class. Students at the five colleges pay about $46,000 to $49,000 annually in tuition and fees for the privilege of attending this unique consortium.

If we had more time, I might talk about Occidental College in Los Angeles or Mills College, a women’s college in Oakland, California—two more private liberal arts colleges that are worth a look.

5. Looking Back

I am struck by how difficult it appears for students to get into the private colleges we talked about in this episode. Some have always been very selective, but others have gotten increasingly so in the past two or three decades. I usually think that students from outside a region with decent, but not outstanding, grades might have a better shot at getting into a college than comparable students within the region. But I am not sure that is the case here. What I do know is that there are some great choices on the West Coast that are worth thinking hard about if you have a child who has done really well in high school. Otherwise, some of the faith-based institutions and some of the Colleges That Change Lives might give your good, but not great, student a chance to enjoy the West.

Listen to the podcast to find out about…

  • Why some faith-based colleges could be a surprisingly interesting choice
  • What colleges a kid might actually be able to get into these days
  • How interesting the vision for The Claremont Colleges turned out to be

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Episode 39: Colleges in the Far West Region—Part I

This is the thirteenth episode in our virtual tour of colleges across the U.S. as we continue to help you find colleges that might be appropriate for your child, but that are outside your geographic comfort zone. So far, we have toured the Great Lakes region, the Southeast region, the Rocky Mountain region, the Plains region, and the Southwest region. This episode takes us out to the Far West, which I know is likely to be outside the geographic comfort zone of lots of families here in the Northeast. But don’t be too hasty, listeners.

Virtual tour of public colleges in the Far West region of the US on NYCollegeChat podcast. Show notes available at http://usacollegechat.org/39

Remember that we are discussing only four-year colleges in our tour, reasoning that students who plan to attend two-year colleges are highly likely to go to the closest one, which makes a certain amount of sense for a two-year college. We think it makes less sense if you are planning to send your teenager to a four-year college for lots of reasons we have discussed.

And, just to repeat, no college has asked us or paid us anything to include it in our virtual tour. These are our own choices.

1. The Far West Region

As we have said, the Bureau of Economic Analysis (an agency of the U.S. Department of Commerce) has divided the U.S. into eight regions, with each region’s covering from four to 12 states. In this episode, we will start our examination of the six states in the Far West region: Washington, Oregon, California, Nevada, Alaska, and Hawai‘i.

I am sure that our listeners east of the Mississippi are thinking that some of those states sound very far away. But that alone doesn’t make them a bad choice as a place for your child to go to college. So let’s have a look this week at public colleges in these six states and next week at private colleges in these six states.

2. Flagship Public State Universities in Five States

As is our custom, let’s start with this region’s flagship public state universities. Each of the six states has one, as those of you who are regular listeners know by now. And, as usual, some of them are better known nationally than others. While flagship universities typically have smaller branch campuses in other locations in their states, it is the main location—that is, the flagship of each state’s public system—that we will talk about here because that is the campus that is most respected and most widely recognized, both in the state and certainly outside the state. Right now, let’s look at five of the states. We are going to save California for its own segment in a few minutes, because its public higher education system is enormous and complex and needs its own separate explanation.

Let us remind you one more time of what we have said in other episodes about flagship campuses: They are the place to be, if you graduated from high school in that state. Why? Because they are relatively inexpensive, academically respectable, well regarded across the state and across the country, usually super-competitive in sports arenas, chocked full of student clubs and activities, within driving distance of home, and a social hub for high school classmates.

For many students, I think that great flagship campuses in other states are the hidden jewels of the college search.

So, what are these flagship campuses in our five Far West states (not counting California)? They are the University of Washington in Seattle (UW), the University of Oregon in Eugene (UO), the University of Nevada, Reno (UNR), the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa (UH Mānoa), and the University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF).

So, let’s talk cities. Have you been to Seattle? It’s a lovely city—a real city—with relatively nearby mountains and lots of water. There are picturesque neighborhoods and boats and the famous fish market, and there is also a major city center. The UW campus, by the way, is perfectly beautiful—one of the prettiest I have ever seen.

