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

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This series is entitled The Search Begins and, as we have said, it is aimed directly at those of you who are parents of juniors, and it is designed to help you all navigate summer tasks related to college applications in the fall. (Of course, it never hurts parents of freshmen and sophomores to get a head start on the college admissions game. So, stick with us during these summer episodes.)

Today’s topic focuses on something that you are just about to do totally wrong. Furthermore, our advice on this topic probably runs counter to what many “experts” are telling you to do right now, which is to start narrowing your list of colleges so that your teenager can get ready to apply in the fall.

In this episode, we are going to take the position that you should do the exact opposite, which is to start expanding your teenager’s list of colleges immediately so that you all are truly ready to narrow it in the fall. While that might seem unnecessary–even wasteful, given the thousand things you are trying to do this summer–we would contend that expanding the options now could make the difference between an okay college choice for your teenager and a great college choice for your teenager when it is time to accept a college’s offer next spring. Here’s why.

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

1. One More Research Study

Nicholas W. Hillman, an assistant professor at the University of Wisconsin–Madison (a great public flagship university, which we discussed in Episode 27) has written a recent paper, published in the American Educational Research Journal and entitled “Geography of College Opportunity: The Case of Education Deserts.” Catherine Gewertz reported on Hillman’s paper recently in the High School & Beyond blog in Education Week (“Why College Access Depends on Your ZIP Code,” June 24, 2016).

You loyal listeners might remember that we first met Professor Hillman back in Episode 66 when we talked about his earlier report entitled Education Deserts: The Continued Significance of “Place” in the Twenty-First Century (co-authored with Taylor Weichman). One statistic that the authors quoted in that report is this: About 57 percent of incoming freshmen at public four-year colleges attend a college within 50 miles of home. Now, think about that from a freshman’s point of view. If you are a freshman standing on your four-year public college campus, more than half of your classmates live within 50 miles of where you are standing. Clearly, those students did not get outside of their “geographic comfort zone,” which is one of our most talked about and least favorite concepts here at USACollegeChat. (Remember that about 70 percent of high school graduates attend college in their home state. That’s just too many kids staying within their geographic comfort zone, in our opinion.)

This time around, Hillman maps both public and private two-year and four-year colleges and universities in 709 “commuting zones” across the U.S.–that is, in 709 bunches of mostly contiguous counties where people live and work. And, when I say “maps,” I mean that he locates the colleges and universities on a map of the U.S. and colors in the commuting zones where they are located so that anyone can see at a glance which commuting zones have a lot of colleges (five or more is the top of his scale) and which don’t have even one.

We are going to skip over private two-year colleges, inasmuch as they are the rarest of college types, and look first at public two-year colleges. Looking at Hillman’s map, we notice that there are relatively fewer public two-year colleges west of the Mississippi River until you get to the Far West and Southwest border states. Turning to public four-year colleges, we notice that there are even fewer public four-year colleges than public two-year colleges in the Plains and Rocky Mountain states. And finally, coming to private four-year colleges, we notice that the coverage is especially good east of the Mississippi–particularly in New England and the Mid-Atlantic states–and again in parts of the Far West.

So, where is the “education desert”? The maps would say, generally speaking, that it is in the Rocky Mountain and Plains states. What that means is that college students who live there are likely to have fewer nearby options than students in other commuting zones–say, those in the Northeast. Of course, even in the Northeast, you might live in a particular commuting zone that just doesn’t have many colleges. And that matters because so many kids stay close to home for college–perhaps too close.

But that’s not the worst of it. Gewertz explains:

Hillman found that zones of opportunity put specific groups at a disadvantage. Latino and African-American communities tend to have the fewest colleges, and less-selective colleges, nearby, while white and Asian communities tend to have more colleges, and more selective institutions, nearby to choose from. . . .   Hillman argues that most policy that seeks to improve college access focuses on the process of opportunity–with initiatives that aim to get more information into students’ hands, so they can make good college choices–instead of the geography of opportunity. (quoted from the article)

Well, now we have a societal problem as well as an individual student problem. As Hillman noted in his first report, the college decisions of students from working-class homes and the college decisions of students of color are most negatively affected by home-to-college distance. So, when it turns out that there are relatively fewer college options and relatively fewer selective college options in Latino and African-American communities and when we know that lots of those kids do not travel very far to attend college, for whatever reason, those students end up not having the range of college choices that they deserve.

2. Your Assignment #1

Download the Assignment #1 printable worksheet

Why are we telling you this? Because all of you should expand the college options for your teenager before you narrow them, and this is especially true if you live in an area that has few nearby colleges or few good nearby colleges. Whether you are Latino, African American, Asian, or white, those of you living in an education desert must look outside your geographic area in order to find a choice of good options for your teenager. Why should you be content with the only option in town no matter how good it is? For many of you, the chances are that it is not good enough.

But, to repeat, this advice is not just for those of you living in education deserts. This advice is for all of you who are busy making up a short list of colleges for your child to visit this summer and apply to in the fall. It simply is not time yet to be making up that short list, to be narrowing down the choices, to be closing off opportunities, and to be settling either for colleges that are nearby or for colleges that you already know about. It is unnecessarily soon–even for those of you who want to look at an Early Decision or Early Action option.

So, since it is July 1 and your teenager might have a bit of free time, we are ready to give him or her–and you–an assignment every week until September. The more you can get your teenager to do the work, the easier it will be for you; however, you will need to provide some life experience and adult judgment throughout the assignments. We do guarantee that you both will be better equipped by September 1 to start the actual college application process.

We thought hard about what your first summer assignment should be and settled on this: With your teenager, listen to our virtual nationwide college tour (Episodes 27 through 53) again?or for the first time?or skim the show notes if you prefer. By the way, these episodes do a good job of differentiating between the public and private colleges, which could well be one of the first decisions you will make when it is time to shorten your teenager’s list in September.

Together, choose at least one college in every state to put on your teenager’s list. Put those 50 on what we will call “your teenager’s long summer list of college options.” Just add them to any colleges you already have on the list.

