Episode 160: The Best Advice About Choosing a College

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Well, most of you have made a decision about what college your kid is going to by now.  You all have sifted through the acceptances (hopefully, there was more than one), weighing all manner of things while making the decision.  However, I know there are still a few of you out there who have not quite decided yet.  I know because I talked to a mother just a few days ago who was in the throes of helping her daughter make her decision.  Our meeting was quite accidental; she was the physician’s assistant in the surgeon’s office where my daughter and I were contemplating my daughter’s emergency knee surgery.  As soon as the physician’s assistant found out what I did, after I had volunteered some unsolicited advice, she engaged me in a longer discussion of her daughter’s options.  I was happy for the distraction.

1. Here We Go Again

Her daughter had an array of options:  several okay acceptances, but not from truly selective colleges; an acceptance from Fordham University; and wait list spots at Wake Forest University and Colgate University.  The mother, I’ll call her Leeann, had planned to keep one of the okay colleges on the list, as her daughter pursued the wait list possibilities.  Leeann said that she and her daughter had not visited Fordham (although they live right here) because her daughter had hoped to go away to college and try something different from New York City.  Guess what I said?

It’s the advice we always give (and this is the third episode this month that we have given it in, so maybe we think it is really important):  Send your kid to the best college he or she got admitted to.  Period.  Wherever that college is and whatever it costs (to the degree that it is humanly possible).  That’s the college to choose.

The okay college that Leeann was keeping on her daughter’s list is not nearly as good as Fordham.  Yes, it is a college that, for some reason I cannot quite explain, has become popular here in the East, though it is in the South.  It is out of town, which was her daughter’s preference, and Leeann was worried that her daughter would come home every weekend if she stayed in New York City for college.  My daughter, who, as you loyal listeners know, went to Fordham for the joint dance program with The Ailey School of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, assured Leeann that her daughter would not be coming home every weekend because there was plenty of fun and engaging stuff to do on campus.  My daughter assured Leeann that she had had plenty of friends in Fordham’s Gabelli School of Business (where Leeann’s daughter would be heading) and that they had not gone home on the weekends.

We continued to chat about the two wait list options–both very good options and both very unlike Fordham in location and size.  And both head and shoulders above that other only-okay option that Leeann had been keeping on the table.  When we left the surgeon’s office, Leeann had taken the only-okay college off the list and was headed home to talk to her daughter about taking a look at Fordham’s campus (which is quite lovely and self-contained, by the way, even if it is in the middle of the Bronx).  I can’t wait to hear the results.

It continues to puzzle me that so many parents do not seem to put the academic caliber of the college as the number one criterion for choosing among several colleges in the final analysis.  Perhaps it is because parents do not know how to judge the academic caliber of a college or how to compare colleges on that all-important criterion.   So, parents, do whatever it takes to figure out which of the colleges your kid got into is the “best” college.  And, by “best,” I mean best academically, according to its national reputation or, as a second choice, its regional reputation.

2. Some Support for Our Position

While I don’t feel any real need for support for our position (other than the decades of life experience in the world of higher education we already have), I am always glad to get some.  The support I want to share with you now is from a study by Noli Brazil and Matthew Andersson, published in March in the Youth & Society journal.  The study was then reported on by Sarah Sparks in the Education Week blog Inside School Research.  This is absolutely not what I expected and, therefore, it is particularly interesting.  Here are Ms. Sparks’s opening paragraphs in her article:

Even a high school valedictorian can feel anxious becoming just one out of hundreds of top performers at an academically competitive university. But a new study suggests that students who have lower-achieving classmates in college than they had in high school show more symptoms of depression.

The study, published in the journal Youth and Society, finds [that,] . . . contrary to common wisdom, students with lower-achieving classmates in college had a rough freshman year.

“When you think of it, a college transition is made of three parts: where you’re coming from, where you end up, and the difference between those things,” said study co-author Matthew Andersson, an assistant sociology professor at Baylor University, in a statement. He suggested increased depression may come because “the downward transition might trigger a sense of being a misfit. That might trigger having fewer friends or less of a sense of attachment to the college or university that one is attending.”

