Welcome back to Series 10, Issues in Higher Education. This is the second in our series of episodes discussing a variety of issues in higher education, and it’s a two-parter. Today’s and next week’s issue is one that, to put it bluntly, I find infuriating. This infuriation has likely been felt by anyone who has tried to navigate the world of Early Decision and Early Action admission to colleges in these past five or six months. So, let’s get started sorting it all out.
We will talk about Early Decision today; next week, we will look at Early Action and then talk about some colleges that offer both Early Decision and Early Action–and indeed some that offer more than one round of one and/or the other. It’s close to insane.
More than a decade and a half ago in September of 2001, The Atlantic published a long and fascinating article by James Fallows, entitled “The Early-Decision Racket.” We believe that title really says it all–now more than ever. For those of you interested in how we got here, read the article and get a brief history.
1. Early Decision Cons
In the olden days, it used to be that a student could apply to one college and one college only under an Early Decision plan–meaning that the student would apply early, get an answer early, and agree to attend that college if accepted. For students, it was–and still is–a binding decision. Furthermore, Early Decision was also the only “early” game in town.
Perhaps the most important reason that lots of folks grew to dislike the Early Decision option was–and likely still is–that a student accepted under this plan had to agree to attend the college before he or she had any other acceptances and before he or she had any idea what scholarships and other financial aid might be offered by any other colleges. For students who depended on financial aid to pay for college–and that’s more and more students these days, for sure–having to choose a college without being able to compare financial aid packages put those students and their families under undue financial pressure.
Many critics of Early Decision today express a legitimate concern that Early Decision favors the children of the wealthy, who do not need to worry about paying for college and comparing financial aid packages. Frank Bruni, a New York Times writer whose work we have read from twice before at USACollegeChat, wrote a column entitled “The Plague of ‘Early Decision’” last December. Talking about his view of the biggest problem with Early Decision at selective colleges, Mr. Bruni wrote this:
[Early decision] significantly disadvantages students from low-income and middle-income families, who are already underrepresented at such schools. There’s plenty of evidence that applying early improves odds of admission and that the students who do so–largely to gain a competitive edge–come disproportionately from privileged backgrounds with parents and counselors who know how to game the system and can assemble the necessary test scores and references by the November deadline.
These students also aren’t concerned about weighing disparate financial-aid offers from different schools and can commit themselves to one through early decision. Less privileged students need to shop around, so early decision doesn’t really work for them. (quoted from the article)
Mr. Bruni went on to quote one of our favorite experts here at USACollegeChat: Harold O. Levy, the executive director of the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation. (You can listen to our interview with Harold here.) According to Mr. Bruni, Harold said, “That’s just unfair in a profound way.” We know from our own earlier interview with Harold and from the Foundation’s excellent work that they are all about trying to ensure that our nation’s selective colleges open their doors to more low-income bright kids, who are often under-recruited and overlooked by these colleges.
Mr. Bruni goes on to register his own concern about a still different aspect of the Early Decision landscape:
[W]hat worries me . . . is how the early-application process intensifies much of what’s perverse about college admissions today: the anxiety-fueling, disappointment-seeding sense that one school above all others glimmers in the distance as the perfect prize; the assessment of the most exclusive environments as . . . the superior ones.
In a nutshell, 130 kids who had applied under an Early Decision option to Tulane University, a very good private university in New Orleans, received acceptance emails as a result of a glitch in new computer software even though they had not been accepted (in fact, some had been accepted for the following spring term, while others had been deferred to the regular decision pool of applicants). Admittedly, this is an awful and embarrassing situation for Tulane. But here is the “anxiety-fueling, disappointment-seeding” part that Mr. Bruni spoke of: The student being interviewed for The New York Times article “asked not to be fully identified because she was humiliated and did not want to be associated with what she called a scandal.” Humiliated? Really? Because she was not accepted Early Decision to Tulane (even though she was, in fact, accepted for the following spring term)? Maybe things have just gone too far.
The article about Tulane continues this way:
Students and parents, already full of anxiety over the high-stakes admissions process, expressed their disbelief and agony online.
“These kids are already so anxious, and the whole process has become so crazy, so this is really a horrible, horrible thing to put them through,” said Phillip Trout, a college counselor at Minnetonka High School in Minnetonka, Minn., and past president of the National Association for College Admission Counseling. (quoted from the article)
Yes, Mr. Trout. The process looks pretty crazy to many of us watching it, too.
So, Mr. Bruni offers us yet another perspective on the Early Decision issue, and it is this:
Early decision moves the admissions process forward on the calendar, so that high school students start obsessing sooner. They press themselves to single out a college at the start of senior year, when they may not understand themselves as well as they will toward the end of it. (quoted from the article)
Well, yes, high school seniors mature a bit and can think through complex problems better as the year goes on. I am not sure that there is much difference between applying to a college on November 1 under an Early Decision option and on January 1 under a regular deadline. However, there might indeed be a difference between a student’s making a final decision about a college to attend on November 1 (because the student’s decision would be binding if he or she were accepted in December) and making that final decision the following April from among, hopefully, several choices. So, I’ll give Mr. Bruni that point.
And here’s one last note from Mr. Bruni’s article:
Marla Schay, the head of guidance at Weston High School, in an affluent suburb outside Boston, told me that while 60 percent of the seniors there submitted early applications seven years ago, it’s above 86 percent now. (quoted from the article)
Wow, 86 percent of those likely well-off suburban kids applying early. Times have changed, and the race is clearly escalating. Any high school seniors who have to overcome any kind of barrier when making their college applications–whether that is financial worries or English as a second language or lack of college counseling or parents who cannot help?are going to be just that much further behind.
2. Early Decision Pros
On the other hand, if you can put those very substantial negatives aside, it seems to us that Early Decision is still a great option for some kids. I guess the problem is that Early Decision could be a great option for your own teenager, even if it might be a bad option for teenagers in general. With my education leader’s hat on, I have to say that Early Decision worries me increasingly; but with my advocate-for-one-particular-kid’s hat on, I still might recommend it for that one kid.
If your own teenager is absolutely clear about what his or her first-choice college is, then Early Decision is the way to go if that college has an Early Decision option. Many colleges have the option, but not all colleges have it.
Why might Early Decision be a good move for your teenager? There are two primary reasons. First, your family could get this whole college admissions process over with as efficiently as possible at some point in December. As we have already mentioned, the application is usually due around November 1, with a decision usually coming in December. And that would occasion a huge sigh of relief from everyone concerned! In fact, it also would save all of the stress of completing numerous applications. Even with the Common Application’s cutting down on some of that stress, it means that no more supplemental essays would have to be written and no more application fees would have to be paid.
The second reason might be even more important, and it is why we are hard-pressed not to recommend Early Decision for kids who are ready. It is that your child might actually have a better chance–even a much better chance–of being accepted if he or she applies Early Decision. There has been a lot of press about that recently, but I am going to go back to an excellent article by Nick Anderson in The Washington Post from last March, which offered some really rather astonishing statistics on 2015 numbers from 64 “prominent colleges and universities” (my guess is that this year’s numbers won’t be very different and, if anything, could well be more favorable toward Early Decision applicants). His article was aptly entitled “A college-admissions edge for the wealthy: Early decision.” Unfortunately, it’s just what critics fear.
Here are the acceptance rates for Early Decision applicants (listed first) compared to the overall acceptance rates (that includes both early and regular admissions) for all applicants (listed second) from a selection of great colleges:
University of Pennsylvania: 24% vs. 10%
Tufts University: 39% vs. 16%
Kenyon College: 58% vs. 24%
Barnard College: 43% vs. 20%
Northwestern University: 38% vs. 13%
Duke University: 27% vs. 12%
Williams College: 41% vs. 18%
Haverford College: 46% vs. 25%
Johns Hopkins University: 29% vs. 13%
Smith College: 57% vs. 38%
Oberlin College: 54% vs. 29%
By the way, inasmuch as the overall acceptance rate includes both early and regular acceptance rates, the regular acceptance rate by itself would actually be even lower than the second numbers we just read.
Those percentages have got to make you think twice before you as a family dismiss the notion of applying on an Early Decision schedule. But if those numbers weren’t convincing enough, here is another eye-opening statistic from a sample of great colleges–the estimated percentage of the freshman class that is made up of Early Decision acceptances:
University of Pennsylvania: 54%
Middlebury College: 53%
Emory University: 53%
Vanderbilt University: 51%
Kenyon College: 51%
Barnard College: 51%
Northwestern University: 50%
Hamilton College: 50%
Swarthmore College: 50%
Bowdoin College: 49%
Duke University: 47%
Colorado College: 45%
Dartmouth College: 43%
Do you get the picture? Just about half of the seats in the freshman classes of these selective, academically first-rate colleges are filled before the applications of high school seniors applying on the regular schedule are even looked at. In fact, The Washington Post article declared that, of the top-60 national liberal arts universities and colleges, as ranked by U.S. News & World Report, 48 filled one-third or more of their seats with Early Decision applicants (including two more Ivy League schools, Brown University and Cornell University, with 38 percent shares each) and 16 filled one-half or more of their seats with Early Decision applicants.
You really have to stop and think about these statistics. No kidding. What are your teenager’s odds of getting into a place when one-third or one-half of the seats are already taken?
