Episode 85: Assignment #5–Looking at College Size

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Four assignments down and several yet to go in this summer college search process that we hope you are undertaking with us. We hope that your teenager and you are learning a lot about colleges in general and a lot about the colleges that are on your teenager’s long summer list of college options. We hope that your teenager’s list is still longbecause there is plenty of time to shorten it after September comes.

Episode 85 Looking at College Size on USACollegeChat podcast

To recap, in your first four assignments, you have expanded your teenager’s long summer list of college optionsfor now, anyway. You have checked out four key admission standards for the colleges on that listnamely, average high school GPA, high school class rank, SAT or ACT scores of admitted and/or enrolled freshmen, and both required and recommended courses to be completed in high school. You have also looked at each college’s undergraduate enrollment, broken down by part-time vs. full-time study, gender, race/ethnicity, and place of residence. That’s a lot of information, but we believe we can add a couple more pieces of data that might affect what your teenager and you think about a college.

As we have said before, get your teenager to do this research assignment. But if you want to help, feel free to do so.

1. Your Assignment #5

Download the Assignment #5 Worksheet

In this episode, we will look further into the size of each of the colleges on your teenager’s long summer list of college optionsthat is, size in terms of enrollment, not in terms of physical campus area. We want to examine two specific aspects of sizethings that you might not think about right off the bat.

You will recall in Assignment #1, you had to fill in the undergraduate enrollment of each college on your teenager’s long summer list of college options. Then, in Assignment #4, you looked at that enrollment by the characteristics of the students themselves. Today, we want to look at how the enrollment is distributed into the actual classrooms and seminar rooms and labs that students sit in on campus and how it might affect your teenager’s relationships with his or her professors.

2. Student-to-Faculty Ratio

Again, let me recommend that your teenager look to College Navigator, the impressive online search tool provided by the National Center for Education Statistics, for finding out this first statistic we are going to talk about. Let me say that sometimes you can also find this statistic on a college’s own website, often on the “Quick Facts” or “At a Glance” or similar page. During our nationwide virtual college tour (Episodes 27 through 53) here at USACollegeChat, I spent loads of time looking for this statistic and not finding it on individual college websitesonly to discover now that it was right there at College Navigator all along. This is a statistic that we mentioned very often during our virtual tour, and we know that it is one that colleges themselves are often very proud of. It is student-to-faculty ratioin other words, how many students are there for each faculty member.

So, what is the big deal about student-to-faculty ratio? It is this: Most people believe that a student’s education is improved if he or she has more access to faculty members in smaller classes (more about that in a minute), during less crowded office hours, and in more chances to meet up outside of class and office hours to discuss things or take part in activities of some sort together or develop a professional relationship or mentorship of some kind, and so on. Most people believe that faculty members can and will give each student enough time and attention if they are not spread too thin over too many students. Hence, a student-to-faculty ratio should be as low as possible, ideally in single digits or low double digits, like 10-to-1.

Let me be the first to say that I actually don’t know if this is true, though it certainly seems to be logical. I also don’t know how valuable a low student-to-faculty ratio is for students who are not particularly looking for this kind of personal relationship with faculty members. I went to Cornell University, a large Ivy League university, where I did not have a close relationship with virtually any of my professors. The only one I probably ever spoke to outside of a formal class setting was the great historian Michael Kammen, who autographed a copy of his Pulitzer Prize winner for me and who realized, when he thought about my name, that he read my sports articles with my byline in The Cornell Daily Sun. I admired many of my professors, including Professor Kammen, but I really didn’t feel the need for more attention from any of them.

So, I am the perfect candidate for a college with an unimpressive student-to-faculty ratio. However, if your teenager would benefit from a closer, perhaps more nurturing connection to his or her professors, then checking out the student-to-faculty ratio makes sense for your family. Or, if you would feel better knowing that there is a greater chance that a faculty member knows and is looking out for your teenager, then looking for that low student-to-faculty ratio is important.

Generally speaking, student-to-faculty ratios are lower at small private colleges than at large public universities, which is not surprising. Small private colleges advertise the college culture that comes with a low ratio as one of the reasons to choose a small private college instead of a large public university. For example, you have Amherst College at 8-to-1, Vassar College at 8-to-1, Reed College at 9-to1, Hamilton College at 9-to1, Colorado College at 10-to-1, and so on. And, if I read you a list of good public flagship universities, those ratios might be more like 16- or 17- or 18-to-1.

When you see a very selective private university with a student-to-faculty ratio that makes it look more like a small private college, you have to be impressedlike Rice University‘s 6-to-1 or Duke University‘s 7-to-1. Though perhaps the most interesting is California Institute of Technology (commonly known as Caltech), with a student-to-faculty ratio of 3:1so low a ratio that it is virtually unbelievable. A low ratio might make that private university a more attractive choice for your teenager and youand probably a more expensive choice. But that’s your call.

