Episode 125: Colleges Serving First-Generation-to-College Students

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Welcome back to our Colleges in the Spotlight series. Last week, we focused on Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSIs)–where the campus student population must be at least 25 percent Latino, with more than half financially needy–and the good work that they have been doing to smooth the way for Latino/Latina students, many of whom are the first generation in their families to attend college. Kudos again to UC Irvine for its excellent programs and services for Latino/Latina students!

Today’s episode picks up from where last week’s left off. This episode will look at a couple of colleges that do a good job of providing services for first-generation-to-college students. And let us remind you to take a glance back at Episode 103, where we describe the truly outstanding work that Georgia State University has been doing to serve its black students, many of whom are first-generation-to-college students. We couldn’t have been more impressed.

Before we turn to the colleges in the spotlight today, please remember to go to amazon.com and get a copy of our new book, How To Explore Your College Options: A Workbook for High School Students. It’s a user-friendly way to help your teenager investigate colleges of interest to him or her–perfect for current or recent high school juniors who are getting ready to apply to college next year. What a way to spend the summer: reading our book and doing the homework we assign! As we said last week, we are offering a money-back guarantee if the book doesn’t help your teenager.

1. The Context for First-Generation-to College Students

Let’s look at the context in which first-generation-to-college students go to college, thanks to a comprehensive article written by Eilene Zimmerman on June 7 in The New York Times: 

First-generation students mostly come from low- to middle-income families, are disproportionally Hispanic and African-American and have little, if any, information about their higher education options. As a result, they often have misconceptions and anxiety about attending college. 

College counselors can help these students deal with the complexity of the college preparation and application process. Yet few public high schools serving significant numbers of low-income and first-generation students have anywhere near enough counselors. 

According to the 2015 State of College Admissions report from the National Association for College Admission Counseling, counselors at public high schools are, on average, each responsible for 436 students, and those counselors spend only 22 percent of their time on pre-college counseling. (quoted from the article)

Well, this is a refrain that our listeners have heard many times here at USACollegeChat and that our readers have read in our books. Public high school counselors–even those public high schools with dedicated college counselors–cannot begin to do what they need to do for each student, especially for first-generation-to-college students who are likely to need additional help and advice. Public high school counselors absolutely do not have the time necessary to do this work, and too many of them do not have the background knowledge and up-to-date information necessary to do this work. It is no wonder that these kids come to college with the “misconceptions and anxiety” that Ms. Zimmerman refers to in her article.

And here are some more facts, according to Ms. Zimmerman’s article:

About one-third of undergraduates in colleges in the United States are first-generation students, according [to] the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce and the United States Department of Education. (quoted from the article)

Let us stop right there for a minute. One-third of college undergraduates are first-generation-to-college students! We think that number is actually quite extraordinary. It means that colleges are indeed bringing in new students from many backgrounds (although we know that any number of experts believe that colleges should do even more to reach out to such students). Frankly, I would have guessed that the number would have been lower. But here is the more troubling news:

Only 27 percent [of first-generation students] earn a college degree in four years, compared with 42 percent of students with parents who went to college, according to a report from the Higher Education Research Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles.

Without a college degree, children of low-income parents are likely to be low-income adults, and their earning potential will only get worse over time. An analysis by the Georgetown center predicted that by 2020, 65 percent of all jobs in the United States would require postsecondary education and training. (quoted from the article)

Let’s look right past the sad fact that only 42 percent of students with parents who went to college manage to earn a college degree in four years. That’s bad enough, and we have talked about unsatisfactory graduation rates several times here at USACollegeChat. We have even talked about the idea that actually graduating in four years is one of the best ways to cut college costs for every student at every type of college.

The fact that only 27 percent of first-generation-to-college students manage to earn a college degree in four years is indeed concerning. And, for these kids, it likely means that some additional counseling or support of other kinds might help raise that figure to at least the lackluster 42 percent scored by other kids.

2. Spotlight on Services for First-Generation Students

You should read Ms. Zimmerman’s article to get the full anecdotes about the colleges we will mention now as well as their success statistics. The stories are worth reading in their entirety. But let’s look at a few briefly:

. . . Aspire [is] a program [Dennis] Di Lorenzo created two years ago [at New York University]. It was influenced by a study of 20 public schools in New York City’s lower-income neighborhoods that found graduation rates suffering and a huge variance in college-readiness programs. Aspire aims to give students information about higher education, the application process and financial aid, and prepare them academically for the transition to college.

