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):
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
Saratoga Springs, NY
Santa Cruz, CA
St. Augustine, FL
Ann Arbor, MI
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.
For Assignment #7, your teenager and you are going to look at whether the college has a “core curriculum”–or what might be called “general education” credits or requirements or what we called “distribution requirements” in the old days.
2. What Is a Core Curriculum?
For the purpose of this episode, we will refer to this likely centuries-old curriculum concept as a “core curriculum.” What it means is that all students in a college, or in a specific college or school within a larger university, have to take typically one or two courses in each of a broad range of academic disciplines, such as mathematics, or in each of a broad range of groups of disciplines, such as natural sciences, languages and literature, social sciences, and so on. Each college seems to have its own unique way of defining these groups of disciplines, with some more understandable than others.
Some colleges have quite strict requirements, meaning usually that there are many different requirements that have to be met and that might amount to a double handful of courses before it’s all over. Some colleges have a core curriculum, but have far fewer requirements for the courses or number of courses that have to be taken. And some colleges have no core curriculum at all. Would the presence of core curriculum requirements make a difference to your teenager in choosing a college?
3. What Is the Purpose of a Core Curriculum?
So, what is the purpose of a core curriculum? The concept comes from the liberal arts tradition, where students are supposed to be well rounded in their studies and in their understanding of the intellectual content and issues of many fields. People in favor of this tradition would say that students do not know exactly where their careers and lives will take them and that the ability to solve problems and think critically across a range of content could make the difference in how well they succeed in their careers (likely in their multiple careers) and indeed in their lives. It is no surprise that liberal arts colleges and that the arts and sciences college or school within large universities would support and require a core curriculum for its students.
Engineering has been called the newest liberal art. At Columbia Engineering, students not only study science and mathematics and gain technical skills but also study literature, philosophy, art history, music theory, and major civilizations through the Core Curriculum in the humanities.
Students are encouraged to consider the wide range of possibilities open to them, both academically and professionally. To this end, the first and second years of the four-year undergraduate program comprise approximately 66 semester points of credit that expose students to a cross-fertilization of ideas from different disciplines within the University. The sequence of study proceeds from an engagement with engineering and scientific fundamentals, along with humanities and social sciences, toward an increasingly focused training in the third and fourth years designed to give students mastery of certain principles and arts central to engineering and applied science. (quoted from the website)
So, at Fu, students are required to take some liberal arts courses early on in their engineering program in order to provide some humanities balance to the heavy load of mathematics and sciences that all engineering students take. The brilliance of this position comes in the notion that students who find that engineering is not what they had expected–for whatever reason–are well equipped to transfer to another field of study and move many of these core credits with them. For some engineering students, these liberal arts courses could be a drag; for other engineering students, they could turn out to save the day.
One important advantage of a core curriculum is that it causes students to look into whole academic fields that are rarely taught in high schools?like anthropology or sociology or art history or linguistics. Without requirements in a variety of academic fields or groups of fields, many students would never take a look at some of them and would never know what they had missed.
As it turns out, some colleges go one step further and require certain courses of all students?the actual courses, not just the academic fields. So, instead of saying to students that they must take two courses in the languages and literature, for example, the college will specify that all students must take Writing 101 and Public Speaking 101. In those cases, the college has decided to require those specific courses that its professors feel are most fundamental to developing the foundation for more advanced college study and to developing a broad understanding of and ability to engage in the modern world. Because all students have taken these same required core courses, professors can use that shared knowledge to help students make connections across subject fields every year from then on.
4. Examples of a Core Curriculum
When we did our nationwide virtual tour of colleges back in Episodes 27 through 54, we often talked about the core curriculum requirements of a college. We did that for two reasons. First, we were super-impressed with some of them, even though we could tell that they would be quite demanding of students. Second, we knew that some students would love the idea of a core curriculum, while other students would hate the idea of a core curriculum. There are two groups of students who are likely to hate the idea the most. One group is students who do not feel confident in a range of academic fields (this often comes in the form of “I’d like to go to a college where I don’t have to take advanced science or math”). The other group is students who are anxious to get on with what exactly they already know they want to study and don’t want to waste time with other things (this often comes in the form of “I want to be a computer scientist, and I don’t see a need for these humanities requirements”).
Nonetheless, here are a handful of examples of some of the core curricula we talked about during our nationwide virtual tour of colleges:
Let’s start with a tiny Catholic college with a student enrollment of fewer than 200 undergraduates: Wyoming Catholic College, located in Lander and the only four-year private college in the state of Wyoming. According to its website, this faith-based college offers a classical liberal arts curriculum, which includes a study of the Great Books of Western culture and a serious set of distribution requirements, which includes 24 credits of theology, 13 credits of leadership, 10 credits of philosophy, and 16 credits of Latin. Interestingly, students graduate with a B.A. in Liberal Arts?not in a specific subject field.