Some colleges are publicizing now that students who are accepted on an Early Decision schedule are getting nearly as much financial aid as those accepted on a regular decision schedule, so that’s a good thing for low-income kids who want to better their acceptance chances at a favorite college. And there is usually a disclaimer in college website information that a student may be released from a binding Early Decision acceptance if the financial aid package offered does not make it possible for that student to attend the college–though I have never tried to test that and, therefore, don’t know how sticky a college would make that withdrawal.
By the way, is it obvious why a college would want so many Early Decision students? It should be. A college wants good students who really want to be at that college. It doesn’t want to play the admissions game any more than the applicants do. It doesn’t want to be worried about the incoming class in April, either.
But somehow, my concern is still on the side of the students. And the number of Early Decision applications is going up, as more and more families hear the numbers you have just heard. Where will it all end?
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Welcome back after our Thanksgiving break. We hope your holiday was not ruined by college application hysteria. With about a month to go until many application deadlines hit, we would like to take up a practical topic that might affect how many applications your teenager is thinking about submitting in a few weeks. That topic is application fees.
1. The Cost
For some of you, the cost of submitting an application–which is likely to be somewhere between $35 and $75 per application–is not a big deal. Even if your teenager applies to 10 or 15 schools with fees on the higher side, that cost of perhaps $1,000 is not critical in your financial picture.
However, for many families, coming up with even $500 is a significant issue. A lot is written in the education press about the notion that application fees, even reasonable ones, do actually keep some kids from applying to college–especially lower-income kids and first-generation college-goers. All of us interested in improving the educational lives of our nation’s kids should view that as a problem.
We wholeheartedly agree with the Foundation. Clearly, some families are intimidated by the prospect of figuring out how to get a waiver for those application fees, even though this is one thing that most high school guidance counselors are well equipped to handle. And there are several routes to those waivers.
The Common App makes it relatively easy. In completing the Common App, your teenager will be asked to declare whether and why he or she is eligible for a fee waiver. The question offers all of the choices for confirming eligibility: receiving an ACT/SAT testing fee waiver, getting free or reduced-price lunch at school, meeting family income eligibility guidelines, being enrolled in a government program that aids students from low-income families, receiving public assistance, being homeless or living in a foster home, being a ward of the state or an orphan, or being able to supply a statement from a local school or community official.
In most cases, at some point, your teenager’s guidance counselor will be asked to verify eligibility for the waiver. So, it is important to stay in contact with the guidance counselor to make sure that the guidance counselor knows that your teenager has applied for the waivers and that process is working. I think it is fair to say that, just as technology has made it easier to apply to colleges, it has also made it easier to get and use application fee waivers. But that doesn’t mean that some families won’t still be intimidated and/or confused by the process, especially if parents are not native English speakers.
3. Interesting Cases
Let’s look at a few cases of colleges that have recently dropped the application fee. Starting this year, Bowdoin College (Brunswick, ME), an excellent small liberal arts college, will automatically waive the $65 application fee “for students applying for financial aid and first-generation-to-college students (neither parent graduated from a four-year college or university),” according to its website. Trinity College (Hartford, CT), another great small liberal arts college, has eliminated its $65 application fee for first-generation college students.
While it is undoubtedly helpful that colleges are making accommodations for families who need them, it was surprising to me to learn just how many colleges–including top-ranked colleges–do not have any application fees at all. For example, Reed College (Portland, OR) eliminated its $50 fee. Its website explains the decision this way:
‘It’s a small but meaningful step,’ said Crystal Williams, Dean for Institutional Diversity. ‘We want Reed to be a more inclusive community and cutting the admission fee levels the playing field at the earliest stage of the game and allows prospective students a chance to explore all their opportunities.’ (quoted from the website)
Here is a short list of great colleges with no fee, in addition to our excellent military academies (you can find them all just by Googling “colleges without application fees,” just as I did):
There are many, many more. To tell you the truth, I couldn’t have been more surprised. We should note, by the way, that some colleges charge a fee for a paper application, even when they do not charge a fee for an online application, like the Common App.
New York City public school students from low-income families will no longer have to pay a fee to apply to the City University of New York, . . . part of an effort to encourage more young people to go to college.
Under the initiative, all high school students who meet one of a handful of criteria will be able to apply to CUNY free. The city estimated that the change will affect 37,500 students, up from about 6,500 students in recent years. More than half of the city’s public school students who enroll in college attend CUNY schools.
The application fee is $65 per student, but Mayor Bill de Blasio said that while the amount can seem trivial to some, for many families it is not. And for students who are not sure about applying to college, it is one more hurdle standing in the way of their continued education. . . .
In the past, CUNY granted fee waivers to students with the greatest need, according to the city’s Education Department. Now, any student who qualifies for free or reduced-price lunch, who is homeless or in foster care, or whose family lives in federally subsidized public housing or receives public assistance will automatically be given a waiver. Undocumented students in those categories will also be eligible.
The city’s schools chancellor, Carmen Fariña, said students would not need to apply to skip the fee, so this requires no extra step. (quoted from the article)
I think this is a great move by CUNY, but let me go one step more. Why should any student have to pay an application fee to a public university in his or her own home state? It seems to me that no application fee should be one of the perks of public higher education–if not for all students, then at least for students in that state. If an application fee is an obstacle to students–as many have said it is–then shouldn’t that obstacle be removed in public higher education? Maybe then we would have more students from low-income families and even middle-income families applying to the great public flagship university in their own state or to the public universities in states that are lucky enough to have more than one.
4. A Final Thought
While application fee waivers can help solve the problem of getting more lower-income students to apply to college and even to apply to more colleges so that they can have a wider selection of colleges to choose from next spring, what about kids from middle-income families and even upper-income families who do not qualify for the waivers? I think we have said this before, but it bears repeating right now: Limiting the number of colleges your teenager can apply to because of the cost of making the applications could be penny wise and pound foolish.
We continue to believe that it is important for kids to have as many options as possible once those acceptance letters come in. If a couple of hundred dollars now means that your teenager is looking at more options next April, then we think it is worth it. We don’t say that lightly, but we know that giving teenagers their best chance to choose a college from among a handful of acceptances can be priceless and can be a sound investment for many years to come. So, it’s still not too late to add a few colleges to the list–especially if you have not maxed out your Common App slots!
The Kindle ebook version of our book, How To Find the Right College, is on sale for $0.99 through 2016! Read it on your Kindle device or download the free Kindle app for any tablet or smartphone. The book is also available as a paperback workbook.
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For perhaps the first time in history, a broad range of colleges have come together to send a powerful collective message that what’s important in admissions is not high numbers of impressive accomplishments or long ‘brag sheets.’ Yes, academic engagement matters, but so does meaningful ethical engagement, especially as shown in concern for others and the common good. The report also redefines ethical and intellectual contributions to more fairly capture the strengths of students across race, culture, and class. (quoted from the article)
I hope this is true, but I am not totally convinced just yet. Who signed on to this report? Well, the list of “endorsers” included every Ivy League school plus an impressive list of about 50 more higher education institutions, including some of our nation’s best small liberal arts colleges, best public flagship universities, and best private universities, including Amherst College, Boston College, Boston University, Bowdoin College, Brandeis University, College of the Holy Cross, Emory University, Kenyon College, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Michigan State University, Oberlin College, Purdue University, Reed College, Rice University, Smith College, Swarthmore College, the University of Chicago, the University of Michigan, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the University of Virginia, the University of Washington, Wabash College, and Wake Forest University. Incidentally, we talked about every one of these institutions during our virtual tour of colleges nationwide. They are great schools.
The question now is simply this: How much do they mean it?
The Report’s Recommendations
The report makes 11 recommendations (the report actually has the recommendations divided into three sections), which I am going to quote for you in these episodes, and we will talk about them one by one. We will do the first half of the recommendations in this episode, so here we go:
1) “Meaningful, Sustained Community Service: We recommend that students engage in forms of service that are authentically chosen—that emerge from a student’s particular passions and interests—that are consistent and well-structured, and that provide opportunity for reflection both individually and with peers and adults. We also recommend that students undertake at least a year of sustained service or community engagement . . . . This service can take the form of substantial and sustained contributions to one’s family, such as working outside the home to provide needed income. Just as important, it’s vital that the admissions process squarely challenges misconceptions about what types of service are valued in admissions. Some students seek to ‘game’ service by taking up high-profile or exotic forms of community service, sometimes in faraway places, that have little meaning to them but appear to demonstrate their entrepreneurial spirit and leadership. The admissions process should clearly convey that what counts is not whether service occurred locally or in some distant place or whether students were leaders, but whether students immersed themselves in an experience and the emotional and ethical awareness and skills generated by that experience.” (quoted from the report)
So, that’s a mouthful. What does it all mean? That the service be something that your teenager is actually interested in and invested in; that the service be something your teenager thinks about, talks about with other kids and with adults, and learns from; that the service last at least a year; and that the service may be something that your teenager does in order to support or help your own family, such as working at a paid job if financial help is needed or taking care of a younger sibling or an elderly relative if that kind of family support is needed. To be sure, Marie and I saw kids at the high school we co-founded in New York City who had substantial family responsibilities, which made it very difficult for them to engage in the other kinds of service that students without such responsibilities had the free time to undertake. I think that the report’s notion that the service last at least a year is also significant. In other words, the college might not look so favorably on a one-week community service project—unless perhaps a student did those projects summer after summer and during other school vacations.