The free, two-year program serves 40 high school juniors, who attend a weeklong program each summer at N.Y.U. There are also classes and workshops throughout the school year that offer leadership training, advanced math instruction, assistance with college essay preparation, and discussions about careers, scholarships and college majors. In addition, students are connected to a group of college student mentors. (quoted from the article)

Ms. Zimmerman tells the story of one senior who stayed in a room on the 22nd floor of an NYU campus dorm for the weeklong program. It was the young man’s first time in a college dorm and, more significantly, the first time sleeping away from home and the first time having a roommate from outside his family. Imagine how eye-opening that experience must have been for that young man and how much it must have helped him to see what attending a great private university–or really any university–might be like.

Let’s move the spotlight slightly west and take a look at Rutgers University, New Jersey’s public flagship university. The Rutgers Future Scholars program identifies “promising” first-generation, low-income students in the seventh grade in four urban school districts–Newark, New Brunswick, Piscataway, and Camden. Students are selected for their academic performance as well as for their participation in their communities and schools. “We look for the ‘if only’ students, those who are on the cusp of doing remarkable things but need that additional support system in their life,” said program director Aramis Gutierrez.

Once identified, these students “receive academic support and enrichment, and mentoring from Future Scholars participants who are now in college. They attend classes after school, on weekends and during the summer. No student is ever expelled from the program for poor grades or lagging attendance.” (quoted from the article) Rather, they are given a second chance, after appropriate intervention by faculty members. And, by the way, those Future Scholars who go on the attend Rutgers, get free tuition on top of everything else. The undocumented students in the program have their tuition paid by private donors. Special kudos to those donors!

NYU has another interesting program that picks students up a bit later in their school careers. Let’s look finally at that program, called Access:

First-generation students who graduate from high school but haven’t prepared for (or enrolled in) college can attend an N.Y.U. bridge program known as Access, which prepares them for college by providing academic remediation, tutoring and help with career development and job search skills. Students also earn 24 college credits that will transfer to a four-year institution.

The Access program began in the fall of 2016 with eight students; half will be attending college this fall. Unlike Aspire, Access is not free, Mr. Di Lorenzo said, but costs $15,000 for the year. (Aid and scholarships are available.) (quoted from the article)

While $15,000 is indeed not free, it is, nonetheless, a bargain if a student can earn 24 college credits plus get whatever remedial help he or she needs to bridge the gap into college.

3. What Next?

While NYU and Rutgers deserve credit for these programs aimed at improving the odds of success for first-generation-to-college students, it is clear that many more such programs are needed. If you have a teenager at home who will be the first to attend college in your family, looking for a college with services for kids like yours is important.

I am guessing that information about those services might not always be as easy to find on a college website as you might wish. So, look hard. Talk to a staff member in the admissions office of each college your teenager is considering and ask specifically about academic and personal support and other counseling services for first-generation-to-college students. Why? Because we would like your teenager to be one of the 27 percent of first-generation-to-college students to get a college degree in four years. And, by the way, we also would like that 27 percent figure to get much higher very fast.

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Episode 120: Lots of College Options in Our New Workbook

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

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

1. Colleges in the Spotlight

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

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

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

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

2. Now, It’s Up to You

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Episode 46: Colleges in the Mid-Atlantic Region–Part II

Virtual tour of public colleges in the Mid-Atlantic Region on NYCollegeChat PodcastListen to the episode in the player, download it here, or subscribe on iTunes, Stitcher, or TuneIn.

This is the nineteenth episode in our virtual tour of colleges across the U.S., designed to help you find colleges that might be great choices for your child, but are outside your geographic comfort zone. So far, we have toured the Great Lakes region, the Southeast region, the Rocky Mountain region, the Plains region, the Southwest region, the Far West region, and the New England region, and we started into the Mid-Atlantic region last week. We are on a continuing mission to see whether we can convince even our nearby listeners in this region to check out colleges in their neighboring states.

As always, we are discussing only four-year colleges, reasoning that students who plan to attend two-year colleges are highly likely to go to the closest one, which makes sense for a two-year college.

And let us say it once again, no college has asked us or paid us anything to include it in our virtual tour. These are our own choices.

1. The Mid-Atlantic Region

As we explained last week, even though The Bureau of Economic Analysis (an agency of the U.S. Department of Commerce) calls this region the Mideast region, I will continue to call it the Mid-Atlantic region, which, as a native Pennsylvanian, I have always called it. So, with apologies to the Bureau, we will look at the Mid-Atlantic region of Maryland, Delaware, the District of Columbia, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and New York—but we are going to put off a discussion of New York because it is the home state of many of our listeners and we know that they will be especially interested in it (though we kind of wish they were not).

Last week, we examined the public flagship universities in the Mid-Atlantic region, including one HBCU, and we will continue to look at public options in this region in this episode. Next week, we will be taking a look at a variety of private colleges here.

