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

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

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

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

1. Early Decision Cons

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The article about Tulane continues this way:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. Early Decision Pros

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ask your questions or share your feedback by…

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Episode 28: Colleges in the Great Lakes Region—Part II

We are continuing our series on looking at colleges outside your comfort zone by taking a virtual tour of public colleges and universities in the Great Lakes region.

Show notes for today’s episode are available at http://usacollegechat.org/28.

In our last episode, we started our virtual tour of colleges by focusing in on the five states in Great Lakes region: Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Ohio, and Wisconsin. We looked at public universities—both the flagship state public universities and other public universities in those states. In this episode, we will continue our look into the Great Lakes states by switching our focus to private colleges and universities.

Again, we want to make it clear that there is no statistical basis for the colleges we are going to name in each region. No college has asked us to name it, and no college has paid us anything to name it. These are entirely our own choices.

To be sure, some of the colleges we will name will require that your child have very good high school grades and college admission test scores to get in. Others will be a bit easier, especially if a college is looking for out-of-state students to enhance its student body’s geographic diversity. But, because each student’s profile of grades and test scores and extracurricular activities and outside-of-school experiences is his or her own unique package, it will be up to you to look at your child’s high school record to see which colleges might be appropriate.

Two general notes: First, when we talk about the colleges and universities in this episode, we are going to be talking about the main campus—that is, the one that most people associate with that institution—in those cases where an institution has more than one campus. Second, because enrollment figures are not necessarily comparable when reported by various colleges, you should use the figures we provide here just as an approximation of the actual campus enrollment—but one that is good enough to let you know whether your child would feel comfortable there.

1. Private Colleges and Universities

The Great Lakes states have a wide array of private higher education institutions—from small liberal arts colleges to larger universities, including some of our country’s finest. Let’s start with a renowned private university, with a reputation for serious students: the University of Chicago. The University of Chicago enrolls about 5,000 undergraduates in the College, which is dedicated to providing a comprehensive liberal arts education for its students through discussion and debate in the classroom. Along with the required Core Curriculum of humanities, arts, natural sciences and math, social sciences, and foreign language, undergraduates can major in one of over 50 majors. The University seems committed to making itself affordable to students who need financial aid, but your child would need truly excellent high school grades and college admission test scores to be admitted.

Not far north from Chicago in suburban Evanston, Illinois, is the main campus of Northwestern University, well known for decades for its theater program, its Medill School of Journalism, and, more recently, for its competitive graduate business school. A member of the Big Ten athletic conference (like the flagship public universities in the Great Lakes states), Northwestern offers a traditional college atmosphere in a beautiful setting on Lake Michigan. With its 8,000 full-time undergraduate students (and just as many graduate students), Northwestern is certainly not small, but it is not nearly as large as its public colleagues. Like other good private universities, its tuition is high, and your child will need very good high school grades and college admission test scores to get in.

Moving over into northern Indiana next to South Bend and just 90 miles from the city of Chicago is probably the best-known Catholic university in the U.S.: the University of Notre Dame. Because of its excellent national reputation, it draws its approximately 9,000 undergraduates and its graduate students as well from across the globe. Notre Dame’s undergraduate students study in 65 majors in four colleges (arts and letters, science, engineering, and business). As befits a university that is “at once rigorously intellectual, unapologetically moral in orientation, and firmly embracing of a service ethos,” according to Notre Dame’s website, about 80 percent of students do some voluntary service-learning experiences. Notre Dame has an impressive 96 percent graduation rate—which means that students who start are highly likely to graduate, which is not true for many colleges, unfortunately. And we all know Notre Dame has a history of great football teams (can you say Fighting Irish?). By the way, we should note that about 80 percent of Notre Dame’s students are Catholic, in case that makes a difference either way to your child. As we have been saying, your child will need very good high school grades and college admission test scores to get in.