Eugene and Reno are both set in hiking-rafting-kayaking-mountain biking outdoor country. Eugene is an hour from Oregon’s breathtaking Pacific coast and two hours from Portland, seemingly everyone’s new favorite city on the West Coast. Eugene makes everybody’s list of great college towns to live in. At the base of the Sierra Nevada, Reno is 30 minutes from the majesty of Lake Tahoe, a true vacationland. Though Reno is often associated with Las Vegas because of its casinos, it is actually closer geographically to Sacramento than to Las Vegas—a two-hour drive vs. a seven-hour drive.

And what is there to say about Mānoa and Fairbanks—two spots as physically different and dramatic as we can imagine in the U.S., but both intriguing to most of us in the rest of the country.

Turning to the five flagship universities, we can put them into three groups by enrollment size, starting with the largest university, which is UW with about 31,000 undergraduates and a total of about 45,000 undergraduate, graduate, and professional students. These enrollment figures put UW right up there with our larger flagship universities nationwide, though below the very largest. About 75 percent of students at all three UW System campuses are Washington residents (my guess is that the percent of residents is a bit lower at the flagship campus in Seattle because that is the one most likely to attract out-of-state students). The average high school GPA of incoming freshmen is an impressive 3.75, and the average SAT score for all three subtests is a combined 1833—in other words, perhaps a set of scores in the low 600s across the three subtests.

UO comes in next with about 21,000 undergraduates and a total of about 24,000 undergraduate, graduate, and professional students—a bit more than half the size of UW. Just over 50 percent of UO’s students come from Oregon, so students from out of state would feel quite at home in Eugene. Freshmen at UO come with an average high school GPA of 3.58 and SAT subtest scores in the high 500s. Perhaps the relatively low percentage of home-grown Oregonians at UO is accounted for by the fact that high school students in Oregon have a second attractive state university—that is, Oregon State University in Corvallis—with just as many students, if not more, and an entering GPA that is just as high. More about Oregon State University later.

Following close behind UO are UH Mānoa and UNR, each with about 19,000 total students, with 14,000 to 16,000 being undergraduates. Each university draws about 65 to 70 percent of its students from its own state. Interestingly, UNR serves about one-third “underrepresented” students, and the University has set a goal to grow its enrollment to 22,000 total students. So, it is on the move. Not surprisingly, at UH Mānoa, white students make up just about one-quarter of the enrollment, with Asian students being the largest segment at about one-third of the student body.

Compared to these first four flagship universities, UAF is rather small, with just about 6,500 total students; about 90 percent are undergraduates, and 90 percent are Alaska residents. While it is understandable that not too many high school graduates from around the U.S. are drawn to a university in faraway Alaska, UAF does boast students from 49 states. Though UAF is just about one-third the size of UNR or UH Mānoa, it is safe to say that a university of 6,000 undergraduates would still feel quite large to a new freshman; after all, that is a lot bigger than the student body at many, many small liberal arts colleges. One advantage of UAF’s size is its enviably low 11:1 student-to-faculty ratio—extraordinarily low for a public university.

Each of these flagship universities does, in fact, attract students nationally and internationally, even if not in great numbers. As we have often said, colleges love geographic diversity, and students might be able to get into a better college by looking a bit farther afield at a college that is lacking, but is seeking, that diversity. Any of these universities would likely be interested in a student from the other side of the country if that student posted a decent high school GPA and some decent college admission test scores—though those grades and scores will have to be better than decent if the student is interested in UW.

The flagship universities in Washington, Oregon, and Nevada were all founded in the 1860s and 1870s. UW was founded in 1861 before statehood by its Territorial Legislature, which stipulated that the Territorial University would have four departments: literature, science, and the arts; law; medicine; and the military—an interesting set of choices.