2) “Collective Action that Takes on Community Challenges: While individual service can be valuable, we also encourage young people to consider various forms of community engagement, including working in groups on community problems, whether the problem is a local park that needs attention, bullying in their schools or communities or some form of environmental degradation. These types of activities can help young people develop key emotional and ethical capacities, including problem-solving skills and group awareness, as well as greater understanding of and investment in the common good.” (quoted from the report)
It strikes me that these community engagement projects could be run by local government agencies, community nonprofit organizations, or religious organizations. However, these projects are the kinds that could also be run by high schools, which would help not only their communities, but also their students on their college applications. These projects might be run as after-school clubs or as after-school semester-long or year-long projects of a science or social studies class or as long-term PTA-sponsored efforts. If I were a high school principal, I would be talking to my teachers and counselors and PTA officers right now about this idea—because projects like these are truly valuable learning opportunities for kids, regardless of their usefulness on college applications.
3) “Authentic, Meaningful Experiences with Diversity: We encourage students to undertake community service and engagement that deepens their appreciation of diversity. Too often, current forms of service are patronizing to recipients and don’t spark in those providing service a deeper understanding of social structures and inequalities. Rather than students “doing for” students from different backgrounds, for example, we encourage students to “do with”—to work in diverse groups for sustained periods of time on school and community challenges, groups in which students learn from one another. Importantly, these experiences of diversity should be carefully constructed and facilitated.” (quoted from the report)
Now, this might be a tall order, especially in some not-too-diverse communities. I also strongly believe that students can “do for” others without being patronizing. For many years, I served on the board of an after-school homework-help and enrichment program for low-income kids, including some newly arrived in the U.S., who would otherwise have gone home to empty apartments. Teenagers from local high schools volunteered in the afternoons to work with our elementary-school-aged kids. Were some of the teenagers patronizing? Probably so, even when they didn’t mean to be. But did they go away with “a deeper understanding of social structures and inequalities”? Yes, many of them did. With that said, I also see the value of the “doing with” philosophy. Could high schools play a role in putting together these projects, where kids from diverse backgrounds work together toward a worthwhile goal? I believe so; but, as the recommendation says, “these experiences of diversity should be carefully constructed and facilitated.” That takes a dedicated high school staff member or two or three to pull off.
4) “Service that Develops Gratitude and a Sense of Responsibility for the Future: We encourage students to take up forms of community engagement, service and reflection that help them appreciate the contributions of the generations before them—how their lives are built on the service of others—and their responsibility to their descendants. Working within a tradition, whether religious or secular, such as 4H clubs, can help generate this kind of gratitude and responsibility.” (quoted from the report)
My guess is that this type of service is probably best left to community groups and religious organizations. Any community project that is devoted to recording or celebrating the history of the area or of its people could qualify. For example, I can imagine a great project where Brooklyn students volunteer their time to give tours of the historic buildings or do educational events with younger students at Weeksville, which was a community founded by African-American freedmen in the mid-1800s. That would be a way to honor previous generations and give to future generations. I can also imagine that, in communities where many high school graduates continue to live and work, intergenerational community service activities between older alums and current high school students could prove rewarding.
5) “Contributions to One’s Family: The admissions process should clearly send the message to students, parents and other caregivers that not only community engagement and service, but also students’ family contributions, such as caring for younger siblings, taking on major household duties or working outside the home to provide needed income, are highly valued in the admissions process. Far too often there is a perception that high-profile, brief forms of service tend to count in admissions, while these far more consistent, demanding, and deeper family contributions are overlooked. Students should have clear opportunities to report these family contributions on their applications.” (quoted from the report)
Marie and I certainly agree that this is an issue with lots of kids, especially perhaps lower-income urban kids. I do not think that college applications always make it obvious to kids where they should write about these kinds of family responsibilities. They can list paid jobs held or other family care activities done during the summer, for example, but those lists do not always give kids a chance to describe their family situation or explain all that they really do. Sometimes family responsibilities can be the focus of an essay on an application, especially a supplemental essay or the second essay in the Common App where kids are asked to add anything else they want to say. But I don’t think that these options are really the “clear opportunities” that the report is calling for. A specific question about family care and support would be better—but I worry that all kids will now feel that this is one more thing they have to be able to respond to in order to get into college, which rather weakens the point of adding the question in the first place.
6) “Assessing Students’ Daily Awareness of and Contributions to Others: The admissions process should seek to assess more effectively whether students are ethically responsible and concerned for others and their communities in their daily lives. The nature of students’ day-to-day conduct should be weighed more heavily in admissions than the nature of students’ stints of service.” (quoted from the report)
Wow. That is more than I imagine almost any college application can actually do. The only way I can see to make this happen is to suggest on recommendation forms that teachers and guidance counselors and other adults (like clergy, internship supervisors, and employers) consider this character trait and individual behavior when writing their college recommendations for students. Some of these adults have a window into the daily or at least weekly activities of students and might be able to comment on how they see a student interacting with others, reaching out to help others, or serving as a role model or leader for others at school, at work, in places of worship, or in the greater community.
So there you have the first six of the 11 report recommendations. They are an interesting bunch. More next week!
Listen to the podcast to find out about…
How easy it might be for colleges to take these recommendations
How high schools could make a difference
How history might have predicted some of these recommendations
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Last week, we continued our virtual tour of colleges with the private colleges in the six states of the New England region: Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and Connecticut. As we said then, there are a lot of well-known and not-so-well-known institutions in these New England states, even though the states themselves are quite small, and a lot of those institutions are in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.
Last week, we discussed nationally known higher education institutions, which draw students internationally, as well as a selection of institutions with one or another kind of special focus (that is, faith-based institutions, single-sex colleges, institutions with a particular academic focus, and one college for students with special learning needs). This week, we are going to talk about a host of small liberal arts colleges and a few institutions that are probably better known in the New England region than in other regions of the country.
A special heads up to our New York State listeners and other listeners in the Mid-Atlantic states who are worried about sending their kids away to college: New England is not really very far away. Maybe this is as outside your comfort zone as I am going to get you. But there are so many options in New England that it might be enough.
And, as we always say, no college has asked us or paid us anything to include it. These are our very own selections.
1. Liberal Arts Colleges
Let’s start by saying that some of our most prestigious and some of our oldest small liberal arts colleges are located in New England, including several consistently ranked in the top 10 by anyone’s standards and a bunch more that would be in anyone’s top 20.
Turning first to a trio of colleges in Maine, we have Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Colby College in Waterville, and Bates College in Lewiston—all small liberal arts colleges, with a couple thousand students, attractive student-to-faculty ratios of 9:1 or 10:1, and just over 30 varsity sports teams. Though SAT scores are optional at both Bowdoin and Bates, about two-thirds of their applicants submit them. Average SAT subtest scores are about 670 at Colby, 680 at Bates, and 730 at Bowdoin.
Bowdoin, one of the highest ranked liberal arts colleges nationally, was chartered in 1794 by the General Court of Massachusetts, when Maine was still part of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Governor James Bowdoin II and his son were both substantial benefactors for the college that today carries the family name (Anglicized from French grandfather and great-grandfather Pierre Baudouin, a Huguenot immigrant who arrived here in 1686). With an undergraduate-only enrollment of about 1,800 students (about 30 percent students of color and coeducational since 1971), Bowdoin offers 40-plus majors, grounded by traditional distribution requirements in five liberal arts and sciences areas.
Bowdoin makes an effective and official endorsement of the liberal arts in two ways—first, the Statement on a Liberal Education, adopted by the faculty in 2004; and second, what is known as “The Offer of the College,” written a hundred years earlier in 1906 by Bowdoin’s president, William DeWitt Hyde:
To be at home in all lands and all ages;
to count Nature a familiar acquaintance,
and Art an intimate friend;
to carry the keys of the world’s library in your pocket,
and feel its resources behind you in whatever task you undertake;
to make hosts of friends…who are to be leaders in all walks of life;
to lose yourself in generous enthusiasms and cooperate with others for common ends –
this is the offer of the college for the best four years of your life. (quoted from the website)
Bowdoin’s tuition and fees are what you might expect by now in our travels through New England—about $48,000 per year. Interestingly, Colby and Bates post a comprehensive fee (including room and board) at about $62,000 per year—so comparably priced for tuition, if it had been broken out separately.
Let’s look briefly at Colby, founded in 1813, the twelfth-oldest private liberal arts college in the U.S. Colby offers its approximately 1,850 undergraduates a choice of 57 majors. About two-thirds study abroad at some point in their college lives, perhaps in the College’s annual January Plan session, when students focus on one thing only—a course, an internship, a study-abroad opportunity, or a research project. Colby has a No-Loan Policy, which “will meet 100 percent of [a student’s] calculated financial need, and . . . will meet that need with grants and campus employment—not student loans” that have to be paid back (quoted from the website). As part of its serious commitment to the environment, Colby worked hard to achieve carbon neutrality—one of only a handful of colleges to do so.
Bates is located in Lewiston, home of substantial French Canadian and Somali immigrant communities. Founded in 1855 by abolitionists, Bates was the first coeducational college in New England. When it opened its doors, it admitted students without regard to race, nationality, or religion; some of its early students were former slaves. In keeping with its founding values, Bates is also known for its inclusiveness, where student organizations are open to all students and there are no fraternities or sororities. The approximately 2,000 undergraduates study in 33 majors in two semesters and a short-term session in the spring, when students focus on one thing, often off campus (similar to Colby’s plan).