Let’s look at two small private colleges in Ohio, both of which have long histories and great reputations: Kenyon College and Oberlin College. Kenyon, located in the tiny town of Gambier, near Columbus, enrolls about 1,600 undergraduate students, drawn nationally and internationally. It offers 35 traditional liberal arts and sciences majors and prides itself on its small class size, typically about 15 students. One of Kenyon’s claims to fame is its support for the founding in 1939 of the literary magazine The Kenyon Review, by poet and critic John Crowe Ransom, who was recruited by Kenyon’s president for that purpose. Another is being named as one of the most beautiful campuses in the world, according to a group of architects interviewed by Forbes. Another is the 34 NCAA (Division III) swimming and diving championships its men have won in the past 36 years. Another is its good theater program, with alumni/alumnae like Paul Newman and Allison Janney.

Oberlin College, located in Oberlin, near Cleveland, enrolls about 2,300 undergraduates in its College of Arts and Sciences and about 600 undergraduates (and a tiny number of graduate students) in its highly respected Conservatory of Music, the oldest continuously operating conservatory in the U.S. (since 1865). Offering 47 liberal arts and sciences majors and eight music majors in the Conservatory, Oberlin also prides itself on its small class size, with about 75 percent of its classes having fewer than 20 students. Oberlin has a proud history as the first higher education institution in the U.S. to adopt a policy to admit African-American students (1835) and the first coeducational college to award bachelor’s degrees to women (1841). Your child would need very good high school grades and college admission test scores to be admitted to either Kenyon or Oberlin.

A Look at 13 Interesting Choices. is a nonprofit organization that was founded after the publication of a book entitled Colleges That Change Lives, by Loren Pope, a retired New York Times education editor. Updated several times since it was first published, there are now 44 colleges and universities profiled in the book and on the organization’s website. Those that are included are not necessarily famous institutions, but they all care deeply about individual students and strive to make the college into a community to support students. Many of the institutions have engaging and experiential aspects to their programs—such as internships, international and intercultural programs, and service-learning projects. Most of the institutions are smaller colleges and universities that have proved to be successful at developing students both personally and academically so that they can succeed in life after their undergraduate college years.

Interestingly, 14 of the 44 institutions on the list are located in the Great Lakes states. You should read about them in the book or on the website, because you will want your child to attend one of them if you do. Here are the ones in the Great Lakes states:

In Ohio: Ohio Wesleyan University, Denison University, the College of Wooster, Antioch College, and Hiram College
In Illinois: Knox College and Wheaton College
In Wisconsin: Lawrence University and Beloit College
In Michigan: Kalamazoo College, Hillsdale College, and Hope College
In Indiana: Earlham College and Wabash College (one of the handful of U.S. colleges that still admits only men)
Because these institutions are relatively small and thus are not particularly well known outside of their geographic region, it is my feeling that out-of-state students with a good high school record might have a decent chance of being accepted.

2. Colleges with a Special Academic Focus

In an earlier episode of NYCollegeChat, we talked about colleges that have a special academic focus, like the arts or business or engineering. In our two-episode tour of the Great Lakes region, we have already mentioned two institutions that have well-known schools of music as part of the institution: the Jacobs School of Music at Indiana University Bloomington and the Conservatory of Music at Oberlin College. But the Great Lakes region also is home to one of our nation’s finest art colleges: the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC), located adjacent to the world-famous art museum in downtown Chicago. SAIC draws 3,200 students globally into undergraduate and graduate studies in a wide variety of art and design majors, including all of the visual arts plus fashion design, art history, arts administration, architecture, film and animation, art education and art therapy, and more—along with a full array of liberal arts courses. As with all colleges specializing in the arts—whether visual arts, music, or dance—applications require a portfolio of student work. So, only talented students need apply.

