Today, we have figured out a way to talk both about our new book–How To Explore Your College Options: A Workbook for High School Students–and to make good on the title of our current series, Colleges in the Spotlight. As we were writing the book, we realized that we could use a lot of college examples, drawn from our earlier podcast episodes, to illuminate the points we were trying to make. I thought it would be interesting to see just how many colleges were mentioned in the book–and by “mentioned,” I mean that they were used to illustrate the answers to some of the 52 questions that teenagers are asked to find the answers to for each college on their Long List of College Options (LLCO). In a way, these colleges are in our spotlight for things that they are doing right or for characteristics they have that are noteworthy. To find out why we mentioned each college, you are going to have to get the book!
1. Colleges in the Spotlight
So, here we go. Here are the colleges that we thought were worth mentioning–for some reason or other (they are listed roughly in the order in which they are mentioned in the book, and I might have missed a few):
But the new book doesn’t stop with those 60-plus. We also name some great college towns–“great,” according to one of the lists of great college towns that publications love to compile. Do you know what colleges are located in these towns?
College Station, TX
Saratoga Springs, NY
Santa Cruz, CA
St. Augustine, FL
Ann Arbor, MI
Iowa City, IA
2. Now, It’s Up to You
Now, it’s up to you. At least, that is what we say at the end of the book. We wrote this to each student, assuming that he or she had done the assignments as they were presented:
You have done a lot of work to gather information about the colleges on your LLCO. You have completed a College Profile Worksheet on quite a few colleges by now. You have learned more than many high school students know about a variety of specific colleges and about higher education generally.
So, it’s time to start comparing and contrasting the colleges you have researched. That will be a long process, which will require analysis and evaluation by you and your parents and perhaps other important family members. And it’s okay that it is a long process because this is a big decision for all of you.
Remember that choosing which colleges to apply to can be every bit as important as choosing which college to attend. In an ideal world, you should be happy with every college you apply to because that will take the pressure off as you wait for acceptances to come in.
Of course, you might be more excited about some choices than others, but don’t apply to any college that you would not want to attend. That is a waste of your time and money. We are confident that there is a college that you can be admitted to that will make you happy. Even safety schools don’t have to be disappointing choices. If they are for you now, you just haven’t looked hard enough yet! Get busy.
We mean that last point really sincerely: If your teenager’s safety schools are disappointing choices for him or her, you all just haven’t looked hard enough yet. There are great colleges–especially some public flagship universities and some large private universities–that are very likely to admit good students, especially those who come from other states. Having a safety school that your teenager does not want to go to is really not having any safety school at all.
We mean it when we say, “Look harder.” We hope that our new book will help your teenager look harder, think harder, and work harder to expand his or her LLCO, to get exciting colleges onto that LLCO, to learn as much as possible about each one of them (by completing a College Profile Worksheet for each one), and to feel satisfied when all of the applications are submitted–that is, satisfied that all of the colleges he or she applied to are good choices, just for different reasons. And a satisfied teenager is likely to produce a satisfied parent. Or at least it should.
This is an episode we like to call “It’s Never Too Late To Add One More College.” Now, if your teenager and you have done your nine assignments this summer to expand and then investigate seriously the colleges on your teenager’s long summer list of college options, you are probably wondering what we mean by “adding one more.” But, first, let’s review the nine assignments you have already done?and it’s an impressive group:
We are truly impressed if you got all that done. Even if you didn’t do it for 50 colleges–one from each state, which was our original challenge–we are impressed. Even if you did it for just half that many colleges we are impressed. But, let’s say that we hope you did it for at least 20.
And so, we come to the last assignment in building and investigating your teenager’s list. This assignment is not like the others. It is designed to give your teenager and you one last chance to consider a college you might have missed in your search, and it does that by looking at several categories of colleges you might have overlooked or you might have thought were not right for your teenager. At the end of this episode, you might be able to rule out each category we are suggesting; if so, your list is done. On the other hand, you might want to look further at one category or another and consider adding a few colleges to that long summer list of college options.