Grinnell College in the “rolling farmland” of central Iowa offers a unique Individually Advised Curriculum, described this way on the website:
Every first-year student at Grinnell enrolls in the First-Year Tutorial, a small group of students [limited to 12] working with a faculty member to study a subject of interest to both students and tutor. The tutor also is the academic adviser for each student in the group, so that teaching and learning are closely linked with the planning of programs of study. In teaching, the tutor discovers the aptitudes and interests of the students, who in turn receive academic advice, not from an infrequently consulted stranger, but from a teacher who sees them several times each week. In planning a program of study, the student and the tutor balance the cultivation of existing interests with the discovery of new ones. An entering student should regard the first year as a time for gaining breadth in the arts and sciences, confidence in exploring a variety of disciplines, and a more mature understanding of the place of each of these in liberal education as a whole. (quoted from the website)
Grinnell does expect students to become proficient in written English by taking at least one appropriate course, to develop knowledge of mathematics and/or a foreign language, and to take courses in these three areas: humanities, science, and social studies. So, there are some distribution requirements, but extreme freedom in what exactly to take. When a student finally chooses a major, his or her academic advisor will be assigned from that subject field.
Let’s turn to St. John’s College, which has two campuses, with students often transferring for a year between the two: St. John’s Annapolis in Maryland and St. John’s Santa Fe in New Mexico. But the real unique idea at St. John’s is its liberal arts curriculum, based on collaborative inquiry in small class discussions, with the professor acting as a tutor and mentor?all based on the original texts of great authors in almost every subject field. The Seminar, as St. John’s calls it, is the foundation for the curriculum, and it is described this way on the website:
Students participate in far-reaching and free but disciplined conversations about major works of literature, philosophy, political theory, theology, history, economics, and psychology from Homer and the Greek historians, playwrights, and philosophers in the freshman year, through the Renaissance in the sophomore year and the Enlightenment in the junior year, to the contemporary world in the senior year. (quoted from the website)
Students at St. John’s are also required to take four years of mathematics, three years of laboratory science, two years of music (including singing in the Freshman Chorus together), and four years of a second language (two years of Ancient Greek and two years of modern French). Clearly, this is one serious set of core curriculum requirements.
Let’s move on to Middlebury College in Vermont, perhaps best known for its excellent language programs for a hundred years. In the classic liberal arts tradition, Middlebury students must fulfill two sets of distribution requirements: (1) one course in seven of eight academic fields (including foreign language); and (2) one course in each of four cultures and civilizations areas:
a. Courses that focus on some aspect of the cultures and civilizations of Africa, Asia, Latin America, the Middle East, and the Caribbean
Courses that focus on the process of comparison between and among cultures and civilizations, or courses that focus on the identity and experience of separable groups within cultures and civilizations
Courses that focus on some aspect of European cultures and civilizations
Courses that focus on some aspect of the cultures and civilizations of northern America (United States and Canada) (quoted from the website)
Georgetown University, the oldest Catholic and Jesuit university in the U.S., offers its undergraduates the opportunity to study in the schools of foreign service, business, or nursing and health studies or in Georgetown College, the liberal arts college that first established the institution. Before pursuing one of more than 40 majors, students in the College must complete core requirements in a wide range of humanities and science fields, including two courses in theology, starting with either The Problem of God or Introduction to Biblical Literature as freshmen.
Colgate University, a small liberal arts university in upstate New York, has undergraduates studying in 54 majors, which come from a strong and broad liberal arts Core Curriculum. Students are required to take four courses in their first two years: Legacies of the Ancient World, Challenges of Modernity, Communities and Identities, and Scientific Perspectives on the World. Students are also required to take one course with a Global Engagements designation and six more courses from three liberal arts and sciences areas.
Undergraduate students at Morehouse College, the all-men HBCU in Atlanta, are required to complete a core curriculum, which includes four courses in the humanities?one in religion, one in philosophy, one in art history, and one in music history. That is about as liberal arts as it gets.
But it’s not just small private colleges that have a core curriculum. The huge flagship University of Texas at Austin puts all of its freshmen into the School of Undergraduate Studies, where they explore their interests through a liberal-arts-and-sciences core curriculum of 42 credits. In their freshman year, students take UT’s Signature Course, which is actually an array of 150 course offerings for students to choose from, all of which provide college-level experiences in thinking and writing and speaking and research. Students are encouraged to go outside their comfort zone when choosing from the Signature Courses, which are often interdisciplinary, like Astronomy and the Humanities. UT students leave the School of Undergraduate Studies by the end of their second year to pursue their major course of study.
At Penn State, typical undergraduates take almost one-third of their courses in the College of Liberal Arts. All students are required to take 45 credits of General Education courses, including three credits of writing-intensive coursework, a course in U.S. cultures, a course in international cultures, and coursework that covers social and behavioral sciences, humanities, natural sciences, quantitative skills, the arts, and health and physical activity.