UH Mānoa and UAF came along later in the early 1900s, though well before statehood. In fact, in 1959, the Alaska Constitution was written in one of the buildings on the UAF campus and then signed in another. Also prior to statehood, UAF opened its Geophysical Institute, which has an international reputation in the study of the earth and the physical environment at high latitudes and which is now home to the Poker Flat Research Range, the only university-based rocket range in the world (it provides launching facilities for NASA and the Department of Defense).

Turning to academics, these flagship universities have from 8 to 16 undergraduate, graduate, and professional schools and colleges—from liberal arts and sciences to every kind of career-related field, including, at the undergraduate level, engineering, education, business, journalism, fine arts, architecture, nursing, and agriculture and natural resources.

But here are some of the more innovative schools and colleges where undergraduates can study. UW has a College of Built Environments, which houses its architecture, construction management, landscape architecture, urban design and planning, and real estate departments. UO has a School of Architecture and Allied Arts, offering studies in architecture, art, arts administration, digital arts, historic preservation, the history of art and architecture, interior architecture, landscape architecture, planning, public policy and management, and product design. Perhaps as should be perfectly obvious, UAF offers a College of Engineering and Mines and a School of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences.

However, my vote for most intriguing colleges and schools has to go to UH Mānoa. Among its 14 colleges and schools, it offers a School of Travel Industry Management, which integrates the studies of hospitality, tourism, and transportation management, designed to support the state’s leading industry with a decidedly international flavor, including studies in international economic and political systems. UH Mānoa also offers a School of Pacific and Asian Studies, with eight individual Centers for Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Okinawan, Pacific Islands, Philippine, South Asian, and Southeast Asian Studies.

Its newest school, established in 2007, is the School of Hawaiian Knowledge, created “to pursue, perpetuate, research, and revitalize all areas and forms of Hawaiian knowledge, including its language, origins, history, arts, sciences, literature, religion, education, law, and society, its political, medicinal, and cultural practices, as well as all other forms of knowledge” (quoted from the website). This school offers a B.A. in Hawaiian Studies, which includes third-level proficiency in the Hawaiian language. I am struck by how unique some of these area studies and cultural offerings are and how much studying at UH Mānoa could be like studying abroad for virtually all students from the other 49 states.

Let us also say that UNR does something interesting with its freshmen by requiring students to take their choice of two of UNR’s three interdisciplinary Core Humanities courses, taught by English, history, foreign languages and literatures, philosophy, and political science professors: Ancient and Medieval Cultures, The Modern World, and/or American Experiences and Constitutional Change.

These flagship universities offer from about 100 to more than 200 undergraduate degree programs across their numerous undergraduate colleges and schools. So students should be able to find exactly what they want. Interestingly, at UW, the largest of the universities with the most options to choose from, about 70 percent of undergraduate degrees are from the College of Arts and Sciences.

Like all other flagship universities, each of these has more than 100 student clubs and organizations—and sometimes several hundred. And there are lots of outdoor recreation opportunities in all of these locales, along with club sports and intramurals. By the way, UAF is the only U.S. university with its own snowboarding terrain park.

There are also varsity sports teams—from 16 to 21 women’s and men’s and co-ed teams (with just 10 teams at the smaller UAF campus). Though UW Huskies fans might dispute this, I am going to say that the sport I think of first at these universities is track and field at UO, where the men just won back-to-back NCAA national championships and where Hayward Field, a dedicated track venue, is the frequent host of national championships and Olympic trials.

As we have seen in other regions, out-of-state tuition at these flagship universities is not cheap, running from about $20,000 to $34,000 per year—about three times what a state resident would pay. But that is still lower than many private colleges in your home state—that is, before any financial aid package is figured in. More important, as we have said before, these flagship universities are better academically and more widely recognized than many private colleges in the U.S., and there is no prestige in attending a private college that is not as good as a great public university.

As we have mentioned in previous episodes, some of these universities are members of the Western Undergraduate Exchange (WUE), a program of the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education (WICHE). WUE allows students who are residents of WICHE states to request a reduced tuition rate of just 150 percent of resident tuition at participating colleges outside of their home state (as we discussed in Episode 33). WUE effectively broadens a student’s opportunities to look at first-rate public institutions in nearby states, without any substantial financial consequences. Look hard at any public universities your child is interested in to see whether there might be a similar exchange program in place in your state.