2. What About Faith-Based Colleges?
As we explained at some length in our book How To Find the Right College: A Workbook for Parents of High School Students (on sale at Amazon until we declare the summer officially over), “faith-based”–that is, religious–colleges and universities are a broader category than you might think. This category includes hundreds of small Bible colleges, which are indeed dedicated to religious life and the study of religion, but it also includes very large universities that offer all fields of study, though with an underlying religious or moral or service-to-others orientation.
Some faith-based institutions require more religious study than others. Some require students to take just a couple of courses in theology or perhaps philosophy instead, while others infuse much of their curriculum with their religious beliefs. Some require students to attend chapel services, but many do not.
In our experience, faith-based institutions are usually quite up front about what they are all about. They are not trying to trick your teenager into going there, because that wouldn’t be good for you or for them. Sometimes a college application will give you a clue by asking for your religion and the name and address of your church. Some ask for a recommendation from a minister. Many have a statement of their religious beliefs on their website or in their student handbook; you can read it and see whether your family supports it.
As a matter of fact, more U.S. colleges and universities than you might think have been founded by religious denominations–especially a lot of our earliest and most prestigious colleges, as you learned if you listened to our virtual nationwide tour of colleges (Episodes 27 through 54). Some of them retain their religious affiliation today, and many do not. Some faith-based institutions are Jewish, some are Catholic, and some are Protestant. One very interesting choice is Soka University of America (SUA), located in Orange County, California: “Proudly founded upon the Buddhist principles of peace, human rights and the sanctity of life, SUA offers a non-sectarian curriculum” and welcomes students of all beliefs (quoted from the website).
Understanding the world of some 200 Catholic colleges and universities in the U.S. is particularly complicated because they have been founded by various orders (including the Jesuits, Dominicans, Franciscans, and more) and by other groups within the Catholic community. And, in case you didn’t listen to our virtual nationwide tour of colleges, many respected Catholic institutions, including some of the best-known ones, actually attract many students who are not Catholic.
As I have said in previous episodes, I sent my daughter Polly to the Alvin Ailey/Fordham University joint dance B.F.A. program. Fordham is a Jesuit university, something I am always embarrassed to admit that I knew very little about before I sent Polly there to dance. For those of you who don’t know, the Jesuits–that is, 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. It is my belief that students of all faiths, including my daughter who is not Catholic, are welcome and comfortable at Jesuit institutions. When I heard Father Joseph McShane, Fordham’s president, speak at orientation, I knew that we had, accidentally, made a great decision in sending Polly to Fordham. Father McShane said that Fordham students were taught to wrestle with important moral and ethical issues, to care for others, to despair over injustice, and to give back to their communities.
So, if your teenager is interested in social justice, if your teenager has done extensive community service projects in high school and has valued those experiences, or if you would like this sort of underpinning for your teenager’s collegiate education, I am going to suggest that you put a Jesuit college or university on your teenager’s long summer list of college options now so that you can think about it over the next few months. There are 28 to choose from (actually 189 worldwide), and they include small and large institutions all over the U.S. Some that you have likely heard of, in addition to Fordham in New York City, are Boston College, the College of the Holy Cross (in Worcester, Massachusetts), Georgetown University (in Washington, D.C.), Marquette University (in Milwaukee, Wisconsin), Saint Louis University (which has a great campus in Madrid, too), Santa Clara University (in California), and the University of San Francisco.
3. What About Historically Black Colleges and Universities?
Commonly referred to as HBCUs, historically black colleges and universities were established with the mission of educating African-American students solely or at least primarily. Today, just over 100 HBCUs can be found in many states and in both rural and urban settings. They are public and private, large and small (even very small), faith-based and not, two-year and four-year colleges; some have graduate schools.
HBCUs were founded to serve students who had been excluded from many other higher education institutions because of their race. The three earliest HBCUs were founded in Pennsylvania and Ohio before the Civil War, but many were founded in the South shortly after the Civil War. Those Southern HBCUs share a proud tradition of becoming the first collegiate homes of family members of freed slaves.
