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 112: Speeding Up College Graduation

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One of the biggest practical issues in higher education today is the rising and insanely high cost of a college education–obviously. The cost of going to college is not something we talk about a lot here at USACollegeChat, partly because there are so many other people talking about it all the time. But sky-high cost is the reason behind the topic we are going to discuss in this episode: speeding up college graduation–that is, graduating in fewer than the traditional four years.

Of course, given that so many students these days are taking longer than the traditional four years to graduate–so many, in fact, that six-year graduation rates are a standard part of college data reporting–graduating in fewer than four years takes on a new meaning. When I was in college some decades ago, everyone knew one or two kids who finished in fewer than four years, and we all thought those kids were incredibly smart. But there was no institutionalized plan for speeding up graduation–at least not at my university.

1. The Early College Movement

Speeding up graduation is something that Marie and I know a bit about.   Back in 2009, Marie and I and principal Chris Aguirre co-founded an Early College high school in Brooklyn. While many Early College high schools were concentrating on getting high school students into college courses earlier while still in high school, our high school concentrated on getting high school students out of high school quicker and into college full time.

We adopted Chris’s crazy idea that all of our public school students–most of whom posted just average or below-average middle school grades–could be put on a three-year high school completion schedule by using trimesters instead of semesters during the school year. To be clear, that meant that our students could graduate in three years instead of the traditional four. Well, it was hard work, but it worked. At the end of our first three years, about 65 percent of our first class of students graduated–a full year early–and went on to college. We actually beat New York City’s four-year graduation rate. By the way, virtually all of the rest graduated the following year, on time.

2. The NYU Story

So, Marie and I know that more education can be accomplished in less time, if someone is trying hard to make that happen and if those in charge have set up the framework to make it possible. It was with those fond memories of our accelerated three-year high school schedule that I recently read about a new plan at New York University (NYU), where a year of undergraduate residential study is now about $66,000. The article by Elizabeth A. Harris in The New York Times gives us some background:

[In February], [NYU] announced a series of measures that [makes] it easier to graduate in under four years, part of an initiative aimed at diminishing the university’s enormous affordability problem.

In some ways, the school is just catching up with its students. Ellen Schall, a senior presidential fellow and the head of the university’s affordability steering committee, which is tackling college cost on a number of fronts, said that about 20 percent of N.Y.U. students already graduated ahead of schedule.

“We were surprised,” Professor Schall said. “That’s part of what convinced us we needed to make this more transparent and more available to more students.”

Students have long found ways to make it through school more quickly to save money. But there is increasing momentum to formalize the process in the face of ballooning outrage over college costs and student debt ? while N.Y.U. is expensive, many other private universities [also] cost $60,000 or more a year. (quoted from the article)

I was also surprised that 20 percent of NYU students graduated in fewer than four years. Perhaps that is really a sign of the times–a confluence of high college costs, an increase in options for earning actual college credits while in high school through Early College and dual enrollment programs, and the fact that more and more students are taking Advanced Placement high school courses and exams to try to get high enough scores to earn some college credits.

According to the article, here are some ways that NYU is going to help its students graduate quicker:

. . . [W]hile students pay for 18 credits per semester, many actually take only 16, officials said, so the university will increase the number of two-credit courses it offers.

It will also allow many students to transfer in up to eight credits from other schools, like local community colleges where they can take inexpensive classes over the summer–in the past, this has been allowed on a case-by-case basis. In addition, the university has trained advisers to help students create schedules that will get them to their three-year goal. (quoted from the article)

Okay, so I guess if students took an extra two-credit course each semester, or 18 credits instead of the typical 16, that would give them 108 credits in six semesters, or three years, leaving students perhaps another 20 credits shy of graduation. Allowing students to transfer in a certain number of credits from cheaper summer courses or from college courses taken while in high school puts these students closer to the goal line. At that point, they would need to take several heavier-than-18-credit semesters or additional courses during the summer at NYU itself–both of which would cost money. No one said it would be easy, but a substantial portion of $66,000 is a lot of money to save.

Furthermore, there is no doubt that students would need trained advisers to make this work. I imagine that there are confusing regulations galore that no student could ever figure out on his or her own at every college in the U.S. I recall how hard it was to get our kids out of high school in three years. Marie and I spent countless hours scheduling kids and checking to make sure that all of the State’s and City’s graduation requirements were being met as we went through those three years.

3. Stories from Other States

In the article, Ms. Harris widens her lens and tells these stories about public universities:

Gov. John Kasich, Republican of Ohio, pushed to make it easier for students in his state to graduate from public colleges early by allowing more credits from high school or technical programs. Gov. Scott Walker, Republican of Wisconsin, included in his budget proposal this month that schools in the University of Wisconsin system should create a three-year degree for 60 percent of its programs by the summer of 2020. Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind., which is a state school, has also been experimenting with three-year degree options. (quoted from the article)

I think it is significant that colleges in the University of Wisconsin system–which would hopefully include the flagship campus at Madison–might create three-year degrees for 60 percent of its programs over the next few years. Of course, we will see what happens to that proposal. But whatever happens, it seems likely that other such proposals in other states might not be far behind. It is also important to notice that public universities are making these moves. As you know, public universities are often the default college solution for many students who cannot afford private colleges. And, for many such students, the cost of four years at their state’s best public institutions is, unfortunately, not affordable, either.

Here is what Ms. Harris says about private colleges:

Among elite private institutions, official [accelerated]programs remain rare, though Wesleyan University, the Connecticut liberal arts school, announced a formalized three-year track about five years ago. (quoted from the article)

Let’s take a look at the Wesleyan plan, as explained on its website:

Students who graduate in six semesters (three years of normal course loads plus summer courses) may expect to save about 20 percent of the total cost of a Wesleyan education. The three-year option is not for everyone, but for those students who are able to declare their majors early, earn credit during Wesleyan summer sessions, and take advantage of the wealth of opportunities on campus, this more economical path to graduation can be of genuine interest. . . .