Researchers from Baylor University and the University of California, Davis, tracked data from more than 1,400 high school students who later attended four-year colleges in the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health, which provides information about students’ mental health as well as their school-level achievement data. They controlled for students’ demographic, academic, and mental health backgrounds, but also school factors, such as whether students attended public or private schools, the concentration of students in poverty, and parent education levels in the schools. (quoted from the article)

So, here are the statistics, in the words of the researchers themselves:

We find that depressive symptoms increase by 27% for students experiencing lowered peer ability across their college transition, relative to no substantial change in peer ability. Meanwhile, heightened peer ability in college links to neither diminished nor enhanced student well-being across the transition. (quoted from the researchers’ Abstract)

In other words, sending a bright kid who is accustomed to bright classmates in high school to a college that is filled with kids who are not as bright increases the odds that the bright kid will end up showing some signs of depression, for whatever reason.  Now, will it make that bright kid seriously and chronically depressed?  Not necessarily, but it can increase the chances that the bright kid will show some symptoms of depression.  Is that a chance you want to take, parents?

This question is directed to the parents we talk to who are considering sending their son or daughter to an easier college in order to get good undergraduate grades in preparation for medical school or law school or some other graduate degree.  According to these researchers, that strategy–which we don’t agree with in the first place–could be especially harmful if that son or daughter is coming from an excellent high school with lots of smart kids or if that son or daughter is literally part of a group of smart kids in whatever high school he or she attends.  And it always seems that the parents who suggest this strategy are the ones who have been pushing their kids the hardest in high school to excel–which puts their kids in the worst spot for experiencing the kind of depression that the researchers are talking about.

And here’s one more wrinkle, as Ms. Sparks reports:

“[U]ndermatching,” in which high-achieving high school graduates choose a college less rigorous than their academic qualifications would predict, is often a particular problem for students from low-income or traditionally underrepresented groups or first-generation college-goers. Prior studies have found that students who are undermatched in college are significantly less likely to complete a degree. (quoted from the article)

So, here’s one more reason that low-income, traditionally underrepresented, first-generation-to-college kids are having a tough time making the leap into the collegiate education that they deserve.  It’s bad enough that they might exhibit signs of depression more often than they otherwise would have; but, you have to wonder whether that alone could make it less likely for them to complete a degree.

This study, like all studies, had some limitations.  For example, all of the students included in the study attended four-year colleges, so these findings do not necessarily apply to students attending two-year colleges.  That could be an interesting future inquiry since I believe that lots of good students attending two-year colleges are undermatched in an effort by families to save money during those first two years of college.  This new study should make you think about that.

Ms. Sparks ends on a note to high schools, commenting that “. . . the study suggests schools could help their students think more optimistically about how well they would fit at academically competitive schools” (quoted from the article).  That advice could be to counselors and teachers as students make up the list of colleges they plan to apply to or that advice could be to counselors and teachers who might be in a position to influence a student’s choice of a college after the acceptances come in.  Certainly, in the second case, we would hope that counselors and teachers do exactly what we do here at USACollegeChat–which is to encourage kids to see themselves at the best college they got into, to surround themselves with students who are as smart as possible, and to adopt the study habits and work ethic of successful college students.

By the way, parents, this does not mean that only the best 40 or 50 colleges in the U.S. are suitable for providing high-achieving peers for your son or daughter.  There are plenty of great public flagship universities, small liberal arts colleges, and private universities in addition to the highest-ranked institutions.  There are plenty of great colleges where the other students will have a positive effect on your son and daughter.  That is what academically rigorous colleges are like.  That is what the “best” colleges are like.

So, I promise that this is our last episode on this topic for this year–as long as you agree to send your kid to the best college he or she got into.  That’s why you all have worked so hard for so long.  If you are trying to make a decision right now and need some advice, give me a call.  As we always say, it’s free, so you don’t have to take it.  Let’s chat.

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Episode 122: A Truly American International University

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Before we start today’s episode, which will take us abroad, let us remind you to rush out right now and get our new book if you have a junior at home (and even if you have a freshman or sophomore). That’s “rush out right now” figuratively speaking, because the book is available at amazon.com, so there is no need to leave home to get it. But why now? Because using the book is a perfect way for your teenager to spend some time this summer–that is, researching colleges of interest to him or her and/or colleges of interest to you for him or her!

In case you missed our recent episodes, the book is How To Explore Your College Options: A Workbook for High School Students. And, as we have said before, it is a WORKbook. It makes the point that many of us learned the hard way: that is, it takes a lot of work to figure out the best colleges for your teenager to apply to. And, as some parents we have worked with recently can tell you, deciding where to apply is probably more important than deciding where to enroll. If your teenager (with your help) chooses colleges to apply to wisely and with enthusiasm, then the choice of where to enroll ends up being a lot happier and easier to make.