Let’s move on to Vermont and take a look at Middlebury College in Middlebury, located between the Green Mountains and the Adirondacks. A prestigious liberal arts college, which also offers some graduate programs at other sites here and abroad, Middlebury has been known for its excellent language programs for a hundred years. Middlebury was founded by a few men in town in 1800 to educate men for the ministry and other professions. The first African-American citizen to earn a bachelor’s degree got it at Middlebury in 1823, after Vermont became the first state to abolish slavery.
Middlebury now serves about 2,450 undergraduates, studying in 44 majors, with a student-to-faculty ratio of 9:1—again common for these liberal arts colleges. As we have also seen at other colleges, Middlebury has a January term, when students focus on one course or an internship. In the best classic liberal arts tradition, Middlebury students must fulfill two sets of distribution requirements— (1) one course in seven of eight academic fields (including foreign language, with offerings in 10 languages); and (2) one course in each of four cultures and civilizations areas:
Courses that focus on some aspect of the cultures and civilizations of Africa, Asia, Latin America, the Middle East, and the Caribbean
Courses that focus on the process of comparison between and among cultures and civilizations, or courses that focus on the identity and experience of separable groups within cultures and civilizations
Courses that focus on some aspect of European cultures and civilizations
Courses that focus on some aspect of the cultures and civilizations of northern America (United States and Canada) (quoted from the website)
With 31 varsity sports and 31 NCAA championships since 1995, Middlebury has an active sports scene—and a lot of skiing for fun. Admission is very selective, with the Class of 2019 posting average SAT subtest scores very close to 700. Most incoming freshmen are in the top 10 percent of their high school class. Like its collegiate peers, tuition and fees run about $48,000 per year.
Coming quite a bit later to the game was Bennington College in Bennington, Vermont, founded in 1932 as a progressive liberal arts institution. Originally a women’s college, it became coeducational in 1969. It claims to be “the first to include the visual and performing arts in a liberal arts education, and it is the only college to require that students spend a term—every year—at work in the world” (quoted from the website). Today, it serves just about 650 undergraduates in 10 areas of study and about 100 graduate students, with a student-to-faculty ratio of 9:1.
The seven-week off-campus winter Field Work Term, which is required of students every year, sees students working or interning in 35 states and 40 countries on five continents. Students complete two 14-week semesters in addition to the Field Work Term. Bennington’s liberal arts education is somewhat self-determined, as described on the website:
The Plan Process is the structure Bennington students use to design and evaluate their education. In a series of essays and meetings with the faculty throughout their years at Bennington, students learn to articulate what they want to study and how they intend to study it. They identify the classes they wish to take, as well as how those classes relate to each other and the rest of their Bennington experience: Field Work Term, tutorials, projects beyond the classroom, and anything else they undertake. (quoted from the website)
Some courses run three weeks, some seven weeks, and some the full 14 weeks each term, with credits assigned accordingly. Students receive narrative evaluations at the end of each course, but may request letter grades; students interested in graduate school are encouraged to request letter grades for at least two years so that a GPA can be calculated. Bennington has both a traditional application route, using the Common Application as a base, and a more unusual Bennington-specific application. In either case, college admission test scores are not required. Bennington’s undergraduate tuition and fees add up to about $48,000—unfortunately, the norm among these New England colleges.
Connecticut also has a trio of relatively well-known liberal arts institutions—Wesleyan University in Middletown, Trinity College in Hartford, and Connecticut College in New London. All are well-rounded traditional colleges with attractive campuses and excellent student-to-faculty ratios, as befits small colleges, from 8:1 at Wesleyan to 10:1 at Trinity.
Trinity is the oldest of these, founded in 1823, and is the second-oldest college in Connecticut (after Yale). It has been coeducational since 1969 and now serves about 2,100 undergraduates and about 100 graduate students. It has the oldest example of Collegiate Gothic architecture in the country. Trinity offers 39 majors, including engineering, with “two engineering degree paths: a Bachelor of Science degree, accredited by the Engineering Accreditation Commission of ABET [Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology] and a Bachelor of Arts in Engineering Science degree” (quoted from the website)—truly unusual for a small liberal arts college.
Trinity is very proud of its Center for Urban and Global Studies (noting that over half of all people in the world live in cities today), its Human Rights Program and interdisciplinary major, its credit-bearing internships, and its study-away programs in New York City and seven sites outside the U.S. Incoming freshmen posted a B+ high school GPA, and tuition and fees will set you back about $51,000, on the high side of what we have been seeing.
Wesleyan, founded by Methodist leaders in 1831, shares a bit of history with Connecticut College, founded in 1911. Originally all male, Wesleyan became coeducational (to a limited degree) in 1872, about 40 years after its founding. Then, when it chose to exclude women again around 1911, some of its alumnae helped establish Connecticut College for Women, for obvious reasons. Today, Wesleyan enrolls about 2,900 undergraduates and about 200 full-time graduate students (about 30 percent are students of color). Its undergraduates study in 45 majors. Though Wesleyan does not require college admissions test scores, about 80 percent of the Class of 2019 submitted them for consideration. The average SAT subtest scores were about 730 to 740 across the board. About 65 percent of students were in the top 10 percent of their high school class. Not surprisingly, tuition and fees are about $49,000 per year.
Here is a quick look at Connecticut College, with about 1,900 undergraduate students studying in just over 50 majors and minors. Interestingly, each student is awarded $3,000 by the College to cover the costs of creating the perfect internship—in the U.S. or abroad—for each student in his or her area of interest. About 80 percent of students complete such an internship. Though the College does not require college admission test scores, about 70 percent of applicants provide them for review. Incoming freshmen post a set of SAT subtest scores hovering around 685. About 60 percent were in the top 10 percent of their high school class. The College has a comprehensive fee, which includes room and board, of about $63,000—which would be in keeping with residential students’ expenses at the other colleges we have been profiling. One of the most unusual things about the College’s website is the section called “Essays that Worked,” which is just that: sample essays from past applicants who were accepted. Of course, any college applicant could get value out of reading them.
So, let’s head north to Massachusetts to two of the traditionally highest-ranked liberal arts colleges in the U.S., both formerly men’s colleges: Williams College in Williamstown and Amherst College in Amherst. Williams opened in 1793, and Amherst followed some years later in 1821. Amherst’s first president had been president of Williams (there is still a rivalry today), and the president of the Board of Trustees at the time was Noah Webster. Amherst was established by Congregational clergy to educate primarily poor, but talented, students for a life in the ministry or other worthy careers. Williams went co-ed in 1970, followed by Amherst in 1975. Both have small enrollments of about 1,800 at Amherst and 2,000 at Williams (plus about 50 graduate students). About 35 percent of students at Williams and 45 percent of students at Amherst are students of color.
The colleges offer just over 35 undergraduate liberal arts majors. Student-to-faculty ratios are attractively low at 7:1 or 8:1. Williams offers its January Winter Study—the kind of focused program we have seen at a number of other schools (maybe New England is just too cold for students to be there in January), where students do a course, some research, an internship, or purposeful travel. Among its study-away options, Williams offers a semester at its Marine Studies Program at Mystic Seaport in Connecticut and a year-long program at University of Oxford. Amherst is a member of the well-known Five College Consortium, which we have talked about and will mention again. On an athletic note, Amherst and Williams played the first intercollegiate baseball game in the U.S. in 1859.
Students at these two colleges are super-smart. College admission test scores are required, and about 65 percent of freshmen in the classes of 2018 scored 700 or higher on the SAT subtests. About 85 percent of Amherst students and 95 percent of Williams students were in the top 10 percent of their high school class. As you might expect, tuition and fees are high: about $50,000 at Williams and a comprehensive fee (tuition, room, and board) of $63,000 at Amherst.
2. Colleges That Change Lives
As we have said in several earlier episodes, Colleges That Change Lives is a nonprofit organization that was founded after the publication of the book Colleges That Change Lives, by Loren Pope, a retired New York Times education editor. There are now 44 colleges and universities profiled in the book and on the organization’s website. Those that are included are not necessarily famous institutions. Most are smaller colleges and universities that have proved to be successful at developing students both personally and academically so that they can succeed in life after their undergraduate college years.
Three of the 44 institutions profiled are located in New England. You should read about them in the book or on the website to learn more about them. They are Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts; Marlboro College in Marlboro, Vermont; and Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts.
Hampshire is the fifth member of the Five College Consortium, centered in Amherst. It is by far the newest of the five colleges, having been founded in 1970 after a long planning process, and it is the least traditional of them as well. Its students are bright, creative, and motivated. While very selective in admitting freshmen to a student body of just 1,400 students, Hampshire does not consider college admission test scores “in any way” for admission or for financial aid awards. Its students study in five interdisciplinary schools and create their own individualized majors—called “the concentration” at Hampshire. The concentration includes courses and required volunteer work at Hampshire or in the community and required work from various cultural viewpoints as well as fieldwork and internships, if they make sense for the self-designed program. As seniors, Hampshire students complete a self-designed rigorous final independent project, which includes original work, similar to a graduate thesis. The campus is lovely and idyllic. The price tag is predictable at about $47,000 in tuition per year. My visit to Hampshire with my son about five years ago made me want to go back to school and go there myself.