It is hard to do this episode without a nod to our own two undergraduate alma maters, so let’s look at them. Here are the “distribution requirements” and the “breadth requirements” in Cornell University‘s College of Arts and Sciences curriculum (and these are in addition to two first-year writing seminars, a serious intermediate-level foreign language requirement–which many high-ranked colleges have, two physical education courses plus a swimming test):
2 courses in physical and biological sciences
1 course in mathematics and quantitative reasoning
1 course that is in either sciences or mathematics
Five arts and sciences courses from at least 4 of the following social sciences, humanities, and arts categories:
Knowledge, cognition, and moral reasoning
Literature and the arts
Social and behavioral analysis
Geographic breadth requirement: 1 course that focuses on an area or a people other than those of the United States, Canada, or Europe
Historic breadth requirement: 1 course that focuses on an historic period before the 20th century
While I would applaud these requirements for my own children and for the children of all of my friends, I can tell you that the requirements were not quite so demanding in the early 1970s. And, for that, I believe I am grateful.
So, let’s take a look at Barnard College‘s brand new curriculum, called Foundations, which I know you didn’t have, Marie, because it applies for the first time to students entering this fall. Barnard has what it calls “distributional requirements” and “modes of thinking” (in addition to a first-year writing course, first-year seminar, and one physical education course):
2 courses in the languages
2 courses in the arts/humanities
2 courses in the social sciences
2 courses in the sciences (1 with a lab)
1 course in thinking locally–New York City
1 course in thinking through global inquiry
1 course in thinking about social difference
1 course in thinking with historical perspective
1 course in thinking quantitatively and empirically
1 course in thinking technologically and digitally
I would have to say that those requirements are also quite demanding, especially for a student who, right or wrong, is not interested in broadening her horizons.
So, if all this is just too much, take a look at just a few colleges that do not have a standard core curriculum of courses:
Let’s start with The Evergreen State College, a public liberal arts college in Washington’s capital city of Olympia. Students at Evergreen take one interdisciplinary course, called a program, at a time, which might last one, two, or even three quarters. Built around a theme, a program integrates several subjects and is taught by a team of two to four professors from different subject fields. Students participate in a mixture of lectures, seminars, tutorials, field trips, labs, and the like during each program. There are no required programs and no distribution requirements and no major requirements (because there are no majors) for earning a Bachelor of Arts degree. A Bachelor of Science or a Bachelor of Arts and Science does have some math, science, or computer science requirements.
At Hamilton College in upstate New York, students pursue studies in 51 fields, based on a broad liberal arts and sciences curriculum that each student works out with his or her advisor. There are a few requirements?such as at least three writing-intensive courses?but there seems to be quite a bit of freedom in operationalizing the spirit of a liberal arts education.
Pitzer College, one of the five undergraduate colleges in The Claremont Colleges consortium in California, offers its 1,000 students about 40 fields of study in an “interdisciplinary liberal arts education emphasizing social justice, intercultural understanding and environmental sensitivity” (quoted from the website). Students are expected to engage in community service and are given the freedom to create their own academic programs; there are no traditional core course requirements.
So, have your teenager take the Assignment #7 worksheet and complete one for each college on his or her long summer list of college options, and I hope it is still long. First, note whether there is a core curriculum, or general education course, or distribution requirements, or breadth requirements, or whatever that college might call the list of academic fields or groups of fields or even specific courses all students must take. Remember, if it is a university, make sure that your teenager checks the college or school of interest to him or her; requirements may well not be the same for all of the colleges and schools in the university. Second, write down exactly what the requirements are. When the time comes to decide which colleges stay on the list, the number and rigor and breadth of the requirements might be something you all will want to consider.
The Kindle ebook version of our book, How To Find the Right College, is on sale for $1.99 all summer long! Read it on your Kindle device or download the free Kindle app for any tablet or smartphone. The book is also available as a paperback workbook.
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This series is entitled The Search Begins and, as we have said, it is aimed directly at those of you who are parents of juniors, and it is designed to help you all navigate summer tasks related to college applications in the fall. (Of course, it never hurts parents of freshmen and sophomores to get a head start on the college admissions game. So, stick with us during these summer episodes.)
Today’s topic focuses on something that you are just about to do totally wrong. Furthermore, our advice on this topic probably runs counter to what many “experts” are telling you to do right now, which is to start narrowing your list of colleges so that your teenager can get ready to apply in the fall.
In this episode, we are going to take the position that you should do the exact opposite, which is to start expanding your teenager’s list of colleges immediately so that you all are truly ready to narrow it in the fall. While that might seem unnecessary–even wasteful, given the thousand things you are trying to do this summer–we would contend that expanding the options now could make the difference between an okay college choice for your teenager and a great college choice for your teenager when it is time to accept a college’s offer next spring. Here’s why.
1. One More Research Study
Nicholas W. Hillman, an assistant professor at the University of Wisconsin–Madison (a great public flagship university, which we discussed in Episode 27) has written a recent paper, published in the American Educational Research Journal and entitled “Geography of College Opportunity: The Case of Education Deserts.” Catherine Gewertz reported on Hillman’s paper recently in the High School & Beyond blog in Education Week (“Why College Access Depends on Your ZIP Code,” June 24, 2016).