But back to our current series, Colleges in the Spotlight. As many of our regular listeners know, I spent last week in London attending my daughter’s graduation from her master’s degree program. My son had previously attended the same university for his bachelor’s degree, and I was looking forward to doing the graduation ceremony a second time. It is not surprising, I guess, that the alma mater of two of my kids would become today’s episode. That’s not because, by the way, it is the alma mater of two of my kids, but rather because it is a university–or one of a group of similar universities–that just might persuade some of you to leave your geographic comfort zone.

1. Spotlight on Richmond

At the beginning of our new book, we ask students to expand their college options by investigating all geographic regions of the U.S. and putting together their own personal long list of college options (or LLCO). Then, we go one step further and ask students to make sure that they have at least one college that is not in the U.S. on their LLCO. In the book, we talk to students about studying outside the U.S.:

This is a favorite topic of ours, and we can’t say enough about it. There are truly great options outside the U.S. We hope that every one of you will take advantage of studying abroad for at least a semester, no matter where you end up in college. Studying abroad is for everyone these days–not just for rich kids, not just for kids studying foreign languages, not just for kids at private liberal arts colleges. But you can actually study outside the U.S. for more than a semester or even for more than one year; you can simply go to a college outside the U.S. full time for four years.

You might want to check out one of our favorite options: Richmond, The American International University in London. Jointly accredited in the U.S. and the U.K., it is a one-of-a-kind institution. It offers students four-year bachelor’s degrees–first, on an idyllic campus in Richmond-upon-Thames (just outside London) for freshmen and sophomores and, then, on an ideal Kensington campus in the heart of London for juniors and seniors. We have seen Richmond up close for a decade and still love it. (P.S. Richmond offers master’s degrees, too, if you’d rather wait for your study abroad experience.) The global future is here, kids. Join it.

Well, that could not be more true. There are plenty of universities to choose from outside the U.S., but let me talk to you a bit today about Richmond, the American International University in London because it is the one that I know the best. I have known its students; I have known its professors (with whom I have been very impressed); I have known its staff members. I have seen it as the parent of an undergraduate student for four years and as the parent of a graduate student for a little over a year.

I have seen what being an international university is all about. At the graduation ceremony last week, after the Master of Arts and Master of Business Administration students were presented with diplomas, we had the roll call of undergraduate students. There were about 180 undergraduate candidates for Bachelor of Arts degrees–and they represented 42 countries.

Now, when we did our virtual nationwide tour of colleges (way back in Episodes 27 through 53), we often commented on the number of foreign countries that U.S. colleges claimed they drew students from. Some colleges–especially large universities–were fond of saying that they drew students from 100 foreign countries, and we always thought that was great. But those colleges typically had thousands of students, so I am not sure how international each class students sat in actually seemed to the students.

At Richmond, 42 countries were represented in just 180 college seniors. Every class students sat in was international–just like every dorm hallway and every group of students just hanging out and chatting. I remember well how international my son’s group of friends really was. This year, about 63 graduating seniors at Richmond came from the U.S., about 41 from the U.K., and the remaining 78 from the following countries: 9 from Spain, 7 from Italy, 7 from Bulgaria, 6 from France, 5 from Germany, 4 from Sweden, 4 from Lebanon, 4 from Belgium, 3 from Nigeria, 2 each from Brazil and Norway, and 1 each from Kuwait, Cameroon, Estonia, Guam, the Dominican Republic, Hungary, the Netherlands, Romania, Libya, Bahrain, Greece, Albania, Jordan, Portugal, India, Zambia, Pakistan, Kenya, Cyprus, Finland, Montenegro, the Republic of Kosovo, Egypt, Malaysia, the Czech Republic, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Canada, and Australia.

Wow. It was amazing to see all the kids and to see the very obvious cross-cultural bonds that had been forged, but it was also amazing to see all of the families and to hear all of the languages being spoken by the proud families of the graduates. It left no doubt in my mind about the value of the truly international experience that these kids had enjoyed.

For the record, Richmond is dually accredited in both the U.S. and the U.K. Richmond describes itself as a liberal arts university, and we have talked about the merits of liberal arts study frequently here at USACollegeChat. In fact, one of the speakers at graduation last week spoke about the liberal arts tradition at Richmond and its significance. Richmond prizes what it believes to be the result of a liberal arts education: namely, students who can think critically and creatively and who can make connections among a broad range of subjects they have studied.

In our new book, one of the topics we call on high school students to investigate when exploring their college options is the presence of a core curriculum. As we have said before, some colleges have quite an extensive required core curriculum, including specific required courses; some colleges have a less specific required core curriculum, including a choice of courses in specified, but broad, fields of study (like the humanities); and some colleges have no required core curriculum at all. Depending on what you or your teenager wants, having a core curriculum can be either a positive or a negative in a college you are considering.