The Great Lakes region also is home to one of the relatively few institutions more or less dedicated to the study of engineering: the Milwaukee School of Engineering (MSOE) in Wisconsin. MSOE offers 12 undergraduate engineering majors and four graduate engineering majors. In addition, MSOE offers majors in business, mathematics, and nursing. With an undergraduate enrollment of about 2,500 students, the typical class size is 21 students and typical lab size is 11 students. Its admissions guidelines concerning high school grades and college admission test scores seem quite reasonable, especially for an engineering school, which is typically very hard to be admitted to.

Listen to the podcast to find out about…
College life in the middle of a city vs. college life in the middle of nowhere
Questions colleges should answer for you, like what their safety statistics are
Questions you might want to raise about sensitivity to and accommodations for religious or cultural differences among students

Find links to all the higher education institutions and programs we mention at http://usacollegechat.org/28

Connect with us through…
Subscribing to NYCollegeChat on iTunes, Stitcher, or TuneIn!
Following us on Twitter @NYCollegeChat
Reviewing parent materials we have available at Policy Studies in Education
Inquiring about our consulting services if you need individualized help
Following us on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/nycollegechat

Ask your questions or share your feedback by…
Leaving a comment on the show notes at http://usacollegechat.org/28
Calling our hotline at (516) 900-NYCC
Emailing us at paul@policystudies.org to ask a question if you want us to answer it privately

We are continuing our series on looking at colleges outside your comfort zone by taking a virtual tour of private colleges and universities in the Great Lakes region.

NYCollegeChat's virtual tour of colleges in the Great Lakes Region part 2

In our last episode, we started our virtual tour of colleges by focusing in on the five states in Great Lakes region: Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Ohio, and Wisconsin. We looked at public universities—both the flagship state public universities and other public universities in those states. In this episode, we will continue our look into the Great Lakes states by switching our focus to private colleges and universities.

Again, we want to make it clear that there is no statistical basis for the colleges we are going to name in each region. No college has asked us to name it, and no college has paid us anything to name it. These are entirely our own choices.

To be sure, some of the colleges we will name will require that your child have very good high school grades and college admission test scores to get in. Others will be a bit easier, especially if a college is looking for out-of-state students to enhance its student body’s geographic diversity. But, because each student’s profile of grades and test scores and extracurricular activities and outside-of-school experiences is his or her own unique package, it will be up to you to look at your child’s high school record to see which colleges might be appropriate.

Two general notes: First, when we talk about the colleges and universities in this episode, we are going to be talking about the main campus—that is, the one that most people associate with that institution—in those cases where an institution has more than one campus. Second, because enrollment figures are not necessarily comparable when reported by various colleges, you should use the figures we provide here just as an approximation of the actual campus enrollment—but one that is good enough to let you know whether your child would feel comfortable there.

1. Private Colleges and Universities

The Great Lakes states have a wide array of private higher education institutions—from small liberal arts colleges to larger universities, including some of our country’s finest. Let’s start with a renowned private university, with a reputation for serious students: the University of Chicago. The University of Chicago enrolls about 5,000 undergraduates in the College, which is dedicated to providing a comprehensive liberal arts education for its students through discussion and debate in the classroom. Along with the required Core Curriculum of humanities, arts, natural sciences and math, social sciences, and foreign language, undergraduates can major in one of over 50 majors. The University seems committed to making itself affordable to students who need financial aid, but your child would need truly excellent high school grades and college admission test scores to be admitted.

Not far north from Chicago in suburban Evanston, Illinois, is the main campus of Northwestern University, well known for decades for its theater program, its Medill School of Journalism, and, more recently, for its competitive graduate business school. A member of the Big Ten athletic conference (like the flagship public universities in the Great Lakes states), Northwestern offers a traditional college atmosphere in a beautiful setting on Lake Michigan. With its 8,000 full-time undergraduate students (and just as many graduate students), Northwestern is certainly not small, but it is not nearly as large as its public colleagues. Like other good private universities, its tuition is high, and your child will need very good high school grades and college admission test scores to get in.