You loyal listeners might remember that we first met Professor Hillman back in Episode 66 when we talked about his earlier report entitled Education Deserts: The Continued Significance of “Place” in the Twenty-First Century (co-authored with Taylor Weichman). One statistic that the authors quoted in that report is this: About 57 percent of incoming freshmen at public four-year colleges attend a college within 50 miles of home. Now, think about that from a freshman’s point of view. If you are a freshman standing on your four-year public college campus, more than half of your classmates live within 50 miles of where you are standing. Clearly, those students did not get outside of their “geographic comfort zone,” which is one of our most talked about and least favorite concepts here at USACollegeChat. (Remember that about 70 percent of high school graduates attend college in their home state. That’s just too many kids staying within their geographic comfort zone, in our opinion.)
This time around, Hillman maps both public and private two-year and four-year colleges and universities in 709 “commuting zones” across the U.S.–that is, in 709 bunches of mostly contiguous counties where people live and work. And, when I say “maps,” I mean that he locates the colleges and universities on a map of the U.S. and colors in the commuting zones where they are located so that anyone can see at a glance which commuting zones have a lot of colleges (five or more is the top of his scale) and which don’t have even one.
We are going to skip over private two-year colleges, inasmuch as they are the rarest of college types, and look first at public two-year colleges. Looking at Hillman’s map, we notice that there are relatively fewer public two-year colleges west of the Mississippi River until you get to the Far West and Southwest border states. Turning to public four-year colleges, we notice that there are even fewer public four-year colleges than public two-year colleges in the Plains and Rocky Mountain states. And finally, coming to private four-year colleges, we notice that the coverage is especially good east of the Mississippi–particularly in New England and the Mid-Atlantic states–and again in parts of the Far West.
So, where is the “education desert”? The maps would say, generally speaking, that it is in the Rocky Mountain and Plains states. What that means is that college students who live there are likely to have fewer nearby options than students in other commuting zones–say, those in the Northeast. Of course, even in the Northeast, you might live in a particular commuting zone that just doesn’t have many colleges. And that matters because so many kids stay close to home for college–perhaps too close.
But that’s not the worst of it. Gewertz explains:
Hillman found that zones of opportunity put specific groups at a disadvantage. Latino and African-American communities tend to have the fewest colleges, and less-selective colleges, nearby, while white and Asian communities tend to have more colleges, and more selective institutions, nearby to choose from. . . . Hillman argues that most policy that seeks to improve college access focuses on the process of opportunity–with initiatives that aim to get more information into students’ hands, so they can make good college choices–instead of the geography of opportunity. (quoted from the article)
Well, now we have a societal problem as well as an individual student problem. As Hillman noted in his first report, the college decisions of students from working-class homes and the college decisions of students of color are most negatively affected by home-to-college distance. So, when it turns out that there are relatively fewer college options and relatively fewer selective college options in Latino and African-American communities and when we know that lots of those kids do not travel very far to attend college, for whatever reason, those students end up not having the range of college choices that they deserve.
Why are we telling you this? Because all of you should expand the college options for your teenager before you narrow them, and this is especially true if you live in an area that has few nearby colleges or few good nearby colleges. Whether you are Latino, African American, Asian, or white, those of you living in an education desert must look outside your geographic area in order to find a choice of good options for your teenager. Why should you be content with the only option in town no matter how good it is? For many of you, the chances are that it is not good enough.
But, to repeat, this advice is not just for those of you living in education deserts. This advice is for all of you who are busy making up a short list of colleges for your child to visit this summer and apply to in the fall. It simply is not time yet to be making up that short list, to be narrowing down the choices, to be closing off opportunities, and to be settling either for colleges that are nearby or for colleges that you already know about. It is unnecessarily soon–even for those of you who want to look at an Early Decision or Early Action option.
So, since it is July 1 and your teenager might have a bit of free time, we are ready to give him or her–and you–an assignment every week until September. The more you can get your teenager to do the work, the easier it will be for you; however, you will need to provide some life experience and adult judgment throughout the assignments. We do guarantee that you both will be better equipped by September 1 to start the actual college application process.
We thought hard about what your first summer assignment should be and settled on this: With your teenager, listen to our virtual nationwide college tour (Episodes 27 through 53) again?or for the first time?or skim the show notes if you prefer. By the way, these episodes do a good job of differentiating between the public and private colleges, which could well be one of the first decisions you will make when it is time to shorten your teenager’s list in September.
Together, choose at least one college in every state to put on your teenager’s list. Put those 50 on what we will call “your teenager’s long summer list of college options.” Just add them to any colleges you already have on the list.
Okay, if that’s too outlandish, try this: Choose at least one college in each of 25 states of your choice to put on your teenager’s list. Heck, that’s only half the states. You are getting off easy. Put those on your teenager’s long summer list of college options.
Still too tough? How about this: Choose at least two colleges in every geographic region of the U.S. to put on your teenager’s long summer list of college options. Remember that 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 four to 12 states. So, that would give you 16 colleges–plus, let’s say, add two extra colleges in your home state for good measure.