Okay, if that’s too outlandish, try this: Choose at least one college in each of 25 states of your choice to put on your teenager’s list. Heck, that’s only half the states. You are getting off easy. Put those on your teenager’s long summer list of college options.

Still too tough? How about this: Choose at least two colleges in every geographic region of the U.S. to put on your teenager’s long summer list of college options. Remember that the Bureau of Economic Analysis (an agency of the U.S. Department of Commerce) has divided the U.S. into eight regions, with each region’s covering four to 12 states. So, that would give you 16 colleges–plus, let’s say, add two extra colleges in your home state for good measure.

But wait: Put five public flagship universities on your teenager’s long summer list of college options. Any five. You choose. This will ensure that your teenager has some great public options to consider, too. As we have said before, public flagship universities might be the hidden jewels in the college landscape.

And those of you who are longtime listeners know that this piece of advice is coming: Choose at least one college not in the U.S. to put on your teenager’s long summer list of college options. The global future is here. Join it.

Now that you have the long summer list of 20 or 30 or 40 or, better yet, 50 colleges, have your teenager read about each one on the college’s website before talking with you and recommending whether it should be kept on the list. Believe me, you can learn a lot from reading a college website. Furthermore, you can learn not only about that one college, but also about colleges in general and what to look for on the next website. It’s an education in itself.

Our virtual tour gave you a lot of the information you should consider already, but let your teenager confirm it and look further into particular things that interest him or her about the college. Make sure your teenager checks out at least these topics:

  • Enrollment, broken down by undergraduate and graduate (if any) students
  • Retention and graduation rates (search the site for “common data set” or go to College Navigator, sponsored by the National Center for Education Statistics)
  • The history of the college (always my favorite topic)
  • Academic divisions in the institution (that is, colleges or schools within a university)
  • Academic departments and majors offered
  • Study abroad options
  • Extracurricular activities (including fraternities and sororities)
  • Intercollegiate and intramural sports
  • Tuition and housing costs (of course)

Finally, make sure that your teenager writes down (or makes a spreadsheet of) the information they find on each college. Believe me, after about four colleges, it’s impossible to remember which college has which attractive and unattractive features.

Personally, I wouldn’t have your teenager start poring over admission standards just yet. I would rather he or she look at the range of great opportunities out there and perhaps get a bit motivated by what those websites offer. Your teenager needs an education about higher education first. Some of those websites are so good, in fact, that they make me want to go back to college.

And, by the way, I wouldn’t have your teenager start looking at two-year colleges yet, either. Those of you who listen to us know that we have some reservations about two-year colleges, especially for students who have just graduated from high school and are moving directly into college full time. We know that they are a great choice for saving money and for helping kids who need a bit more maturity or a bit more academic preparation, but we worry because the transfer rates to four-year colleges are scandalously low, and we worry about what opportunities that fact closes off for too many kids. Two-year colleges can easily be added to the list in September, because we are assuming that the choice of a two-year college is largely affected by geography and that students are most likely to attend the one closest to them.

So, what is the point of today’s episode? It is simply that expanding your options now–before narrowing them in the fall–is a way to let both you and your teenager consider colleges you have never thought about. That’s because there are some really interesting ones out there, including perhaps the one that is best for your teenager.

Depending where you live, here are a few public and private choices you probably aren’t thinking about (some that are very selective, and others that are not):

By the way, I really do not want to hear one more of my friends here in New York say, “Oh, she can just go to Binghamton. It’s a good school.” With apologies to Binghamton, which is a fine state university in upstate New York, I would like my friends to look around first. I would like many more colleges on their teenager’s long list. I would like many colleges on that list to be outside New York State. I would like some of them to be outside the Northeast. I would like some of them to be public and some of them to be private. Binghamton isn’t going anywhere. It will still be there in the fall.

Download the Assignment #1 printable worksheet

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

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Episode 38: Colleges in the Southwest Region—Part II

In last week’s episode, we continued our virtual tour of colleges by looking at the four states of the Southwest region: Arizona, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Texas. 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 Southwest states by focusing on private higher education institutions.

Virtual audio tour of private colleges and universities in the Southwest Region on the NYCollegeChat podcast. Episode and show notes available at http://usacollegechat.org/38We are going to check out several national universities, which really draw students internationally, as well as a few small liberal arts institutions. Almost all of them happen to be located in Texas. We feel that these are the private institutions in the Southwest that are most likely to attract out-of-state students.

As we say in every one of these episodes, we want to make it clear that no college has asked us or paid us anything to name it. These are entirely our own choices.

1. Private Universities

Let’s start with a relatively small, academically prestigious university—that is, Rice University, located in Houston, our nation’s fourth-largest city, but situated on a beautiful tree-lined campus in a residential neighborhood that makes you feel like you could not possibly be just minutes from downtown. Established by businessman William Marsh Rice in 1891, the William Marsh Rice Institute for the Advancement of Literature, Science, and Art first held classes in 1912. According to the charter, students went to Rice tuition free (until 1966).

Today, Rice enrolls about 4,000 undergraduates and just over 2,500 graduate and professional students, for a total of just about 6,500 students. Rice is on everyone’s list of top 20 or so U.S. universities and has an acceptance rate of about 15 percent. Incoming freshmen have average SAT scores well over 700 on each subtest. In 2014, about half of the freshmen from the U.S. were from Texas and half were not.

Rice is serious about its academics and boasts a student-to-faculty ratio of 6:1—a shockingly low ratio and the lowest we have seen in our tour or are likely to see anywhere. This means, of course, that students have incredible access to faculty in class and a real chance of having meaningful interactions with faculty members. Undergraduate students study in 50 majors across six schools: music, architecture, social sciences, humanities, engineering, and natural sciences. Rice also has a graduate school of business, among other graduate programs.

Undergraduates at Rice are randomly assigned to one of 11 residential colleges—each with its own dining hall, public rooms, dorm rooms, and competitive website. About 75 percent of undergraduates live in their residential college throughout their time at the University. Each residential college has a faculty master, who lives in an adjacent house and encourages a rich intellectual and cultural life and a plan for self-governance at the residential college. Rice offers its students over 200 student organizations and seven men’s and seven women’s Rice Owls sports teams (as well as club sports and intramurals). The baseball team has earned 19 consecutive conference titles, and the football team has gone to bowl games in four of the last eight years.