Moving over into northern Indiana next to South Bend and just 90 miles from the city of Chicago is probably the best-known Catholic university in the U.S.: the University of Notre Dame. Because of its excellent national reputation, it draws its approximately 9,000 undergraduates and its graduate students as well from across the globe. Notre Dame’s undergraduate students study in 65 majors in four colleges (arts and letters, science, engineering, and business). As befits a university that is “at once rigorously intellectual, unapologetically moral in orientation, and firmly embracing of a service ethos,” according to Notre Dame’s website, about 80 percent of students do some voluntary service-learning experiences. Notre Dame has an impressive 96 percent graduation rate—which means that students who start are highly likely to graduate, which is not true for many colleges, unfortunately. And we all know Notre Dame has a history of great football teams (can you say Fighting Irish?). By the way, we should note that about 80 percent of Notre Dame’s students are Catholic, in case that makes a difference either way to your child. As we have been saying, your child will need very good high school grades and college admission test scores to get in.

Let’s look at two small private colleges in Ohio, both of which have long histories and great reputations: Kenyon College and Oberlin College. Kenyon, located in the tiny town of Gambier, near Columbus, enrolls about 1,600 undergraduate students, drawn nationally and internationally. It offers 35 traditional liberal arts and sciences majors and prides itself on its small class size, typically about 15 students. One of Kenyon’s claims to fame is its support for the founding in 1939 of the literary magazine The Kenyon Review, by poet and critic John Crowe Ransom, who was recruited by Kenyon’s president for that purpose. Another is being named as one of the most beautiful campuses in the world, according to a group of architects interviewed by Forbes. Another is the 34 NCAA (Division III) swimming and diving championships its men have won in the past 36 years. Another is its good theater program, with alumni/alumnae like Paul Newman and Allison Janney.

Oberlin College, located in Oberlin, near Cleveland, enrolls about 2,300 undergraduates in its College of Arts and Sciences and about 600 undergraduates (and a tiny number of graduate students) in its highly respected Conservatory of Music, the oldest continuously operating conservatory in the U.S. (since 1865). Offering 47 liberal arts and sciences majors and eight music majors in the Conservatory, Oberlin also prides itself on its small class size, with about 75 percent of its classes having fewer than 20 students. Oberlin has a proud history as the first higher education institution in the U.S. to adopt a policy to admit African-American students (1835) and the first coeducational college to award bachelor’s degrees to women (1841). Your child would need very good high school grades and college admission test scores to be admitted to either Kenyon or Oberlin.

A Look at 13 Interesting Choices.  is a nonprofit organization that was founded after the publication of a book entitled Colleges That Change Lives, by Loren Pope, a retired New York Times education editor. Updated several times since it was first published, there are now 44 colleges and universities profiled in the book and on the organization’s website. Those that are included are not necessarily famous institutions, but they all care deeply about individual students and strive to make the college into a community to support students. Many of the institutions have engaging and experiential aspects to their programs—such as internships, international and intercultural programs, and service-learning projects.   Most of the institutions are smaller colleges and universities that have proved to be successful at developing students both personally and academically so that they can succeed in life after their undergraduate college years.

Interestingly, 14 of the 44 institutions on the list are located in the Great Lakes states. You should read about them in the book or on the website, because you will want your child to attend one of them if you do. Here are the ones in the Great Lakes states:

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

2. Colleges with a Special Academic Focus

In an earlier episode of NYCollegeChat, we talked about colleges that have a special academic focus, like the arts or business or engineering. In our two-episode tour of the Great Lakes region, we have already mentioned two institutions that have well-known schools of music as part of the institution: the Jacobs School of Music at Indiana University Bloomington and the Conservatory of Music at Oberlin College. But the Great Lakes region also is home to one of our nation’s finest art colleges: the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC), located adjacent to the world-famous art museum in downtown Chicago. SAIC draws 3,200 students globally into undergraduate and graduate studies in a wide variety of art and design majors, including all of the visual arts plus fashion design, art history, arts administration, architecture, film and animation, art education and art therapy, and more—along with a full array of liberal arts courses. As with all colleges specializing in the arts—whether visual arts, music, or dance—applications require a portfolio of student work. So, only talented students need apply.