Richmond, in fact, has a sort of mixed core curriculum consisting of 10 three-credit courses taken in the freshman year. Its core curriculum includes some specific courses like Research and Writing I and II, Creative Expression, Scientific Reasoning, and Transitions: London Calling I and II (which focuses on service learning and answers the question, “How can you use London, with all its attractions and all its problems, to help others whilst helping yourself?”) But, less restrictively, the core curriculum also includes a Quantitative Reasoning course (which depends on the student’s major), the student’s choice of any one of 17 Humanities and Social Science course options, and two additional courses of the student’s own choosing outside the major. So, the core is there–with a little wiggle room. Frankly, I am glad as a parent that it was there because I am quite sure that my son would have otherwise avoided quantitative reasoning at all costs.

And let me mention one more very attractive feature of Richmond’s undergraduate program, and this is something else we suggest that students look for when exploring their college options. It is Richmond’s far-reaching study abroad programs, which are available through partnerships in Europe, North and South America, the South Pacific, Asia, South East Asia and the Middle East, but also through Richmond’s own mini-campuses in Rome and Florence. My son did a summer at the Rome campus as a high school student, and both my son and daughter did a semester at the Florence campus during their undergraduate study. (By the way, your college student can study at Richmond’s Florence campus through the American Institute for Foreign Study from whatever college he or she chooses in the U.S. My daughter Polly went there for a semester from Fordham University.)

Richmond’s Florence program is outstanding in many ways, including for the variety of art and art history courses that are offered and for the Italian language classes that are offered. Students can earn a full year of language credit in just one semester because of the required one-week full-time Italian course that students take prior to the beginning of the actual semester, followed by a second Italian course at the appropriate level during the semester.

Finally, I just learned that Richmond now offers a full freshman year at the Florence campus. I am sorry I don’t have any children left to send! What could be better than a year in Florence, a year in Richmond-upon-Thames, and two years in London? That’s a truly international university, as I might have mentioned already.

2. What’s the Downside?

At graduation, I happened to be seated next to the mother of one of the American graduating seniors. The family had lived in London for 14 years before moving back to the U.S. We marveled at the great opportunity that Richmond was for our kids. We wondered why everyone didn’t do it.

But surely there is a downside? Frankly, I am not sure that there is. Perhaps surprisingly, the cost is actually not the downside. Tuition this coming year for U.S. students is $38,000?not as cheap as your state’s public university for sure, but not as expensive as many private colleges in the U.S. And, yes, the kids do have to travel back and forth to London, which isn’t cheap. However, the kids tend to leave only at the semester break because they enjoy visiting the homes of their classmates in Europe for shorter breaks. So, it really amounts to two round trips per year.

I understand that, for some parents, the real downside is having their children so far away from home that they really can’t see them more than during the month-long semester breaks and summer vacations. There really is no argument to make if that is your concern, parents. However, I will tell you that you are likely to miss your children a lot more than they will miss you. I am sure that some have a bit of homesickness at the beginning, but there is so much new to see and do that I don’t believe it lasts very long. And at smaller colleges, like Richmond, there is a bit of a family atmosphere anyway, with small classes and many opportunities to build close relationships both with the other students and with the professors.

3. The Master’s Degrees

The real “deal” at Richmond, by the way, is the M.A. program, which costs about $15,500 (the M.B.A. is a little bit pricier) and is completed in just one full calendar year (that is, two academic semesters and a summer). That’s compared to the two years (or four academic semesters) you would have to pay for at a far higher annual price at many private U.S. colleges.

As I mentioned in a Facebook Live chat I did with my daughter when she was home in New York City doing her internship last summer, I thought that her M.A. program in Visual Arts Management and Curating was excellent. She worked hard and graduated “with Distinction,” but that is thanks to the outstanding professors she had and how committed they were to the students. My daughter and her classmates traveled to many museums and galleries for classes, they met with working professionals in London in and outside of classes, and they had easy access to their professors.

So, if you have an older child graduating from college next year, consider whether a good and reasonably priced graduate program in London–or somewhere else outside the U.S–might be the way to go.

4. Next Week

Next week, we will turn our college spotlight on colleges north of the border–that is, colleges in Canada, which are becoming more attractive to U.S. students. We’ll tell you why, so stay tuned.