2. Other Public State Universities

In each of these states, there are also other public universities—campuses within the flagship system, campuses within a second-tier system in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, and colleges and universities in their own right. As we said last week, some of these campuses are, in fact, historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs), and we will look at them separately. In looking at all of these other public options, I want to say again that we always consider whether any one of these public options is sufficiently attractive to draw a student away from the public options in his or her home state, which would likely be far cheaper.

I do believe that flagship universities are very often appealing enough to attract students away from public options in their own states, especially public options that are not their own flagship universities. I am not sure how many other public options there are in the Mid-Atlantic states that are that attractive, but let’s look at a few of the best candidates.

Let’s start in Pennsylvania with the University of Pittsburgh (commonly referred to as Pitt), a major urban university in a major city in the far western part of the commonwealth. Pitt was founded in 1787 as Pittsburgh Academy in a log cabin on the frontier and later came to be called Western University of Pennsylvania. In addition to its main campus—which enrolls about 19,000 undergraduates and 10,000 graduate and professional students, for a total of 29,000 students—Pitt also has four regional campuses.

Pitt has 14 undergraduate, graduate, and professional schools and colleges, including all the standard undergraduate colleges for a large university—arts and sciences, education, business, engineering, and information sciences—plus a School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences, School of Nursing, and School of Social Work. Pitt also has graduate and professional schools of law, medicine, public health, dentistry, and pharmacy. By the way, Jonas Salk developed his world-changing polio vaccine at Pitt in 1955.

Pitt offers over 400 student organizations and 19 varsity sports teams. Pitt Panthers play some good basketball and football. The football team was the first college team to wear numbers on their jerseys, the first to fly to away games, and the first to play in games broadcast on the radio. And in case you didn’t know, Pitt’s four-time All-America Tony Dorsett was the first football player to win a college national championship (and the prestigious Heisman Trophy in 1976) and then the Super Bowl for the Dallas Cowboys in back-to-back years. Unfortunately, Dorsett has been diagnosed with chronic traumatic encephalopathy as a result of brain trauma from his playing years. So here’s a shout-out to you, Tony Dorsett: We loved to see you run and wish the very best for you now.

The latest class of Pitt freshmen came from 44 states and 17 foreign countries. About 65 percent were Pennsylvania residents (just about like Penn State), with New Jersey and New York being the next-most-popular home states. SAT subtest scores were in the low to mid-600s, and the average high school GPA was about a 4.0 (75 percent of students posted a GPA of 3.75 or higher). About 25 percent of students were non-white—a record high for the University.

Though tuition differs some by school within Pitt, tuition and fees run about $19,000 per year for in-state students and about $30,000 per year for out-of-state students—with out-of-state tuition and fees comparable to the flagship universities in the region, but with in-state costs a bit higher.

Coming along about 100 years after Pitt in the far western part of Pennsylvania was Temple University in Philadelphia in the far eastern part of the commonwealth. Temple had an interesting beginning:

Temple University’s history begins in 1884, when a young working man asked Russell Conwell if he could tutor him at night. A well-known Philadelphia minister, Conwell quickly said yes. It wasn’t long before he was teaching several dozen students—working people who could attend class only at night, but had a strong desire to make something of themselves.

Conwell recruited volunteer faculty to participate in the burgeoning night school, and in 1888 he received a charter of incorporation for “The Temple College.” His founding vision for the school was to provide superior educational opportunities for academically talented and highly motivated students, regardless of their backgrounds or means….

Today, Temple’s . . . students continue to follow the university’s official motto—Perseverantia Vincit, or “Perseverance Conquers.” (quoted, with editing, from the website)

Currently, Temple serves about 32,000 undergraduate, graduate, and professional students on its main campus in downtown Philadelphia. Temple has other campuses in Philadelphia; three campuses outside Philadelphia, but in Pennsylvania; a campus in Rome; and quite a campus in Japan. The Japan Campus serves about 800 students in undergraduate degree programs (almost half are U.S. residents) and another 2,500 graduate, professional, and corporate adult students from about 60 countries:

Temple University, Japan Campus (TUJ), is the oldest and largest foreign university in Japan. Founded in 1982, TUJ has developed into a nationally recognized institution offering an extensive range of educational programs. In addition to its core undergraduate program, TUJ offers graduate programs in law, business, and education; an English-language preparation program; continuing education courses; and corporate education classes….

TUJ is the first educational institution in Japan to be officially recognized as a Foreign University, Japan Campus by Japan’s Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology. This status allows TUJ to sponsor student visas, enabling international students to study at the university on either a short-term basis (one or two semesters) or a long-term basis (such as to complete a full four-year program). (quoted from the website)

Temple has 17 undergraduate, graduate, and professional schools and colleges—including all of the regular choices, plus a School of Environmental Design, a School of Tourism and Hospitality Management, and the Boyer College of Music and Dance. It offers undergraduates over 100 degree programs.