The Great Lakes region also is home to one of the relatively few institutions more or less dedicated to the study of engineering: the Milwaukee School of Engineering (MSOE) in Wisconsin. MSOE offers 12 undergraduate engineering majors and four graduate engineering majors. In addition, MSOE offers majors in business, mathematics, and nursing. With an undergraduate enrollment of about 2,500 students, the typical class size is 21 students and typical lab size is 11 students. Its admissions guidelines concerning high school grades and college admission test scores seem quite reasonable, especially for an engineering school, which is typically very hard to be admitted to.

Listen to the podcast to find out about…

  • College life in the middle of a city vs. college life in the middle of nowhere
  • Questions colleges should answer for you, like what their safety statistics are
  • Questions you might want to raise about sensitivity to and accommodations for religious or cultural differences among students

Check out these higher education institutions and programs we mention…

Outside of New York State

Connect with us through…

Ask your questions or share your feedback by…

 

Episode 10: What Are Some More of the Decisive Factors in Putting Colleges on Your List?

This week, we’re launching our series on choosing where your child should apply to college by examining some of the decisive factors, or deal breakers, in adding colleges to your list

Listen to the podcast to find out about…
Why urban kids might want to go to college in urban settings
Whether extracurricular activities could really be a deal breaker
Why high school/college partnerships are so advantageous

Episode show notes are available at http://usacollegechat.org/10

Connect with us through…
Subscribing to NYCollegeChat on iTunes, Spreaker, Stitcher, or TuneIn!
Following us on Twitter @NYCollegeChat
Reviewing parent materials we have available at Policy Studies in Education http://policystudies.org/parents
Inquiring about our consulting services if you need individualized help
Following us on Facebook http://www.facebook.com/NYCollegeChat

Ask your questions or share your feedback by…
Calling our hotline at 516-900-NYCC
Emailing us at paul@policystudies.org to ask a question if you want us to answer it privately

This week, we’re continuing our series on choosing where your child should apply to college by examining more of the decisive factors, or deal breakers, in adding colleges to your list.

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

Episode 10

As we said in our last episode, it is critical to understand what factors—if any—are the decisive ones for you and your teenager in choosing colleges to apply to. We characterized these factors as deal breakers—that is, a factor so important that it would cause you to rule out whole categories of colleges because of it. In our last episode, we talked about four such factors: (1) colleges away from home or at home; (2) two-year or four-year colleges; (3) public or private colleges; and (4) large or small colleges. In this episode, we are offering five more deal breakers to consider.

1. Selective or Not Selective Colleges?

This is the factor that most guidance counselors bring up first: selectivity. You have probably heard people say that a student should apply to a “safety” school that he or she is sure to be admitted to; a couple of “reach” schools that would be great, but might be beyond or just beyond what the student’s high school record warrants; and then some others in the middle that the student has a reasonable chance of being admitted to, but not guaranteed. That is common sense.

As for a safety school, keep in mind that some public community colleges and some public four-year colleges can serve as safety schools for some students. We will talk more about that for students in New York City and New York State in the final episode of this series, which will focus on the public City University of New York (CUNY) and the public State University of New York (SUNY).

As for “reach” schools, keep in mind, that applying to colleges is time consuming and expensive (unless you have application-fee waivers from the colleges, which are sometimes based on family income and sometimes based on the student’s academic achievements). Applying to “reach” schools that are significantly more selective than a student’s high school grades and SAT or ACT scores would warrant might just be a waste of time. Should you rule out applying to the most selective schools, given the chances that being admitted are slim, even for the best students? Is selectivity a deal breaker for you and your teenager?