For most students, the greatest challenge lies in figuring out a way to earn . . . [enough] credits and complete the particular course requirements for the major in six semesters instead of eight.  Understanding the ways of earning additional credit and accelerating the pace of one’s semester standing is crucial for developing a feasible three-year academic plan. (quoted from the website)

Okay, saving 20 percent isn’t bad–not quite a full year’s savings, but enough to make it worth pursuing.

Interested Wesleyan students will have to earn credits faster and will also have to declare their majors early, presumably in order to ensure that they can get all of the major’s requirements met. So, no waiting around till junior year and no changes once a student is headed down a given track. Clearly, accelerated graduation is not for the student who is taking his or her time exploring subject fields and majors and even trying out more than one major.

Let’s look at the ways Wesleyan says that students can earn additional credits on an accelerated three-year schedule:

Most students who graduate early use a combination of pre-matriculant credit, summer credit, and in-semester course overload. . . .

Pre-matriculant credit.  Up to 2.00 pre-matriculant credits [that is, actually credits for two courses] may be applied towards graduation.

  • Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate test credit.  In most cases (exceptions include Biology, English, Computer Science, and Physics), it is necessary to first complete a course in an appropriate Wesleyan department to convert an AP or IB exam into Wesleyan credit.
  • College courses taken in high school.  To be eligible for Wesleyan credit, the course must have been taken with college students and taught by a college professor on a college campus.  If the course is listed for credit on the high school transcript, it may not be used for Wesleyan credit. (quoted from the website)

Of course, we all understand taking courses in the summer and taking additional courses during a regular semester. But the ways to earn credit before a student gets to Wesleyan are especially interesting and specific. Wesleyan places clear and academically rigorous restrictions on using AP or IB test credit as well as on using credits for college courses taken in high school. For example, it will not take dual enrollment course credit, and it will not take credits from the type of college courses that many Early College high schools now run. I actually couldn’t agree more with Wesleyan’s position on both of those; in fact, our Early College high school put our third-year students into courses that Wesleyan would have loved: on a college campus, with other college students, and taught by a college professor.

So, given all of these regulations, how many Wesleyan students actually graduate early? According to the article, the Wesleyan president “estimated that about 20 Wesleyan students annually graduate in three years, up from roughly three a year before [we] made the option official” (quoted from the article). That’s a big increase, of course, though not a substantial portion of the approximately 750 freshmen Wesleyan admits in a year.

4. What’s the Downside?

So, what’s the downside to an accelerated college experience other than the intense and likely difficult academic experience that we have already mentioned? People seem to believe that the biggest downside of all is that students will simply miss out on what it means to have the full college experience?including making friends (and future connections) of all kinds, exploring extracurricular activities, taking advantage of internships and study abroad programs, and the like. In fact, students on accelerated schedules do engage in all of these, but it is probable that some things will be missed in the face of the considerable academic pressure caused by taking additional credits each semester and each summer.

Is the hard academic work and some missed opportunities worth it? Is going to a more expensive college that a kid loves for three years better than going to a cheaper college that a kid is less excited about for four years? Here’s just one more thing for you to think about, parents, as you get your own teenager ready to make a college decision next month.

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Episode 51: Colleges in New York State—Part II

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Last week, we brought our virtual tour home—here to New York State, with a look at public four-year colleges in New York. We focused on our two systems of public higher education, two of the very biggest in the nation: The State University of New York, with its 64 two-year and four-year colleges and universities, and The City University of New York, with its 24 two-year and four-year colleges located in the five boroughs of New York City.

Virtual tour of private universities in New York State on NYCollegeChat podcast Episode 51This week, we are going to start our examination of private options in New York State. While the institutions we will be discussing will be only a sample of the more than 100 private colleges and universities in New York, we do want to say that there are many, many great private options in the state for our own high school students, but—just as important and maybe more important—for high school students from other states to consider. This is your chance, non-New Yorkers, to move outside your geographic comfort zone and come see New York. So, let’s start with a double handful of nationally known higher education universities—some in New York City and some in upstate New York.

And once again, no college—not even our own alma maters, which will be discussed in this episode—has asked us or paid us anything to include it. These are our own choices.

1. Ivy League Institutions

Let’s start with New York’s two Ivy League institutions: Cornell University in the upstate town of Ithaca and Columbia University in upper Manhattan in New York City. While we are talking about Columbia, we will take a look at Barnard College, which is one of the Seven Sisters women’s colleges we have mentioned in a couple of previous episodes and which is affiliated with Columbia—the only women’s college affiliated with an Ivy League institution that has kept its own separate identity (others have become part of their universities at Penn, Harvard, and Brown).

Now, I hesitate to start with Cornell and Columbia and Barnard because Marie and I went to them and, therefore, we could talk about them for hours. My undergraduate days were at Cornell, and my graduate days were at Columbia (as were my husband’s). Marie’s undergraduate days were at Barnard, and her first graduate school days were at Columbia.   We have said relatively little about the Ivy League schools in our episodes so far, reasoning that lots of people are already aware of them, that they are even harder to get into now than when we went there some years ago, and that they are ridiculously expensive—though many other colleges are also ridiculously expensive, as we have learned on our virtual tour. Nonetheless, if you have a child with excellent grades and excellent test scores, we alumnae can’t resist saying a few things to you.