I do want to add that I suspect that these ratios are not calculated exactly the same way from college to college, regardless of what anyone claims. I also imagine that the ratio is a lot harder to calculate for a large university with, say, 12 schools and colleges in it, which likely have different student-to-faculty ratios; in that case, one student-to-faculty ratio doesn’t even make much sense. In fairness to College Navigator, colleges do get directions for completing the standard data collection forms. And, if you were wondering, student-to-faculty ratio is supposed to exclude both students and faculty in what we would think of as professional programs that are solely for graduate studentslike medicine, law, social work, or public health. So, NCES is trying to make the ratios sensible and comparable from college to college.

The bottom line is this: I wouldn’t put a lot of weight on the difference between a student-to-faculty ratio of 9-to-1 and 10-to-1 or even 11-to-1. Rather consider that there might, however, be a difference in faculty accessibility between a college with a student-to-faculty ratio of 9-to-1 and one with a ratio of 18-to-1.

Have your teenager do the necessary college searches and write down the student-to-faculty ratio on the Assignment #5 worksheet. Get it from College Navigator; or, if you are curious, take a look at a college’s own website to see what the college is advertising.

3. Class Size

Watch our Facebook Live video on class size for more perspectives.

Class size is exactly what you think it ishow many students are in the classroom when your teenager is trying to learn calculus. Some colleges are very proud of their small class sizes, and some others that think they don’t have that much to be proud of in this regard do the best they can to make a good case for their own class sizes. This information is not on College Navigator (at least not that I could find). But you can find this information on many, many college websites, though you might have to look around a bit.

For example, here is what you will read under “Quick Facts” on St. John’s College‘s website: “Seminars have between 17 [and] 19 students, led by two faculty members. Tutorials (mathematics, language, and music) and laboratory sessions have 12 to 16 students, led by one faculty member.” That is believable, given that St. John’s (with campuses in Annapolis and Santa Fe) is a super-small and super-intriguing college (with about 450 to 475 students on each campus). Those classes are a lot smaller than many, many classes would be at a large university.

On the website of the College of William & Mary (a prestigious public college of about 6,300 undergraduates and 2,200 graduate students in Virginia), you can find this statement under “W&M At a Glance”: “84 percent of courses have fewer than 40 students.” Clearly, William & Mary thinks that is worth advertising, though it is quite different from what St. John’s advertises.

Or, on other websites, you can look for the “common data set” and check out a display of class section sizes under “I. Instructional Faculty and Class Size” (by the way, you will also find student-to-faculty ratios here). You can see how many class sections have 2-9 students, 10-19 students, 20-29 students, 30-39 students, 40-49 students, 50-59 students, and all the way to 100+ students. There are also subsections displayedthat is, the supplementary tutorials and labs, for example.

But again, class size is a matter of personal choice. Frankly, I preferred large classeshuge lectures by a brilliant professor. But many students prefer small seminars where students get to express their own opinions and talk back and forth with each other and with the professor. There is also a good chance that your teenager doesn’t know which of these he or she would prefersince most high school students have never experienced huge lectures by brilliant professors. Nonetheless, the topic of class size is something you should think about and talk about with your teenager before you start narrowing down your list of college options.

For now, have your teenager do the necessary college searches and jot down whatever claims each college is making about class sizeif any. Or take a look at the common data set on each college’s website and get the figures there.

Download the Assignment #5 Worksheet

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

Ask your questions or share your feedback by…

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Episode 84: Assignment #4–Looking at College Enrollment Breakdowns

Listen to the episode in the player, download it here, or subscribe on Google Play MusiciTunesStitcher, or TuneIn.
We hope that all of you parents and/or high schoolers have finished the first three assignments we gave you for starting or continuing your college search process. We have a handful more ahead. There’s nothing like having homework all summer. However, if these assignments can make your autumn a little better, you will be glad you spent the time now. When everyone else is running around looking up information about colleges, you can be relaxing. Sort of.

Episode 84: Looking at College Enrollment Breakdowns on USACollegeChat podcast

In your first three assignments, as you will recall, you have expanded your teenager’s long summer list of college options–on your way to narrowing it later on in the fall months. You have also checked out four key admission standards for each of the colleges on that hopefully long list–namely, average high school GPA, high school class rank, SAT or ACT scores of admitted and/or enrolled freshmen, and both required and recommended courses to be completed in high school.