3. Other Public State Universities

In each of these Far West states, there are also other public universities—not branches of the flagship campus or campuses within the flagship system, but universities in their own right. Let’s look at three that we think are most likely to attract out-of-state students.

We have already mentioned one, and that is Oregon State University in Corvallis, which actually has a larger total student enrollment than UO (about 30,000 across two campuses) and which attracts equally talented freshmen. Corvallis, located 90 miles south of Portland, is a small, safe, environmentally responsible, outdoorsy college town. Offering over 200 undergraduate degree programs in nine of its 11 colleges, OSU has a College of Forestry and a College of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences—both of which make sense, given its location between the Cascade Range and the Pacific Ocean. Founded in 1868, its campus is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is known for its classic and well-planned architectural and landscape design. It is one of two U.S. universities to have Land Grant, Sea Grant, Space Grant, and Sun Grant designations. In a future episode, we should talk about the history of land grant universities, but, suffice it to say, that having all four designations is impressive.

Let’s turn to the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV), founded relatively recently in 1957 as an outpost of UNR and then earning independent and equal status in 1968. It serves about 24,000 undergraduates and a total of about 29,000 undergraduate, graduate, and professional students, making it considerably larger than the flagship UNR. About 85 percent of its students are from Nevada, and about 55 percent are minority students. It has a total of 10 schools and colleges, including the William F. Harrah College of Hotel Administration, the Greenspun College of Urban Affairs, the Howard R. Hughes College of Engineering, and a College of Fine Arts. Its urban location in Las Vegas makes it a very different choice for students from UNR’s location in the northern part of the state.

Given the size and the diversity of academic offerings of OSU and UNLV, it seems that these two universities are competitively attractive when compared to the flagship universities in their states (perhaps a bit like the University of Michigan and Michigan State University, as we discussed in our Great Lakes public university episode). So both could be worth a look for out-of-state students.

The third institution we would like to spotlight is The Evergreen State College, located about an hour south of the Seattle-Tacoma airport in Washington’s capital city of Olympia. When you view Evergreen by air, what you see are—wait for it—a million evergreen trees, calm waters, and a few college buildings. Founded quite recently in 1971, Evergreen is a public liberal arts college, serving about 4,500 students, mostly undergraduates, and offering them more than 60 fields of study to choose from. It is deeply environmentally responsible and has been repeatedly recognized for its innovative, cool, free spirit style and substance. Evergreen prides itself on having its students learn through interdisciplinary study, collaborative learning activities with their classmates from diverse backgrounds, and opportunities to link theory with practical applications.

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

Out-of-state students pay about $22,000 per year in tuition (compared to the $8,000 that Washington residents pay). But, even so, that is about half as much as most private liberal arts colleges, especially those that have this innovative a take on higher education.

As we have said before, all of these public universities (and there are more in these states than those we mentioned here, especially in Washington) would cost an out-of-state student more than a public university in his or her own state, but less than most private colleges. So, consider looking at public universities, beyond just the flagship university, for the innovative programs or the appealing locations or the breadth of opportunties that they offer.

4. Public State Universities in California

We now come to public universities in California. Remembering that California is a physically huge and populous state, we can expect a lot of public options. California boasts its University of California campuses (California’s premier public system), its California State University campuses (its second tier of public colleges), and its California Community Colleges System campuses (its third tier of public colleges, which offer opportunities to an enormous number of California students who do not have the high school grades and/or the financial resources and/or the inclination to attend one of California’s public four-year campuses). In the wake of tight state budgeting, whether California universities should accept more out-of-state students, who bring their higher tuition payments, or keep more spaces open for its own students has been a political football tossed back and forth in the media a lot lately.

With that said, both the UC campuses and the CSU campuses have elaborate eligibility standards, which include the student’s high school GPA calculated for 15 required core courses, class rank, and SAT or ACT scores, and which vary by the student’s place of residence in and outside of California. While it is not necessary to go into these details right now, suffice it to say that out-of-state students will have to meet higher admission standards than California residents for both UC and CSU campuses. And that is on top of the fact that space in some programs on some of these campuses is extremely limited.