So, here are five reasons you should send your child to Cornell:

  1. Because, while perhaps not an ideal location for anything else, Cornell’s campus in Ithaca is an idyllic spot to go to undergraduate school. It is a bit remote, so students don’t leave on the weekends. There is a lot of natural beauty in the Finger Lakes region. There is cold and snow and rain—but they never put a damper on anything. The campus is large, but accessible.  The old buildings are lovely and very collegiate, and the new buildings are—well, new. And parts of the campus look like a picture postcard that should be entitled “The Great American University.”
  2. Because as founder Ezra Cornell said, Cornell is “an institution where any person can find instruction in any study.” The “any person” meant women as well as men and meant students of all racial, ethnic, religious, and cultural backgrounds. In 1865, Cornell was the last Ivy League school founded and the first founded with that mission. It is why my father—a die-hard University of Pennsylvania fan and alumnus—sent me to Cornell. Because it was the only Ivy League school where women and men had been treated equally from the first day. Today, “any person” means 14,000 undergraduates and another 7,000 graduate and professional students. The undergraduate students are almost evenly split between men and women (just as Ezra Cornell would have wanted it), and almost 40 percent of the U.S. students are African American, Asian American, Hispanic American, or Native American.
  3. Because as founder Ezra Cornell said, Cornell is “an institution where any person can find instruction in any study.” We talked last week about the three Cornell schools that serve undergraduate and graduate students and are partnered with the State University of New York and are essentially public:       the School of Industrial and Labor Relations, the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, and the College of Human Ecology. But we also have four private schools that serve undergraduate and graduate students: the College of Architecture, Art, and Planning; the College of Engineering; the School of Hotel Administration (with its own hotel on campus); and the very best, the College of Arts and Sciences (where I majored in English, but also studied Latin, French, psychology, U.S. and world history, biology, art history, and more). While the broad range of subject fields offered by the seven undergraduate schools is impressive academically, the fact that, as a student, you live with and play with undergraduate students who are pursuing their studies in all of those fields makes your life on campus and even after you graduate truly stimulating. (Let me also note, in passing, that Cornell has some excellent graduate schools, too: a very fine SUNY-partnered College of Veterinary Medicine, a law school, and a management school in Ithaca as well as a medical school and the new Cornell Tech graduate campus in New York City.)
  4. Because there are a million productive and enjoyable ways to spend whatever extra time you have when you aren’t studying—from writing for The Cornell Daily Sun, which used to be “Ithaca’s Only Morning Newspaper”; to joining one of 36 fraternities or 13 sororities; to participating in more than 1,000 student organizations; to playing on one of 36 varsity sports teams (yes, we all remember the year that football star Ed Marinaro didn’t win the Heisman Trophy).
  5. Because there are brilliant professors, some of whom you will remember forever. Every student had his or her favorites—from the super-popular genius lecturer and sleep research expert James Maas, who taught me Psychology 101 in my freshman year, along with 1,800 other students in a huge concert hall; to Stephen Parrish, a quiet Wordsworth scholar, who was editing a 20-volume series of Wordsworth’s poems from their earliest drafts to final publication while I took his class; to the inimitable Pulitzer Prize winner Michael Kammen, who wrote and lectured about American history like nobody else and who, from his lofty perch, somehow managed to know that I covered sports for The Cornell Daily Sun.

I have to say that I loved my four years at Cornell—both while I was there and in retrospect—but I never really thought about why until I wrote those five reasons.

Let’s move south to New York City and talk about Columbia University, where Marie and I both got master’s degrees. Columbia was founded in 1754 by royal charter from King George II and thus was named King’s College. Today more than 250 years later, Columbia enrolls about 8,500 undergraduates and about 19,000 graduate and professional students. Columbia undergraduates study at Columbia College (which is a college of arts and sciences) or The Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science. In addition, Barnard College enrolls about 2,400 undergraduate women.

Columbia is well known for its Core Curriculum, which is described this way:

The Core Curriculum is the set of common courses required of all undergraduates and considered the necessary general education for students, irrespective of their choice in major. The communal learning—with all students encountering the same texts and issues at the same time—and the critical dialogue experienced in small seminars are the distinctive features of the Core…. Not only academically rigorous but also personally transformative for students, the Core seminar thrives on oral debate of the most difficult questions about human experience. (quoted from the website)

The Core courses include literature, writing, art, music, civilization, science, and more. You can see the common texts that students will be reading and discussing by checking out the website; it’s a greatest-hits-of anything-ever-written list. And here is a remarkable statement from the website of The Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science:

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

But we did not come here today to talk about Columbia College or Fu, no matter how impressive they both are; we came to talk about Barnard. Here are Marie’s top five reasons for sending your daughter to Barnard (you will see that her theme is that Barnard is “the best of both worlds”):

  1. Because it is a single-sex college (which is great for developing smart, strong women), but with many coeducational opportunities conveniently located across the street at Columbia (including many chances for Barnard students to take courses at Columbia and vice versa).
  2. Because it is a small college with all of those inherent advantages, but located within a large research university with all of the resources that such an institution can make available to its students.
  3. Because it has flexible pathways through the curriculum, but also some structure for guidance, such as certain distribution requirements.
  4. Because it houses 90 percent of students on campus and offers all of the activities that would make campus living exciting, but does not require students to live on campus if they prefer to live at home or in an off-campus apartment.
  5. Because it is 125 years old and has an impressive history, but is not stodgy and creates innovative programs to keep the curriculum up to date.

Though we have not spent much time on our virtual tour talking about graduate schools, we have mentioned them, and we need to mention ours. Columbia has an amazing set of graduate schools in architecture, planning and preservation; the arts; arts and sciences; business; medicine; dental medicine; nursing; engineering; international and public affairs; journalism; law; theology; and social work. In addition to those, Marie attended the Mailman School of Public Health, and I attended Teachers College. Both were outstanding. No one asked me, but I have to believe that Columbia University is one of the best graduate institutions in the U.S., if not in the world—for its rigor and its diverse students and its professors and its enormous range of graduate and professional schools and programs. And it is in a world-class city, with all that offers.

I will say that I enjoyed my undergraduate days in the protected atmosphere of Ithaca on Cornell’s ivy-covered campus, putting off the high-energy craziness that can be New York City until my graduate days when I could better handle it. It was the best of both worlds—and, for me, done in the right order. Of course, I never left New York City once I had seen Broadway, to paraphrase the old song. So, for those of you who are imagining that your child will get both an undergraduate degree and a graduate or professional degree, give some serious thought to lining up colleges and locations in the best order for your child. That kind of planning could be a lot more important than you think.