2. Urban, Suburban, or Rural Colleges?

Is the community setting a decisive factor for you or your teenager? Obviously, there are advantages and disadvantages to urban, suburban, and rural settings, most of which are common sense.

For example, some students like the idea of going to a college in a city because of the general excitement that cities offer, the many cultural opportunities that are available, the diversity of the people and the likely diversity of the college students, and the ease of getting around by public transportation (in some cities more than others). Some parents hate the idea of sending their teenager to college in a city because of safety issues, too many distractions from studying, and the likelihood that city living will be expensive.

On the other hand, for example, some students and parents like the idea of a rural campus, perhaps in or near a small town somewhere, where students are safe on and off campus, the environment is unspoiled, the campus itself is idyllic, there are fewer distractions from studying, and living costs are relatively low.

Some students are dying to get away from the type of community they grew up in, and others cannot imagine fitting in or being comfortable in a new physical and social environment. So, is the type of community setting a deal breaker for you or your teenager?

3. Colleges with Certain Majors or Certain Activities?

In our first series, Understanding the World of College, we discussed colleges that are known for their academic specialties, like music or art or engineering or business. Some specialized colleges teach only that subject—like Berklee College of Music. Others have strong specialized schools or colleges within a larger university—like the School of Hotel Administration at Cornell University. Others have strong departments in certain fields—like the Department of Theatre at Northwestern University or the modern languages departments at Middlebury College.

If your teenager has a particular field of study in mind, then you will need to find a college that offers or specializes in that major. Some majors are easy to find and are offered by most (though not all) colleges—like English and mathematics and history. Others are harder to find, especially technical majors—like architecture and engineering and computer science. Although many students will change their minds about a major after a month or a year or even two years in college, those going into college with a clear idea of what they want to study will probably need to make the availability of that major a deal breaker in putting colleges on their list.

Sometimes an extracurricular activity is just as important to a teenager—and even to a parent—as the academic part of college. Sports teams are probably the prime example. Your family might be looking for—rather, insisting on—a college with a competitive football, swimming, track, basketball, lacrosse, or crew program and so on. Sports teams could be a deal breaker for both boys and girls, of course. We would like to imagine that other activities would have the same appeal—for example, a great school newspaper, like The Cornell Daily Sun, for a long time Ithaca’s only morning newspaper; or a great glee club, like Yale University’s; or a great drama group, like the University of Pennsylvania’s Mask and Wig Club. But sports teams are probably it.

One more thing to say about sports: If your teenager has not been playing on high-powered high school teams or competitive community teams and has not been in serious talks with college recruiters before you start making your college list, he or she is not going to get a big sports scholarship. Some students harbor the dream that a sports scholarship is the way they will get to college and that professional sports is the way they will make a living after that. If you have a teenager with this mindset, make sure you get a real appraisal of his or her athletic ability from a reliable high school coach or administrator as soon as possible.

4. Colleges with a Special Focus?

Another topic we discussed in our first series was the many colleges that have a special focus—that is, single-sex colleges, faith-based colleges, colleges for students with special needs (like learning disabilities or hearing impairment), colleges with online courses or whole online degrees, the military service academies, historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) and Hispanic-serving institutions (HSIs), and so on. Any of these options could become a decisive factor in choosing colleges.

For example, your daughter might have her heart set on going to a women’s college. She might be drawn to the long-standing traditions or the leadership opportunities for young women or the social environment or even the famous alumni who attended women’s colleges. If you agree, then only women’s colleges would be on your daughter’s list. Or, your child might have his or her heart set on going to an HBCU, interestingly for all the same reasons we just cited for going to a women’s college—namely, the long-standing traditions or the leadership opportunities for young people or the social environment or even the famous alumni who attended. If you agree, then only HBCUs would be on your teenager’s list.