With all that as a backdrop, let’s start by taking a quick look at the University of California, Berkeley, considered by most to be the flagship public university (though it seems to me, as an outsider, that California is really more like New York—that is, it has many individual universities, loosely coupled into a system and governed by that system, but each having the stature and character of an independent well-known university). There is a lot to recommend it as a place to study, including its charming campus in Berkeley, north of San Francisco and Oakland. Founded in 1868 by the merger of two tiny colleges, UC Berkeley (fondly referred to as Cal by Californians) is the oldest of the UC campuses. Today it has an undergraduate enrollment of about 27,000 students and a total enrollment of about 38,000 students, who are studying in 14 undergraduate, graduate, and professional colleges and schools. Those of us of a certain age remember the UC Berkeley of the 1960s as a campus where politically conscious students protested for their right to free speech in the wake of civil rights struggles and then the war in Vietnam. While UC Berkeley has long been known for its brainy students, today it is super-hard to get into, posting a low acceptance rate of about 17 percent of applicants. The average high school GPA of new freshmen is a 4.19 and their entering SAT scores are at about 700 on each of three subtests. To be sure, UC Berkeley ranks as one of the very best public institutions in the U.S. and, indeed, as one of the best public or private institutions in the U.S. While California residents pay about $13,000 in tuition per year, nonresidents pay about $34,000 in tuition per year—still less than you would pay at comparable first-class private universities.

Perhaps the best known of the UC campuses is UCLA—the University of California, Los Angeles. Started in 1919 as the University of California’s Southern Branch, UCLA’s star has been rising ever since and, by many accounts, it now ranks academically with UC Berkeley. Its incoming freshman class average GPA is 4.25, with comparably high SAT scores. UCLA currently serves about 28,000 undergraduates and a total of about 42,000 undergraduate, graduate, and professional students. About one-third of its undergraduates are Asian, and about one-quarter are white. About 80 percent are California residents. UCLA’s undergraduates study in 125 majors across five schools and colleges: College of Letters and Science and the Schools of the Arts and Architecture; Engineering and Applied Science; Theater, Film and Television; and Nursing. And they play some great basketball (can you say Kareem Abdul-Jabbar?), have won more NCAA titles than any other university, and have produced 250 Olympic medalists. Again, your child would need to be exceptional to get into UCLA these days.

The UC System has seven more campuses that serve undergraduate students, but all require out-of-state students to have a 3.4 GPA for a set of 15 required core courses taken in high school, with no grade lower than a C. So the admission standards are indeed high.

The California State University System, on the other hand, has 23 campuses, spread from the top to the bottom of the state. Tuition is a bargain at about $5,500 per year for California residents and about $17,000, by my calculation, for out-of-state students. It has always been my impression that these state universities are easier to get into than those in the University of California System, but deciphering the admissions requirements can be daunting for non-Californians unfamiliar with the lingo. Our best advice is that you should talk directly with an admissions officer at the campus, if your child is interested in attending a public state university in California—many of which could be attractive options.

Let me just say a word about paying close attention to which university you are actually investigating because names can be mighty similar. For example, there is the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), but also the California State University, Los Angeles. Or, to make matters worse, there is the University of California, San Diego, but also San Diego State University (in the California State University System), as well as the University of San Diego (a private Catholic university).

So, is it more trouble than it is worth to try to go to a public university in California as an out-of-state student? Well, it is certainly trouble. But I don’t think any student currently studying on a public campus in beautiful Santa Barbara or San Diego or Monterey Bay or Sonoma County or San Francisco would think it’s more trouble than it’s worth.

Listen to the podcast to find out about…

  • How remarkably diverse college options are in the Far West
  • How remarkably unique The Evergreen State College is for a public college
  • How remarkably complex public higher education is in California

Check out these higher education institutions and organizations we mention…

In New York State

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