2. Other Nationally Known Institutions in New York City

Let’s turn now to the largest private university in the U.S., with a name that sounds as though it should be public: New York University (commonly known as NYU), located in New York City in Manhattan’s famed Greenwich Village. Marie got her second graduate degree, an M.B.A., at NYU from the Leonard N. Stern School of Business, and she worked in student affairs there as well.

NYU offers its approximately 25,000 undergraduates a choice of studies in colleges and schools in the arts and sciences; dentistry; nursing, business; social work; engineering; and culture, education, and human development. It also has the Tisch School for the Arts, which is well known in the New York City performing arts community, and the interesting Gallatin School of Individualized Study, where students create their own programs (named for Albert Gallatin, U.S. Secretary of the Treasury, who founded NYU in 1831).

NYU’s approximately 24,000 graduate and professional students have additional choices, including highly respected law and medical schools and the Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service. NYU also has a variety of intriguing undergraduate and graduate study abroad programs, including Liberal Studies freshman programs (in which students spend their first year at NYU in Paris, Florence, London, or Washington, D.C.) and campuses in Abu Dhabi and Shanghai. About 25 percent of NYU’s students are international students. At home in Greenwich Village, NYU is a truly urban university; but, unlike Columbia, NYU does not have Columbia’s retreat-like fenced and walled and gated campus.

Like the Ivies, NYU is hard to get into. Its recent incoming freshmen posted SAT subtest scores in the high 600s and an average unweighted high school GPA of about 3.5. And, like the Ivies, I don’t think you choose to go to NYU for its athletics—though it fields 21 varsity teams. And, like the Ivies, NYU is expensive—about $48,000 in tuition and fees per year, and that’s not counting trying to live in New York City (campus housing runs, on the average, about $12,000 per year).

Heading uptown from the Village, let’s take a look at Fordham University, with two New York City campuses: the main Rose Hill campus in the Bronx—a lovely green oasis, filled with beautiful collegiate buildings—and the newer Lincoln Center campus, which operates out of a cluster of attractive high-rise buildings within spitting distance of impressive Lincoln Center, the home of dance, music, and theater arts in Manhattan. We have mentioned Fordham in earlier episodes of NYCollegeChat when we talked about faith-based institutions and institutions with a special focus on the arts.

Founded in 1841, Fordham is a Catholic university in the Jesuit tradition. I have often told the story of sending my daughter to Fordham for its prestigious joint B.F.A. program with The Ailey School of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. She graduated last May with her degree in dance, having worked with some of the finest dance teachers in the U.S., like Milton Myers and the late Dudley Williams. But she also graduated with a view of life and her responsibility for others that she got from Fordham’s Jesuit values and rigorous core curriculum—something I had not counted on, but am very grateful for. From the day of my daughter’s student orientation, when I heard Fordham’s president Father McShane speak, I knew the Jesuits were onto something. He once explained it this way:

We believe that students have to be invited to wrestle with the great ethical issues of their time. We want them to be bothered by the realization that they don’t know everything and [to be] bothered by injustice. (quoted from the website)

Fordham has almost 9,000 undergraduates and about 6,500 graduate and professional students (split about equally between its two New York City campuses), with undergraduates enrolling in Fordham College at Rose Hill and Fordham College at Lincoln Center, with their liberal arts and sciences curricula, and in the Gabelli School of Business. Undergraduate students are almost 30 percent underrepresented populations. Graduate students enroll in Gabelli as well as in graduate schools of arts and sciences, religion and religious education, education, social service, and law.

Fordham has 23 varsity sports teams and about 150 student organizations, including ones designed to put into practice the Jesuit commitment to serving others—“living a life beyond self, helping to feed the hungry, clothe the poor, heal the sick”(quoted from the website)—and logging more than one million community service hours in a year. Global Outreach (GO!) is one great service program in which “students learn about various issues of social, economic, political and environmental injustice while living a simple lifestyle that fosters communal and spiritual growth. [Fordham sends] teams consisting of approximately 10 students, one student leader, and one chaperone to live, work, and learn with partnering organizations in approximately 30 locations throughout the United States and countries in Asia, Africa, Latin America, and Europe” (quoted from the website). Programs are run during school breaks and last from one to several weeks.

Fordham is one of 23 Catholic colleges and universities in New York State and one of 28 Jesuit colleges and universities in the U.S. As we have said in looking at some of the other Jesuit institutions on our virtual tour, students who are not Catholic (like my daughter) feel comfortable and included in campus life—both socially and academically—which is not the case at all faith-based institutions.

Freshmen entering last year posted an average SAT critical reading and mathematics score of 1260 and an average high school GPA of 3.6. Fordham received almost 41,000 applications and accepted about half of those applicants, which means to me that a student with good SAT scores and a good high school average has a good chance of being accepted. Though Fordham draws students from 43 states and many foreign countries, it gets many of its students from New York State, which means to me that a good student from outside of New York State might be particularly attractive to the admissions officers. The joint B.F.A. in Dance program with The Ailey School requires an audition, of course, and is a highly selective program. As with most private universities we have been examining, Fordham’s undergraduate tuition and fees run about $47,000 per year, with housing in New York City again at a premium. But, as a parent who paid almost all of that myself (with some help from Direct Parent PLUS loans), I can tell you that it was worth every penny.

3. Other Nationally Known Institutions in Upstate New York

Moving upstate now, let’s go to Rochester, where the University of Rochester is located just two miles from downtown. Founded in 1850, the University prides itself on being a research university with a smaller college feel. Home to about 6,000 full-time undergraduates, the University draws its undergrads from all across the U.S., though about 30 percent of its freshmen last year came from New York State and about 25 percent from foreign countries.

Undergraduates study in the College of Arts, Sciences and Engineering or the Eastman School of Music (and some do a bachelor’s degree completion program in the School of Nursing). Arts, Sciences and Engineering, which offers about 75 majors and enrolls most University undergrads, allows students to choose their own courses, with close attention from their advisors. Although there are no required courses, students must take a “cluster” of three related courses in whichever two areas they don’t major in: arts and humanities; social sciences; and natural sciences, mathematics, and engineering (engineering students take courses in only one cluster rather than two). I would call that freedom, within some serious boundaries.