You should read about both Clark and Marlboro in the Colleges That Change Lives book or on the website. Clark enrolls about 2,200 undergraduates and another approximately 1,000 graduate students and has incredibly appealing “5th-Year-Free Accelerated B.A./Master’s Degree” programs in 14 fields, in which students can earn a master’s degree in just one year at no cost. Marlboro’s approximately 230 undergraduate students (there are another approximately 80 graduate students) follow a self-designed interdisciplinary program while working closely with faculty in small classes, individual tutorials, and advising sessions and living in a self-governing college community. The average high school GPA of incoming freshmen last fall was a 3.6 at Clark and a 3.2 at Marlboro; college admission test scores are considered at both if submitted, but are not required by either institution (about 60 percent of admitted students submitted them at Clark, but only about 25 percent at Marlboro).
3. Institutions Better Known in New England
New England also has a large number of institutions that are better known in the region than in other parts of the U.S. Let’s look at a few.
Founded in 1914 by Gertrude I. Johnson and Mary T. Wales as a business school, Johnson & Wales University (JWU) has been adding new career fields, new degrees (now including advanced degrees), and new campuses (now including Charlotte, Denver, and North Miami) ever since. With its main campus in Providence, Rhode Island, JWU describes the program for its 10,000 students (largely undergraduates) this way:
Our educational approach is designed to help you identify your career field. You can develop a structured plan, starting your first term, to build industry knowledge, professional skills and practical work experience to excel.
Build a toolkit that serves you for life. Our unique education model integrates academics and professional skills, including real-world projects in our hands-on labs, taught by our industry-expert faculty.
Round out your education with related work experiences and structured internships around the globe, along with career services, community service and leadership opportunities. (quoted from the website)
Undergraduates pursue serious career preparation in the College of Culinary Arts, School of Business, School of Hospitality, School of Engineering and Design, School of Professional Studies (with three equine-related majors), and six majors (two of which are directly career related) in the School of Science and Liberal Arts. And, yes, there are student organizations and varsity sports teams, too.
College admission test scores are mostly optional, except for the Honors program and some majors. Undergraduate tuition and fees run close to $30,000 per year—which seems like a bargain, given the prices we have been seeing in this episode and in last week’s episode.
Founded in 1929 (a lot later than many New England colleges), Quinnipiac University, with about 6,500 undergraduates and 2,500 graduate and professional students, is located on two campuses near Sleeping Giant Mountain in the small New England town of Hamden, Connecticut (a third campus for the professional and graduate schools, including law and medicine, is not far away). Undergraduates can study in 58 degree programs in six schools and colleges: the College of Arts and Sciences and the Schools of Business and Engineering, Communications, Education, Health Sciences, and Nursing. Quinnipiac offers a traditional college experience, with Division I varsity sports teams, school organizations (including fraternities and sororities), and red brick buildings surrounded by trees and green lawns. And perhaps, with an election year approaching again, you have heard Quinnipiac University Poll results in the news.
Incoming freshmen this year at Quinnipiac posted average SAT scores in the mid-500s across the subtests, and about 20 percent were in the top 10 percent of their high school class. Admissions staff note that they are looking for a B+ overall high school average. About 50 percent of students come from New England states, and another approximately 45 percent come from nearby Mid-Atlantic states. Tuition and fees are about $42,000 per year—just about the going rate for the region.
Founded a few years later in 1932 as the New Hampshire School of Accounting and Secretarial Science, Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU) offered its first bachelor’s degrees in 1966 and has been expanding into other fields and innovative programs ever since. Currently, SNHU enrolls about 3,000 students at its main campus in Manchester, where undergraduates can study in about 50 degree programs in three schools: the Schools of Business, Education, and Arts and Sciences. SNHU also offers accelerated bachelor’s degrees completed in three years in 10 business fields.
College admission test scores are optional. A couple of years ago, average SAT subtest scores for the approximately 50 percent of admitted students who submitted them were in the high 400s, and admitted students posted, on average, a high school GPA of about 3.1. Undergraduate on-campus tuition and fees are a relative bargain at about $32,000 per year.
SNHU is, however, a leader in online education, with about 60,000 online students studying in more than 200 career-focused and liberal arts degree and certificate programs. The courses are “asynchronous”—meaning that students can do their coursework at any time of the day or night rather than in online sessions at specific times with faculty and other students. I heard a presentation by an SNHU administrator at a College Board conference a couple of years ago, and I was quite impressed then with what I heard. Online tuition runs about $10,000 per year if a student is taking a full-time college course load. That’s a great bargain if you have a child who needs to or badly wants to study online. As we have said a number of times in our NYCollegeChat episodes, we are wary of having first-time freshmen commit to full-time online study—or even a course or two online—because it takes a lot of maturity and self-motivation and self-discipline to study online successfully. Many college freshmen just don’t have that. However, your child might be an exception.
Let’s wind up with a smaller faith-based college in Colchester, Vermont: Saint Michael’s College (affectionately known as St. Mike’s), enrolling about 2,000 undergraduate and 500 graduate students. Undergraduates study in about 35 liberal arts and sciences majors, plus business, computer science, education, journalism, pre-pharmacy, and engineering (through two 3+2 programs, one with the University of Vermont and one with Clarkson University). Here is what St. Mike’s says about its Catholic foundation and its influence on life at St. Mike’s today:
Saint Michael’s College is . . . the only Edmundite college in the world. We were founded in 1904 by the Society of Saint Edmund, an order of priests that came to Vermont from France more than 100 years ago, and whose ministry is based on service, hospitality and education.
Our passion for social justice means we don’t just talk about improving the world. We have a history of it. Part of the Edmundite legacy is the vital role they played in the Civil Rights movement in the South. We embody that spirit with nearly 70 percent of our students volunteering through our MOVE (Mobilization of Volunteer Efforts) Office. Our Peace and Justice program of study brings issues into the classroom, and the Edmundite Center for Peace and Justice connects the campus community to peace and justice concerns and resources.
The Society of Saint Edmund has a meaningful presence on campus. Their inclusive nature, caring ministry, tradition of hospitality and passion for social justice are at the heart of on-campus culture. Several Edmundite priests are active members of the faculty, while others are focused on the Society’s ministries in Selma, Alabama and New Orleans, Louisiana.
Understanding the history and importance of Christianity and other religions, as well as examining questions of philosophy, ethics and the common good, are an integral part of the Saint Michael’s curriculum. In everyday life on campus, the opportunity to serve others, and the chance to look inside yourself and explore your own path to the greater good, are always at hand.
Our students come from all walks of life. No matter what your spiritual and religious affiliation (and even if you have none at all), you’ll be welcome and comfortable at Saint Michael’s. . . .
As part of our Liberal Studies Curriculum, students are required to take two courses in Christian Traditions and Thought. Both of these courses are College-level academic courses which do not require or expect any particular religious affiliation. The first course is a Religious Studies course in the general study of Christianity and the second, more specialized, course is chosen by the student from a list of qualifying Religious Studies or Philosophy courses. (quoted from the website)
Just over 50 percent of students at St. Mike’s are Catholic. St. Mike’s is a close-knit community, with all full-time undergraduates living on campus for all four years (unless they are living at home with their family)—a remarkable feature, which makes it easy for students to feel comfortable with each other, join clubs and sports teams, and make good friends. Classes are small, and professors care about their students.
College admission test scores are optional, but accepted students in the Class of 2018 who submitted SATs posted a trio of scores in the high 500s. About 20 percent of students were in the top 10 percent of their high school class, and about 70 percent came from New England. Tuition and fees are about $41,000 per year—evidently, in the ballpark of the going rate for private colleges in New England.
Listen to the podcast to find out about…
What these small New England campuses are really like
What college has a good reputation among business and industry leaders
Who might be right for online study as a freshman
Check out these higher education institutions and organizations we mention…
In last week’s episode, we picked up our virtual tour of colleges with the public universities and academies in the six states of the New England region: Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and Connecticut. This week, we will spotlight the private higher education institutions in New England.
We are going to talk about a group of nationally known higher education institutions, which draw students internationally; a selection of institutions with one or another kind of special focus; a host of smaller liberal arts colleges; and a few institutions that are probably best known in the New England region. Let us say now that there are a surprising number of well-known institutions in these New England states, even though the states themselves are quite small. A lot of those institutions are in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. We cannot possibly do them all justice—or even mention them all. To that end, we are going to split this content into two episodes—this week and next week.
I have to say that I feel a bit uncomfortable making extra episodes for one of the regions of the country that is nearest to our home base in New York—just when I am trying to get our listeners outside of their comfort zone. But I can rationalize this action in one of two ways. First, these states have been states since the very beginning of our country and, thus, have lots and lots of colleges and universities—the oldest of which were founded more than 100 years earlier than any of those in our Western states. Second, I have to believe that many of our New York State listeners, who make up a big percentage of our audience and who are worried about sending their kids away to college, might be persuaded to send them away—but not too far away. New England might be about right. So, we will do the best we can to cover as many institutions as we can this week and next week.
Finally, as we say in every episode, no college has asked us or paid us anything to include it. These are our own choices.
Founded between 1636 and 1769, all four were operating before the American Revolution and all four were founded by religious groups—Congregationalists for three of them and Baptists for Brown. Today, they serve from 4,000 to about 7,000 undergraduates, with about 6,000 to more than 20,000 total undergraduate, graduate, and professional students. Dartmouth is the smallest Ivy League school, and Harvard is one of the largest.