Some HBCUs have produced great black leaders–like Booker T. Washington, who attended Hampton University, and like Thurgood Marshall, who attended both Lincoln University and Howard University School of Law. Some have put great black leaders from many walks of life on their payrolls as professors and administrators–like Fisk University, where Charles Spurgeon Johnson, the intellectual architect of the Harlem Renaissance, served as Fisk’s first black president and where Harlem Renaissance writers and artists, like Arna Bontemps, James Weldon Johnson, and Aaron Douglas all worked. If you have listened to many episodes of USACollegeChat, you probably know that Fisk is my favorite HBCU, precisely because of its history (and if you don’t know about the Fisk Jubilee Singers, organized in 1871, you should).
Today, HBCUs enroll students who are not black–just as historically white colleges and universities now enroll students who are not white. Some observers say that it has become harder for HBCUs to recruit African-American students now that they are welcome at both selective and nonselective colleges across the U.S. That is probably true to some degree. Nonetheless, there is still a strong sense of community among the alumni/alumnae of HBCUs and a strong sense of tradition on HBCU campuses. For some African-American students especially, that could be a good fit for what they are looking for in a college, and a shared culture could go a long way toward helping them feel comfortable on a college campus, especially if it is far from home.
So, if your teenager is interested in living and studying in the shared culture that characterizes HBCUs or if you would like this sort of cultural and historical underpinning for your teenager’s collegiate education, I am going to suggest that you put an HBCU on your teenager’s long summer list of college options now so that you can think about it over the next few months. There are plenty to choose from, including some small and very accommodating ones that might be a perfect choice if your teenager has not gotten the high school grades or test scores that you might have wished for.
4. What About Hispanic-Serving Institutions?
There are over 250 colleges and universities that have been designated during the past 50 years as Hispanic-serving institutions (HSIs), meaning that they have a student enrollment that is at least 25 percent Hispanic. For example, The University of New Mexico in Albuquerque, a federally designated HSI, was one of the first minority-majority universities, with an approximately 45 percent Hispanic student body and an Anglo student population of just about 35 percent.
HSIs are located in states across the U.S. from California to Massachusetts and from Washington to Florida. Some HSIs are large public universities, some are large public community colleges, and some are small private liberal arts colleges. Many HSIs receive federal funds to support programs and scholarships that are designed to help low-income Hispanic students succeed in college.
Although HSIs do not have the same kind of historical traditions that HBCUs have–perhaps because they were not founded originally with a mission to serve Hispanic students–they do offer an environment where Hispanic students might more easily find classmates with a similar cultural background. First-generation Hispanic college students–that is, students whose parents did not attend college–might find it easier to fit into this supportive college environment, thus improving their chances of long-term success.
So, if your teenager is interested in living and studying with a substantial number of students from a similar cultural background or if you would like this sort of cultural underpinning for your teenager’s collegiate education, I am going to suggest that you put an HSI on your teenager’s long summer list of college options now so that you can think about it over the next few months. Remember that many HSIs are two-year colleges, so look over the options carefully.
5. What About Single-Sex Colleges and Universities?
Let’s start by remembering that colleges and universities that were started in America’s earliest days were all institutions for men. They were all single-sex institutions then.
Seven of the eight Ivy League institutions served only male students when they were founded in the 1600s and 1700s. Only my alma mater, Cornell University, the youngest of the Ivies, was founded as a co-educational university, which is, frankly, one reason I went there.
As time went on, many of the Ivies created a “sister” school for women: the University of Pennsylvania had its College for Women, Columbia had Barnard, Brown had Pembroke, and Harvard had Radcliffe. Of these, only Marie’s alma mater, Barnard, remains.