But wait: Put five public flagship universities on your teenager’s long summer list of college options. Any five. You choose. This will ensure that your teenager has some great public options to consider, too. As we have said before, public flagship universities might be the hidden jewels in the college landscape.
And those of you who are longtime listeners know that this piece of advice is coming: Choose at least one college not in the U.S. to put on your teenager’s long summer list of college options. The global future is here. Join it.
Now that you have the long summer list of 20 or 30 or 40 or, better yet, 50 colleges, have your teenager read about each one on the college’s website before talking with you and recommending whether it should be kept on the list. Believe me, you can learn a lot from reading a college website. Furthermore, you can learn not only about that one college, but also about colleges in general and what to look for on the next website. It’s an education in itself.
Our virtual tour gave you a lot of the information you should consider already, but let your teenager confirm it and look further into particular things that interest him or her about the college. Make sure your teenager checks out at least these topics:
Enrollment, broken down by undergraduate and graduate (if any) students
Retention and graduation rates (search the site for “common data set” or go to College Navigator, sponsored by the National Center for Education Statistics)
The history of the college (always my favorite topic)
Academic divisions in the institution (that is, colleges or schools within a university)
Academic departments and majors offered
Study abroad options
Extracurricular activities (including fraternities and sororities)
Intercollegiate and intramural sports
Tuition and housing costs (of course)
Finally, make sure that your teenager writes down (or makes a spreadsheet of) the information they find on each college. Believe me, after about four colleges, it’s impossible to remember which college has which attractive and unattractive features.
Personally, I wouldn’t have your teenager start poring over admission standards just yet. I would rather he or she look at the range of great opportunities out there and perhaps get a bit motivated by what those websites offer. Your teenager needs an education about higher education first. Some of those websites are so good, in fact, that they make me want to go back to college.
And, by the way, I wouldn’t have your teenager start looking at two-year colleges yet, either. Those of you who listen to us know that we have some reservations about two-year colleges, especially for students who have just graduated from high school and are moving directly into college full time. We know that they are a great choice for saving money and for helping kids who need a bit more maturity or a bit more academic preparation, but we worry because the transfer rates to four-year colleges are scandalously low, and we worry about what opportunities that fact closes off for too many kids. Two-year colleges can easily be added to the list in September, because we are assuming that the choice of a two-year college is largely affected by geography and that students are most likely to attend the one closest to them.
So, what is the point of today’s episode? It is simply that expanding your options now–before narrowing them in the fall–is a way to let both you and your teenager consider colleges you have never thought about. That’s because there are some really interesting ones out there, including perhaps the one that is best for your teenager.
Depending where you live, here are a few public and private choices you probably aren’t thinking about (some that are very selective, and others that are not):
By the way, I really do not want to hear one more of my friends here in New York say, “Oh, she can just go to Binghamton. It’s a good school.” With apologies to Binghamton, which is a fine state university in upstate New York, I would like my friends to look around first. I would like many more colleges on their teenager’s long list. I would like many colleges on that list to be outside New York State. I would like some of them to be outside the Northeast. I would like some of them to be public and some of them to be private. Binghamton isn’t going anywhere. It will still be there in the fall.
The Kindle ebook version of our book, How To Find the Right College, is on sale for $1.99 all summer long! Read it on your Kindle device or download the free Kindle app for any tablet or smartphone. The book is also available as a paperback workbook.
In last week’s episode, we continued our virtual tour of colleges by looking at the six states of the Far West region: Washington, Oregon, California, Nevada, Alaska, and Hawai‘i. We talked about public universities—both the flagship state public universities and other public universities in those states. Today, we will continue our tour of the Far West states by focusing on private higher education institutions.
We are going to check out several national universities, which really draw students internationally, as well as a handful of universities best known in their own region and a handful of smaller liberal arts colleges. Many of them happen to be located in the very large state of California. We feel that these are the private institutions in the Far West that are most likely to attract out-of-state students.
As we say in every one of our episodes, we want to make it clear that no college has asked us or paid us anything to name it. These are simply our choices.
Founded in 1891 in lovely Pasadena, Caltech is “a world-renowned science and engineering research and education institution, where extraordinary faculty and students seek answers to complex questions, discover new knowledge, lead innovation, and transform our future,” according to its website. In most cases, I take website statements with a grain of salt; but, I believe this one is actually accurate.
About 1,000 undergraduate students study in 26 programs across six academic divisions: Biology and Biological Engineering, Chemistry and Chemical Engineering, Engineering and Applied Science, Geological and Planetary Sciences, Humanities and Social Sciences, and Physics, Mathematics and Astronomy. Caltech also enrolls about 1,200 graduate students—so, more graduate than undergraduate students.
Caltech boasts a student-to-faculty ratio of 3:1—so low a ratio that it is literally unbelievable (before this, the lowest we had seen was Rice University’s 6:1, which also seemed shockingly low). This means that students have unprecedented access to faculty in class and in research labs and likely outside of class as well. About 80 percent of Caltech undergraduate degree-holders go on to earn a graduate degree.