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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 96: Narrowing Down Your Teenager’s College List–Step 4

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In our last three episodes, we have been suggesting some steps to take in order to narrow down your teenager’s long summer list of college options in case it is too long. However, as we have begun to say–and frankly, I am a bit surprised by this–perhaps your list is not really too long. Let’s say you still have about 15 colleges on the list. Even though we said in our book (How To Find the Right College: A Workbook for Parents of High School Students, available at amazon.com) that applying to 8 to 12 colleges seemed like a reasonable number to shoot for, I am beginning to like the number 15. As we have said before, don’t take colleges off the list if you believe your teenager could be happy there. And while you and your teenager probably can’t survive 25 applications, I am thinking that 15 might be survivable. But let’s see what you think by the end of this episode.

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

And, let us remind you for the last time, that many of those Early Decision and Early Action deadlines are coming up in about 10 days. I cannot see any good reason not to apply for Early Action if colleges your teenager is interested in offer it. But to do that, you would need to be pretty far down the track in completing those applications by now, including having asked for recommendations from teachers and having requested that your high school transcript be sent.

So, let’s recap where we stand in narrowing down the list–to 8 or 12 or even 15 colleges. In Episode 93, we took Step 1 in narrowing down your teenager’s list by looking at college selectivity–in other words, is your teenager likely to get in, based on his or her academic record. In Episode 94, we took Step 2 by looking at the college’s academics–that is, the availability of your teenager’s current favorite major, the presence of any core curriculum or distribution requirements, and the attractiveness of traditional and innovative college term schedules or grading practices. In Episode 95 last week, we took Step 3 by checking whether you might want to use college enrollment as a filter?that is, how many undergraduate students there are, what the class sizes and student-to-faculty ratios are, and what the breakdowns of the student body are by race, ethnicity, gender, or another demographic characteristic.

1. Step 4: Location Filter

Now, let’s look at one last filter, and it’s the one that I fear you have used from the very beginning, perhaps subconsciously or perhaps very consciously. Step 4 in narrowing down the list is using college location as a filter. Let me start off by saying that I don’t think you should use college location as a filter at all. In fact, as those of you who listen to USACollegeChat know, there is no filter I like less than this one. I never used it when I was looking at colleges, and I never used it when my three children were looking at colleges. With that said, there are two different aspects of college location that either your teenager or you might find yourselves considering.

The obvious first aspect of location is how far the college is from your home. This is what our summer assignments started with. That is, we said, “Pick one college from every state and put all of them on your teenager’s list.” Now, we didn’t really expect you to do that (though I would have been thrilled if you had), but we did hope that it would cause you to spread your wings a little and look beyond your own backyard.

This is also what our virtual nationwide tour of colleges (Episodes 27 through 53) was all about. It was an effort to take you outside your geographic comfort zone and get you to realize that the chances aren’t all that good that the best college for your child is in your hometown or even in your home state. Now there are exceptions to that, of course. But, there are many, many colleges out there–most of which you will never even consider. And that is too bad.

We understand the exceptions, and we respect them. We understand that some families for cultural reasons want to keep their teenagers close to home, perhaps in order to participate in family events or religious events. We understand that some families need to have their teenagers live at home in order to make college even remotely affordable or in order to help with family responsibilities. In those cases, we hope you find a great college choice nearby.

We also know that, for some kids, the perfect college is right at home. That happened with my daughter, who was planning a dance major, and we like to think that the best college for that is in our hometown?that is, the joint Fordham University and Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater‘s B.F.A. program here in New York City. Of course, I made her apply to out-of-town colleges with good dance majors, too; but, when she got her acceptance letter from Fordham, I knew she wasn’t going to any of the other ones. In Polly’s case, the perfect college was right at home.

At my real job at Policy Studies in Education, I have had the great privilege of doing projects for a couple hundred colleges across the U.S. I have had the chance to visit many of them in many states–huge universities you all know and little colleges you never heard of. I have seen a lot of colleges, far and wide–and I wish you could, too.

Now, let me speak for Marie for a minute. Marie, as you can probably tell from all of our episodes, is always the more practical and realistic of the two of us. Marie would say, “Have the serious talk with your kid right now. Don’t let your teenager apply to a bunch of colleges all across the country if you have no intention of letting him or her go to them. If location is a deal breaker for you, tell your kid now rather than disappoint him or her in April after the acceptances come in.” Marie, I see the value in that, but I still have to hold out hope that an acceptance to a great college in Colorado might cause a parent in New York to think twice next spring before insisting that the kid choose a college close to home.