At $42,000 in tuition and fees annually, Rice is certainly not cheap—but neither is any other world-class private university.

Moving north from Houston, we come to Baylor University in Waco. Chartered in 1845 by the Republic of Texas and first opened in Independence, Texas, Baylor is an “unambiguously Christian” institution—and, specifically, a Baptist institution—though it welcomes students of all faiths (including students with no faith at all) from more than 85 countries. The mean SAT score (for the Math and Critical Reading subtests) of entering freshman in 2014 was 1231, so a pair of scores in, let’s say, the mid-600s might get a student into Baylor, especially a student from a faraway state.

Baylor offers its almost 14,000 undergraduate students about 140 bachelor’s degree programs, housed in eight colleges and schools—arts and sciences, social work, engineering and computer science, business, nursing, health and human sciences, education, and music. The University, which enrolls another approximately 2,500 graduate and professional students, also has a graduate theological seminary and a law school, among other graduate programs.

Students can participate in 260 student organizations, including a slew of fraternities and sororities, and Baylor is the home of the first college chapter of Habitat for Humanity. The University fields 19 varsity sports teams and has won 50 Big 12 Conference titles. You will get an idea of the level of school spirit (believe me, it is high) by watching the virtual campus tours on the Baylor website—and you will also see how really lovely the campus is.

At $41,000 in tuition and fees annually, Baylor’s costs are about like Rice’s—again, not cheap. Even so, I feel as though Baylor might be one of those universities that bears a close look from good students in other parts of the country. While Baylor does have intriguing programs for top-notch students—like its combined eight-year bachelor’s degree/M.D. in cooperation with highly respected Baylor College of Medicine—the University also seems to be in reach for good, if not perfect, students.

Let’s move about 100 miles north of Waco to Dallas to take a look at Southern Methodist University (SMU), located in the residential neighborhood of University Park, minutes from downtown Dallas. Technically an urban university, SMU’s campus seems more suburban in style, and it is one of the prettiest campuses ever—gorgeous red brick buildings with white trim, some placed around a huge quadrangle, anchored at one end by the Meadows Museum, which houses one of the most impressive collections of Spanish art outside of Spain and which has an interesting partnership with Madrid’s famous Museo del Prado. Founded in 1911 by what is now The United Methodist Church and opened in 1915, SMU does not operate as a faith-based institution today.

SMU enrolls about 6,500 undergraduate students and almost 5,000 graduate and professional students. About half of its students come from outside the State of Texas, including from almost 100 foreign countries, and about 25 percent are minority students. The average SAT score (for the Math and Critical Reading subtests) of entering freshman in 2014 was 1308, and that score has increased significantly over the past decade.

SMU offers 104 bachelor’s degree programs across five colleges and schools: humanities and sciences, business, engineering, education and human development, and the excellent Meadows School of the Arts, with especially good music, dance, and theater programs. Along with many other graduate programs, SMU also has a school of theology and a law school, where pro bono legal work is a graduation requirement.

SMU fields 17 Mustang varsity teams and offers 180 student organizations, along with fraternities and sororities that count about one-third of undergraduates as members. I think it is fair to say that the social life at SMU is a real plus for students.

Interestingly, SMU has a site in another of our Southwest states, New Mexico. SMU-in-Taos offers summer credit courses in 28 buildings in a variety of subject fields, including an annual archeology field school. The site of the campus holds a pre-Civil War fort and the remains of a 13th century Native American pueblo.

SMU’s tuition and fees for an academic year are about $44,000, unfortunately high and in keeping with the cost of attending either Baylor or Rice.

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 our Southwest region. You should read about them in the book or on the website to learn more about them. They are Austin College in Sherman, Texas; Southwestern University in Georgetown, Texas; and St. John’s College in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Let’s focus on St. John’s for a minute because it is one of the most unique colleges we have looked at in our virtual tour. Though called St. John’s, it is not a faith-based college. To start with, it is one college with two campuses: St. John’s Annapolis in Maryland and St. John’s Santa Fe in New Mexico, both located in picturesque and charming state capitals. St. John’s was founded in Annapolis in 1696 as King William’s School and was chartered in 1784 as St. John’s College. The Santa Fe campus was established almost two centuries later in 1964. While it is not unusual, of course, for a college to have two campuses, it is unusual for a college to have two campuses almost across the entire country from each other and to have two campuses that allow students to transfer back and forth between the two. Many students do spend a year at the campus they did not start at.

But the real unique idea at St. John’s is its liberal arts curriculum, based on collaborative inquiry in small class discussions, with the professor acting as a tutor and mentor—all based on the original texts of great authors in almost every subject field. The Seminar, as St. John’s calls it, is the foundation for the curriculum, and it is described this way:

Students participate in far-reaching and free but disciplined conversations about major works of literature, philosophy, political theory, theology, history, economics, and psychology from Homer and the Greek historians, playwrights, and philosophers in the freshman year, through the Renaissance in the sophomore year and the Enlightenment in the junior year, to the contemporary world in the senior year.

Students are also required to take four years of mathematics, three years of laboratory science, two years of music (including singing in the Freshman Chorus together), and four years of a second language (two years of Ancient Greek and two years of modern French). Clearly, this is one remarkable liberal arts curriculum.

Each campus enrolls between about 450 and 475 undergraduate students (there are also a couple of graduate programs), drawn from all 50 states and about 20 foreign countries—tiny student bodies, to be sure. The student-to-faculty ratio is an enviably low 8:1—much lower than most colleges, but not actually as low as Rice’s 6:1, our all-time winner.

Students at St. John’s Santa Fe can take advantage of the hiking, skiing, and camping options in the nearby mountains and in Santa Fe National Forest, and the school’s Search and Rescue team trains students to serve the community. The campus also has the usual array of student organizations, including intramural sports. Of course, to many people, Santa Fe is a dream location, full of artists and culture and natural beauty and plenty of things to do.