Like the big public universities we have been discussing, Temple has hundreds of student organizations and 19 varsity sports teams. Temple also offers Army ROTC—Reserve Officers’ Training Corps, which provides leadership training during the year and in the summer. ROTC cadets graduate as Second Lieutenants, with a required service commitment. ROTC scholarships can pay for up to full tuition for eligible students. Though we haven’t talked about ROTC much, it is available on about 1,100 college campuses nationwide.

Incoming freshmen at Temple post SAT subtest scores averaging in the mid-500s, with a high school GPA average of about 3.5. About 75 percent are Pennsylvania residents—meaning to me that Temple is not as well known outside the commonwealth as Pitt and Penn State.

Its tuition differs by school/college, with the College of Liberal Arts running about $15,000 a year for Pennsylvania residents and about $25,000 a year for out-of-state students. But out-of-state students attending Temple’s fine arts schools or business school, for example, will pay closer to $33,000 a year. So, parents, check the tuition rates carefully school by school at universities you are looking at for your teenager.

Let’s turn our focus to New Jersey and its two public research universities in addition to Rutgers: Rowan University and New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT). Let’s start with Rowan, which came rather late to the game for colleges in this part of the country—that is, in 1923. It was started as a normal school to train teachers for South Jersey on a piece of land that 107 residents of Glassboro raised money to buy and donate to the state for this institution. Becoming a junior college and then Glassboro State Teachers College, Rowan got its new name in 1992 from benefactors Henry and Betty Rowan, who gave the university $100 million, with a request “that a College of Engineering be created with a curriculum that would address the shortcomings of engineering education at that time” (quoted from the website). Wow. Glassboro, by the way, is a reasonably short drive from both Philadelphia and Atlantic City. Rowan also has a campus in Camden to serve the needs of its inner-city residents.

Rowan offers its approximately 11,000 undergraduates about 90 degree programs in about a dozen undergraduate, graduate, and professional schools and colleges, including the Henry M. Rowan College of Engineering. Rowan also serves another approximately 2,500 graduate and professional students, for a total of about 13,500 students, and provides plenty of student organizations and 16 varsity sports teams.

The Henry M. Rowan College of Engineering offers degrees in biomedical, chemical, civil and environmental, electrical and computer, and mechanical engineering. According to the website, “A signature component of the program, the Engineering Clinics, thread the 4-year program of study. The Clinic sequence accentuates a hands-on, team-oriented approach to a highly multidisciplinary education. The importance placed on technical and communication skills make Rowan engineers a valuable asset for the region and the profession.”

Incoming freshmen two years ago posted average SAT subtest scores in the mid-500s and an average high school GPA of 3.5. Interestingly, beginning with this year’s freshman class, students who had a high school GPA of 3.5 or better could choose not to submit college admission test scores—with some exceptions, including engineering students, homeschooled and international students, and students applying for merit scholarships—but rather write an additional admissions essay.

In-state tuition and fees run about $13,000 a year, while out-of-state tuition and fees run about $21,000 a year—which make it one of the better-priced options for out-of-state students we have discussed. Rowan also offers Wintersession, which allows students to take a three-credit course on an accelerated schedule—and out-of-state students pay the same lower cost as in-state students. So, students can finish a degree faster and cheaper!

Let’s move on to NJIT, located on a 45-acre campus in the University Heights district of downtown Newark and founded as Newark Technical School by an act of the New Jersey legislature in 1880 to provide for industrial education for New Jersey residents. Known as New Jersey’s Science and Technology University, NJIT serves almost 8,000 undergraduates and another approximately 3,000 graduate students, for a total of about 11,000 students—one of the smaller public options.

NJIT is a specialized technical university, offering over 45 bachelor’s degree programs in its schools and colleges of engineering, architecture and design, computing sciences, management, and science and liberal arts (which is understandably heavy on the sciences). Despite its technical orientation, NJIT also offers students traditional college life, including over 90 student organizations and 17 varsity sports teams and with about half the freshman class choosing to live in NJIT residence halls on campus.

Almost 20 percent of NJIT undergraduates are female. The Murray Center is dedicated to helping those undergraduate women succeed. As well as serving as an informal gathering place, the Center houses the Society of Women Engineers and NJIT’s Big Sister–Little Sister and Alumnae–Student mentoring programs.

Average SAT subtest scores for incoming freshmen last fall were a 563 in critical reading and a 629 in math. I think this is an unusually clear statement of what NJIT is looking for in an applicant, according to its website:

The average composite SAT score for our enrolling freshmen is 1190. If your score is below 1100, we recommend that you retake the test to try to raise it.