Now, our picture of your assignments is like this: You should have an Assignment #1 for each college on your teenager’s long summer list of college options–that is, the two-page worksheet you should have downloaded that calls for an overall description of the college, including lots of key facts and figures you should have filled in. Then, stapled to that, you should have an Assignment #2 worksheet and an Assignment #3 worksheet; these two describe the four college admission standards for the college named in Assignment #1. So, in other words, we think you are building little stapled-together packets of information for each college on your list. These will be invaluable to you when it is time to sift through them in September–and, please, not before September–when you start to narrow down the list to the colleges your teenager will actually apply to.

As we have said previously, the more of this research your teenager does, the better it is for you. Oh, we mean, the better it is for your teenager, because your teenager is likely to remember better what he or she has researched personally and because your teenager is learning how to research a topic and get information when it is not always presented in an easy-to-find manner. I can tell you that, as an experienced professional, it would take me quite a while to fill out college profiles like Assignments #1, #2, and #3–and sometimes, as you will see, the information will simply not be available anywhere.

1. Your Assignment #4

Download the Assignment #4 Worksheet

In this episode, we will examine various breakdowns of the enrollment of each of the colleges of your teenager’s long summer list of college options. You will recall that, on the Assignment #1 worksheets, your teenager had to fill in the undergraduate enrollment of each college on the list as well as the graduate enrollment (if any). Assignment #4 is going to ask you to take a closer look at the students who make up that enrollment?just in case what you find out would have any effect on your teenager’s interest in a college or in your interest in sending him or her to that college.

By the way, whether a college (or, more often, a university) has graduate students at all is an important aspect of choosing a college for some students. Some students and parents like the idea of advanced scholarship being available on campus and of professional schools (like law and medicine and journalism) being right there either just to add prestige or to serve as the next stop for a successful undergrad. On the other hand, some students and parents think that graduate students distract the college from paying adequate attention to the needs and education of the undergraduates and that too many graduate students (rather than professors) end up teaching the freshman-level courses in too many disciplines.

Whichever way you think about it, knowing whether there are graduate students at a college and how many of them there are is one reasonable thing to consider in choosing a college and in narrowing down your teenager’s summer list of college options when the fall months come.

So, here we go with four enrollment breakdowns of the undergraduate student enrollment that you might want to examine. Get ready to fill in those Assignment #4 worksheets!

Download the Assignment #4 Worksheet

2. Part-Time vs. Full-Time Study

When your teenager was looking up enrollment at the colleges on his or her long summer list of college options, you all might have noticed that there were often both full-time enrollment and part-time enrollment figures. (By the way, sometimes an enrollment figure given on a “Quick Facts” kind of page on a college’s website is not explained as being full time, part time, or both. So, be careful.) Is the percentage of full-time undergraduate students something that you and your teenager want to consider when choosing colleges to apply to?

Some colleges–especially prestigious private four-year colleges–have relatively few part-time students compared to, say, large public universities with many schools and many diverse programs. For example, Kenyon College (a great private liberal arts college in Gambier, Ohio) has just 1 percent part-time undergraduate enrollment. On the other hand, Kent State University (a good public university, though not Ohio’s flagship university, at the main campus in Kent, Ohio) has 19 percent part-time undergraduate enrollment. Or, to take a different state, Hunter College (one of the best campuses of the public City University of New York) has 28 percent part-time undergraduate enrollment, while New York University (an excellent private university about 60 blocks away in Manhattan) has just 5 percent part-time undergraduate enrollment. You get the picture.

Obviously, students could choose to study part time at a college for many reasons, including financial constraints, family responsibilities, and work obligations. Part-time students are not necessarily worse students, though I imagine that they might have that reputation. But part-time students do likely live fuller, more complicated, more non-campus-oriented lives than traditional freshmen enrolling right out of high school, especially if those freshmen are living on campus. As a result, colleges with high part-time enrollment might have a bit of a different feel on campus compared to colleges where almost all students are there full time (and, furthermore, where many of them are living in campus residential housing).

College Navigator, the exceptional online search tool provided by the National Center for Education Statistics, which we have mentioned many times, has an excellent part-time vs. full-time enrollment display under the “Enrollment” heading for each college you search. Trust me when I tell you that it will be quicker for your teenager to get this information from College Navigator than to find it on a college’s own website–though the college’s website might have just slightly more updated information in some cases.

Have your teenager do the necessary college searches and write down the part-time vs. full-time enrollment figures for undergraduate enrollment on the Assignment #4 worksheet.

3. Gender

Unless your teenager has been talking about going to a single-sex college–remember that women’s colleges (there are just over 40) vastly outnumber men’s colleges (there are only a handful)–this statistic might not be on your radar screen. But it might be something worth thinking about, depending on your teenager’s comfort level with members of the opposite sex in an education setting.