Despite enrolling really brainy students, Caltech fields 17 men’s and women’s varsity sports teams. Undergraduates live in eight Houses, each with its own character and each of which they visit during a process called Rotation.
New freshmen in the Class of 2018 are about 60 percent male and 40 percent female—a bit more balanced than the overall institution. Their average SAT scores are about 750 or better on each subtest. So, this is an institution for a very particular kind of student with very particular academic interests.
At about $45,000 in tuition and fees annually, Caltech’s cost is comparable to other top-tier universities and not surprising, given the equipment and lab expenses of operating a higher education institution focused on engineering and science.
Just a short drive away in Los Angeles, we find the University of Southern California (known as USC and, to its amazingly active alumni/alumnae, as SC). Founded in 1880 with 53 students, before Los Angeles had paved streets, USC now serves about 19,000 undergraduates and another 24,000 graduate and professional students—again, more graduate than undergraduate students and a very, very big student body for a private university. Almost one-quarter of its students are drawn internationally.
USC’s incoming freshmen have an average high school GPA of 3.73 and an average of close to 700 on each of the three SAT subtests; that’s a lot of smart kids. USC students are also athletic. USC was home to 418 Olympic athletes (between 1904 and 2010), the most of any U.S. university. And, it offers 20 men’s and women’s varsity sports teams. If you know any USC alums, you know that the Trojans play some serious football and you know that loyal alums into their eighties attend games in state and out of state. USC also offers students over 850 student organizations, including fraternities and sororities, to join.
USC has 21 undergraduate, graduate, and professional schools and colleges—as many as we have ever seen—including, its College of Letters, Arts and Sciences and a wide variety of career-related schools, such as its Schools of Cinematic Arts, Architecture, Dance, Business, Education, Music, Engineering, Art and Design, Accounting, Communication and Journalism, Public Policy, Dramatic Arts, and more. All undergraduates take a core of general education, writing, and diversity-themed courses.
With all of that available at USC, $48,000 in annual tuition and fees is perhaps understandable—though, obviously, still quite high.
Moving north, we come to Stanford University, located a bit south of San Francisco on a lovely campus with beautiful California Mission-style buildings of sandstone with red-tiled roofs. Leland Stanford Junior University was founded in 1885 by U.S. Senator Leland Stanford and his wife in memory of their son. They hired famous landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted to design the campus—and it shows. Stanford University was co-educational and nondenominational at a time when most private universities were neither.
It now serves about 7,000 undergraduates and about 9,000 graduate and professional students in seven schools, three of which serve undergraduate students: Earth, Energy and Environmental Sciences; Engineering; and Humanities and Sciences. Undergraduates choose from about 65 majors, with the top five majors all being in the sciences and engineering. Like Caltech, Stanford has an extraordinarily low and appealing student-to-faculty ratio of 4:1.
Surprisingly, given its first-rate national reputation, about 40 percent of undergraduates are Californians. Not surprisingly, given its outstanding academic reputation, about 75 percent of new freshmen have a high school GPA of 4.0 or higher and have a 700 or better on each of the three SAT subtests (including about 25 percent with perfect 800 scores).
About 96 percent of undergraduates live on campus and undoubtedly take part in approximately 650 student organizations. There are about 13,000 bicycles being ridden on campus every day. Stanford also provides a robust varsity sports program of 36 men’s, women’s, and co-educational teams. For a straight 38 years, at least one Stanford team has won a national championship (in 2013–14, it was women’s water polo).
At $45,000 in tuition and fees annually, its costs are high, but in line with other top universities.
2. Private Faith-Based Universities
The Far West has an interesting selection of faith-based universities that are well regarded, if not especially well known outside of the region. First, the Far West is home to four of the 28 Catholic Jesuit universities in the U.S.: Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, with about 6,000 undergraduates and a total of about 9,500 undergraduate, graduate, and professional students; Santa Clara University in Santa Clara, California, with about 5,500 undergraduates and a total of about 9,000 undergraduate, graduate, and professional students; Gonzaga University in Spokane, Washington, with about 5,000 undergraduates and a total of about 7,500 undergraduate, graduate, and professional students; and Seattle University in Seattle, Washington, with about 4,500 undergraduates and a total of about 7,500 undergraduate, graduate, and professional students. These are all substantial institutions. Pricewise, their annual tuition and fees range from about $38,000 to $44,000, with the ones in Washington being a bit cheaper than the ones in California.
As we have said in previous episodes, the Jesuits trace their commitment to education to St. Ignatius of Loyola, who founded the first Jesuit college in Messina, Sicily, in 1548. Jesuit institutions today place a strong emphasis on intellectual rigor and a liberal arts foundation, social justice issues worldwide, and a life of service. Students of all faiths are welcome at Jesuit institutions, and I believe that most students feel quite comfortable there, even if they are not Catholic.