Class rank: We look for students in the top 30 percent of their class. For schools that don’t use a ranking system, we consider a B average to be equivalent. (quoted from the website)

I think that these scores and high school grades put NJIT within reach for a lot of students who thought a highly technical university might be too selective for them.

Tuition and fees for New Jersey residents run about $16,000 per year, while tuition and fees for out-of-state residents are almost twice that at about $30,000 per year. These figures put NJIT about on a par with the flagship universities we discussed last week. Incidentally, NJIT offers rolling admissions, with a decision coming just two to three weeks after an application is complete (and note that some programs in the College of Architecture and Design do require a portfolio of creative work as part of the application).

Let’s head over to Maryland to look at two special colleges: St. Mary’s College of Maryland and the U.S. Naval Academy. Starting with St. Mary’s College of Maryland, The Public Honors College, we find a very small public institution, located on the St. Mary’s River in the Chesapeake Bay region, about 70 miles southeast of our nation’s capital and about 95 miles south of Baltimore. St. Mary’s has a most unusual history from the moment colonists reached the land that is now its campus:

English colonists arrived aboard the Ark and Dove in 1634, determined to establish a settlement under a charter from King Charles I, authorizing them to take dominion of the lands surrounding the Chesapeake Bay. Led by Leonard Calvert, second son of Lord Baltimore, they came ashore within sight of where the College stands today, signed a treaty of peaceful coexistence with the Yaocomaco, and named their town St. Mary’s City. Though the settlement had ceased to flourish by the end of the 17th century, it was the capital of Maryland for 61 years (until 1695) and saw the beginnings of civil rights and representative government on this continent.

From the very first, St. Mary’s embraced the ideal of making an excellent education affordable. In 1846, the first board of trustees designed tuition and living costs to be substantially lower than those at similar schools. After 1868, when the General Assembly began giving the school annual appropriations, the seminary frequently educated up to half of its students…free of charge…. During the 20th century, the school expanded its campus and enriched the quality of instruction to serve the growing numbers of young women, and eventually men, who desired a fine education….

In 1927, … St. Mary’s became Maryland’s first junior college, affording students the unique opportunity to complete four years of high school and two years of college at the same institution.

In 1947, the Maryland Commission on Higher Education slated St. Mary’s Female Seminary-Junior College for dissolution although it was fully accredited and had begun admitting male students. Before the governor could act, a large public outcry, prompted by tireless alumnae, not only saved the school from extinction, but created the momentum for removing the word “Female” and renaming it St. Mary’s Seminary Junior College (1949), and its eventual evolution into a four-year baccalaureate college (1967). In 1992, the Maryland legislature designated it the state’s public honors college. (quoted, with editing, from the website)

Today, St. Mary’s serves almost 1,800 undergraduates (and about 35 graduate students in a Master of Arts in Teaching program). It is the quintessential liberal arts college, offering 24 majors in 17 departments, with seven intriguing cross-disciplinary minors. Students take a truly liberal arts core curriculum, which includes a freshman seminar on the liberal arts skills; a one-course international language requirement; courses in six academic fields that represent “liberal arts approaches to understanding the world” (arts, cultural perspectives, humanistic foundations, mathematics, natural sciences, and social sciences); and an “experiencing the liberal arts in the world” requirement, which can be satisfied by a study tour or a semester or year-long study abroad program, or a credit-bearing internship, or a service learning class.

St. Mary’s offers public higher education students a small-college atmosphere, with a student-to-faculty ratio of just 10:1 (very unusual for a public higher education institution)—as well as 85 student organizations and 17 varsity sports teams. While designated as an honors college, the academic profile of its freshman class seems achievable by many college-bound students. Average SAT subtest scores are a trio of scores in the high 500s, and the average high school GPA is about a 3.4. About 90 percent of its students are Maryland residents, and I am guessing that is partly because St. Mary’s has a low profile outside the state.

Maryland residents pay about $14,000 per year in tuition and fees, and out-of-state students pay about $29,000—or twice as much. That out-of-state figure is equivalent to many of the other public institutions we have been discussing. But families and students who are looking for a small liberal arts college vibe at a public price might find St. Mary’s remarkably attractive.

Another almost-unique public institution in Maryland is the U.S. Naval Academy (often referred to by its location as Annapolis)—one of the nation’s five military service academies—founded in 1845. As we said in an early episode of NYCollegeChat, the federally funded military service academies are all outstanding, academically rigorous institutions, whose mission is to build highly trained and highly ethical leaders, in this case for the Navy and the Marine Corps. Students are classified as midshipmen on active duty in the Navy.