Students interested in St. John’s are expected to have taken a rigorous course of study in high school and must complete a “short set of reflective essays” (quoted from the website) as part of the application procedure. SAT and ACT scores are optional, though students are encouraged to provide them.

Undergraduate tuition is, not surprisingly, quite high at about $48,500 per year. But you can see why. I believe that it is probably worth it, which is not true of some colleges charging that much.

According to the website, St. John’s “is in the top 2 percent of all colleges in the nation for alumni earning PhDs in the humanities, and in the top 4 percent for earning them in science or engineering” (quoted from the website), which seems remarkable for a tiny college with a liberal arts curriculum. You can see why this college changes lives.

Because these Colleges That Change Lives institutions are relatively small and thus are not particularly well known outside of their geographic region (for example, about 90 percent of students at Southwestern University are from Texas), it is my feeling that out-of-state students with a good high school record might have a good chance of being accepted.

Listen to the podcast to find out about…

  • Why you might like the new Houston, a great place to be
  • What is so great about Dallas
  • How appealing Santa Fe might be

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Episode 25: Why Guidance Counselors Are Not Enough

This episode is the first in Series 4: Looking at Colleges Outside Your Comfort Zone.

Our fourth series is going to deal with getting you outside your comfort zone of college choices. For many families, that comfort zone is actually a physical, geographic zone. We have talked with many families who would strongly prefer their children to stay near home to go to college—often that means in the same city, sometimes it means within weekend-commuting distance, and it almost always means in the same state. I saw a statistic recently that more than 70 percent of high school graduates go to college in their home state. Wow.

We know that many families are perfectly happy to be part of that group for a variety of reasons, including money concerns, cultural background, safety concerns, and general worries about sending their less-than-perfectly-mature teenagers too far from home. However, we are going to talk about another reason that we think so many students stay in their home states for college, and that is the role of guidance counselors in high schools.

Over the past 40 years, I have spent a lot of time in high schools all over the U.S. and have had a lot of chances to observe students and staff members at work. As an outside consultant, I have worked closely with many of those staff members—teachers, guidance counselors, administrators, and others—and I have talked for hours and hours with students and their parents, individually and in groups. I have watched guidance counselors deal with students in serious trouble—especially personal and interpersonal trouble. I have been amazed at what students have to cope with at home and at school and how guidance counselors are called upon to help them cope. That is a full-time job for anyone.

Perhaps that is exactly why a high school guidance counselor cannot help your child enough when it comes to exploring college options—especially options not located close to home. That is not to say there are not some guidance counselors whose high schools have allowed them to specialize in college placement and who have become experts in the world of college and its overwhelming number of opportunities. If your child’s high school has such a guidance counselor, you are lucky indeed. But that is not what is typical, in my experience.

1. Questions To Ask Guidance Counselors

If I were a parent of a high school student now (as I have been in the last decade, three times over) and if I were relying on a guidance counselor—or any other college advisor at the high school—to help my child navigate the world of college options, I would ask that person these three questions:

1) How many colleges have you visited? This sounds like a low hurdle, but I am convinced that many guidance counselors and other college advisors do not have a broad background of visiting and investigating in person a wide variety of colleges—in your home town, in your state, in your region of the U.S., in other regions of the U.S., and abroad. Even though your child might end up going to college in your home state for a variety of reasons, it is not good enough for someone to advise your child on what colleges to consider if that person has not “seen it all”—or, at least a lot of it. Your child’s college advisor should be able to talk about a variety of urban, suburban, and rural college campuses from firsthand impressions of those campuses and then to discuss whether a beautiful campus or a certain geographic location close to or far away from home or a particular type of setting makes any difference to your child.

Based on my own college visits, I might ask someone trying to advise my child these questions: “Have you seen the handsome University of Washington campus or the color of the buildings at Stanford University or Thomas Jefferson’s realized vision for the University of Virginia? Have you been in the freezing cold of the University of Chicago or the sweltering heat of Rice University? Have you been on the University of Pennsylvania’s City-of-Brotherly-Love urban campus or Savannah College of Art and Design’s campus in the prettiest city in the South or the picture-perfect setting on the Thames River of the lower-division campus of Richmond, the American International University in London? Have you seen the grand LBJ Presidential Library at the University of Texas or the world-class Meadows Museum at Southern Methodist University? Have you seen idyllic Kenyon College’s Middle Path in the middle of nowhere or majestic Columbia University in the middle of everything?”

Why do you think that parents who can afford it take their children on the traditional college tour so that they can see the options? Because sometimes place means a lot. If someone has not seen, say, 150 such places—college campuses of all sizes, locations, and settings—I would not want that person advising my child.

2) How many colleges have you studied at or had family and close friends and former students study at? Yes, I know that most people (guidance counselors and other college advisors included) probably studied at only one or two or possibly three colleges, but were they all pretty much the same? Ideally, someone advising my child would have some experience—either firsthand or close secondhand—with the variety of higher education institutions available.

Remember, as we said in earlier episodes, there are the public and private and combination public/private institutions, two-year and four-year institutions, liberal arts and technical schools, big universities and small colleges, single-sex and coeducational schools, faith-based institutions, HBCUs, military service academies, fine arts and engineering and business schools, and more. That is a lot. While no individual can know about each of these types of institutions firsthand as a student, I would want someone advising my college-bound child to know about most of these at least secondhand—that is, by the testimony of thoughtful family members and informed friends and trusted former students who had attended them. If a guidance counselor or other college advisor cannot be an expert in every individual college, he or she should at least be an expert in the types of institutions that are available to my child.

3) How many colleges have you worked at or closely with? Most guidance counselors and other college advisors based in high schools have not also worked at colleges, and that’s a shame. Yes, they were all once students in college, but that view is very different from the view you get as an employee at a college or even as a consultant to a college. You can learn a lot about the operations of a college when you are working backstage, and you can better figure out how those operations impact students.