The well-known Eastman School of Music was established in 1921 by George Eastman, founder of the Eastman Kodak Company. Its undergraduates (about 500 currently) earn Bachelor of Music degrees in five different majors. Eastman does not require college admission test scores, except for homeschooled students. The multi-step application process is rigorous, requiring a pre-audition recording so that admissions officers can choose which applicants they will invite to audition.

The University of Rochester also serves another approximately 3,500 full-time graduate and professional students, who also attend the College of Arts, Sciences and Engineering, Eastman, and the School of Nursing as well as graduate schools of medicine and dentistry, education, and business.

More than 90 percent of University students live in campus housing, making it easy for them to participate in some 250 student-run clubs and 21 varsity sports.

The University has an interesting test-flexible policy, described on the website this way:

Rochester [application] readers have grown more confident recommending for admission applicants with strong subject testing scores [like AP, IB, and SAT subject exams], even when the SAT or ACT scores were not in our typical 90th-100th percentile ranges. Since 2004, that confidence has proven well founded, as retention and graduation rates have risen rapidly. Students who entered up to 8 years ago with “modest” SAT and ACT scores have started businesses, persisted to medical and law school, and excelled in creative careers.

Now that confidence supports our new practice. For the Rochester Class of 2017 and beyond, applicants can submit any national or international test result along with their secondary school records of courses and grades. While SAT reasoning and ACT exams are among the scores we will accept, applicants are no longer required to submit either, if their A-level, IB, AP, . . . etc. results show their testing abilities well. (quoted from the website)

According to the admissions website, the typical University student has done the following:

  • Ranked in the top 10% of his or her high school class
  • Taken 2 to 7 Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate courses
  • Earned an average academic unweighted GPA of 3.8
  • Gotten an SAT score between 1900 and 2200 [on the average, a set of three subtest scores in the high 600s] or an ACT score between 29 and 33

So, the students are quite capable. Like the other universities we have been discussing, the University of Rochester’s tuition and fees run about $48,000 per year.

Heading east from Rochester, we come to Syracuse University in central New York State. Let me remind you that it gets really cold and snowy in Syracuse, but that could be great for students who love winter sports and activities. There is a good virtual tour on the University’s website—recorded in good weather, for obvious reasons—which shows off its very attractive campus on a hill overlooking the city of Syracuse. Founded in 1870, today Syracuse enrolls about 15,000 undergraduates and about 7,000 graduate and professional students. About 25 percent are minority students.

Syracuse undergraduate and graduate students study in the College of Arts and Sciences (the founding college of the University), the School of Education, the College of Engineering and Computer Science, the David B. Falk College of Sport and Human Dynamics, the School of Information Studies, The Martin J. Whitman School of Management, the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, and the College of Visual and Performing Arts—that is quite an array of subject fields being covered. Additionally, there are graduate schools of law and of citizenship and public affairs.

Syracuse fields 18 varsity sports teams, known as The Orange and easily recognizable by the bright orange in their uniforms. Syracuse has won 11 national men’s lacrosse championships since 1983, and, in 1961, football star Ernie Davis was the first African American to win the Heisman Trophy and then the first African American to be picked first overall in the NFL draft. At Syracuse, football, basketball, and lacrosse teams play in the Carrier Dome, the largest campus domed stadium in the U.S. My guess is that having a domed stadium solves a lot of weather problems that football and lacrosse teams would otherwise face. There are also more than 300 student organizations as well as fraternities and sororities to keep students engaged.

Last year’s incoming freshman class earned an average high school GPA of a 3.7 and had an average SAT critical reading and mathematics score of 1180. Though selective, Syracuse admits about half of its applicants. Undergraduate tuition and fees are about $43,000 per year.

Next week, we will look at some smaller liberal arts colleges, which New York has an abundance of.

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Episode 45: Colleges in the Mid-Atlantic Region–Part I

Virtual tour of public colleges in the Mid-Atlantic on NYCollegeChat Podcast, brought to you by Policy Studies in Education

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

This is the eighteenth episode in our virtual tour of colleges across the U.S. We are starting the final group of episodes designed to help you find colleges that might be perfect for your child, but 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, the Southwest region, the Far West region, and the New England region. This episode takes us just down the road to our final stop: the Mid-Atlantic region, which you might think would be inside the geographic comfort zone of many of our listeners who live right here in the Mid-Atlantic states. However, we know that about 70 percent of high school students stay in their home state—not just in their home region—for college. So, we are going to have to see if we can convince even our nearby listeners to check out colleges in some neighboring states.

As we have said before, 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 sense for a two-year college. We think it makes less sense if your teenager is headed for a four-year college, and we will try to persuade you about that in our episodes.

Finally, as we often have said, no college has asked us or paid us anything to include it in our virtual tour. These are our own choices.

1. The Mid-Atlantic Region

One more time: 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 what the Bureau calls the Mideast region, but which I simply have to call the Mid-Atlantic region, probably because I grew up in Pennsylvania and that’s what I have always called it. So, with apologies to the Bureau: In the Mid-Atlantic region, we will be looking at Maryland, Delaware, the District of Columbia, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and New York—that is, four states, one commonwealth, and one district. However, we are going to put off a discussion of New York because it is the home state of many of our listeners and we know that they will be especially interested in it (though we kind of wish they were not). New York will get its own episodes in a couple of weeks, so stay tuned.

This week and next week, we will be examining public colleges in most of the Mid-Atlantic region and, after that, we will be taking a look at a variety of private colleges here. As always, I hope we will have a few surprises for you. Let me say that I do not like giving more air time to the Mid-Atlantic region than to many other parts of the country; but, I do believe that many of our listeners live here and might be persuaded to go just barely outside their comfort zone to a nearby state if we can motivate them to do so in these episodes.

2. Flagship Public State Universities

As we usually do, let’s begin with the flagship public state universities in Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. Some of them are better known nationally than others (likely because of some serious football playing—can you say, Nittany Lions?). While state public college systems and flagship universities typically have smaller campuses and branches 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.