Let’s look at location a second way, as we did in Assignment #6 (in Episode 86). There we took a closer look at the community that the college is actually located in–that is, whether it is urban, suburban, small town, or rural and what kinds of cool stuff the community surrounding the college has to offer (for example, biking and hiking trails, lakes and beaches, historic sites, cultural facilities and events, or fantastic restaurants). For some teenagers and parents, the perceived safety of a suburban or rural location warrants filtering out all of the urban campuses on the list. For others, the excitement factor of living in a cosmopolitan city warrants filtering out all of the campuses except the urban ones. I heard my own recent college graduate say to an anxious high school senior last week, “You might be a little scared of going to college in a city right now, but you will be happy you did by the time you are a junior or senior and you are getting bored with the college campus life. You will be glad that you have a whole city to explore and take advantage of.” Spoken like a true New Yorker.

So, a charming small college town, with great coffee shops and recreation areas or a giant city with everything anyone could want or something in between? This is really your call.

2. Do You Have Enough Left on the List?

So, do you have enough colleges left on the list? Try to let your teenager talk through his or her opinions about location and type of surrounding community, but let your teenager know that neither of these has to become a filter–unless, of course, you say so.

As we said last week, we are beginning to think the fewer filters, the better. You can always apply these filters next April once you see where your teenager has been accepted. That’s especially true if you are holding off on college visits (or, at least, some college visits or final college visits) until then–when you can really judge the distance from home, the ease of transportation to and from the college, and the type of community firsthand.

So, Step 4 is done. Remember that we are okay if you still have 15 or so on the list as we move into an overview of the full list next week. But, as we said last week, if you are already down to just a handful of colleges, you might want to back up and reconsider some of those colleges that you took off the list or add some new ones.

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

Ask your questions or share your feedback by…

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Episode 90: Assignment #10: It’s Never Too Late To Add One More College

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This is an episode we like to call “It’s Never Too Late To Add One More College.” Now, if your teenager and you have done your nine assignments this summer to expand and then investigate seriously the colleges on your teenager’s long summer list of college options, you are probably wondering what we mean by “adding one more.” But, first, let’s review the nine assignments you have already done?and it’s an impressive group:

We are truly impressed if you got all that done. Even if you didn’t do it for 50 colleges–one from each state, which was our original challenge–we are impressed. Even if you did it for just half that many colleges we are impressed. But, let’s say that we hope you did it for at least 20.

1. Your Assignment #10

Download the Assignment #10 Worksheet

And so, we come to the last assignment in building and investigating your teenager’s list. This assignment is not like the others. It is designed to give your teenager and you one last chance to consider a college you might have missed in your search, and it does that by looking at several categories of colleges you might have overlooked or you might have thought were not right for your teenager. At the end of this episode, you might be able to rule out each category we are suggesting; if so, your list is done. On the other hand, you might want to look further at one category or another and consider adding a few colleges to that long summer list of college options.

2. What About Faith-Based Colleges?

As we explained at some length in our book How To Find the Right College: A Workbook for Parents of High School Students (on sale at Amazon until we declare the summer officially over), “faith-based”–that is, religious–colleges and universities are a broader category than you might think. This category includes hundreds of small Bible colleges, which are indeed dedicated to religious life and the study of religion, but it also includes very large universities that offer all fields of study, though with an underlying religious or moral or service-to-others orientation.

Some faith-based institutions require more religious study than others. Some require students to take just a couple of courses in theology or perhaps philosophy instead, while others infuse much of their curriculum with their religious beliefs. Some require students to attend chapel services, but many do not.

In our experience, faith-based institutions are usually quite up front about what they are all about. They are not trying to trick your teenager into going there, because that wouldn’t be good for you or for them. Sometimes a college application will give you a clue by asking for your religion and the name and address of your church. Some ask for a recommendation from a minister. Many have a statement of their religious beliefs on their website or in their student handbook; you can read it and see whether your family supports it.

As a matter of fact, more U.S. colleges and universities than you might think have been founded by religious denominations–especially a lot of our earliest and most prestigious colleges, as you learned if you listened to our virtual nationwide tour of colleges (Episodes 27 through 54). Some of them retain their religious affiliation today, and many do not. Some faith-based institutions are Jewish, some are Catholic, and some are Protestant. One very interesting choice is Soka University of America (SUA), located in Orange County, California: “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).

Understanding the world of some 200 Catholic colleges and universities in the U.S. is particularly complicated because they have been founded by various orders (including the Jesuits, Dominicans, Franciscans, and more) and by other groups within the Catholic community. And, in case you didn’t listen to our virtual nationwide tour of colleges, many respected Catholic institutions, including some of the best-known ones, actually attract many students who are not Catholic.