Ivy League schools are well known for their high academic standards, wide range of undergraduate and graduate majors, longtime traditions, famous professors, beautiful campuses, and the extreme selectivity of their admissions process. That is one reason I am not going to talk too much about them.
Their tuition is sky-high, though they have a surprising amount of financial aid available for students whose family resources are very limited. However, your child would first have to have extraordinary high school grades and college admission test scores to be accepted.
I think it is fair to say that one thing that the Ivies do not do as well as many large public universities is varsity sports. In the interest of full disclosure, let me say that my father was the Sports Information Director at the University of Pennsylvania (another of the Ivies and his alma mater), and he helped to establish the Ivy League athletic conference in the 1950s. I have been attending Ivy League sports contests since I was in elementary school. I later covered sports for my own Ivy League school’s newspaper, The Cornell Daily Sun. So, I know what I am talking about. I am not saying that we don’t have some talented athletes and, on occasion, some incredible individual athletes and even teams. Nonetheless, most students don’t come to an Ivy League school for sports.
An equally prestigious and equally selective institution is the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Founded much later in 1861, MIT now serves about 4,500 undergraduates (about 25 percent are underrepresented minority students) and a total of about 11,000 undergraduate, graduate, and professional students. MIT has schools of Architecture and Planning, Engineering, Management, Science, and—last, but not least—the School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences. While we think of MIT as turning out first-rate engineers and scientists, students can also major in subjects in the School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences; by the way, all undergraduates at MIT take eight courses in this school (about 25 percent of their undergraduate program) so they truly become well-rounded students and citizens. But, like the Ivies, your child would need extraordinary high school grades and college admission test scores to get in.
Now let’s look briefly at three great nationally known universities—all well respected, but slightly less selective. They all happen to be in or near Boston. Starting with the smallest, we have Tufts University, with its main campus located on Walnut Hill in Medford, just outside of Boston. Founded in 1852, Tufts currently enrolls about 5,000 undergraduates and a total of about 11,000 undergraduate, graduate, and professional students in nine schools—five of which are related to medical and health sciences. Undergraduates study in two of those schools: the School of Arts and Sciences and the School of Engineering. Over 20 percent of Arts and Sciences students major in International Relations, and many students participate in Tufts’ 10 study abroad programs or in coursework at Tufts’ own European Center in France. Tufts also has a graduate school of international affairs, with intriguing interdisciplinary majors.
Tufts offers 14 men’s and 14 women’s varsity sports as well as club and intramural sports. The Jonathan M. Tisch College of Citizenship and Public Service is a unique University-wide venture that provides curricular and extracurricular programming that all students are able to participate in; Tufts students and faculty members practice their active citizenship skills both locally and internationally. Average SAT scores for the Class of 2018 are a trio of scores in the low 700s, so the students are plenty smart. Like other first-rate universities, undergraduate tuition and fees are high at about $48,500.
Moving to a larger university in Boston proper, we find Northeastern University, founded in 1898. The University offers about 17,500 undergraduates (out of a total of about 24,500 undergraduate, graduate, and professional students) more than 90 majors and concentrations across seven colleges and schools: Arts, Media and Design; Business; Computer and Information Science; Engineering; Health Sciences; Science; and Social Sciences and Humanities. Northeastern has added more than 55 interdisciplinary undergraduate majors in the past eight years. But the hallmark of Northeastern’s programming is cooperative education, which began at Northeastern more than 100 years ago:
Experiential learning, anchored by our signature cooperative education program, lies at the heart of academic life at Northeastern. The integration of study and professional experience enables students to put ideas into action through work, research, international study, and service in 93 countries around the world. . . .
Co-op is different from internships – our students alternate classroom studies with full-time work in career related jobs for six months. This allows employers to get real work done while evaluating talent before making any long-term commitments. Our employer relations team is dedicated to collaborating with employers to develop innovative and meaningful programs to engage our talented students. We deliver an individualized approach to building and maintaining partnerships that contribute to the employers’ success and ours. Our various recruitment options provide employers with cost effective approaches to hiring, training, evaluating and on-boarding talent. (quoted from the website)
About 90 percent of students do at least one co-op program (with one of the 3,000 co-op employers worldwide); many students do two. Many students also stay for a fifth year and complete three co-op programs. About 50 percent of students get a job offer from their co-op employer, and about 99 percent would recommend co-op education to a friend.
Northeastern offers over 300 student organizations, 18 varsity sports, and 22 Living Learning Communities built around themes for freshmen (e.g., creative expression, globalization, sustainability). Average SAT scores for students who entered in 2014 were a pair of scores in the low 700s, and about 65 percent of incoming freshmen ranked in the top 10 percent of their high school class. So, these students, too, are plenty smart. And, in the past 10 years, Northeastern has seen huge increases in the percentages of students of color, of international students, and of students coming from outside of New England and the Mid-Atlantic states. In keeping with its competitors, Northeastern’s tuition and fees are about $45,000 per year.
Moving to a still larger university in Boston proper, we come to Boston University (BU), which had a great beginning:
LaRoy Sunderland, an ardent abolitionist and leading figure in Boston’s Bromfield Street Church, in 1839 persuaded his fellow church members to found the United Methodist Church’s first seminary. Their collective goal, we should note, was to provide a higher quality of training to their ministers than was then available. The school was founded in Vermont and relocated several times, in 1867 reopening on 30 acres in nearby Brookline as the “Boston School of Theology.” The president of that school, William Fairfield Warren, persuaded three of the school’s trustees—all wealthy Boston merchants—to petition the Massachusetts legislature in 1869 to charter “Boston University.” The petition was granted, and today’s BU was born. . . . Thanks to the Methodists’ strong belief in social equality, the new University would be accessible to all members of society, without regard to race, class, sex, or creed. (quoted from the website)
Today, BU serves about 16,500 undergraduates and a total of about 30,500 undergraduate, graduate, and professional students (including about 7,000 students from 130 foreign countries) in 17 colleges and schools. Undergraduates can pursue majors in about half of those: Arts and Sciences, Communication, Engineering, Fine Arts, Business, Education, Global Studies, and Hospitality Administration. As if that’s not enough, BU annually sends about 2,200 undergraduates to study abroad in 83 programs in 21 countries.
Like most universities of its size—and it is a very large size for a private university—BU offers over 450 student organizations and 24 varsity sports teams (10 men’s and 14 women’s).
There were almost 55,000 applications for the 3,600 spots in the incoming freshman class. The average overall high school grade was an A– (with an average class rank in the top 8 percent), and the average SAT scores were a trio of scores in the very high 600s. Just like Tufts, undergraduate tuition and fees are high at about $48,500.
As we said in our last episode, Boston itself is a very attractive place for students to study, including for foreign students coming to the U.S. It has culture and sports and business and a beautiful waterfront and more than 100 colleges nearby. It is easy to see why there are so many good private options available.
2. Institutions with a Special Focus
New England also has a large number of well-known institutions that have a special focus, including faith-based and single-sex institutions and institutions with an academic focus or a focus on students with special needs. So here we go.
New England has a wide selection of faith-based universities that are well regarded, including both outstanding Catholic institutions and a first-class Jewish institution. Among the many Catholic institutions in these states are three of the 28 Catholic Jesuit universities in the U.S.: The College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts, a liberal arts college with about 2,900 undergraduate students; Fairfield University in Fairfield, Connecticut, with about 4,000 undergraduates and a total of about 5,000 undergraduate, graduate, and professional students; and Boston College (BC) in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts—by far the largest of the three—with about 9,000 undergraduates and a total of about 14,000 undergraduate, graduate, and professional students.
In 1843, Holy Cross became the first Catholic college to be established in New England; its first valedictorian was the son of a slave. Holy Cross was soon followed by BC in 1863 and, much later, by Fairfield in 1942. They all offer strong liberal arts programs, with BC and Fairfield also offering undergraduate majors in career fields—nursing, business, education, and engineering, between them. They are all traditional colleges with lovely campuses and plenty of student organizations and varsity sports teams.
Admitted freshmen post SAT subtest scores in the low 600s at Fairfield, the mid-600s at Holy Cross, and the very high 600s at BC. Pricewise, their annual tuition and fees are in the $45,000 to $47,000 range.
As we have said in previous episodes, the Society of Jesus, which was founded in Paris in the 1500s, traces its commitment to education to St. Ignatius of Loyola, who founded the first Jesuit college in Messina, Sicily, in 1548. Jesuit institutions today place a strong emphasis on intellectual rigor and a liberal arts foundation, social justice issues worldwide, and a life of service. While about 70 percent of students at BC are Catholic, students of all faiths are welcome and comfortable at Jesuit institutions.
And let’s take a quick look at Providence College in Rhode Island, located close to downtown Providence. Founded in 1917 by the Diocese of Providence and Dominican Friars, it is the only Dominican college in the U.S. and the only one with Dominican Friars in their habits teaching on campus. Its charter, however, states that no one should be refused admission because of the “religious opinion he may entertain.” Students are required to take two courses in philosophy and two courses in theology, and masses that are conducted on campus are well attended. While most students and faculty members are Catholic, the College also has a long-standing relationship with Rhode Island’s Jewish community.