Young men and women at the Academy graduate with Bachelor of Science degrees in a choice of about 25 majors—mostly in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics related to their future careers, though they can major in Arabic, Chinese, economics, English, history, or political science (and minor in other foreign languages). Upon graduation, they are commissioned as Ensigns in the Navy or Second Lieutenants in the Marine Corps. Academy graduates serve at least five years after graduation—a significant, and perhaps scary, commitment for many high school seniors to make.

Admissions to the Academy is a multi-step process, which includes the well-known appointment by a government official, typically a U.S. Representative, a U.S. Senator, or the Vice President of the U.S. Those government officials look over applications from interested students and decide which to put forward for possible admission to the Academy. Clearly, admission to the Academy is highly selective in every possible way.

As with all federal military service academies, tuition, room and board, and everything else are free. Midshipmen also receive a monthly stipend while in school, though certain expenses are deducted from it. Actual cash pay is about $100 a month to start. Midshipmen get normal holiday breaks, but only three weeks of vacation in the summer. The Academy and what follows are a way of life—with enormous benefits and likely some sacrifices.

3. Historically Black Colleges and Universities

As we said last week, we have talked many times about historically black colleges and universities (commonly referred to as HBCUs), which were established with the mission of educating African-American students solely or primarily. You might recall that there are just over 100 HBCUs—public and private, rural and urban, large and small, two-year and four-year and graduate schools. They all have a strong sense of community among the alumni/alumnae and a strong sense of tradition and shared culture on HBCU campuses.

Eight of the public HBCUs are located in this Mid-Atlantic region—the University of the District of Columbia, the flagship university, which we discussed last week; The Lincoln University in Chester County, Pennsylvania, and Cheyney University of Pennsylvania; Delaware State University; Morgan State University in Baltimore; and three campuses of the University System of Maryland, namely Coppin State University, Bowie State University, and the University of Maryland Eastern Shore. Let’s look briefly at two of these.

Starting in Maryland, Morgan State University is located in residential northeast Baltimore and carries “the responsibility of addressing the needs of residents, schools, and organizations within the Baltimore Metropolitan Area” (quoted from the website). Though Morgan awards more bachelor’s degrees to African-American students than any other higher education institution in Maryland, it has served and continues to serve students of all racial and ethnic backgrounds. Morgan has an interesting history:

Founded in 1867 as the Centenary Biblical Institute by the Baltimore Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church, the institution’s original mission was to train young men in ministry. It subsequently broadened its mission to educate both men and women as teachers. The school was renamed Morgan College in 1890 in honor of the Reverend Lyttleton Morgan, the first chairman of its Board of Trustees, who donated land to the college. Morgan awarded its first baccalaureate degree . . . in 1895. . . .

Morgan remained a private institution until 1939. That year, the state of Maryland purchased the school in response to a state study that determined that Maryland needed to provide more opportunities for its black citizens. . . .

By the time it became a public campus, the College had become a relatively comprehensive institution. Until the mid-1960s, when the state’s teachers colleges began their transition to liberal arts campuses, Morgan and the University of Maryland College Park were the only two public campuses in the state with comprehensive missions. . . .

[I]n 1975 the State Legislature designated Morgan as a university. . . . In 1988 Maryland reorganized its higher education structure and . . . campuses in the state college system became part of the University of Maryland System. Morgan and St. Mary’s College of Maryland were the only public baccalaureate-granting institutions authorized to have their own governing boards. The legislation also strengthened Morgan’s authority to offer advanced programs and designated the campus as Maryland’s Public Urban University. (quoted and edited from the website)

Today, Morgan boasts nine undergraduate schools and colleges, including the School of Community Health and Policy, the School of Global Journalism and Communication, the School of Architecture and Planning, the School of Engineering, and, appropriately, the School of Education and Urban Studies. Morgan’s approximately 6,500 undergraduates choose among about 45 bachelor’s degree programs. (Morgan enrolls another approximately 1,500 graduate and professional students.)

About 80 percent of Morgan’s students are African American, and about 75 percent are Maryland residents, with nearby New York, New Jersey, D.C., and Pennsylvania being the next-most-popular residences. Tuition and fees are a relative bargain at Morgan, with Maryland residents paying just about $7,500 per year, and out-of-state residents paying about $17,000 per year.

When Marie and I attended the National Association for College Admission Counseling’s college fair in New York City last April, we spoke with Grayson Savoie, an admissions officer, who offered the following audio pitch for Morgan for NYCollegeChat. (Be sure to listen to it in our recorded episode.)