As I have said in previous episodes, I sent my daughter Polly to the Alvin Ailey/Fordham University joint dance B.F.A. program. Fordham is a Jesuit university, something I am always embarrassed to admit that I knew very little about before I sent Polly there to dance. For those of you who don’t know, the Jesuits–that is, the Society of Jesus–which was founded in Paris in the 1500s, traces its 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. It is my belief that students of all faiths, including my daughter who is not Catholic, are welcome and comfortable at Jesuit institutions. When I heard Father Joseph McShane, Fordham’s president, speak at orientation, I knew that we had, accidentally, made a great decision in sending Polly to Fordham. Father McShane said that Fordham students were taught to wrestle with important moral and ethical issues, to care for others, to despair over injustice, and to give back to their communities.

So, if your teenager is interested in social justice, if your teenager has done extensive community service projects in high school and has valued those experiences, or if you would like this sort of underpinning for your teenager’s collegiate education, I am going to suggest that you put a Jesuit college or university on your teenager’s long summer list of college options now so that you can think about it over the next few months. There are 28 to choose from (actually 189 worldwide), and they include small and large institutions all over the U.S. Some that you have likely heard of, in addition to Fordham in New York City, are Boston College, the College of the Holy Cross (in Worcester, Massachusetts), Georgetown University (in Washington, D.C.), Marquette University (in Milwaukee, Wisconsin), Saint Louis University (which has a great campus in Madrid, too), Santa Clara University (in California), and the University of San Francisco.

3. What About Historically Black Colleges and Universities?

Commonly referred to as HBCUs, historically black colleges and universities were established with the mission of educating African-American students solely or at least primarily. Today, just over 100 HBCUs can be found in many states and in both rural and urban settings. They are public and private, large and small (even very small), faith-based and not, two-year and four-year colleges; some have graduate schools.

HBCUs were founded to serve students who had been excluded from many other higher education institutions because of their race. The three earliest HBCUs were founded in Pennsylvania and Ohio before the Civil War, but many were founded in the South shortly after the Civil War. Those Southern HBCUs share a proud tradition of becoming the first collegiate homes of family members of freed slaves.

Some HBCUs have produced great black leaders–like Booker T. Washington, who attended Hampton University, and like Thurgood Marshall, who attended both Lincoln University and Howard University School of Law. Some have put great black leaders from many walks of life on their payrolls as professors and administrators–like Fisk University, where Charles Spurgeon Johnson, the intellectual architect of the Harlem Renaissance, served as Fisk’s first black president and where Harlem Renaissance writers and artists, like Arna Bontemps, James Weldon Johnson, and Aaron Douglas all worked. If you have listened to many episodes of USACollegeChat, you probably know that Fisk is my favorite HBCU, precisely because of its history (and if you don’t know about the Fisk Jubilee Singers, organized in 1871, you should).

Today, HBCUs enroll students who are not black–just as historically white colleges and universities now enroll students who are not white. Some observers say that it has become harder for HBCUs to recruit African-American students now that they are welcome at both selective and nonselective colleges across the U.S. That is probably true to some degree. Nonetheless, there is still a strong sense of community among the alumni/alumnae of HBCUs and a strong sense of tradition on HBCU campuses. For some African-American students especially, that could be a good fit for what they are looking for in a college, and a shared culture could go a long way toward helping them feel comfortable on a college campus, especially if it is far from home.

So, if your teenager is interested in living and studying in the shared culture that characterizes HBCUs or if you would like this sort of cultural and historical underpinning for your teenager’s collegiate education, I am going to suggest that you put an HBCU on your teenager’s long summer list of college options now so that you can think about it over the next few months. There are plenty to choose from, including some small and very accommodating ones that might be a perfect choice if your teenager has not gotten the high school grades or test scores that you might have wished for.

4. What About Hispanic-Serving Institutions?

There are over 250 colleges and universities that have been designated during the past 50 years as Hispanic-serving institutions (HSIs), meaning that they have a student enrollment that is at least 25 percent Hispanic. For example, The University of New Mexico in Albuquerque, a federally designated HSI, was one of the first minority-majority universities, with an approximately 45 percent Hispanic student body and an Anglo student population of just about 35 percent.

HSIs are located in states across the U.S. from California to Massachusetts and from Washington to Florida. Some HSIs are large public universities, some are large public community colleges, and some are small private liberal arts colleges. Many HSIs receive federal funds to support programs and scholarships that are designed to help low-income Hispanic students succeed in college.

Although HSIs do not have the same kind of historical traditions that HBCUs have–perhaps because they were not founded originally with a mission to serve Hispanic students–they do offer an environment where Hispanic students might more easily find classmates with a similar cultural background. First-generation Hispanic college students–that is, students whose parents did not attend college–might find it easier to fit into this supportive college environment, thus improving their chances of long-term success.