For example, if a guidance counselor had worked with college support services offices, it would be easier to judge what services might realistically be available for a student with special needs. Or, if a guidance counselor had worked with a number of college department chairs, it would be clearer how difficult it might be for a student to change his or her major if that student started down the wrong path. Or, if a guidance counselor had worked with college registrars, it would be easier to figure out how to get a student credit for college courses taken while a student was still in high school.

Of course, all colleges are not the same. But a firsthand dose of working at a college can sometimes go a long way toward helping students choose a college that is a good fit.

If your guidance counselor or college advisor does not have good answers to these questions, then get whatever additional help you might need so that your child makes the best college choice possible.

2. Inequity in College Counseling

Recently, I read a powerful article in The Hechinger Report, entitled “Rich School, Poor School,” by Erin Einhorn, and the subtitle of her article tells it all: “How the class divide is widened by gaps in counseling kids for college.” Ms. Einhorn’s story tells the sad truth that many professional educators know, but would like to forget, and that many parents know instinctively. The sad truth is that there is no equity in college counseling services for U.S. high school students; in other words, a student’s chances of getting into a selective college are clearly improved by attending a great high school—public or private—where dedicated college counselors know how to make the college applications system work for those students. Quite often, those public schools are in relatively wealthy suburban locations.

I worked recently with a couple of students who attended two first-rate high schools in the metropolitan New York City area. One was a famous competitive public high school in New York City, where only the best students are admitted, based on their high school admissions test scores, and where I am guessing virtually all graduates go on to college; the other was a well-respected, academically rigorous public high school in one of the richest towns on Long Island, where I am guessing virtually all graduates go on to college. To be honest, I was not impressed with the work of the college counselors in either one. They recommended to my two students mostly colleges in New York State, plus any colleges outside New York State that the students had already discovered for themselves.

Now, the two schools had full-time college counselors, who had access to fancy software that kept track of where students had applied and who, at least, tried to keep students on a schedule that would get college applications done on time. Of course, these students were also supported by the strong college-going culture that is present in such schools—schools where students spend a lot of time talking to each other about the great colleges they are applying to and then the great colleges they got into.

It’s just not fair, I thought, reflecting on Ms. Einhorn’s story about the vastly different college counseling services available in a private school and a public school not 20 miles apart in Bloomfield Hills and Detroit, Michigan. But what is fair? Our wise principal at the Early College public high school we co-founded in Brooklyn had an unusual definition of “fair.” Chris Aguirre used to say, “Fair is not when every student gets the same thing. Fair is when every student gets what he or she needs.” Man, with that definition, low-income students in poor urban neighborhoods should be getting three or four times as much college counseling support as upper-middle-class students in rich suburban high schools and private schools. Everyone knows that it is just the opposite now. The kids who need college counseling least actually get the most. Upper-middle-class kids whose parents and school culture could handily make up for a lack of counseling time and expertise benefit from the most counseling time and expertise.

Marie and I like to think that NYCollegeChat can help make up for that lack of counseling time and expertise—whether your child is in a large urban high school where guidance counselors typically have their hands full or a medium-sized suburban high school where there is a lot of competition for college counseling services or a small rural high school where a guidance counselor might have to wear many hats.

So what we are going to do during this fourth series is take you around the country to different regions and spotlight some colleges you might not have thought about for your child or indeed might not even have known about. We are going to look at some selective colleges for students with great grades and admissions test scores and some not-so-selective colleges for students with just average grades and admissions test scores. We are going to try to take you out of your geographic comfort zone to show you some places that might be more appealing to your child than what is right next door. We are also going to talk about why going away could be a financial plus for you and why going away might actually get your child into a better college than staying at home. So tune in next week.

Listen to the podcast to find out about…
The kind of personalized list of colleges your guidance counselor should be providing for your child
What we lost when college field trips were cut out of high school activities
The pluses and minuses of online searches for colleges you might be interested in

Links to all the higher education institutions we mention can be found on the show notes for today’s episode at http://usacollegechat.org/25

Connect with us through…
Subscribing to NYCollegeChat on iTunes, Stitcher, or TuneIn!
Following us on Twitter @NYCollegeChat
Reviewing parent materials we have available at Policy Studies in Education
Inquiring about our consulting services if you need individualized help
Following us on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/nycollegechat

Ask your questions or share your feedback by…
Commenting on the notes for today’s episode at http://usacollegechat.org/25.
Calling our hotline at (516) 900-NYCC.
Emailing us at paul@policystudies.org to ask a question if you want us to answer it privately

This episode is the first in Series 4: Looking at Colleges Outside Your Comfort Zone.

Episode 25:  Why Guidance Counselors Are Not Enough on NYCollegeChat

Our fourth series is going to deal with getting you outside your comfort zone of college choices. For many families, that comfort zone is actually a physical, geographic zone. We have talked with many families who would strongly prefer their children to stay near home to go to college—often that means in the same city, sometimes it means within weekend-commuting distance, and it almost always means in the same state. I saw a statistic recently that more than 70 percent of high school graduates go to college in their home state. Wow.

We know that many families are perfectly happy to be part of that group for a variety of reasons, including money concerns, cultural background, safety concerns, and general worries about sending their less-than-perfectly-mature teenagers too far from home. However, we are going to talk about another reason that we think so many students stay in their home states for college, and that is the role of guidance counselors in high schools.

Over the past 40 years, I have spent a lot of time in high schools all over the U.S. and have had a lot of chances to observe students and staff members at work. As an outside consultant, I have worked closely with many of those staff members—teachers, guidance counselors, administrators, and others—and I have talked for hours and hours with students and their parents, individually and in groups. I have watched guidance counselors deal with students in serious trouble—especially personal and interpersonal trouble. I have been amazed at what students have to cope with at home and at school and how guidance counselors are called upon to help them cope. That is a full-time job for anyone.

Perhaps that is exactly why a high school guidance counselor cannot help your child enough when it comes to exploring college options—especially options not located close to home. That is not to say there are not some guidance counselors whose high schools have allowed them to specialize in college placement and who have become experts in the world of college and its overwhelming number of opportunities. If your child’s high school has such a guidance counselor, you are lucky indeed. But that is not what is typical, in my experience.