The tradition of single-sex colleges is particularly strong in the Northeast, perhaps because that is where so many of our country’s oldest higher education institutions are located. But there are well-known women’s colleges located in other regions of the U.S. as well–like Mills College and Scripps College in California, Stephens College in Missouri, Hollins University and Mary Baldwin College in Virginia, Saint Mary’s College (the sister school of the University of Notre Dame) in Indiana, and Agnes Scott College and Spelman College in Georgia. Spelman has the distinction of also being an excellent HBCU. Interestingly and for whatever reason (probably rooted in financial issues), some of these women’s colleges now allow men to enroll in their graduate programs or in their special programs for returning adult students, thus maintaining the traditional women’s college atmosphere for their undergraduate residential students. Today, there are just over 40 women’s colleges in the U.S.
If you have a daughter interested in a women’s college, check out the Women’s College Coalition website and the available downloadable guide Why a Women’sCollege? Or, you can just have her listen to Marie talk for the next few minutes.
Okay, what about the men? Interestingly, only a handful of men’s colleges remain. There is Morehouse College, which is an academically rigorous HBCU located in Georgia and which is the men’s counterpart to Spelman. Morehouse has a roster of famous alumni, ranging from Martin Luther King, Jr., to Samuel L. Jackson and Spike Lee–and that is quite a range. Hampden-Sydney College was founded in 1775 in Virginia and has a fascinating history (Patrick Henry and James Madison were among its first Trustees). And there is Wabash College, which is located in Indiana and is my father-on-law’s alma mater. Wabash is cited in the book Colleges That Change Lives as an institution that is successful in creating engaged students, who become leaders in their chosen fields. If I had a teenage boy at home who needed to focus on his studies so that he could become all that he could be, I would strongly consider Wabash.
While most single-sex institutions have opened their doors to the opposite sex over the years and especially in the past 50 years, those that remain carry on a tradition that their graduates wholeheartedly support. Some of their graduates–and indeed their families–believe that students can focus better on their studies when they are not being distracted by social interactions with the opposite sex in the classroom. Some of their graduates believe that students will develop a stronger sense of community and camaraderie with their classmates in single-sex institutions. Some of their graduates appreciate the histories and philosophies of these institutions–especially perhaps graduates of women’s colleges who feel that they are better supported as young women and are encouraged to set and pursue whatever education and career goals they can imagine for themselves.
So, if your teenager is interested in living and studying in a supportive environment typically with high expectations or if you would like this sort of social and intellectual underpinning for your teenager’s collegiate education, I am going to suggest that you put a single-sex institution on your teenager’s long summer list of college options now so that you can think about it over the next few months.
And let me make one point here: Even though I don’t prefer single-sex institutions now, I had two on my own list of colleges that I applied to. It was only after I had been accepted to them that I figured out they weren’t for me. But I was glad that I had the options and could consider them calmly over some months. And Marie, even though you chose to attend Barnard, you also applied to co-educational colleges. So, having both types of institutions on your teenager’s long summer list of college options might be just the thing to do.
So, have your teenager take the Assignment #10 worksheet and take one last look at whether to add another college to his or her long summer list of college options. And, since Monday is Labor Day, we are going to take a week off while you all enjoy your last three-day weekend of the summer season. Fortunately, this next week will give you and your teenager some time to let that long summer list of college options sink in–right before we start helping you narrow it down and begin the serious application process. We will see you back with us on September 15!
The Kindle ebook version of our book, How To Find the Right College, is on sale for $1.99 all summer long! Read it on your Kindle device or download the free Kindle app for any tablet or smartphone. The book is also available as a paperback workbook.
Ask your questions or share your feedback by…
Leaving a comment below on the show notes for this episode
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In last week’s episode, we continued our virtual tour of colleges by looking at the six states of the Far West region: Washington, Oregon, California, Nevada, Alaska, and Hawai‘i. We talked about public universities—both the flagship state public universities and other public universities in those states. Today, we will continue our tour of the Far West states by focusing on private higher education institutions.
We are going to check out several national universities, which really draw students internationally, as well as a handful of universities best known in their own region and a handful of smaller liberal arts colleges. Many of them happen to be located in the very large state of California. We feel that these are the private institutions in the Far West that are most likely to attract out-of-state students.