If you look at the enrollment statistics for many colleges, you will notice that some are split pretty evenly between male and female students (say, 46 percent vs. 54 percent), while others are way out of balance (say, 30 percent vs. 70 percent). Sometimes colleges that are out of balance can be explained by their history (for example, they were once women’s colleges) or by the types of majors they are best known for (given that some majors, unfortunately, continue to attract more students of one gender). If you want a college to reflect the general undergraduate college student population, it is interesting to note that enrollment figures overall in the fall of 2014 showed that 56 percent of undergraduate students were female. So, if a college is better balanced than that (in other words, closer to 50-50), it is working hard at it, we would say.

Let’s look at a few examples. Carleton College (a great private liberal arts college in Northfield, Minnesota) is 53 percent female and 47 percent male. Carleton is working hard at it, we would say. Interestingly, the gigantic University of Minnesota (the excellent public flagship university in the Twin Cities) gets even closer–at 51 percent female and 49 percent male. Yet, not too far away, the Milwaukee School of Engineering (a Wisconsin college that specializes in engineering and technical subjects, though not exclusively) posts a 24 percent female and 76 percent male enrollment, for perhaps obvious, though unfortunate, reasons.

I want to note here that I have not seen data reported and presented across colleges on enrollment of students with gender identities other than male and female. However, if your teenager is looking for a college that is particularly accepting of other gender identities, that is a topic that can and should be pursued by calling the admissions office and asking about relevant data and policies.

Have your teenager do the necessary college searches and write down the gender enrollment figures for undergraduate enrollment on the Assignment #4 worksheet. (By the way, we will be talking about single-sex colleges later on this summer.)

4. Race/Ethnicity

Unless your teenager has been talking about going to an HBCU (historically black college or university) or about seeking out Hispanic-serving institutions, you might not have been thinking hard about the racial and/or ethnic background of students at a college of interest to your family. But, again, it might be something worth considering, depending on your teenager’s comfort level with members of other racial and ethnic groups in an education setting. For example, if your teenager comes from a racially and ethnically mixed high school, he or she would likely feel comfortable in a similar sort of college population. However, if your teenager comes from a high school that is not racially and ethnically diverse, it might be even more important to find a college that is–in order to prepare him or her better for the world of work and for life.

We have talked about the racial and ethnic diversity of colleges at USACollegeChat, and we noted in Episode 58 that some colleges–including large public flagship universities–are not nearly as diverse as we would like to see or as we might have guessed they were.

For example, let’s look first at the percentage of “black, or African American, non-Hispanic/Latino” students who are “degree-seeking undergraduates,” according to the figures submitted to the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (known as IPEDS) at the National Center for Education Statistics. Here are the percentages for some well-known flagship universities that we have discussed in earlier USACollegeChat episodes (these data are for the 2014-2015 academic year):

These are large and small flagships, highly selective and less selective flagships, and geographically diverse flagships. I have to say that I was astonished at the tiny fraction of black undergraduates at some of them. While we often looked at the racial and ethnic breakdown of students during our nationwide virtual tour of colleges, these small numbers seem to have a bigger impact when they are all lined up together.

Here is are the percentages for what IPEDS calls “Hispanic/Latino” “degree-seeking undergraduates”:

These percentages aren’t any higher. In fact, when combining the two figures, you get a range of just 8 to 17 percent black and Hispanic/Latino undergraduates at these flagship universities.

Interestingly, I know of quite a few very selective private colleges and universities where the percentages of black and Hispanic/Latino students exceed these public university numbers–like Columbia University with 7 percent black and 13 percent Hispanic/Latino undergraduates or Pomona College with 7 percent black and 14 percent Hispanic/Latino undergraduates or Rice University with 7 percent black and 15 percent Hispanic/Latino undergraduates–all exceeding the upper range of the flagship universities we examined. That is worth thinking about.

Have your teenager do the necessary college searches and write down on the Assignment #4 worksheet the racial/ethnic background enrollment figures for undergraduate enrollment for whatever groups you are interested in considering–black, Hispanic/Latino, Asian, American Indian or Alaska native, and more.

5. Home Residence

Well, here is a topic that is familiar to USACollegeChat listeners. We have spent lots of time in our episodes talking about how important we think it is for students to get outside their geographic comfort zone when considering–and even attending–college. That was the motivation for our nationwide virtual tour of colleges in every state (Episodes 27 through 53), and it was the motivation for Assignment #1, where we strongly encouraged you to put one college from every state on your teenager’s long summer list of college options. We firmly believe that the best school for your teenager might not be located in your home state.

It is also interesting to see just how many undergraduate students at a college are from the state where that college is located. Generally, I think it is better to go to a college where a student will meet other students from all over–that is, all over the U.S., but also from all over the world. Living and working with students of all national backgrounds in a relatively safe and protected environment, like college, is one way for students to gain the interpersonal skills they will need for a lifetime.