Turning to a different faith-based tradition, Hawai‘i has a branch of Brigham Young University, operated by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, in a perfect locale just north of Honolulu. Its approximately 2,500 undergraduates drawn from 70 countries study in a relatively strict Mormon intellectual, ethical, and social setting, as we described in Episode 34 about the Rocky Mountain region’s Brigham Young University campuses in Utah and Idaho.
Moving on to another faith-based tradition, or perhaps more like a philosophy-based tradition, we have Soka University of America (SUA), located in Aliso Viejo in Orange County, California—a short drive from the beach. “Proudly founded upon the Buddhist principles of peace, human rights and the sanctity of life, SUA offers a non-sectarian curriculum” and welcomes students of all beliefs (quoted from the website). With tuition of about $29,000, SUA offers full tuition scholarships to eligible students whose annual family income is $60,000 or less.
Soka means “to create value.” The mission of SUA is to “foster a steady stream of global citizens committed to living a contributive life” (quoted from the website). Soka schools—from kindergarten through college in Japan—are based on the work of a Japanese educator, imprisoned by Japanese authorities for opposing World War II and defending religious freedom. The education society that he founded is now one of the world’s largest Buddhist organizations made up of laypersons.
Founded in 1987, SUA has just about 400 undergraduate students and a handful of graduate students today—about half from the U.S. All undergraduates earn a B.A. in Liberal Arts, with a concentration in Environmental Studies, Humanities, International Studies, or Social and Behavioral Sciences. All students study abroad for one semester of their junior year, after four courses of language study in their choice of Chinese, French, Japanese, or Spanish—a required international perspective.
Finally, let’s look at Pepperdine University in Malibu, California, just north of Los Angeles. If you ever see its gorgeous campus perched high above the Pacific Ocean, you will never forget it. Pepperdine describes itself as “a Christian university committed to the highest standards of academic excellence and Christian values, where students are strengthened for lives of purpose, service and leadership” (quoted from the website). Founded in 1937, George Pepperdine spoke to students with these words that still guide the University:
There are many good colleges and universities which can give you standard academic training, but if our school does not give you more than that, it really has no reason to exist. The great difference between this college and other colleges is that we are endeavoring to place adequate emphasis and greater stress upon religious teaching and Christian character. We want to present to you, in teaching and example, the Christian way of life. We do not compel you to accept it. You are free to make your own choice, but we want you to know what it is. (quoted from the website)
Today, Pepperdine’s approximately 3,200 undergraduates (by the way, there are graduate programs in five schools as well) study in 44 majors in Seaver College of Letters, Arts, and Sciences, after a common core of 19 liberal arts courses, including three required religion courses: one on the Old Testament, one on the New Testament, and one on Christianity’s influences on culture (for example, the arts, education, social issues, and law). There are more than 115 student organizations and 17 men’s and women’s varsity sports teams to keep students busy. More than 60 percent study abroad at one of six Pepperdine facilities—in Buenos Aires, Florence, Heidelberg, Lausanne, London, and Shanghai. There is also a Washington, D.C., facility for “study abroad at home.”
Entering freshmen post an average high school GPA of 3.6 or a bit higher and SAT scores of about 625 to 650 on each of three subtests. About 55 percent of students come from California (maybe because not many kids from across the U.S. have seen Malibu yet). Tuition is hefty at $48,000 per year, but that view of the Pacific might be worth it.
3. Colleges That Change Lives
As we have said in several earlier episodes, Colleges That Change Lives is a nonprofit organization that was founded after the publication of the book Colleges That Change Lives, by Loren Pope, a retired New York Times education editor. There are now 44 colleges and universities profiled in the book and on the organization’s website. Those that are included are not necessarily famous institutions. Most are smaller colleges and universities that have proved to be successful at developing students both personally and academically so that they can succeed in life after their undergraduate college years.
Let’s focus on Reed for a moment and its approximately 1,400 undergraduate students studying in 40 majors (there are also some graduate students). Long known as a nontraditional college for smart students, Reed has been committed to a liberal arts education since its founding in 1908 from the estates of Oregon pioneers Simeon and Amanda Reed. Its freshmen take a year-long interdisciplinary humanities course, its juniors sit for a qualifying exam in their major, and its seniors write an original research or artistic thesis and defend it orally. Feedback from professors to students in their courses is through narrative comments rather than through traditional grades.
Reed is characterized by free thinking, lack of rules and regulations, its Honor Principle that governs both academic and social life, and small classes with open discussion. About 70 percent of its students go on to graduate or professional school, and about 25 percent go on to earn a Ph.D.
Reed offers club sports and outdoor programs, but no varsity sports. It does offer a wide variety of student organizations, funded by a student vote. Its incoming freshmen boast an average high school GPA of 3.9 and a pair of SAT subtest scores around 700—so these are bright kids in an intriguing and free-spirited academic environment. Almost 30 percent of students are from underrepresented minority groups, and about 50 percent come from the Far West states. Undergraduate tuition and fees are admittedly super high at about $50,000 per year.