As we say in every one of our episodes, we want to make it clear that no college has asked us or paid us anything to name it. These are simply our choices.
Founded in 1891 in lovely Pasadena, Caltech is “a world-renowned science and engineering research and education institution, where extraordinary faculty and students seek answers to complex questions, discover new knowledge, lead innovation, and transform our future,” according to its website. In most cases, I take website statements with a grain of salt; but, I believe this one is actually accurate.
About 1,000 undergraduate students study in 26 programs across six academic divisions: Biology and Biological Engineering, Chemistry and Chemical Engineering, Engineering and Applied Science, Geological and Planetary Sciences, Humanities and Social Sciences, and Physics, Mathematics and Astronomy. Caltech also enrolls about 1,200 graduate students—so, more graduate than undergraduate students.
Caltech boasts a student-to-faculty ratio of 3:1—so low a ratio that it is literally unbelievable (before this, the lowest we had seen was Rice University’s 6:1, which also seemed shockingly low). This means that students have unprecedented access to faculty in class and in research labs and likely outside of class as well. About 80 percent of Caltech undergraduate degree-holders go on to earn a graduate degree.
Despite enrolling really brainy students, Caltech fields 17 men’s and women’s varsity sports teams. Undergraduates live in eight Houses, each with its own character and each of which they visit during a process called Rotation.
New freshmen in the Class of 2018 are about 60 percent male and 40 percent female—a bit more balanced than the overall institution. Their average SAT scores are about 750 or better on each subtest. So, this is an institution for a very particular kind of student with very particular academic interests.
At about $45,000 in tuition and fees annually, Caltech’s cost is comparable to other top-tier universities and not surprising, given the equipment and lab expenses of operating a higher education institution focused on engineering and science.
Just a short drive away in Los Angeles, we find the University of Southern California (known as USC and, to its amazingly active alumni/alumnae, as SC). Founded in 1880 with 53 students, before Los Angeles had paved streets, USC now serves about 19,000 undergraduates and another 24,000 graduate and professional students—again, more graduate than undergraduate students and a very, very big student body for a private university. Almost one-quarter of its students are drawn internationally.
USC’s incoming freshmen have an average high school GPA of 3.73 and an average of close to 700 on each of the three SAT subtests; that’s a lot of smart kids. USC students are also athletic. USC was home to 418 Olympic athletes (between 1904 and 2010), the most of any U.S. university. And, it offers 20 men’s and women’s varsity sports teams. If you know any USC alums, you know that the Trojans play some serious football and you know that loyal alums into their eighties attend games in state and out of state. USC also offers students over 850 student organizations, including fraternities and sororities, to join.
USC has 21 undergraduate, graduate, and professional schools and colleges—as many as we have ever seen—including, its College of Letters, Arts and Sciences and a wide variety of career-related schools, such as its Schools of Cinematic Arts, Architecture, Dance, Business, Education, Music, Engineering, Art and Design, Accounting, Communication and Journalism, Public Policy, Dramatic Arts, and more. All undergraduates take a core of general education, writing, and diversity-themed courses.
With all of that available at USC, $48,000 in annual tuition and fees is perhaps understandable—though, obviously, still quite high.
Moving north, we come to Stanford University, located a bit south of San Francisco on a lovely campus with beautiful California Mission-style buildings of sandstone with red-tiled roofs. Leland Stanford Junior University was founded in 1885 by U.S. Senator Leland Stanford and his wife in memory of their son. They hired famous landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted to design the campus—and it shows. Stanford University was co-educational and nondenominational at a time when most private universities were neither.
It now serves about 7,000 undergraduates and about 9,000 graduate and professional students in seven schools, three of which serve undergraduate students: Earth, Energy and Environmental Sciences; Engineering; and Humanities and Sciences. Undergraduates choose from about 65 majors, with the top five majors all being in the sciences and engineering. Like Caltech, Stanford has an extraordinarily low and appealing student-to-faculty ratio of 4:1.