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.

As I have said before, I think that great flagship campuses in other states are the hidden jewels of the college search for lots of students who never consider them.

With all that said, I also want to say that I do not believe that flagship campuses in the Mid-Atlantic states are quite as appealing to their residents as flagship campuses in much of the rest of the country (except New England) are to their residents. In the Mid-Atlantic region, Pennsylvania State University (commonly referred to as Penn State) is probably the one exception to that statement. As we discussed a few weeks ago, it is likely a cultural thing, not an academic thing. Perhaps there is just a longer or more entrenched tradition of private higher education in the Northeast, including in the Mid-Atlantic region, than there is in other parts of the country.

So, what are these flagship campuses in the Mid-Atlantic region? They are the University of Maryland, College Park (UMD); University of Delaware in Newark (UD); Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, in New Brunswick; and Pennsylvania State University, University Park, in State College. We will discuss the University of the District of Columbia separately later in this episode because it is so different in size and history from these other four.

First, let’s look at the locations of these flagship universities in a wide variety of communities. Newark, Delaware, and State College, Pennsylvania, are both small towns; College Park, Maryland, is virtually a suburb of Washington, D.C., right over the northeast border of our nation’s capital; and New Brunswick, New Jersey, is truly urban, sitting in the heavily trafficked corridor between New York City and Philadelphia. These communities couldn’t be more different—or, as we might say, something for everyone.

Turning to the four flagship universities themselves, we can put them into three groups by enrollment size, starting with the largest university, which is Penn State. At the University Park main campus, Penn State enrolls about 40,000 undergraduates and another 6,500 graduate and professional students, for a total of about 46,500 students. These enrollment figures put Penn State in the same category as the big Midwestern flagship universities discussed in our Great Lakes episodes.

Only about 60 percent of students at Penn State are state residents—not surprising, given that I believe it is the flagship university in this region most likely to attract out-of-state students, though it also seems likely that the university is seeking some geographic diversity in its student body. Penn State now draws students from all 50 states and over 100 foreign countries. (We should also mention that there is a huge Commonwealth system of 23 more campuses to serve other Pennsylvania residents as well as 14 state colleges in their own statewide system.) The average SAT scores of incoming freshmen at the main campus in State College last year were a pair of reading and writing scores in the high 500s and a mathematics score in the low 600s. The average high school GPA of incoming freshmen is a commendable 3.6—a bit higher than we might expect, given the average SAT subtest scores.

Rutgers and UMD are next on the list, according to enrollment size. Rutgers serves about 32,000 undergraduates and about 8,500 graduate and professional students, for a total of about 40,500 students. About 45 percent of its undergraduates identify as Caucasian/white; about 25 percent identify as Asian. Rutgers draws from about 45 states and 65 foreign countries. Just a bit smaller than Rutgers, UMD serves about 27,000 undergraduates and about 10,000 graduate and professional students, for a total of about 37,000 students. UMD draws students from all 50 states and from about 115 foreign countries. Each university draws a whopping 80 percent or so of its students from its own state. The next-most-popular states of residence for UMD students are nearby and populous New Jersey and New York. Incoming freshmen at Rutgers have an average high school GPA of a 3.7 (about like Penn State), with average SAT subtest scores hovering in the mid-600s (except for the engineers, whose average GPA is a remarkable 4.2). Incoming freshmen this year at UMD have an average high school GPA of that same remarkable 4.2, with average SAT subtest scores hovering in the high 600s.

Finally, we come to UD, with about 18,000 undergraduates and about 4,500 graduate and professional students, for a total of about 22,500 students—about half the size of Penn State, but still not small by anyone’s standards. A university with 18,000 undergraduates is going to feel gigantic to most 18-year-olds. Incoming freshmen at UD have average SAT subtest scores hovering around 600—about like Penn State’s scores. Only about 40 percent of UD undergraduates are from Delaware, perhaps because Delaware is such a small state and the University is a reasonably large school.

Let us remind you, listeners, again that most colleges are looking for geographic diversity in their student body and that students might be able to get into a better college far from home if that college is lacking, but wanting, that diversity. My guess is that any of these flagship universities would 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. Now if that student comes from New York or another reasonably close state—as we know many of them do—then the GPA and test scores might need to be a bit better since there will be competition from other appealing candidates from New York.

UD is the oldest of these institutions, and it has an impressive history. It was founded in 1743 in Pennsylvania as a private academy to educate clergy and was moved to Delaware in 1765. Its first class of students boasted three students who went on to sign the Declaration of Independence, one of whom also signed the U.S. Constitution later. UD’s colors of blue and gold were taken from the Delaware State flag, which got them from the colors of George Washington’s uniform. They also represent the colors of the flag of Delaware’s first Swedish colonists.

Rutgers came along in 1766 as Queen’s College, a private institution with Dutch religious roots. It was renamed in 1825 for Henry Rutgers, a Revolutionary War colonel and college benefactor. Around 1918, New Jersey College for Women was born; it became Douglass College and is now Douglass Residential College, which offers courses and services to 2,400 women who have been admitted to Rutgers and choose to affiliate with the College.

Penn State and UMD both opened almost a century later, in the mid-1800s, as agricultural colleges. UMD gradually became public over the years, until the State took full control in 1916 and then linked the College Park and Baltimore campuses to create the University in 1920. Interestingly, it was during the Great Depression in the 1930s that Penn State began to open its undergraduate branch campuses throughout the commonwealth for students who could not afford to travel away from home to attend college.

Turning to academics, these flagship universities have from 7 to 12 undergraduate schools and colleges (and additional graduate and professional schools and colleges)—from liberal arts and sciences to many career-related fields, including, at the undergraduate level, engineering, education, business, fine arts and architecture, nursing, earth and mineral sciences, communications, agriculture and natural resources, environmental sciences, information and computer sciences, health sciences, public health, social work, and planning and public policy. In 2013, Rutgers opened its Biomedical and Health Sciences division, housing eight undergraduate, graduate, and professional schools, in its own facilities in New Brunswick and elsewhere in the state. In other words, the possibilities for studying whatever a student wants are almost endless.

