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.

Ask your questions or share your feedback by…

  • Leaving a comment on the show notes for this episode at http://usacollegechat.org/episode81
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Episode 55: The Liberal Arts Debate

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

As we said last week when we kicked off Series 5, it seems to me that we have been reading and hearing a lot about higher education in the news. So we are going to dedicate some weeks to looking at news stories that are inspiring, upsetting, or just plain surprising—either about specific colleges or about higher education more generally.

Episode 55: The Liberal Arts Debate on NYCollegeChat podcast http://usacollegechat.org/episode55 Listen on iTunes, Stitcher, TuneIn

Some of the stories might immediately influence your teenager’s decisions about where to apply or later about where to attend, and other stories might take longer to impact your family. Either way, we think these are things parents should know and even act on.

Today’s topic is the liberal arts. While some parents believe that their teenagers should major in a field that leads directly to a job after college graduation rather than in the liberal arts, some colleges—including some unexpected ones— are stepping forward to praise the value of studying the liberal arts.

Let’s start by saying that studying the “liberal arts” means that students take courses in a variety of academic subjects, typically including literature, history, mathematics, fine arts, philosophy, foreign languages, biological and/or physical sciences (also called the natural sciences), and one or more of the social sciences, like psychology, sociology, or anthropology. Sometimes these subjects as a group are also called the “liberal arts and sciences” or just “arts and sciences” or “humanities and sciences.”

Our new book (that’s How To Find the Right College: A Workbook for Parents of High School Students, available electronically and in print at Amazon.com) talks about choosing liberal arts study vs. technical study for a whole chapter. We explain the debate and give the pros and cons for having a student study or major in one or the other. So we won’t repeat all of that reasoning here.

However, before we talk about an article on this topic that I read in The Hechinger Report last October, I want to say in the interest of full disclosure that both Marie and I took the liberal arts route for our undergraduate degrees—mine in English literature and Marie’s in sociology. So, it is possible that we are a bit biased in favor of having a liberal arts foundation. In Marie’s case, she never would have known that the field of sociology existed had it not been for the distribution requirements mandated by her traditional liberal arts college, Barnard. All three of my own children were gently guided in the past 10 years—both by their father and me and by their own colleges’ distribution requirements—into getting a liberal arts grounding first, before they went on to study for quite specialized bachelor’s degrees (in music performance, in visual arts and media, and in dance). All of us would take the liberal arts route again if we had it to do over. But that’s enough about us.

1. Two Unexpected Cases

In his article “The surprising institutions that refuse to drop the liberal arts,” Jon Marcus talks about two institutions that, by their very names, would appear to come down strongly on the side of technical study at the expense of liberal arts study. They are the United States Military Academy (commonly referred to as West Point) and the Culinary Institute of America—both located on the Hudson River a bit north of New York City. One produces soldiers, and one produces chefs—albeit some of the best soldiers and some of the best chefs anywhere.

Interestingly enough, however, West Point cadets choose from 40 academic majors that cover a broad array of disciplines—including American politics; art, philosophy and literature; foreign languages; history; sociology; and psychology; as well as management and the engineering and sciences you might expect. There are a lot of traditional liberal arts choices in that list. The Hechinger Report article quotes Brigadier General Timothy Trainor, the academic dean at West Point, on this subject:

It’s important to develop in young people the ability to think broadly, to operate in the context of other societies and become agile and adaptive thinkers. What you’re trying to do is teach them to deal with complexity, diversity, and change. They’re having to deal with people from other cultures. They have to think very intuitively to solve problems on the ground. (quoted from the article)

It is this critical thinking, problem solving, analysis, judgment, dealing with consequences, cultural sensitivity, and the sociology of their interactions with others that the proponents of the liberal arts claim can be taught most effectively through courses in liberal arts fields of study. And West Point seems to agree.

So does Michael Sperling, vice president for academic affairs at the private, nonprofit Culinary Institute of America, who is quoted in the article as saying this:

There’s a certain level of anti-intellectualism in the popular culture that inappropriately sees the pursuit of core disciplines as frivolous. And that’s unfortunate, because the kind of things you learn in philosophy courses and history courses deepens your ability to act in the world. (quoted from the article)

I think that “frivolous” is exactly the word that some parents would use to describe liberal arts study, and I hope that those parents are rethinking that position now.

Ted Russin, associate dean for culinary science, earned his degree in philosophy. He is quoted in the article as saying that Culinary Institute of America students “would definitely have technical skills. They could make a croissant and it would be exquisite. But there’s a difference between knowing how to do something and understanding what’s happening.” The bigger and broader understanding of what’s happening is what, some experts claim, the liberal arts provide.

2. Other Cases

Those of you who are faithful listeners to NYCollegeChat are likely to recall other higher education institutions we have talked about during our virtual college tour over the last few months—institutions that required more or offered more liberal arts courses and majors than you might have expected.

Let’s look at a few of our other military academies. We talked about the United States Naval Academy (commonly referred to as Annapolis). Young men and women at Annapolis graduate with Bachelor of Science degrees in a choice of about 25 majors—mostly in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics related to their future careers. But they can major instead in Arabic, Chinese, economics, English, history, or political science (and minor in other foreign languages).