1. Questions To Ask Guidance Counselors

If I were a parent of a high school student now (as I have been in the last decade, three times over) and if I were relying on a guidance counselor—or any other college advisor at the high school—to help my child navigate the world of college options, I would ask that person these three questions:

1) How many colleges have you visited? This sounds like a low hurdle, but I am convinced that many guidance counselors and other college advisors do not have a broad background of visiting and investigating in person a wide variety of colleges—in your home town, in your state, in your region of the U.S., in other regions of the U.S., and abroad. Even though your child might end up going to college in your home state for a variety of reasons, it is not good enough for someone to advise your child on what colleges to consider if that person has not “seen it all”—or, at least a lot of it. Your child’s college advisor should be able to talk about a variety of urban, suburban, and rural college campuses from firsthand impressions of those campuses and then to discuss whether a beautiful campus or a certain geographic location close to or far away from home or a particular type of setting makes any difference to your child.

Based on my own college visits, I might ask someone trying to advise my child these questions: “Have you seen the handsome University of Washington campus or the color of the buildings at Stanford University or Thomas Jefferson’s realized vision for the University of Virginia? Have you been in the freezing cold of the University of Chicago or the sweltering heat of Rice University? Have you been on the University of Pennsylvania’s City-of-Brotherly-Love urban campus or Savannah College of Art and Design’s campus in the prettiest city in the South or the picture-perfect setting on the Thames River of the lower-division campus of Richmond, the American International University in London? Have you seen the grand LBJ Presidential Library at the University of Texas or the world-class Meadows Museum at Southern Methodist University? Have you seen idyllic Kenyon College’s Middle Path in the middle of nowhere or majestic Columbia University in the middle of everything?”

Why do you think that parents who can afford it take their children on the traditional college tour so that they can see the options? Because sometimes place means a lot. If someone has not seen, say, 150 such places—college campuses of all sizes, locations, and settings—I would not want that person advising my child.

2) How many colleges have you studied at or had family and close friends and former students study at? Yes, I know that most people (guidance counselors and other college advisors included) probably studied at only one or two or possibly three colleges, but were they all pretty much the same? Ideally, someone advising my child would have some experience—either firsthand or close secondhand—with the variety of higher education institutions available.

Remember, as we said in earlier episodes, there are the public and private and combination public/private institutions, two-year and four-year institutions, liberal arts and technical schools, big universities and small colleges, single-sex and coeducational schools, faith-based institutions, HBCUs, military service academies, fine arts and engineering and business schools, and more. That is a lot. While no individual can know about each of these types of institutions firsthand as a student, I would want someone advising my college-bound child to know about most of these at least secondhand—that is, by the testimony of thoughtful family members and informed friends and trusted former students who had attended them. If a guidance counselor or other college advisor cannot be an expert in every individual college, he or she should at least be an expert in the types of institutions that are available to my child.

3) How many colleges have you worked at or closely with? Most guidance counselors and other college advisors based in high schools have not also worked at colleges, and that’s a shame. Yes, they were all once students in college, but that view is very different from the view you get as an employee at a college or even as a consultant to a college. You can learn a lot about the operations of a college when you are working backstage, and you can better figure out how those operations impact students.

For example, if a guidance counselor had worked with college support services offices, it would be easier to judge what services might realistically be available for a student with special needs. Or, if a guidance counselor had worked with a number of college department chairs, it would be clearer how difficult it might be for a student to change his or her major if that student started down the wrong path. Or, if a guidance counselor had worked with college registrars, it would be easier to figure out how to get a student credit for college courses taken while a student was still in high school.

Of course, all colleges are not the same. But a firsthand dose of working at a college can sometimes go a long way toward helping students choose a college that is a good fit.

If your guidance counselor or college advisor does not have good answers to these questions, then get whatever additional help you might need so that your child makes the best college choice possible.

2. Inequity in College Counseling

Recently, I read a powerful article in The Hechinger Report, entitled “Rich School, Poor School,” by Erin Einhorn, and the subtitle of her article tells it all: “How the class divide is widened by gaps in counseling kids for college.” Ms. Einhorn’s story tells the sad truth that many professional educators know, but would like to forget, and that many parents know instinctively. The sad truth is that there is no equity in college counseling services for U.S. high school students; in other words, a student’s chances of getting into a selective college are clearly improved by attending a great high school—public or private—where dedicated college counselors know how to make the college applications system work for those students. Quite often, those public schools are in relatively wealthy suburban locations.

I worked recently with a couple of students who attended two first-rate high schools in the metropolitan New York City area. One was a famous competitive public high school in New York City, where only the best students are admitted, based on their high school admissions test scores, and where I am guessing virtually all graduates go on to college; the other was a well-respected, academically rigorous public high school in one of the richest towns on Long Island, where I am guessing virtually all graduates go on to college. To be honest, I was not impressed with the work of the college counselors in either one. They recommended to my two students mostly colleges in New York State, plus any colleges outside New York State that the students had already discovered for themselves.

Now, the two schools had full-time college counselors, who had access to fancy software that kept track of where students had applied and who, at least, tried to keep students on a schedule that would get college applications done on time. Of course, these students were also supported by the strong college-going culture that is present in such schools—schools where students spend a lot of time talking to each other about the great colleges they are applying to and then the great colleges they got into.

It’s just not fair, I thought, reflecting on Ms. Einhorn’s story about the vastly different college counseling services available in a private school and a public school not 20 miles apart in Bloomfield Hills and Detroit, Michigan. But what is fair? Our wise principal at the Early College public high school we co-founded in Brooklyn had an unusual definition of “fair.” Chris Aguirre used to say, “Fair is not when every student gets the same thing. Fair is when every student gets what he or she needs.” Man, with that definition, low-income students in poor urban neighborhoods should be getting three or four times as much college counseling support as upper-middle-class students in rich suburban high schools and private schools. Everyone knows that it is just the opposite now. The kids who need college counseling least actually get the most. Upper-middle-class kids whose parents and school culture could handily make up for a lack of counseling time and expertise benefit from the most counseling time and expertise.