So, geographic diversity of college students is a big plus for me. It also turns out to be a big plus for colleges, as we have said many times at USACollegeChat. Almost all colleges like the idea of having students from all over the country and, indeed, from all over the world. Many, many colleges proudly say on their websites how many states and how many foreign countries their students come from. While public universities have a duty to serve the students of their own state–and while some take that more seriously than others–even they like to draw students from other states.

All that is to say that your teenager might get into a college far away from home that he or she could not get into close to home–because, for that faraway college, your teenager brings desirable geographic diversity. We will talk more about this is an upcoming episode.

Let’s look at a few public university examples. The University of Alaska at its flagship campus in Fairbanks enrolls 90 percent in-state students (for reasons we might guess), 9 percent out-of-state students, and 1 percent foreign students. The University of Washington at its flagship campus in Seattle enrolls 66 percent in-state students, 18 percent out-of-state students, and 15 percent foreign students. But the University of New Hampshire at its flagship campus in Durham actually enrolls just 41 percent in-state students, 58 percent out-of-state students, and 1 percent foreign students. So, just from these three examples, you can see how different the make-up of public flagship universities can be when it comes to where they are getting their students.

And, perhaps not surprisingly, private colleges are all over the map, too, when it comes to the make-up of their student bodies–thought it is clear that highly selective private colleges enjoy boasting about the many states and many countries their students hail from.

Have your teenager do the necessary college searches and write down on the Assignment #4 worksheet the student residence enrollment figures for undergraduate enrollment. By the way, a college’s own website will often break down enrollment even further than College Navigator to tell you things like the five states most represented in undergraduate enrollment or in the new freshman class or the percent of students who come from neighboring states or who come from the region the college is located in. All of that might be food for thought as you consider colleges on your teenager’s long summer list of college options.

Download the Assignment #4 Worksheet

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

Ask your questions or share your feedback by…

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

Connect with us through…

Episode 83: Assignment #3—Looking at One More College Admission Standard

Listen to the episode in the player, download it here, or subscribe on Google Play MusiciTunesStitcher, or TuneIn.

So, parents of juniors (and parents of freshmen and sophomores who are thinking ahead) you have had your first two assignments in the college search process. We hope we are keeping you busy, butmore importantlyinterested in what can be a fascinating and actually enjoyable process.

Looking at One More College Admission Standard on USACollegeChat Podcast

So far, we have had you expanding your teenager’s long summer list of college options so that you are truly ready to narrow it in the fall. And we have had you check out key admission standards for the colleges on that listnamely, average high school GPA, high school class rank, and SAT or ACT scores of admitted and/or enrolled freshmen.

1. Your Assignment #3

Download the Assignment #3 Worksheet

In this episode, we will examine a fourth admission standard that you and your teenager should be looking at carefully. I think it is the one that is less often considered and more often taken for grantedand that is the courses that applicants are expected to have taken in high school, usually listed in terms of credits in each subject area, but also sometimes including specifically named courses, especially in math and science.

You should have your teenager go to the website for each college on your teenager’s long summer list of college options and find the high school courses that an applicant should have completed or the number of credits of each subject that an applicant should have earned. This information can virtually always be found by starting with the Admissions home page. You will find that the high school course or credit expectations of colleges do, in fact, differ, usually according to how selective the college is. But there are always a few surprises (like colleges that require students to have earned career and technical education credits in high school, for example).

Have your teenager write down the required and the recommended courses or credits. Then you can compare them from college to college, and you can see how well they match up with what your teenager has taken so far and will be taking as he or she finishes up high school.

As we have said in earlier episodes of USACollegeChat, the courses that kids take in high school matter, including the courses that kids take in their senior year. Colleges will tell you that slacking off in the senior year is never a good move. So, ideally, your teenager’s program next year would still include the next real step in core subjects, like math and science, rather than a bunch of random electives. In other words, a fourth year of math and a fourth year of science would be the best ticket, for most kidsand might be a mandatory ticket for entrance to some college programs, like engineering, for example. If your teenager doesn’t have a rigorous senior year planned, changes can still likely be made when school starts next fall. It is worth thinking abouthard.

2. Just a Word About Foreign Languages

And let me say one word (or maybe two) about one of my favorite, and often overlooked and underappreciated, subjects, and that is foreign languagessometimes called “world languages” or “languages other than English” these days.

As I said in my ParentChat with Regina blog some months ago, you might want to read up on the value of foreign language study in two thought-provoking articles in Education Week, written by Global Learning blog curator Heather Singmaster, assistant director of education at Asia Society?”Bilingualism: Valuable for the Brain and Society” and “Foreign Language Policies: Is Everyone Else Really Speaking English?“:

She talks about economic, socioeconomic, cultural, cognitive, and national defense arguments in favor of increased attention to language study in U.S. schools. She talks about reasons that are important to our country and reasons that are important to individual students. She talks about language learning requirements in other countries and how we stack upor actually don’t.