Providence College offers its nearly 4,000 undergraduate students 49 majors, predominantly in the liberal arts and sciences, but including business, education, computer science, and health sciences. It also offers a double handful of master’s degree programs. All undergraduates complete 16 credits in the Development of Western Civilization over four semesters—seminars on significant texts from Western and other world civilizations for three semesters and a team-taught colloquium in the fourth semester that focuses on a contemporary issue.
Incoming freshmen in the Class of 2017 posted an average 3.37 high school GPA and SAT subtest scores in the high 500s. Annual tuition and fees are about $45,000, right in the ballpark with its competitors. And, speaking of competitors, I think that the Providence Friars play some pretty competitive basketball.
Turning to a different faith-based tradition, we have Brandeis University, located in Waltham, Massachusetts, just west of Boston. Brandeis describes itself this way:
Characterized by academic excellence since its founding in 1948, Brandeis is one of the youngest private research universities, as well as the only nonsectarian Jewish-sponsored college or university in the country.
Named for the late Justice Louis Dembitz Brandeis of the U.S. Supreme Court, Brandeis University combines the faculty and resources of a world-class research institution with the intimacy and personal attention of a small liberal arts college. (quoted from the website)
And here is my favorite piece of Brandeis history trivia:
Former first lady Eleanor Roosevelt had a long and successful relationship with Brandeis. In addition to serving on the board of trustees, she hosted a public television series on campus, taught International Relations and delivered the university’s first commencement address. (quoted from the website)
Brandeis offers its approximately 3,700 undergraduates an enviable student-to-faculty ratio of 10:1. Its undergraduates study in the College of Arts and Sciences—an undergraduate liberal arts college in a research university, as Brandeis says—in 43 majors and 46 minors (some in career fields). Brandeis serves about 2,200 graduate students in four graduate schools as well.
There are more than 260 student organizations and 19 men’s and women’s varsity sports teams to keep students engaged. Entering freshmen in 2014 posted an SAT average critical reading score around 650 and an SAT average mathematics score around 740. The tuition of about $46,000 is right in the range we have been seeing for private institutions in New England.
Three of the “Seven Sisters” colleges are found in Massachusetts: Mount Holyoke in South Hadley, Smith College in Northampton, and Wellesley College in Wellesley. The Mount Holyoke website gives us a little background:
The Seven Sisters, a consortium of prestigious East Coast liberal arts colleges for women, originally included Mount Holyoke, Vassar, Smith, Wellesley, Bryn Mawr, Barnard, and Radcliffe colleges. Today, five of the Seven Sisters remain women’s colleges; Vassar is coeducational and Radcliffe has merged with Harvard, becoming the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study.
The female equivalent of the once predominantly male Ivy League, the Seven Sisters originated in 1915, when Mount Holyoke, Vassar, Smith, and Wellesley colleges held a conference to discuss fund-raising strategies. This historic meeting led to additional conferences over the next decade, at Bryn Mawr, Barnard, and Radcliffe. By 1927 these seven elite women’s colleges were known as the Seven Sisters and over the years have continued to meet to discuss issues of common concern, such as institutional goals, admissions, financial aid, and curriculum matters.
The name “Seven Sisters” has its origins in Greek mythology. It refers to the Pleiades, the seven daughters of Atlas who, according to one myth, were changed into stars by Zeus. (quoted from the website)
Interestingly, Mt. Holyoke, Smith, and Wellesley now all admit men to some of their graduate programs and/or nondegree coursework, but not to their undergraduate programs, which remain for women only.
These three liberal arts colleges are traditionally as difficult to get into as the Ivy League schools, so your daughter would need outstanding academic credentials to consider applying. Mt. Holyoke and Smith do not require college admission test scores. At Wellesley, which does require them, about 80 percent of admitted students have a trio of SAT subtest scores over 700. About 55 to 60 percent of admitted students to Mount Holyoke and Smith are in the top 10 percent of their high school class.
Founded between 1837 and 1871, these colleges now serve about 2,200 to 2,500 undergraduates, who study in about 50 to 55 liberal arts majors. All three have excellent student-to faculty ratios—from Mount Holyoke’s 10:1 down to Wellesley’s remarkable 7:1. Mount Holyoke and Smith are members of the Five College Consortium, which we talked about last week with UMass Amherst; so their women can take courses at any of the five campuses (the two remaining campuses will be discussed in next week’s episode). Wellesley, on the other hand, has exchange programs with about 15 other colleges of various types and in various locations—from MIT and Brandeis nearby to Spelman College and Mills College far away.
Priced from about $44,000 to $46,000 in tuition and fees, these Seven Sisters colleges are no bargain—though I am quite sure that most of their graduates believe they were worth it. Like most women’s colleges, each has a strong and loyal group of alumnae, including quite a few well-known women in all career fields.
Another women’s college, located in Boston proper, is Simmons College, which was founded in 1899 by businessman John Simmons who believed that “women should be able to earn independent livelihoods and lead meaningful lives” (quoted from the website)—which doesn’t sound that unusual now, but which was likely unusual for 1899. Today, Simmons offers 1,700 undergraduate women (about 250 are adult women) a predominantly liberal arts program of about 50 majors (but including some business majors, health sciences and nursing, social work, and computer studies), combined with professional work experience. Simmons has the only M.B.A. program designed especially for women as well as graduate programs in a variety of liberal arts and career fields for about 4,000 women and men.
Interestingly, about 70 percent of its faculty members are women, and Simmons, too, has an attractive 10:1 student-to-faculty ratio. Its Class of 2019 posted, on average, a pair of SAT subtest scores in the very high 500s and an average high school GPA of 3.37. And with tuition and fees of about $37,000, Simmons is, hopefully, in reach for more young women.
Institutions with a Special Academic Focus
We mentioned some of these institutions in an early episode of NYCollegeChat, when we first introduced the idea that some institutions are devoted, more or less, to the study of certain disciplines.
The Arts. For example, we talked about two institutions that have the arts as their academic focus—Berklee College of Music and Rhode Island School of Design (commonly referred to as RISD—pronounced RIZ-dee). Berklee is the premier higher education institution in the world for the study of contemporary music of all styles and cultures—unlike traditional conservatories that focus on classical music. (In the interest of full disclosure, my oldest child got an undergraduate degree from Berklee in Boston and then a graduate degree from its relatively new and architecturally impressive campus, designed by Santiago Calatrava, in gorgeous Valencia, Spain). Founded by Lawrence Berk in 1945, it was the first U.S. school to teach jazz. It became Berklee School of Music in 1954 and then Berklee College of Music in 1970, several years after it began offering bachelor’s degrees. Roger H. Brown currently serves as only the third president in Berklee’s 70-year history, and my personal observations of him in a variety of settings is that he is an impressive guy.
Currently, Berklee offers 12 undergraduate majors to its just over 4,000 students—from music performance to music therapy to film scoring to composition to songwriting to music education to music business to electronic production and design and more. In addition to singing, 29 different principal instruments can be studied (including hand percussion, banjo, and mandolin as the ones the most recently added). All students take both a core music curriculum (e.g., ear training, arranging, harmony) and a core liberal arts curriculum in the humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences and mathematics.
About 30 percent of Berklee’s students come from other countries to study at this unique school. Berklee’s professors are, typically, both great teachers and great practicing musicians. As befits a music school where individual instruction is a key component, the student-to-faculty ratio is an understandable and appealing 8:1. There are hundreds of Grammy winners among its faculty and its graduates. Its annual concert given by graduating seniors on the night before graduation is simply mind-blowing. Berklee does not require college admission test scores, but does require an intensive live audition and interview. Perhaps not surprisingly, its annual tuition and fees are about $41,000—and, I can tell you, Berklee is totally worth it.
Let’s look at RISD, a top-tier art and design school founded in 1877 and located in lovely Providence, Rhode Island. RISD offers 16 undergraduate degree programs to just over 2,000 students (as well as 16 graduate degree programs to about 500 more students). About 30 percent of students are international, and about 30 percent are students of color. RISD’s most popular majors are illustration, industrial design, graphic design, film/animation/video, and painting, but students can also earn degrees in glass, jewelry and metalsmithing, furniture design, textiles, photography, architecture, landscape architecture, and more. Most undergraduates at RISD earn a Bachelor of Fine Arts (B.F.A.) degree, but RISD also offers a Bachelor of Architecture degree for students in that field.
Interestingly, RISD and Brown, one of the Ivies, have campuses next to each other, and students can register for some courses at the other school at no extra cost. RISD students typically look to Brown for foreign language and advanced math and science courses, all of which can be used to satisfy some of RISD’s liberal arts requirements. Not surprisingly, the RISD Museum, which serves southeastern New England, has an excellent and large collection, ranging from ancient art to contemporary art and including well-known artists from many countries and cultures.
Average SAT scores for incoming freshmen last fall were a trio of scores in the mid-600s. Applicants must also submit online a portfolio of 12 to 20 examples of their best recent artwork in any medium as well as two specific drawings, as described in the application. RISD’s tuition and fees at about $46,000 are in line with the other private schools we have been discussing.
Business. In an early episode, we also talked about two institutions in New England that focused on business: Babson College and Bentley University. Let’s start with Babson—founded relatively recently in 1919 and located in Wellesley, Massachusetts—which has a very definite focus, even within business, according to its website:
We develop entrepreneurs of all kinds.