Because these Colleges That Change Lives institutions are relatively small and thus are not particularly well known outside of their geographic region, it is my feeling that out-of-state students with a good high school record might have a good chance of being accepted (though that would need to be a really great high school record to be admitted to Reed).
4. Other Private Colleges
Of course, there are still more private colleges in these Far West states, especially in California—indeed, too many to discuss here. But I would like to mention one well-known consortium of colleges, The Claremont Colleges. Founded on the vision of James A. Blaisdell in 1925, The Claremont Colleges are described this way in Blaisdell’s own words:
My own very deep hope is that instead of one great, undifferentiated university, we might have a group of institutions divided into small colleges — somewhat of an Oxford type — around a library and other utilities which they would use in common. In this way I should hope to preserve the inestimable personal values of the small college while securing the facilities of the great university.
Blaisdell’s vision, which tries to have the best of both worlds, produced today’s consortium of five colleges—Pomona College, founded in 1887 and the founding college of this consortium almost five decades later; Scripps College in 1926; Claremont McKenna College in 1946; Harvey Mudd College in 1955; and Pitzer College in 1963—plus two graduate institutions and a support services entity. The colleges are located in Claremont, about 35 miles inland from Los Angeles—“within an hour of the Pacific Ocean, the Mojave Desert, the San Gabriel Mountains and the city of Los Angeles,” as the website boasts.
With a total enrollment of about 7,700 students, each college has its own campus within the same one square mile and its own students, but students are able to take a significant number of courses from the 2,500 offered across the five colleges or even to major in something at another of the five colleges. Here are the thumbnail descriptions of the five institutions:
Pomona College offers its 1,600 students a liberal arts curriculum, with 47 majors and a focus on the humanities, natural sciences, and social sciences. It has an attractive 8:1 student-to-faculty ratio. Despite its small size, it offers 21 varsity sports teams and over 220 student organizations.
Scripps College is a liberal arts college for just under 1,000 women; about 30 percent are students of color. Scripps offers 65 majors, a required Core Curriculum of three challenging interdisciplinary humanities courses, and a required senior thesis. It fields 21 varsity sports teams in collaboration with its consortium mates Claremont McKenna College and Harvey Mudd College.
Claremont McKenna College—once Claremont Men’s College, but now coeducational—offers its 1,300 students a liberal arts curriculum with 33 majors and a focus on economics, government, and international relations. It also has an attractive 8:1 student-to-faculty ratio. About 90 percent of its students have an internship during their college years.
Harvey Mudd College offers majors in just six fields—biology, chemistry, computer science, engineering, mathematics, and physics, plus a few joint majors—but also requires a humanities course and a writing course of all students. Since 1963, its Clinic Program has engaged juniors and seniors in solving real-world problems for industry clients. Harvey Mudd has a student body of just about 800 undergraduates.
Pitzer College offers its 1,000 students about 40 fields of study in an “interdisciplinary liberal arts education emphasizing social justice, intercultural understanding and environmental sensitivity” (quoted from the website). Students are expected to engage in community service and are given the freedom to create their own academic programs; there are no traditional core course requirements. About 75 percent of Pitzer students study abroad.
The SAT subtest scores of entering freshmen at The Claremont Colleges are strong—about 680 to 735 across the board. In 2003, however, Pitzer adopted a test-optional admission policy “following a study that proved that there was no direct correlation between academic success at Pitzer and standardized testing. Since Pitzer stopped requiring the SAT or ACT for admission, the campus has seen a 58 percent increase in diversity, an 8 percent increase in GPA, and a 39 percent increase in applicants with a 10 percent increase in retention. The College has also doubled the number of students from low income, first generation backgrounds” (quoted from the website). And that is all quite impressive.
Tested or not, students at The Claremont Colleges are smart. For example, about 40 percent of the incoming freshmen in the Class of 2018 at Harvey Mudd were valedictorians or salutatorians of their high school class. Students at the five colleges pay about $46,000 to $49,000 annually in tuition and fees for the privilege of attending this unique consortium.
If we had more time, I might talk about Occidental College in Los Angeles or Mills College, a women’s college in Oakland, California—two more private liberal arts colleges that are worth a look.
5. Looking Back
I am struck by how difficult it appears for students to get into the private colleges we talked about in this episode. Some have always been very selective, but others have gotten increasingly so in the past two or three decades. I usually think that students from outside a region with decent, but not outstanding, grades might have a better shot at getting into a college than comparable students within the region. But I am not sure that is the case here. What I do know is that there are some great choices on the West Coast that are worth thinking hard about if you have a child who has done really well in high school. Otherwise, some of the faith-based institutions and some of the Colleges That Change Lives might give your good, but not great, student a chance to enjoy the West.
Listen to the podcast to find out about…
Why some faith-based colleges could be a surprisingly interesting choice
What colleges a kid might actually be able to get into these days
How interesting the vision for The Claremont Colleges turned out to be
Check out these higher education institutions and organizations we mention…