These flagship universities offer from about 90 to 160 undergraduate degree programs across their undergraduate colleges and schools. Rutgers claims to have one of the top three philosophy programs in the English-speaking world—along with New York University and the University of Oxford in the U.K. UD claims to have started the first study abroad program in the U.S. in 1923 with a junior year abroad in France; UD now specializes in short-term, faculty-led programs abroad. UMD offers what it calls an Education Abroad program the summer before freshman year and a Destination London program, in which freshmen spend their first full semester in London with other UMD freshmen.

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—with health and physical activity being one of the more unusual distribution requirements we have seen (can you say, Nittany Lions?).

Like all other flagship universities, each of these four has several hundred student organizations, including fraternities and sororities—with UMD boasting over 800.

There are also varsity sports teams—from 19 to 29 women’s and men’s teams. The most famous of these is likely Penn State’s Nittany Lions football machine—unless you come from the Mid-Atlantic tradition of lacrosse (which is actually a Native American tradition) and find UMD’s Terrapins’ 12 national men’s titles and 459 All-Americans more impressive (by the way, terrapins are turtles). Rutgers and Princeton played the first intercollegiate football game on November 6, 1869, which Rutgers won 6–4 (the game was played with 25 players on each side and rugby-like rules).

Just as we have seen elsewhere, out-of-state tuition and fees at these flagship universities are on the high side, running right around $31,000 per year (about double in-state costs). While that is still lower than many private colleges in your home state—that is, before any financial aid package is figured in—I have to admit this tuition price tag is not much of a deal. But, as we have said in previous episodes, these flagship universities are better academically and more widely recognized than many private colleges where you would pay as much or more, and there is no prestige in attending a private college that is not as good as a great public university.

In the category of famous alumni, which I often like to mention, I want to note that actor Avery Brooks—maybe best known for his role as Benjamin Sisko on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, but certainly most beloved (that would be by me) for his role as Hawk on Spenser for Hire—is an alumnus of Rutgers and has been a theater professor there, where his wife is an assistant dean. So, that’s a shout-out to Avery and Vicki Brooks, whom I have never met, but would love to, if you happen to be listening!

3. An Historically Black Flagship University

In an earlier episode in Series 1 of NYCollegeChat and in quite a few episodes during our virtual tour, we have talked about historically black colleges and universities (commonly referred to as HBCUs), which were established with the mission of educating African-American students solely or primarily—that is, a mission of serving students who had been excluded from many other higher education institutions because of their race. You might recall that there are just over 100 HBCUs—public and private, rural and urban, large and small, two-year and four-year and graduate schools.

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

Eight of the public HBCUs are located in this Mid-Atlantic region—the University of the District of Columbia; The Lincoln University in Chester County, Pennsylvania, and Cheyney University of Pennsylvania; Delaware State University; Morgan State University in Baltimore; and three campuses of the University System of Maryland, namely Coppin State University, Bowie State University, and the University of Maryland Eastern Shore. We are going to look at a few of them next week, but today we want to talk about the University of the District of Columbia—a flagship university that is also an HBCU.

The University of the District of Columbia (UDC) dates its history back to 1851 and 1873 and the creation of two normal schools for girls—one black, established by abolitionist Myrtilla Miner, and one white. Their merger many years later in 1955 formed the District of Columbia Teachers College—the only public higher education institution in Washington. But what if lower-income Washington residents, who needed a public higher education option, did not want to become teachers? Congress established two additional higher education institutions in 1966: Federal City College, a liberal arts college, and Washington Technical Institute, for vocational and technical training. In 1975, a law was passed to merge these three institutions into the University of the District of Columbia—still the only public higher education institution in our nation’s capital.

UDC is made up of a Community College; School of Engineering and Applied Sciences; School of Business and Public Administration; College of Arts and Sciences; College of Agriculture, Urban Sustainability and Environmental Sciences; and the David A. Clarke School of Law. UDC serves just about 2,000 undergraduate students in over 75 bachelor’s degree programs in what it calls its flagship schools, another approximately 2,500 in its own community college, and another approximately 600 in the graduate and professional programs.

UDC bachelor’s degree students all take an elaborately planned and sequenced set of General Education courses worth 37 credits (that is, almost one-third of the courses that are required for the degree). These courses are interdisciplinary and collaboratively taught.

Admission standards for UDC’s flagship programs are set out quite clearly on its website:

  • 2.5 high school grade point average and 1200 SAT or 16 ACT score; OR
  • 2.0 high school grade point average and 1400 SAT or 19 ACT score

About 85 percent of UDC flagship undergraduates are D.C. or Metro area residents. D.C. residents pay just about $7,500 per year in tuition and fees (an appealing bargain), Metro area residents pay approximately $1,000 more, and out-of-area students pay about $15,000 per year (also an appealing bargain, compared to other public institutions we have been discussing).

So, stay tuned next week when we continue our discussion of public options in the Mid-Atlantic region because we have some intriguing ones for you.

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  • Flagship schools that made history
  • Flagship schools that take the liberal arts seriously
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Episode 13: Focus on Students with Academic Issues

This week, we’re continuing our series on choosing where your child should apply to college by talking about student with academic challenges.

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Using letters of recommendation to good advantage
Using the last essay option on the Common Application to good advantage
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Ask your questions or share your feedback by…
Calling our hotline at 516-900-NYCC
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This week, we’re continuing our series on choosing where your child should apply to college by talking about how options for students with academic issues.

NYCollegeChat is now available on iTunes, Spreaker, Stitcher, and TuneIn!

Focus on Students with Academic Issues on  NYCollegeChat podcast

Every student’s high school record is not as perfect as his or her parents might wish. The two most common problems are that the GPA (that is, the grade point average of high school courses) is not as high as it could be or should be or that the SAT or ACT scores (that is, the scores on the standardized college entrance examinations) are not as high as they could be or should be. Either of these problems makes choosing colleges to apply to a tense discussion.