Marie and I like to think that NYCollegeChat can help make up for that lack of counseling time and expertise—whether your child is in a large urban high school where guidance counselors typically have their hands full or a medium-sized suburban high school where there is a lot of competition for college counseling services or a small rural high school where a guidance counselor might have to wear many hats.

So what we are going to do during this fourth series is take you around the country to different regions and spotlight some colleges you might not have thought about for your child or indeed might not even have known about. We are going to look at some selective colleges for students with great grades and admissions test scores and some not-so-selective colleges for students with just average grades and admissions test scores. We are going to try to take you out of your geographic comfort zone to show you some places that might be more appealing to your child than what is right next door. We are also going to talk about why going away could be a financial plus for you and why going away might actually get your child into a better college than staying at home. So tune in next week.

Listen to the podcast to find out about…

  • The kind of personalized list of colleges your guidance counselor should be providing for your child
  • What we lost when college field trips were cut out of high school activities
  • The pluses and minuses of online searches for colleges you might be interested in

Check out these higher education institutions we mention…

In New York State

Outside of New York State

 

Connect with us through…

Ask your questions or share your feedback by…

Episode 6: Still More Colleges with Special Emphases (Part 3)

We’re continuing our series on understanding the world of college this week by exploring faith-based colleges and universities, and institutions for students with special needs. Complete show notes to this episode, with links to all the colleges we mention, are available at http://usacollegechat.org/6.

Listen to the podcast to find out about…
Why people think a Jesuit education is so great
What to do for your child with special needs before he or she leaves high school
The job of student support services personnel at colleges and universities

Connect with us through…
Subscribing to NYCollegeChat on iTunes, Spreaker, Stitcher, or TuneIn!
Following us on Twitter @NYCollegeChat
Reviewing parent materials we have available at Policy Studies in Education http://www.policystudies.org
Inquiring about our consulting services if you need individualized help
Following us on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/nycollegechat

Ask your questions or share your feedback by…
Calling our hotline at (516) 900-NYCC
Emailing us at paul@policystudies.org to ask a question if you want us to answer it privately

We’re continuing our series on understanding the world of college this week by exploring faith-based colleges and universities, and institutions for students with special needs.

NYCollegeChat Episode 6 Still More Colleges with Special Emphases (Part 3)

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

1. Faith-Based Colleges and Universities

Faith-based, or religious, colleges and universities are a broader category than you might think. They range from hundreds of small Bible colleges, which are dedicated to religious life and religion study, to very large universities that offer all fields of study, though with an underlying religious or moral or service-to-others orientation, like the University of Notre Dame. In addition, of course, are theological seminaries, which are designed mainly for individuals wishing to become ministers and are typically graduate schools.

Some faith-based institutions require more theology or religion or Bible study than others. Some require students to attend chapel services; some do not. Consequently, students who are not of the same faith as the college’s founding church will be more or less comfortable attending them. Interestingly, many colleges and universities have actually been founded by religious denominations, some of which retain their denomination affiliation and some of which do not.

Some faith-based institutions are Catholic, some Jewish, and some Protestant (including African Methodist Episcopal, Baptist, Presbyterian, Methodist, Lutheran, and more). Perhaps the two best-known Jewish universities in the U.S. are here in the Northeast: Yeshiva University in New York City, which combines an academic and religious education, and Brandeis University located outside Boston, which is a nonsectarian Jewish-supported institution.

The world of some 200 Catholic colleges and universities in the U.S. is complicated by the fact that they have been founded by various orders (like the Jesuits, Dominicans, Lasallians, and Franciscans) and by other groups within the Catholic community. Well-known and respected Catholic institutions include University of Notre Dame, Georgetown University, Boston College, Fordham University here in New York City, Villanova University, and the College of the Holy Cross and some that do not sound as though they are Catholic, like the University of Dallas, Manhattan College, Saint Louis University, Santa Clara University, and the University of San Diego.

The list of colleges affiliated with or founded by Protestant denominations is very, very long. If you are interested, you can easily find them online by looking up “Methodist colleges,” “Presbyterian colleges,” and so on. Some are associated with a denomination mainly through historical traditions, and others are more actively affiliated today. To find out how influential religion is in everyday life at a college, you will need to read about the college’s academic offerings and student life online or better still, call and ask. For example, Baylor University describes itself online as “a private Christian university and a nationally ranked research institution,” which was “chartered in 1845 by the Republic of Texas through the efforts of Baptist pioneers.” On the other hand, American University, Southern Methodist University, and Duke University had early Methodist affiliations, but they are not considered faith-based today.

2. Colleges and Universities for Students with Special Needs

While students with special needs can succeed at a wide variety of colleges and universities and while there are colleges and universities that have special programs for those students, there are also some that are dedicated to serving students with special needs.

Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C., was established as a college by an Act of Congress in 1864 to serve deaf and hard-of-hearing students. It was then and still is the world’s only such institution. The President of the United States signed the first diplomas of graduates in 1869, a tradition that continues to this day. Interestingly, up to 5 percent of the seats in each incoming class are open to hearing students. Gallaudet’s more than 1,700 students are pursuing both undergraduate and graduate degrees in what Gallaudet itself describes as a “bilingual, diverse, multicultural institution.” As an added bonus, its tuition is remarkably reasonable at about $14,000 a year because it is actually a public college.

In upstate New York at the Rochester Institute of Technology, students can find the National Technical Institute for the Deaf, one of nine colleges of RIT. Established by an Act of Congress in 1965, NTID is the world’s first and largest technological college for students who are deaf or hard of hearing. NTID offers career-oriented associate’s degrees in technical fields and associate’s degrees that lead directly into bachelor’s degrees study at RIT’s other colleges. It also offers the support services that deaf and hard-of-hearing students would need to study in the other RIT colleges. Because it is a public college, even though it is within a private university, the tuition is quite reasonable.

Let’s look at Landmark College in Vermont, founded in 1985 to help students with dyslexia succeed in college. Offering several associate’s degrees and a Bachelor of Arts in Liberal Studies, Landmark now serves a variety of students who learn differently—that is, students with learning disabilities, autism spectrum disorder, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. The College provides an impressive array of academic and personal support services to help Landmark students cope with college courses and college life. Summer programs are also available to rising high school juniors and seniors who learn differently and could benefit from Landmark’s approach.