Surprisingly, given its first-rate national reputation, about 40 percent of undergraduates are Californians. Not surprisingly, given its outstanding academic reputation, about 75 percent of new freshmen have a high school GPA of 4.0 or higher and have a 700 or better on each of the three SAT subtests (including about 25 percent with perfect 800 scores).
About 96 percent of undergraduates live on campus and undoubtedly take part in approximately 650 student organizations. There are about 13,000 bicycles being ridden on campus every day. Stanford also provides a robust varsity sports program of 36 men’s, women’s, and co-educational teams. For a straight 38 years, at least one Stanford team has won a national championship (in 2013–14, it was women’s water polo).
At $45,000 in tuition and fees annually, its costs are high, but in line with other top universities.
2. Private Faith-Based Universities
The Far West has an interesting selection of faith-based universities that are well regarded, if not especially well known outside of the region. First, the Far West is home to four of the 28 Catholic Jesuit universities in the U.S.: Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, with about 6,000 undergraduates and a total of about 9,500 undergraduate, graduate, and professional students; Santa Clara University in Santa Clara, California, with about 5,500 undergraduates and a total of about 9,000 undergraduate, graduate, and professional students; Gonzaga University in Spokane, Washington, with about 5,000 undergraduates and a total of about 7,500 undergraduate, graduate, and professional students; and Seattle University in Seattle, Washington, with about 4,500 undergraduates and a total of about 7,500 undergraduate, graduate, and professional students. These are all substantial institutions. Pricewise, their annual tuition and fees range from about $38,000 to $44,000, with the ones in Washington being a bit cheaper than the ones in California.
As we have said in previous episodes, the Jesuits trace their commitment to education to St. Ignatius of Loyola, who founded the first Jesuit college in Messina, Sicily, in 1548. Jesuit institutions today place a strong emphasis on intellectual rigor and a liberal arts foundation, social justice issues worldwide, and a life of service. Students of all faiths are welcome at Jesuit institutions, and I believe that most students feel quite comfortable there, even if they are not Catholic.
Turning to a different faith-based tradition, Hawai‘i has a branch of Brigham Young University, operated by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, in a perfect locale just north of Honolulu. Its approximately 2,500 undergraduates drawn from 70 countries study in a relatively strict Mormon intellectual, ethical, and social setting, as we described in Episode 34 about the Rocky Mountain region’s Brigham Young University campuses in Utah and Idaho.
Moving on to another faith-based tradition, or perhaps more like a philosophy-based tradition, we have Soka University of America (SUA), located in Aliso Viejo in Orange County, California—a short drive from the beach. “Proudly founded upon the Buddhist principles of peace, human rights and the sanctity of life, SUA offers a non-sectarian curriculum” and welcomes students of all beliefs (quoted from the website). With tuition of about $29,000, SUA offers full tuition scholarships to eligible students whose annual family income is $60,000 or less.
Soka means “to create value.” The mission of SUA is to “foster a steady stream of global citizens committed to living a contributive life” (quoted from the website). Soka schools—from kindergarten through college in Japan—are based on the work of a Japanese educator, imprisoned by Japanese authorities for opposing World War II and defending religious freedom. The education society that he founded is now one of the world’s largest Buddhist organizations made up of laypersons.
Founded in 1987, SUA has just about 400 undergraduate students and a handful of graduate students today—about half from the U.S. All undergraduates earn a B.A. in Liberal Arts, with a concentration in Environmental Studies, Humanities, International Studies, or Social and Behavioral Sciences. All students study abroad for one semester of their junior year, after four courses of language study in their choice of Chinese, French, Japanese, or Spanish—a required international perspective.