For a last look at HBCUs in the Mid-Atlantic region, I would like to spotlight The Lincoln University, located in Chester County, Pennsylvania—just southwest of Philadelphia and northwest of Newark, Delaware. The University “formally associated” with the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania as a public institution in 1972, but its roots go far, far back as the oldest degree-granting HBCU in the country. Chartered as the private Ashmun Institute in 1854, it was renamed after President Abraham Lincoln in 1866.

Horace Mann Bond, Lincoln Class of 1923 and the eighth president of the University, wrote that it was “the first institution found anywhere in the world to provide a higher education in the arts and sciences for male youth of African descent” (quoted from his book, Education for Freedom). If President Bond’s name sounds familiar, it will be obvious why in this statement by current Interim President Richard Green last month:

Lincoln University’s administration, faculty, staff and students are deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Julian Bond, an admired civil rights leader who leaves a rich legacy that others can only aspire to achieve. He spent many years on this campus with his father, Horace Mann Bond ’23, the university’s first African American president, from 1945 to 1957. (quoted from the website)

Currently, the University enrolls about 1,600 undergraduate students and about 200 graduate students. About 80 percent of its undergraduates are black, and only about 40 percent are Pennsylvania residents. For a small school, it has quite a list of prominent alumni/alumnae, including poet Langston Hughes, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, and the first presidents of both Ghana and Nigeria.

The University offers over 25 undergraduate degree programs in the liberal arts and sciences and in some career fields, including business, criminal justice, mass communications, health science, and nursing.

Applications are accepted any time after completion of a student’s junior year in high school, with admissions decisions made on a rolling basis, with no firm deadline and with decisions made in three to four weeks. Students may apply for spring admission, too. Its incoming freshmen last fall posted average SAT subtest scores in the low 400s and an average high school GPA of about a 2.8.

Tuition and fees run about $12,000 per year for Pennsylvania residents and about $17,000 for out-of-state students—the slimmest difference we have seen.

Again, when we attended the National Association for College Admission Counseling’s college fair in New York City last April, we also spoke with Kenyatta Austin, an admissions counselor, who offered the following audio pitch for The Lincoln University, her alma mater, for NYCollegeChat. (Be sure to listen to it in our recorded episode.)

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

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

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

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

As we have said before, we are discussing only four-year colleges in our tour, reasoning that students who plan to attend two-year colleges are highly likely to go to the closest one, which makes sense for a two-year college. We think it makes less sense if your teenager is headed for a four-year college, and we will try to persuade you about that in our episodes.

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

1. The Mid-Atlantic Region

One more time: The Bureau of Economic Analysis (an agency of the U.S. Department of Commerce) has divided the U.S. into eight regions, with each region’s covering from four to 12 states. In this episode, we will start our examination of what the Bureau calls the Mideast region, but which I simply have to call the Mid-Atlantic region, probably because I grew up in Pennsylvania and that’s what I have always called it. So, with apologies to the Bureau: In the Mid-Atlantic region, we will be looking at Maryland, Delaware, the District of Columbia, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and New York—that is, four states, one commonwealth, and one district. However, we are going to put off a discussion of New York because it is the home state of many of our listeners and we know that they will be especially interested in it (though we kind of wish they were not). New York will get its own episodes in a couple of weeks, so stay tuned.

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

2. Flagship Public State Universities

As we usually do, let’s begin with the flagship public state universities in Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. Some of them are better known nationally than others (likely because of some serious football playing—can you say, Nittany Lions?). While state public college systems and flagship universities typically have smaller campuses and branches in other locations in their states, it is the main location—that is, the flagship of each state’s public system—that we will talk about here because that is the campus that is most respected and most widely recognized, both in the state and certainly outside the state.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

At Penn State, typical undergraduates take almost one-third of their courses in the College of Liberal Arts. All students are required to take 45 credits of General Education courses, including three credits of writing-intensive coursework, a course in U.S. cultures, a course in international cultures, and coursework that covers social and behavioral sciences, humanities, natural sciences, quantitative skills, the arts, and health and physical activity—with health and physical activity being one of the more unusual distribution requirements we have seen (can you say, Nittany Lions?).

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

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

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

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

3. An Historically Black Flagship University

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Listen to the podcast to find out about…

  • Flagship schools that made history
  • Flagship schools that take the liberal arts seriously
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Episode 12: To Visit Or Not To Visit?

This week, we’re continuing our series on choosing where your child should apply to college by talking about campus visits.

Listen to the podcast to find out about…
When your teenager should visit a college without you
How to take advantage of financial help from colleges to cover travel costs
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This week, we’re continuing our series on choosing where your child should apply to college by talking about how many colleges should be added to your list.