Clearly, choosing to apply only to colleges with a special focus will limit the number of options your family has to consider. To be sure, some of these choices are more limiting than others. For example, there are more than a thousand faith-based colleges to choose from, but only five military service academies.

5. Colleges with a Special Relationship to the Student’s Family or High School?

This can be a remarkably influential factor for students and for their families in making a college decision. Let’s start with the obvious: You work at a college and, even better, get free or reduced tuition for any of your children who enroll. This factor is tough to discount, especially if money is an issue. Putting money aside, parents likely feel comfortable with and/or proud of the college they work for, and students themselves might feel comfortable going there because they are already familiar with it. Even so, that might not be a strong enough reason to limit your teenager’s college list to just that one institution.

Another remarkably influential personal factor is where family members went to college. Many children attend—or want to attend—the alma mater of their parents or grandparents. We see even first-generation college students strongly considering the college attended by an older sibling. Family college connections can mean a lot—just like any other family traditions. Even so, again, that might not be a strong enough reason to limit your teenager’s college list to just those institutions attended by a family member.

Another personal factor that comes up more than you might think is having family members or close friends living where a college is located. Certainly, a parent who is reluctant to send a child to a college far away from home might be less anxious if a family member or close friend lived there—just in case of an emergency. For a student, too, having some family members or family friends nearby might ease the homesickness that comes with most students’ first days on campus.

The final factor in this category is not personal to the family, but rather is about the student’s high school. Some high schools have a relationship already built with a college, usually a nearby college. A noteworthy example of this is the growing number of Early College high schools, which have a carefully worked out agreement with a partner college typically to provide college credit courses to students while they are still in high school and frequently to admit those students into the college almost automatically, thus allowing a seamless transition from high school to college.

Other high schools have less elaborate arrangements with one or more colleges whereby students can take college courses for credit while in high school, banking those credits to transfer later to whatever college they attend; of course, it is even easier for those students to continue at the college where they have already earned those credits. Any of these arrangements between high schools and colleges can give students a streamlined pathway into that college, thus saving the time and effort and money expended in the typical application process. If your high school has such an arrangement with a college and if your teenager has taken advantage of it, it would be very hard to walk away from choosing that college as your only option—even if it just for the first year or two.

Listen to the podcast to find out about…

  • Why urban kids might want to go to college in urban settings
  • Whether extracurricular activities could really be a deal breaker
  • Why high school/college partnerships are so advantageous

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Episode 5: Colleges with Special Emphases (Part 2)

We’re continuing our series on understanding the world of college this week by exploring colleges and universities with selected academic specialties.

Regardless of the wide range of subjects most students study in high school, for some students one particular subject is the only reason to come to school. That is one reason that it is so important for high schools to offer a full array of subjects and a broad schedule of after-school activities.

Some students are ready to specialize when it comes to college. What those students have to decide is whether to attend a university—which offers the field of study they are interested in, along with many, many others—or a college that is entirely dedicated to the field of study they are interested in.

Listen to the podcast to find out about…
What parents, teachers, and high school students want from arts education
The truth about taking courses across schools or colleges within a university
The surprising breadth of courses in colleges devoted to the arts

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Subscribing to NYCollegeChat on iTunes, Spreaker, Stitcher, or TuneIn!
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Ask your questions or share your feedback by…
Calling our hotline at 516-900-NYCC
Emailing us at paul@policystudies.org to ask a question if you want us to answer it privately

We’re continuing our series on understanding the world of college this week by exploring colleges and universities with selected academic specialties.

NYCollegeChat Episode 5 Colleges with Special Emphases Part 2NYCollegeChat is now available on iTunes, Spreaker, Stitcher, and TuneIn!

Colleges and Universities with Selected Academic Specialties

Regardless of the wide range of subjects most students study in high school, for some students one particular subject is the only reason to come to school. That is one reason that it is so important for high schools to offer a full array of subjects and a broad schedule of after-school activities.