Who is in the more difficult situation? Is it a student whose high school GPA is lower than ideal for whatever reason—sports teams, time-consuming hobbies or other outside activities, interest in the opposite sex, laziness, mediocre teachers, or family issues? Or is it a student whose SAT or ACT scores are lower than ideal for whatever reason—unfamiliarity with the test, refusal to study for the test or take practice tests, unavailability or unaffordability of a prep course to get ready for the test, test anxiety, or just a lackadaisical attitude toward standardized tests or college preparation generally? Let’s look at these two scenarios.

1. Students with Mediocre Or Low SAT/ACT Scores

What do we mean by mediocre or low scores? Let’s take the SATs as the example. If a student scores below 600 on any of the SAT subtests (reading, writing, and mathematics), that is a mediocre or low score. Scores in the low 600s are going to be problematic for most selective colleges, too.

Having mediocre or low test scores is likely an easier problem to solve than having mediocre or low high school grades. While students’ SAT or ACT scores are important to most top-ranked colleges, there are some colleges—including some really good colleges—that do not put so high a priority, or indeed any priority, on these test scores.

If you read the admissions blurbs on college websites, you will quickly see quite a few colleges that declare that SAT or ACT scores are not as important as high school grades and that the real picture of a student comes from the long and hard work the student has—or has not—done in classes over the course of the high school years. Those colleges will state that high school grades will tell them more about a student—about the student’s determination and perseverance and motivation, for example—than his or her performance on one test given on one Saturday morning. Indeed, they will cite research that says that high school grades are a better predictor of college success than standardized test scores—for all of the reasons that common sense would tell you.

For years, a relatively small number of colleges had said that SAT and/or ACT scores were not required in their admissions process. More recently, more colleges have been added to this list—so many, in fact, that this group of colleges now has a name: “test-optional” colleges. One very recent addition to that list is Bryn Mawr College. Professor Marc Schulz, a member of the Bryn Mawr admissions committee was quoted on the Bryn Mawr College website in July, 2014, as saying this: “We looked not just at the national data, but also took a very hard look at our own data over the last several years. It was clear that the standardized tests added very little predictive information after accounting for the strength of applicants’ academic work in high school and the admissions staff’s review of the whole application.”

Here are a few more of the “good” colleges that do not require SAT or ACT scores for admissions (although a student may usually submit the scores if he or she feels they will help the application and “accurately reflect his or her academic ability and potential”): American University, Bard College, Bates College, Bennington College, Bowdoin College, Brandeis University, Hampshire College, Mount Holyoke College, Sarah Lawrence College, Smith College, Wake Forest University, and Wesleyan University.

Now, there is also something called “test-flexible” colleges. These are colleges that give students a choice of which standardized test scores to submit during the application process. Some of these policies are more “flexible” than others. Here are a few of the “good” colleges that have some flexibility in choosing test scores to submit: Colby College, Colorado College, Hamilton College, Middlebury College, and New York University.

By the way, you can search for and find all kinds of lists of “test-optional” and “test-flexible” colleges online. But, because admissions policies change from time to time, you really need to check on a college’s website to tell just exactly how the college does or does not require or use SAT or ACT scores. For example, some colleges require standardized test scores for some applicants, like home-schooled students and international students, and not for others, like students who are U.S. citizens and went to high school in the U.S.

We will talk more about SATs and ACTs in an upcoming episode in a future series—how to prep for them, when to take them, how many times to take them, what the SAT IIs are, and more.

2. Students with Mediocre Or Low High School Grades

What do we mean by mediocre or low high school grades? If a student has a GPA below 3.0, that is a mediocre or low GPA. GPAs of 3.0 to 3.3 are going to be problematic for most selective colleges, too. If the high school GPA is on a 100-point scale, a GPA in the low 80s or lower is a mediocre or low GPA.

Unfortunately, there are no “high school grades optional” colleges that we know about. Certainly, most colleges will claim to look at the whole picture—a complete profile—of a student during the admissions process; but, that whole picture always includes high school grades. While there can be reasons that high school grades are lower than the student is capable of earning—such as difficult family situations or personal problems or trauma—those reasons would have to be explained compellingly in an essay or an additional letter of some sort to the college. In short, it is very difficult to explain away mediocre or low high school grades.

When a student has mediocre or low high school grades, it is ideal if that student happens to have high SAT or ACT scores. Then, the college can imagine that the student is bright, but perhaps had some reason for not performing as expected in high school classes. None of those reasons would be a great excuse, but some colleges will make an exception for such a student.

However, most students who have mediocre or low high school grades do not have high SAT or ACT scores. For those students, the choice with the highest cost-benefit ratio is probably a public two-year—or maybe public four-year—college. By the way, great public four-year colleges can be just as difficult to get into as private four-year colleges, so many of them are probably out of the running, too.

Instead, look at two-year community college, which gives a student a chance to erase a poor high school record with a better community college record. As we said in our first series, Understanding the World of College, a student who completes an associate’s degree at a two-year college can transfer that entire degree—that is, all the credits that were earned in completing that degree—to a four-year college and be well on the way to earning a four-year bachelor’s degree. When a student has earned that two-year associate’s degree, the spotty high school record is really a thing of the past for most, if not all, four-year colleges.

To be sure, there are four-year public and private colleges that take students with mediocre or low high school grades. The question for parents is whether those colleges have as good a reputation as the kind of four-year public or private college a student might be admitted to after a successful experience at a two-year community college. It might also be a matter of money. Doing the two years at a community college could save money that could then be put into a better four-year college for the final two years.

Of course, for parents of younger students, remind them that there is no easy route to a good college if high school grades are poor.

Listen to the podcast to find out about…

  • Using letters of recommendation to good advantage
  • Using the last essay option on the Common Application to good advantage
  • Talking to current seniors who learned the hard way

Check out these higher education institutions and programs we mention…

In New York State

Outside of New York State

Connect with us through…

Ask your questions or share your feedback by…