Some of it is common sense, and some isn’t. For example, here is something I didn’t know, and it should be especially interesting to you if you still have any elementary school children at home. Ms. Singmaster writes about Jared Diamond’s book, The World Until Yesterday: What Can We Learn from Traditional Societies:

An entire chapter is devoted to the importance of bilingualism and multilingualism, and the development and spread of languages. In traditional societies [like those in New Guinea and the Amazon Basin], multilingualism was (and is, for the very few that remain) widespread. While many in the West fear that our children will be confused if they are exposed to more than one language at a time, kids in traditional societies begin learning additional languages from birthand not just one or two. Diamond can’t think of a single person he has met in New Guinea that speaks fewer than five languages (and yes, they are all “mutually unintelligible languages,” not dialects). (quoted from the article)

We have been told that the early years are the best for learning another language; it is one argument that has been used in favor of elementary school foreign language programs for a long time. But Diamond’s work in New Guinea takes that argument to a whole new level.

And, by the way, there is also research available that shows that bilingual children can communicate better with others and have better social skills than children who speak just one language. Some benefits even accrue to children who are exposed to multiple languages, even if they are not bilingual themselves. (Thank you, Katherine Kinzler, in her article in The New York Times entitled “The Superior Social Skills of Bilinguals,” March 11, 2016). Of course, we cannot claim that taking even four years of a foreign language in high school would make a student bilingual, but it would certainly “expose” them to another language.

Last fall, I visited a school district in a Far Western state. The state awards scholarships for college study to its high school graduating seniors. Among the requirements are two years of foreign language study and three years of math and three years of science in high school or no foreign language study and four years of math and four years of science. How does that make sense? In what world are two years of foreign language study equivalent to a fourth year of math and science, regardless of which you believe to be more important? If those were college distribution requirements, no college in the country would agree to that swap.

While I am not arguing against the value of a fourth year of math and science (indeed, I just argued in favor of that), I am arguing that studying a foreign language (or more than one) provides students with a completely different kind of intellectual and cultural experienceone that students shouldn’t miss out on in high school. It goes without saying that being able to communicate in a second languageeven at the most basic level, which is all a student is likely to get out of two or even three or four years of high school studycould be a help to students as they enter the working world, especially if they live in or move to a location that has a large population of workers who speak other languages, as many urban and rural areas do.

Furthermore, there are still many colleges, including most of our best colleges, that are expecting to see foreign language study on your teenager’s high school transcripts. Two years of foreign language study would be the minimum that they would be looking for. Some great colleges are requiring, or at least strongly recommending, three or even four years?ideally of the same language. While it might be too late for you to fix your teenager’s foreign language study if he or she is entering the senior year, it is not too late for you parents of younger high schoolers to solve this problem.

In winding up today’s episode, let me turn to the case of Florida. A bill passed in the Florida Senate in March to allow computer coding classes to substitute for foreign language requirements and to require public higher education institutions in Florida to accept two computer coding credits in lieu of two currently required foreign language credits. The bill was later defeated in the Florida House, but other states are considering similar measures.

The sources of opposition to the Florida bill were interesting to see. According to Madison Iszler in an article in USA Today (March 1, 2016, “Florida Senate approves making coding a foreign language“), the NAACP’s Florida Conference and Miami-Dade branch, the Florida chapter of the League of United Latin American Citizens, and the Spanish American League Against Discrimination offered the following statement:

Our children need skills in both technology and in foreign languages to compete in today’s global economy. . . . However, to define coding and computer science as a foreign language is a misleading and mischievous misnomer that deceives our students, jeopardizes their eligibility to admission to universities, and will result in many losing out on the foreign language skills they desperately need even for entry-level jobs in South Florida. (quoted from the article)

So, parents, beware of such a bill that might be coming to your state. Until we know for sure that colleges will accept computer coding credits as a substitute for foreign language credits, this seems like a risky swap to me. Further, what about the more selective colleges that either require or strongly recommend those three or even four years of a foreign language? Will there be three or four years of computer coding available in high school as a substitute?

The bottom line here is this: Parents, look over your teenager’s course selection carefullyfor the senior year and, indeed, for every other year. Check out what good colleges expect his or her four-year program of courses to look like. Notice the differences in the course requirements among the colleges on your teenager’s long summer list of college options. Note that some colleges require an explanation on the application if a student does not have all of the required high school credits. Keep in mind that foreign languages could be a stumbling block for your teenager if you are not careful.

P.S. I know that Marie is surprised that I got through this entire discussion of foreign languages and never once mentioned that Latin is the most important language to study (ideally, followed by a modern foreign language, in addition). Well, Marie, I almost made it. But that’s a different episode.