At Babson, we believe that entrepreneurship can be a powerful force within organizations of all types and sizes, in established businesses as well as new ventures. In any industry, in any position, it takes Entrepreneurial Thought and Action® to solve problems and make an impact.
We were the first to understand that thinking and acting entrepreneurially is more than just an inclination. It can be taught. And we do it better than anyone.
Today in our collaborative community, students gain the fundamental business skills and liberal arts knowledge necessary to cultivate an entrepreneurial mindset. They then use that mindset to navigate real business situations, putting what they learn into practice and becoming leaders equipped to make a difference on campus and around the world.
Serving about 2,100 undergraduates and another approximately 900 graduate students, Babson students study with faculty members who have both academic credentials in their field and practical business experience as executives and entrepreneurs themselves. They write case studies about specific businesses and industries in specific regions to teach from. And “cocurricular programs provide students with hands-on experience through internships, volunteer opportunities, and consulting projects” (quoted from the website).
At Babson, at least half of students’ courses are in the liberal arts, including the study of a language that is useful in business dealings today—perhaps a bit surprising for a business-focused institution. In addition to a slate of foundation business courses, students may choose up to two concentrations from 27 options.
Students admitted in the Class of 2018 posted a trio of average SAT scores in the mid- to high 600s. Babson’s tuition is admittedly high at $47,000 a year, though it does charge this flat rate for up to and including 20 credits—meaning that students do not have to pay additional tuition fees charged by many colleges beyond the more typical 16 credits or so (that could save some money and encourage students to move through courses faster).
Turning to Bentley University, located just outside Boston in Waltham, this business school allows its just over 4,000 undergraduate students to “choose from a wide range of programs that address all functional areas including accountancy, finance, marketing, management and liberal arts — all anchored in technology” (quoted from the website). Bentley is also home to another approximately 1,500 graduate students.
Bentley offers its undergraduates 23 majors in 11 business fields and five arts and sciences disciplines. In fact, about 20 percent of undergraduates double major in business and Bentley’s Liberal Studies Major (with eight interdisciplinary concentrations). Students majoring in the arts and sciences must complete either a Business Studies Major (which is a core of eight business courses) or a business minor. About 90 percent of students complete one professional internship during their four years; about 60 percent complete more than one.
Bentley was founded as Bentley School of Accounting and Finance in 1917 by Harry C. Bentley, who taught accounting at BU and other institutions and wanted to open a school where he could teach using his own methods. He remained as president until 1953. Bentley offered its first bachelor’s degrees in 1961. Today, tuition and fees at Bentley are about $44,000 annually—in keeping with the figures we have seen so far in this episode.
Science and Technology.Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) is located in Worcester, Massachusetts, the second-largest city in New England and home to a double handful of colleges. Founded in 1865, it is the third-oldest private technological university in the U.S. Home to about 4,000 undergraduates and another almost 2,000 graduate and professional students, WPI describes its mission this way:
WPI was founded in 1865 to create and convey the latest science and engineering knowledge in ways that are most beneficial to society.
WPI’s founding motto of Theory and Practice continues to underlie our academic programs. WPI graduates emerge ready to take on critical challenges in science and technology, knowing how their work can impact society and improve the quality of life. (quoted from the website)
WPI offers 50 undergraduate and graduate degree programs in science, engineering, technology, management, the social sciences, and the humanities and arts. Going to its strength, WPI offers 12 types of engineering—all the regular ones plus aerospace, biomedical, environmental, robotics, and management engineering. It was the first university to offer a bachelor’s, master’s, and Ph.D. in robotics engineering. A Humanities and Arts requirement ensures that WPI students are well-rounded; it consists of six courses of the student’s choosing, including courses from at least two disciplines, or a six-course sequence in Spanish, German, or Chinese—along with a final project. Project-based learning helps students learn how to think about and propose solutions for real-world problems studied in WPI’s programs. Let’s look at one unique program feature:
WPI believes that in order to become the best engineers and scientists they can be, students should have a broad understanding of the cultural and social contexts of those fields, and thus be more effective and socially responsible practitioners and citizens.
That’s the intent of the Interactive Qualifying Project (IQP), a nine-credit-hour interdisciplinary requirement involving applied research that connects science or technology with social issues and human needs.
The IQP is not organized as a course, nor is it related to the major. Instead, small teams of students work under the guidance of faculty members from all disciplines to conduct research, using social science methods, directed at a specific problem or need. Students deliver findings and recommendations through formal reports and oral presentations to project sponsors (often nonprofit, municipal, or government agencies) and faculty advisors.
Sustainability serves as a common theme for IQPs, many of which address problems related to energy, environment, sustainable development, education, cultural preservation, and technology policy. About half of all IQPs are completed off-campus through the Global Project Program [at 38 sites in 25 countries]. (quoted from the website)
WPI teaches classes in four seven-week terms, with students taking three courses at a time. Faculty members issue grades of A, B, C, and NR (No Record)—to encourage students to explore their interests without fear of negatively affecting their GPA, WPI says.
Though a technological university, WPI has all of the student organizations (more than 200) and varsity sports (10 men’s and 10 women’s) that any traditional college student could want. Incoming freshmen post an average high school GPA of 3.85 and a trio of average SAT subtest scores in the mid-600s. WPI’s tuition and fees are about $44,500, which seems to be the norm.
Environmental Stewardship. Every once in a while, I find a college that I never heard of and that seems unusually intriguing. The one for this episode is Sterling College, located in rural Craftsbury Common, Vermont. While I cannot personally vouch for Sterling the way I can for many other colleges that I have visited, I do believe that it could be exactly the right thing for some students and their families. So, here we go.
Founded in 1958, this is the way Sterling describes itself:
Sterling was among the very first colleges in the United States to link the liberal arts to ecology, outdoor education, and sustainable agriculture. We believe that the wellbeing of humanity depends on small, interconnected communities, committed to conscientious and sustainable practices in agriculture and energy use, and in stewardship of our air, soil, and water. . . .
To be an environmental steward means having the skills to educate others, and introduce them to the natural world. Hiking, climbing, canoeing, camping, and skiing are only a few of the ways in which we interact with the wilderness around us. Most importantly, at Sterling you can learn important skills like starting a fire, how to use an axe, and how to find your way home from almost anywhere, including the top of a mountain.
Sterling is a federally recognized Work College—one of seven in the U.S.—which means that all residential students earn at least $1,650 per semester toward their tuition by working at least 80 hours each semester in a job that supports the operation of the College or nearby community. Everyone is a winner: The College wins by keeping its operational costs lower, and the student wins by getting work experience and lowering his or her own costs of attending.
Sterling’s approximately 120 undergraduate students choose from five majors or design their own; the five are ecology, outdoor education, sustainable agriculture, sustainable food systems, and environmental humanities. I could describe these majors, but I believe you would be better off reading about them firsthand on Sterling’s website. Not surprisingly, given the small student body that Sterling intends to keep just as it is, the student-to-faculty ratio is an attractive 7:1. Sterling prides itself on being a place where one weekly community meeting can include all students, faculty members, and staff and where everyone (including the president) is on a first-name basis.
Sterling operates three semesters per year—fall, spring, and summer—and students may attend all three (and finish sooner) or the traditional two per year. Student applications are reviewed on a rolling basis, and students may enter at any one of the three semesters. No college admission test scores are required. Tuition and fees run about $17,000 per semester, or about $34,000 for a two-semester year, which makes Sterling less expensive by $10,000 or more than a lot of the schools we have been talking about.
Students with Special Needs
In an early episode of NYCollegeChat, we talked about Landmark College in Putney, Vermont, founded in 1983 to help students with dyslexia succeed in college. Today, Landmark serves a variety of students who learn differently—that is, students with learning disabilities, autism spectrum disorder, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder—and also provides an impressive array of academic and personal support services to help its students cope with college courses and college life. Faculty members and staff help students understand their own learning styles and what that means for in-class and out-of-class work. They also provide students with up-to-date assistive technology (e.g., text-to-speech technology, digital pens), designed to make it easier for students to succeed in their coursework.
Landmark offers its approximately 500 students from 38 states and 10 foreign countries a choice of four associate’s degrees and three bachelor’s degrees—a Bachelor of Arts in Liberal Studies, a brand-new Bachelor of Arts in Studio Art, and a brand-new Bachelor of Science in Computer Science. Almost one-third of Landmark students actually transfer to Landmark after struggling at another college.
Given the intensive support services, personalized approach, and remarkable 6:1 student-to-faculty ratio, Landmark’s high annual tuition and fees of about $52,000 are to be expected. Landmark claims that its students graduate from bachelor’s degree programs (either at Landmark or at colleges they transfer to subsequently) at a higher rate than the national average and at a significantly higher rate than the national average for students with similar learning disabilities. That could make even these very high tuition costs seem like a great deal.
By the way, summer programs are also available to rising high school juniors and seniors who learn differently and could benefit from Landmark’s approach; that could be a great head start for special needs high school students, regardless of where they go on to college.
Some students with special needs feel isolated or left out in an educational setting that is filled with all kinds of students and would prefer a school that focused on them, where they feel they could fit into a community of students they could easily relate to. For such students, Landmark could be an empowering, even life-changing, experience.
Listen to the podcast to find out about…
Postponing the Ivy League until graduate school
Being a socially conscious engineering student
Finding a good fit outside of traditional programs
Check out these higher education institutions and organizations we mention…