Finally, let’s look at Pepperdine University in Malibu, California, just north of Los Angeles. If you ever see its gorgeous campus perched high above the Pacific Ocean, you will never forget it. Pepperdine describes itself as “a Christian university committed to the highest standards of academic excellence and Christian values, where students are strengthened for lives of purpose, service and leadership” (quoted from the website). Founded in 1937, George Pepperdine spoke to students with these words that still guide the University:
There are many good colleges and universities which can give you standard academic training, but if our school does not give you more than that, it really has no reason to exist. The great difference between this college and other colleges is that we are endeavoring to place adequate emphasis and greater stress upon religious teaching and Christian character. We want to present to you, in teaching and example, the Christian way of life. We do not compel you to accept it. You are free to make your own choice, but we want you to know what it is. (quoted from the website)
Today, Pepperdine’s approximately 3,200 undergraduates (by the way, there are graduate programs in five schools as well) study in 44 majors in Seaver College of Letters, Arts, and Sciences, after a common core of 19 liberal arts courses, including three required religion courses: one on the Old Testament, one on the New Testament, and one on Christianity’s influences on culture (for example, the arts, education, social issues, and law). There are more than 115 student organizations and 17 men’s and women’s varsity sports teams to keep students busy. More than 60 percent study abroad at one of six Pepperdine facilities—in Buenos Aires, Florence, Heidelberg, Lausanne, London, and Shanghai. There is also a Washington, D.C., facility for “study abroad at home.”
Entering freshmen post an average high school GPA of 3.6 or a bit higher and SAT scores of about 625 to 650 on each of three subtests. About 55 percent of students come from California (maybe because not many kids from across the U.S. have seen Malibu yet). Tuition is hefty at $48,000 per year, but that view of the Pacific might be worth it.
3. Colleges That Change Lives
As we have said in several earlier episodes, Colleges That Change Lives is a nonprofit organization that was founded after the publication of the book Colleges That Change Lives, by Loren Pope, a retired New York Times education editor. There are now 44 colleges and universities profiled in the book and on the organization’s website. Those that are included are not necessarily famous institutions. Most are smaller colleges and universities that have proved to be successful at developing students both personally and academically so that they can succeed in life after their undergraduate college years.
Let’s focus on Reed for a moment and its approximately 1,400 undergraduate students studying in 40 majors (there are also some graduate students). Long known as a nontraditional college for smart students, Reed has been committed to a liberal arts education since its founding in 1908 from the estates of Oregon pioneers Simeon and Amanda Reed. Its freshmen take a year-long interdisciplinary humanities course, its juniors sit for a qualifying exam in their major, and its seniors write an original research or artistic thesis and defend it orally. Feedback from professors to students in their courses is through narrative comments rather than through traditional grades.
Reed is characterized by free thinking, lack of rules and regulations, its Honor Principle that governs both academic and social life, and small classes with open discussion. About 70 percent of its students go on to graduate or professional school, and about 25 percent go on to earn a Ph.D.
Reed offers club sports and outdoor programs, but no varsity sports. It does offer a wide variety of student organizations, funded by a student vote. Its incoming freshmen boast an average high school GPA of 3.9 and a pair of SAT subtest scores around 700—so these are bright kids in an intriguing and free-spirited academic environment. Almost 30 percent of students are from underrepresented minority groups, and about 50 percent come from the Far West states. Undergraduate tuition and fees are admittedly super high at about $50,000 per year.
Because these Colleges That Change Lives institutions are relatively small and thus are not particularly well known outside of their geographic region, it is my feeling that out-of-state students with a good high school record might have a good chance of being accepted (though that would need to be a really great high school record to be admitted to Reed).
4. Other Private Colleges
Of course, there are still more private colleges in these Far West states, especially in California—indeed, too many to discuss here. But I would like to mention one well-known consortium of colleges, The Claremont Colleges. Founded on the vision of James A. Blaisdell in 1925, The Claremont Colleges are described this way in Blaisdell’s own words:
My own very deep hope is that instead of one great, undifferentiated university, we might have a group of institutions divided into small colleges — somewhat of an Oxford type — around a library and other utilities which they would use in common. In this way I should hope to preserve the inestimable personal values of the small college while securing the facilities of the great university.