Download the Assignment #3 Worksheet

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

Ask your questions or share your feedback by…

  • Leaving a comment below on the show notes for this episode
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Episode 82: Assignment #2–Looking at College Admission Standards

Listen to the episode in the player, download it here, or subscribe on Google Play MusiciTunesStitcher, or TuneIn.

So, parents of juniors (and parents of freshmen and sophomores who are thinking ahead) you had your first assignment in the college search process last week. It was a pretty big assignment and one that parents of freshmen and sophomores could easily start now so that they can do it at a calmer pace.

Looking At College Admission Standards on USACollegeChat podcast

The point of the assignment was to do the exact opposite of what many experts might be telling you this summer. Our advice was to start expanding your teenager’s list of college options so that you are truly ready to narrow it in the fall. While that might seem counterintuitive as the summer days begin, we gave you a lot of great reasons to do it. If you forget them, listen to last week’s episode (Episode 81). Or just trust us.

We challenged you and your teenager to choose at least one college in every state to put on what we called “your teenager’s long summer list of college options.” And, for those of you who were too wimpy to do that, we offered these options:

  • Choose at least one college in each of 25 states of your choice to put on your teenager’s long summer list of college options.
  • 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–plus, let’s say, two additional colleges in your home state.
  • Choose five public flagship universities to put on your teenager’s long summer list of college options.
  • Choose at least one college not in the U.S. to put on your teenager’s long summer list of college options.

Then we challenged your teenager to read about each college on the list on the college’s website before talking with you and recommending whether it should be kept on the list. I can’t say often enough how much you can learn from reading a college website–and, more importantly, from reading 20 or 30 college websites. And, last week, we gave you a list of facts and figures for your teenager to look up on each website and write down.

So, now we come to Assignment #2. Remember that the more you can get your teenager to do, the easier it will be for you and the more your teenager will likely learn; however, you will still need to provide some life experience and adult judgment.

1. Your Assignment #2

Download the Assignment #2 Worksheet

So, let’s return to the colleges on your teenager’s long summer list of college options, however many you have. Even if you did a lackluster job of Assignment #1, there are hopefully at least 20 colleges on that list and, even more hopefully, they are not all in your home state.

Have your teenager now look at the admission standards for incoming freshmen at each college. These can be found under various headings on college websites. Sometimes they are part of the narrative on the Admissions home page. Sometimes they are in something called a Class Profile (of students who enrolled) or an Admitted Student Profile (of students who were admitted, but did not necessarily enroll). Some of the information can be found if you search for “common data set” on the college’s website. The common data set data are both comprehensive and excellent. Some of the information can always be found if you do a Google search for College Navigator (sponsored by the National Center for Education Statistics) and then search there by college.

What we are talking about now are admission standards, not admission requirements. In other words, we are not talking about things you have to do in order to apply, like filling out the application, getting recommendations, completing supplemental essays, and the rest. We are talking about what the students are like who get accepted by the college and/or about the students who actually choose to enroll in the college. There are at least four pieces of information worth considering when judging your own teenager’s chances of being admitted.

Assignment #2 is to have your teenager find out three of these four pieces of information for each college on that long summer list. (Piece #4 will be coming up next week, so stay tuned.) Here’s why: Because these pieces of information looked at as a whole for a college might make you think twice about some of the colleges on the list. Again, make sure your teenager writes down or records in some more electronic fashion the information that he or she finds. It will be impossible to remember it all.

2. High School Grade Point Average (GPA)

For most, but not all, colleges, your teenager will be able to find the average (typically, the mean) high school GPA of the students admitted to the freshman class the previous year or of the students who actually enrolled in the freshman class the previous year. This number will look like it is on a 4-point scale. For example, a great college might show an average high school GPA of 3.8, meaning that its admitted or enrolled students did really well in their high school courses.

But here is something that has changed a bit in the past decade or two. As Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate courses have become increasingly popular and as more high schools have started to weight students’ grades in those courses (and sometimes in their own honors courses as well), we have seen a rise in high school GPAs. In other words, when a student in a high school with weighted grades gets an A in a regular course, that A is worth a 4.0. But if a student in a high school with weighted grades gets an A in an Advanced Placement course, that A is worth a 5.0. The grade has more “weight.”

If a student in a high school with weighted grades takes a handful of Advanced Placement courses and gets an A in every one (worth a 5.0 every time) and an A in every other course (worth a 4.0 every time), that student’s GPA will be higher than a 4.0, for obvious mathematical reasons. Now, of course, that is unlikely to happen; but, when a student in a high school with weighted grades gets a B in an Advanced Placement course, for example, it is worth a 4.0, which will help his or her GPA more than a B in a regular course, which is worth only a 3.0.