So, if your teenager is interested in living and studying with a substantial number of students from a similar cultural background or if you would like this sort of cultural underpinning for your teenager’s collegiate education, I am going to suggest that you put an HSI on your teenager’s long summer list of college options now so that you can think about it over the next few months. Remember that many HSIs are two-year colleges, so look over the options carefully.

5. What About Single-Sex Colleges and Universities?

Let’s start by remembering that colleges and universities that were started in America’s earliest days were all institutions for men. They were all single-sex institutions then.

Seven of the eight Ivy League institutions served only male students when they were founded in the 1600s and 1700s. Only my alma mater, Cornell University, the youngest of the Ivies, was founded as a co-educational university, which is, frankly, one reason I went there.

As time went on, many of the Ivies created a “sister” school for women: the University of Pennsylvania had its College for Women, Columbia had Barnard, Brown had Pembroke, and Harvard had Radcliffe. Of these, only Marie’s alma mater, Barnard, remains.

The tradition of single-sex colleges is particularly strong in the Northeast, perhaps because that is where so many of our country’s oldest higher education institutions are located. But there are well-known women’s colleges located in other regions of the U.S. as well–like Mills College and Scripps College in California, Stephens College in Missouri, Hollins University and Mary Baldwin College in Virginia, Saint Mary’s College (the sister school of the University of Notre Dame) in Indiana, and Agnes Scott College and Spelman College in Georgia. Spelman has the distinction of also being an excellent HBCU. Interestingly and for whatever reason (probably rooted in financial issues), some of these women’s colleges now allow men to enroll in their graduate programs or in their special programs for returning adult students, thus maintaining the traditional women’s college atmosphere for their undergraduate residential students. Today, there are just over 40 women’s colleges in the U.S.

If you have a daughter interested in a women’s college, check out the Women’s College Coalition website and the available downloadable guide Why a Women’s College? Or, you can just have her listen to Marie talk for the next few minutes.

Okay, what about the men? Interestingly, only a handful of men’s colleges remain. There is Morehouse College, which is an academically rigorous HBCU located in Georgia and which is the men’s counterpart to Spelman. Morehouse has a roster of famous alumni, ranging from Martin Luther King, Jr., to Samuel L. Jackson and Spike Lee–and that is quite a range. Hampden-Sydney College was founded in 1775 in Virginia and has a fascinating history (Patrick Henry and James Madison were among its first Trustees). And there is Wabash College, which is located in Indiana and is my father-on-law’s alma mater. Wabash is cited in the book Colleges That Change Lives as an institution that is successful in creating engaged students, who become leaders in their chosen fields. If I had a teenage boy at home who needed to focus on his studies so that he could become all that he could be, I would strongly consider Wabash.

While most single-sex institutions have opened their doors to the opposite sex over the years and especially in the past 50 years, those that remain carry on a tradition that their graduates wholeheartedly support. Some of their graduates–and indeed their families–believe that students can focus better on their studies when they are not being distracted by social interactions with the opposite sex in the classroom. Some of their graduates believe that students will develop a stronger sense of community and camaraderie with their classmates in single-sex institutions. Some of their graduates appreciate the histories and philosophies of these institutions–especially perhaps graduates of women’s colleges who feel that they are better supported as young women and are encouraged to set and pursue whatever education and career goals they can imagine for themselves.

So, if your teenager is interested in living and studying in a supportive environment typically with high expectations or if you would like this sort of social and intellectual underpinning for your teenager’s collegiate education, I am going to suggest that you put a single-sex institution on your teenager’s long summer list of college options now so that you can think about it over the next few months.

And let me make one point here: Even though I don’t prefer single-sex institutions now, I had two on my own list of colleges that I applied to. It was only after I had been accepted to them that I figured out they weren’t for me. But I was glad that I had the options and could consider them calmly over some months. And Marie, even though you chose to attend Barnard, you also applied to co-educational colleges. So, having both types of institutions on your teenager’s long summer list of college options might be just the thing to do.

So, have your teenager take the Assignment #10 worksheet and take one last look at whether to add another college to his or her long summer list of college options. And, since Monday is Labor Day, we are going to take a week off while you all enjoy your last three-day weekend of the summer season. Fortunately, this next week will give you and your teenager some time to let that long summer list of college options sink in–right before we start helping you narrow it down and begin the serious application process. We will see you back with us on September 15!

Download the Assignment #10 Worksheet

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

Ask your questions or share your feedback by…

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

Connect with us through…