Blaisdell’s vision, which tries to have the best of both worlds, produced today’s consortium of five colleges—Pomona College, founded in 1887 and the founding college of this consortium almost five decades later; Scripps College in 1926; Claremont McKenna College in 1946; Harvey Mudd College in 1955; and Pitzer College in 1963—plus two graduate institutions and a support services entity. The colleges are located in Claremont, about 35 miles inland from Los Angeles—“within an hour of the Pacific Ocean, the Mojave Desert, the San Gabriel Mountains and the city of Los Angeles,” as the website boasts.
With a total enrollment of about 7,700 students, each college has its own campus within the same one square mile and its own students, but students are able to take a significant number of courses from the 2,500 offered across the five colleges or even to major in something at another of the five colleges. Here are the thumbnail descriptions of the five institutions:
Pomona College offers its 1,600 students a liberal arts curriculum, with 47 majors and a focus on the humanities, natural sciences, and social sciences. It has an attractive 8:1 student-to-faculty ratio. Despite its small size, it offers 21 varsity sports teams and over 220 student organizations.
Scripps College is a liberal arts college for just under 1,000 women; about 30 percent are students of color. Scripps offers 65 majors, a required Core Curriculum of three challenging interdisciplinary humanities courses, and a required senior thesis. It fields 21 varsity sports teams in collaboration with its consortium mates Claremont McKenna College and Harvey Mudd College.
Claremont McKenna College—once Claremont Men’s College, but now coeducational—offers its 1,300 students a liberal arts curriculum with 33 majors and a focus on economics, government, and international relations. It also has an attractive 8:1 student-to-faculty ratio. About 90 percent of its students have an internship during their college years.
Harvey Mudd College offers majors in just six fields—biology, chemistry, computer science, engineering, mathematics, and physics, plus a few joint majors—but also requires a humanities course and a writing course of all students. Since 1963, its Clinic Program has engaged juniors and seniors in solving real-world problems for industry clients. Harvey Mudd has a student body of just about 800 undergraduates.
Pitzer College offers its 1,000 students about 40 fields of study in an “interdisciplinary liberal arts education emphasizing social justice, intercultural understanding and environmental sensitivity” (quoted from the website). Students are expected to engage in community service and are given the freedom to create their own academic programs; there are no traditional core course requirements. About 75 percent of Pitzer students study abroad.
The SAT subtest scores of entering freshmen at The Claremont Colleges are strong—about 680 to 735 across the board. In 2003, however, Pitzer adopted a test-optional admission policy “following a study that proved that there was no direct correlation between academic success at Pitzer and standardized testing. Since Pitzer stopped requiring the SAT or ACT for admission, the campus has seen a 58 percent increase in diversity, an 8 percent increase in GPA, and a 39 percent increase in applicants with a 10 percent increase in retention. The College has also doubled the number of students from low income, first generation backgrounds” (quoted from the website). And that is all quite impressive.
Tested or not, students at The Claremont Colleges are smart. For example, about 40 percent of the incoming freshmen in the Class of 2018 at Harvey Mudd were valedictorians or salutatorians of their high school class. Students at the five colleges pay about $46,000 to $49,000 annually in tuition and fees for the privilege of attending this unique consortium.
If we had more time, I might talk about Occidental College in Los Angeles or Mills College, a women’s college in Oakland, California—two more private liberal arts colleges that are worth a look.
5. Looking Back
I am struck by how difficult it appears for students to get into the private colleges we talked about in this episode. Some have always been very selective, but others have gotten increasingly so in the past two or three decades. I usually think that students from outside a region with decent, but not outstanding, grades might have a better shot at getting into a college than comparable students within the region. But I am not sure that is the case here. What I do know is that there are some great choices on the West Coast that are worth thinking hard about if you have a child who has done really well in high school. Otherwise, some of the faith-based institutions and some of the Colleges That Change Lives might give your good, but not great, student a chance to enjoy the West.
Listen to the podcast to find out about…
Why some faith-based colleges could be a surprisingly interesting choice
What colleges a kid might actually be able to get into these days
How interesting the vision for The Claremont Colleges turned out to be
Check out these higher education institutions and organizations we mention…