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

NYCollegeChat Episode 12: To Visit or Not to Visit? - How important is the campus visit?For many decades, one rite of passage for American high schoolers and their parents alike has been the “college tour,” where a parent takes an anxious or blasé teenager (depending on your child) on a tour of colleges that might or might not turn out to be appealing schools to attend. During these college visits, there are campus tours led by college students, question-and-answer sessions with administrators, sometimes a chance to sit in on a class or two, and perhaps the nerve-wracking one-on-one admissions interview.

So, as you and your teenager enter the college applications process, let’s ask this question: How important are college visits? You will actually hear, in our three options, that the answer is always “very important.” Just the when or how those visits occur is what we are going to talk about.

1. Very Important, So Visit Now . . .

. . . because there is no substitute for standing in the main quadrangle or in a classroom building or in a dorm or on the soccer field or on the library steps. It is impossible to convey the feeling of a college’s physical and social and intellectual environment without being there. Why would anyone want to sign up to spend two years or four years at a place that he or she had never seen? By the way, this is true for students who are living on campus and who are living off campus. Your teenager will spend a lot of time at the college—regardless of living in the dorms—and should want to get a feeling for its buildings and its grounds and its setting within its surroundings and, of course, its students, staff, and faculty.

Visiting colleges before applying to them makes a lot of sense because even all colleges of a certain type are not the same. In other words, you cannot visit one or two private four-year colleges and, based on them, know what private four-year colleges are like. You cannot visit one or two public community colleges and, based on them, know what public community colleges are like. You cannot visit one or two urban campuses (or urban colleges with barely any “campus”) and, based on them, know what urban colleges are like.

Visiting a college before applying might convince your teenager not to apply, thus saving you that time and effort and money. But, visiting colleges is not free—especially when they are not in your hometown. Many families cannot afford to take the time off or spend the travel money that it takes to make a college swing through several states—or even through your own state, if it is as large as New York, where you cannot make an inexpensive day trip from one end to the other.

On the other hand, if you have decided to limit your applications to colleges in your hometown or very close by, then you absolutely should visit before applying. Make sure you take a tour of the campus, that you talk with current students, and that you sit in on a class or two, if possible. There is no reason to miss out on this chance to find out what everyday life is like on that campus and how different it might feel from another college campus that could be just minutes away. For example, if you live in New York City and want to stay in New York City for college, you would find out how different the campuses of just these four-year colleges were if you were to visit them: New York University and The New School in Greenwich Village, Columbia University and Barnard College in Morningside Heights, Fordham University at Lincoln Center, Hunter College in midtown, Pace University in downtown—and we have not left Manhattan yet. All of these schools are just a subway ride away for New Yorkers.

2. Very Important, But Visit Later . . .

. . . after acceptances have been received and your teenager is trying to decide which college to attend. After all, it is cheaper to pay the application fee for a college than to spend the money to visit it ahead of time (unless it is in your hometown).

If your teenager is accepted at more than one college, perhaps that is soon enough to spend the time and money to visit those colleges if you are trying to decide among them. It might be that visiting your teenager’s first choice is all that is needed—if the visit is successful and confirms that that college is indeed the right one. Nothing is more cost-effective than that.

3. Very Important, But Visiting Is Not an Option

Sometimes it is just not possible for a family to arrange for a campus visit to several colleges or even to one college, even after acceptances have come in.

In that case, you all can—and should—talk to anyone you can find who has visited any college on your list as a kind of substitute for making the trip yourself. That might be a family friend, a high school friend, a teacher, a school administrator, a guidance counselor, or someone else. Some colleges use alumni interviewers, who could serve this function nicely, too.

Firsthand impressions from someone who has walked on the campus in different seasons of the year, has seen inside the dorms, has talked with faculty or visited a class, has talked with current students or recent graduates, has eaten in the cafeteria, has attended a sports event or a cultural event—all of these impressions can help your teenager make a better decision about where to enroll. Ideally, at least some of those substitutes would be individuals who had been on the campus recently—and preferably someone with a more in-depth feel for the college than one can get from simply walking across the campus. A current professor or current student or recent graduate would be a great choice.

Remember that it is not only about the physical surroundings, but also about the intellectual and social surroundings, which the casual visitor might not be able to pick up on so readily. Photographs in a brochure or on a website or even a virtual campus tour on a website might resolve your questions about the physical surroundings, but cannot answer your questions about the intellectual and social surroundings, which are more likely to affect your satisfaction with your college choice.

Listen to the podcast to find out about…

  • When your teenager should visit a college without you
  • How to take advantage of financial help from colleges to cover travel costs
  • How to arrange a weekend visit to a college for your teenager

Check out these higher education institutions and programs we mention…

In New York State

Outside of New York State

Connect with us through…

Ask your questions or share your feedback by…