Some students are ready to specialize when it comes to college. What those students have to decide is whether to attend a university—which offers the field of study they are interested in, along with many, many others—or a college that is entirely dedicated to the field of study they are interested in. As we said in an earlier episode, a university typically has separate colleges or schools within it, each of which focuses on a broad field of study—for example, within the State University of New York at New Paltz, undergraduates can attend the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, the School of Business, the School of Education, the School of Fine and Performing Arts, or the School of Science and Engineering. (Learn more about two-year colleges, four-year colleges, and universities in this episode of the podcast.)

What are the pros and cons of choosing a university or an independent dedicated college? On one hand, a student who ends up wanting to change to a different field of study might have an easier time doing so in a university setting, where that student could end up in an entirely different part of the university. On the other hand, a student who does really well in one field and does not want to spend time studying others might progress quicker, learn more in depth, and be better focused in a college dedicated to that field.

So let’s look at the arts first. Students who are passionate about the arts have quite a number of well-regarded choices. Some schools devoted to the arts are within larger institutions, including the Eastman School of Music at the University of Rochester, the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University, the Conservatory of Music at Oberlin College, the Meadows School of the Arts at Southern Methodist University, and the Jacobs School of Music at Indiana University.

Turning to institutions wholly dedicated to the arts, there is the highly selective Juilliard School here in New York City, well known for its degrees in drama, music, and dance. The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, associated with the famous art museum of the same name, offers degrees in studio art, but also in art history and art education as well as other arts-related specialties. Founded in 1887, Pratt Institute in New York City offers both undergraduate and graduate degrees, with 22 associate’s and bachelor’s degrees in the arts and arts-related fields, including degrees in architecture, graphic design, painting and drawing, illustration, film, photography, digital arts, fashion, interior design, and art history. Rhode Island School of Design offers 15 Bachelors of Fine Arts majors in visual arts and design specialties and a Bachelor of Architecture degree.

Berklee College of Music in Boston, which is dedicated to the study of music, is a bit different from most other music schools because it draws students from around the world to study contemporary, rather than classical, music and offers degrees in a wide range of music specialties, including performance, composition, film scoring, music therapy, music education, production and engineering, and music business. Berklee’s new graduate campus in Valencia, Spain—again, dedicated to the study of music—offers its master’s degrees programs in extraordinary facilities, designed by modern architect Santiago Calatrava, in a setting that showcases global music.

Students who are intrigued by the rigorous technical field of engineering might consider a school of engineering within a large university (many big public universities have them and quite a few private universities also have them), like the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, California Institute of Technology, the University of Texas, Texas A & M University, the University of Illinois, the University of Southern California, Carnegie Mellon University, Cornell University, Columbia University, and many more. But, some smaller colleges have engineering programs as well. Take the example of Manhattan College (in New York City), which has 3,500 students, but offers a School of Engineering with both undergraduate and graduate degrees. Or these students might consider an institution that is dedicated to the study of engineering, like the Milwaukee School of Engineering.

Students who have decided that business is their future can attend business schools that can be found at many public and private universities—some well-known for their undergraduate business schools and some for their graduate business schools—including the University of Pennsylvania, Harvard University, the University of Chicago, Stanford University, New York University, Northwestern University, the University of California at Berkeley, the University of Virginia, and many more. Stand-alone institutions dedicated to the study of business are the other way to go. Students could consider places like Babson College and Bentley University, both private colleges located in Massachusetts.

The two options—a school or college within a larger university vs. a stand-alone college dedicated to one academic field—and these examples will give you some background for thinking about college options when a student is truly interested in one field of study.

Listen to the podcast to find out about…

  • What parents, teachers, and high school students want from arts education
  • The truth about taking courses across schools or colleges within a university
  • The surprising breadth of courses in colleges devoted to the arts

Check out these higher education institutions we mention…

In New York State

Outside of New York State

Connect with us through…

Ask your questions or share your feedback by…