Listen to the podcast to find out about…

  • Why people think a Jesuit education is so great
  • What to do for your child with special needs before he or she leaves high school
  • The job of student support services personnel at colleges and universities

Check out these higher education institutions we mention…

In New York State

Outside of New York State

Connect with us through…

Ask your questions or share your feedback by…

Episode 5: Colleges with Special Emphases (Part 2)

We’re continuing our series on understanding the world of college this week by exploring colleges and universities with selected academic specialties.

Regardless of the wide range of subjects most students study in high school, for some students one particular subject is the only reason to come to school. That is one reason that it is so important for high schools to offer a full array of subjects and a broad schedule of after-school activities.

Some students are ready to specialize when it comes to college. What those students have to decide is whether to attend a university—which offers the field of study they are interested in, along with many, many others—or a college that is entirely dedicated to the field of study they are interested in.

Listen to the podcast to find out about…
What parents, teachers, and high school students want from arts education
The truth about taking courses across schools or colleges within a university
The surprising breadth of courses in colleges devoted to the arts

Connect with us through…
Subscribing to NYCollegeChat on iTunes, Spreaker, Stitcher, or TuneIn!
Following us on Twitter @NYCollegeChat
Reviewing parent materials we have available at Policy Studies in Education
Inquiring about our consulting services if you need individualized help
Following us on Facebook as NYCollegeChat

Ask your questions or share your feedback by…
Calling our hotline at 516-900-NYCC
Emailing us at paul@policystudies.org to ask a question if you want us to answer it privately

We’re continuing our series on understanding the world of college this week by exploring colleges and universities with selected academic specialties.

NYCollegeChat Episode 5 Colleges with Special Emphases Part 2NYCollegeChat is now available on iTunes, Spreaker, Stitcher, and TuneIn!

Colleges and Universities with Selected Academic Specialties

Regardless of the wide range of subjects most students study in high school, for some students one particular subject is the only reason to come to school. That is one reason that it is so important for high schools to offer a full array of subjects and a broad schedule of after-school activities.

Some students are ready to specialize when it comes to college. What those students have to decide is whether to attend a university—which offers the field of study they are interested in, along with many, many others—or a college that is entirely dedicated to the field of study they are interested in. As we said in an earlier episode, a university typically has separate colleges or schools within it, each of which focuses on a broad field of study—for example, within the State University of New York at New Paltz, undergraduates can attend the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, the School of Business, the School of Education, the School of Fine and Performing Arts, or the School of Science and Engineering. (Learn more about two-year colleges, four-year colleges, and universities in this episode of the podcast.)

What are the pros and cons of choosing a university or an independent dedicated college? On one hand, a student who ends up wanting to change to a different field of study might have an easier time doing so in a university setting, where that student could end up in an entirely different part of the university. On the other hand, a student who does really well in one field and does not want to spend time studying others might progress quicker, learn more in depth, and be better focused in a college dedicated to that field.

So let’s look at the arts first. Students who are passionate about the arts have quite a number of well-regarded choices. Some schools devoted to the arts are within larger institutions, including the Eastman School of Music at the University of Rochester, the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University, the Conservatory of Music at Oberlin College, the Meadows School of the Arts at Southern Methodist University, and the Jacobs School of Music at Indiana University.

Turning to institutions wholly dedicated to the arts, there is the highly selective Juilliard School here in New York City, well known for its degrees in drama, music, and dance. The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, associated with the famous art museum of the same name, offers degrees in studio art, but also in art history and art education as well as other arts-related specialties. Founded in 1887, Pratt Institute in New York City offers both undergraduate and graduate degrees, with 22 associate’s and bachelor’s degrees in the arts and arts-related fields, including degrees in architecture, graphic design, painting and drawing, illustration, film, photography, digital arts, fashion, interior design, and art history. Rhode Island School of Design offers 15 Bachelors of Fine Arts majors in visual arts and design specialties and a Bachelor of Architecture degree.

Berklee College of Music in Boston, which is dedicated to the study of music, is a bit different from most other music schools because it draws students from around the world to study contemporary, rather than classical, music and offers degrees in a wide range of music specialties, including performance, composition, film scoring, music therapy, music education, production and engineering, and music business. Berklee’s new graduate campus in Valencia, Spain—again, dedicated to the study of music—offers its master’s degrees programs in extraordinary facilities, designed by modern architect Santiago Calatrava, in a setting that showcases global music.

Students who are intrigued by the rigorous technical field of engineering might consider a school of engineering within a large university (many big public universities have them and quite a few private universities also have them), like the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, California Institute of Technology, the University of Texas, Texas A & M University, the University of Illinois, the University of Southern California, Carnegie Mellon University, Cornell University, Columbia University, and many more. But, some smaller colleges have engineering programs as well. Take the example of Manhattan College (in New York City), which has 3,500 students, but offers a School of Engineering with both undergraduate and graduate degrees. Or these students might consider an institution that is dedicated to the study of engineering, like the Milwaukee School of Engineering.

Students who have decided that business is their future can attend business schools that can be found at many public and private universities—some well-known for their undergraduate business schools and some for their graduate business schools—including the University of Pennsylvania, Harvard University, the University of Chicago, Stanford University, New York University, Northwestern University, the University of California at Berkeley, the University of Virginia, and many more. Stand-alone institutions dedicated to the study of business are the other way to go. Students could consider places like Babson College and Bentley University, both private colleges located in Massachusetts.

The two options—a school or college within a larger university vs. a stand-alone college dedicated to one academic field—and these examples will give you some background for thinking about college options when a student is truly interested in one field of study.

Listen to the podcast to find out about…

  • What parents, teachers, and high school students want from arts education
  • The truth about taking courses across schools or colleges within a university
  • The surprising breadth of courses in colleges devoted to the arts

Check out these higher education institutions we mention…

In New York State

Outside of New York State

Connect with us through…

Ask your questions or share your feedback by…