Whether your high school does or does not weight course grades is something that should be part of the high school narrative profile that your high school’s counselor will send off to colleges with students’ high school transcripts. So that is helpful to colleges in judging your teenager’s GPA.

Nonetheless, one effect of all of this weighting of high school course grades appears to be that average high school GPAs of incoming freshmen seem to be on the rise. We can tell this anecdotally by the fact that many colleges we profiled in our virtual nationwide tour of colleges (Episodes 27 through 53), including some not super-selective ones, post surprisingly high average GPAs for the incoming freshmen class–over a 3.5, for example. Perhaps college-bound high school kids as a whole group have gotten much, much brighter, but I am not convinced of that.

So, look carefully at the average high school GPAs that colleges are putting out there and prepare to be surprised. And, keep in mind, that some colleges will not provide one.

3. High School Class Rank

There have been a number of stories in the education media lately about school districts that do not want to name valedictorians any longer. Why? Because they have found that the competition for that spot sometimes comes down to a thousandth of a point in that GPA we just discussed and, further, because they have found that kids are so focused on getting that extra-high GPA that they will actually not take high school courses they would otherwise take to broaden their studies–or should take to prepare for college–for fear of hurting their GPAs. Wow. Forty years ago, we didn’t see that coming.

Of course, for many years, some high schools have simply not provided class ranks for a variety of reasons, and it is not a requirement from any governmental entity or governing body that high schools must provide class ranks. Similarly, some colleges will simply say they are not available for admitted or enrolled freshmen.

When they are available, class ranks will often be given as the percentage of admitted or enrolled freshmen who ranked in the top 5 percent or 10 percent or 25 percent or in the top tenth or in the top half or in the bottom half and so on of their high school class. Great colleges, for example, will show a very high percentage of admitted or enrolled freshmen in the top 5 percent or top tenth of their high school classes. Figures like these will give your teenager one way to judge how he or she stacks up against admitted or enrolled freshmen at a college, if your teenager has a class rank. And, by the way, some colleges will actually boast about the number of high school valedictorians they have in the freshmen class.

4. Admission Test Scores

Well, we feel as though we have talked about this topic often, including discussions of the colleges that do not require any admission test scores and the colleges that are “test-optional”–that is, when students may provide them or not. Feel free to re-listen to early episodes on this topic.

But, in terms of judging a college’s admission standards, I will say that College Navigator does a good job of providing the percentage of students who submitted SAT and ACT scores as well as the SAT and ACT scores at the 25th percentile of students and at the 75th percentile of students. In other words, 25 percent of students scored at or below the score at the 25th percentile, and 25 percent of students scored above the 75th percentile, according to College Navigator. So, if your teenager’s scores fall above the 75th percentile, that is good. If your teenager’s scores fall right in the middle between the 25th percentile and the 75th percentile, that would be just about average for the college’s admitted or enrolled students. And if your teenager’s scores fall below the 25th percentile, that would not be nearly so promising in terms of being admitted.

Some college websites do provide the actual average, or mean, admission test score, and I find that helpful, too.

One last point, as we have said before. Many colleges that do not require the submission of SAT or ACT scores seem, nonetheless, to receive them from many applicants. Because those scores are usually quite good, it seems obvious that students with good scores do, in fact, supply them to test-optional colleges. How those scores figure into admissions decisions is anybody’s guess. But, I think that the point is this: If you have good SAT or ACT scores, you should probably submit them to test-optional colleges, even though they are not required. There are only perhaps a handful of colleges that say–flat out–that they do not want any test scores sent to them and that they will not use them for any reason, including Hampshire College, one of my favorites.

These three pieces of information–average high school GPA, high school class rank, and SAT or ACT scores–will give you one reasonable indication of whether a college your teenager is interested in should be kept on your teenager’s long summer list of college options. But don’t go throwing any colleges off just yet. There is plenty of time to do that later on.

Download the Assignment #2 Worksheet

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

Ask your questions or share your feedback by…

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

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Episode 81: Assignment #1–Expanding, Not Narrowing, the College Search

Listen to the episode in the player, download it here, or subscribe on Google Play MusiciTunesStitcher, or TuneIn.

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.

Episode 81: Assignment 1--Expanding, Not Narrowing, The College Search on USA CollegeChat podcast, with free printable

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.

2. Your Assignment #1

Download the Assignment #1 printable worksheet

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.

Download the Assignment #1 printable worksheet

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

Ask your questions or share your feedback by…

  • Leaving a comment on the show notes for this episode at http://usacollegechat.org/episode81
  • Calling us at (516) 900-6922 to record a question on our USACollegeChat voicemail if you want us to answer your question live on our podcast

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