We talked about the U.S. Coast Guard Academy, located in Connecticut, where seven of 24 core curriculum courses are from its Humanities Department, so cadets are well versed in the liberal arts when they graduate. Cadets may major in government (about 25 percent typically do) in addition to marine and environmental sciences and majors more directly related to maritime studies.

We talked about the Military College of South Carolina, The Citadel. The Citadel offers 20 undergraduate majors—with mandatory leadership and ethics studies—in the schools of business, education, engineering, science and mathematics, and humanities and social sciences.

Let’s look at some arts institutions. We talked about the Curtis Institute of Music and the University of the Arts in Philadelphia and the Rhode Island School of Design, where both the arts and the liberal arts are required parts of the curricula.

We talked about Berklee College of Music in Boston, which offers 12 different undergraduate music-related majors. But all Berklee students take both a core music curriculum (e.g., ear training, arranging, harmony) and a core liberal arts curriculum in the humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences and mathematics.

We talked about one of our nation’s finest art colleges: the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC), located adjacent to the world-famous art museum in downtown Chicago. SAIC offers a wide variety of art and design majors—along with a full array of liberal arts courses.

We talked about Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD), located in one of our nation’s prettiest towns. SCAD offers more than 40 undergraduate and graduate majors related to the arts and design, including writing. But, as part of the general education course requirements for undergraduates, students take liberal arts courses in the humanities and fine arts, natural sciences and mathematics, social and behavioral sciences, written and oral communication, and computer literacy.

Let’s look at a couple of Massachusetts colleges, which are known primarily as business colleges. We talked about Babson College, where at least half of students’ courses are in the liberal arts, including the study of a language that is useful in business dealings today—perhaps a bit surprising for a business-focused institution.

We talked about Bentley College, which offers its undergraduates 23 majors in 11 business fields and five arts and sciences disciplines. In fact, about 20 percent of undergraduates double major in business and Bentley’s Liberal Studies Major (which has eight interdisciplinary concentrations).

Let’s look at some high-tech institutions. We talked about Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, New Jersey, which comprises schools of Engineering and Science, Business, and Systems and Enterprises—as well as a College of Arts and Letters, where students can major in art, music, literature and communications, philosophy, history, and the social sciences and “benefit from pursuing these disciplines charged by the latest advances in technology, science, and innovation and the fundamental idea that science and technology can be used as intellectual tools of inquiry” (quoted from the website).

We talked about the Georgia Institute of Technology (commonly known as Georgia Tech), located in Atlanta. Georgia Tech provides a “focused, technologically based education” (taken from the website) and offers degrees in six colleges—Architecture, Computing, Engineering, Sciences, Business, and Liberal Arts—with “more than 100 centers focused on interdisciplinary research that consistently contribute vital research and innovation to American government, industry, and business” (taken from the website).

We talked about Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) in Massachusetts, which offers 12 types of engineering and 50 undergraduate and graduate degree programs in science, technology, management, the social sciences, and the humanities and arts. A Humanities and Arts requirement ensures that WPI students are well rounded; it consists of six courses of the student’s choosing, including courses from at least two different liberal arts disciplines, or a six-course sequence in Spanish, German, or Chinese—along with a final project.

We talked about the Colorado School of Mines, a highly selective and highly specialized engineering college. In addition to its applied science and mathematics majors, its geoscience and resource engineering majors, and a variety of other engineering majors, Mines requires a core curriculum, which includes humanities and social sciences courses.

We talked about the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), with its schools of Architecture and Planning, Engineering, Management, Science, and—last, but not least—the School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences. While we think of MIT as turning out first-rate engineers and scientists, students can also major in subjects in the School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences. By the way, all undergraduates at MIT take eight courses in the School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences (about 25 percent of their undergraduate program), so they truly become balanced students and informed citizens.

We talked about Columbia University’s well-known undergraduate Core Curriculum for Columbia College, its undergraduate liberal arts college. The Core Curriculum includes courses in literature, writing, art, music, civilization, science, and more. We said that the common texts that students read and discuss is like a greatest-hits list. But here is the remarkable statement from the website of Columbia’s Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science:

Engineering has been called the newest liberal art. At Columbia Engineering, students not only study science and mathematics and gain technical skills but also study literature, philosophy, art history, music theory, and major civilizations through the Core Curriculum in the humanities. (quoted from the website)

So, it is plain to see that specialized institutions—including institutions specializing in technical study—which seem unlikely champions of the liberal arts, are often, in fact, champions of the liberal arts.

3. What Some States Are Doing

Some states, however, have a different perspective. When dealing with financial cutbacks while trying to fund large public universities with taxpayers’ dollars, some states have questioned the value of the liberal arts—at least, some liberal arts fields anyway. Here are two ideas that have been proposed at the state level:

  • Charge students more tuition for liberal arts majors because the state does not believe that its economy needs them as much as it needs STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) majors and, thus, does not want to subsidize them to the same degree.
  • Encourage students who want to major in liberal arts fields to go to a private college to major in them and pay for that themselves—again, so the state does not have to subsidize those majors with public funds.

Some states have had their public universities cut back on some arts majors and some foreign language majors—not entire departments necessarily, but perhaps one language or one of the arts. Interestingly enough, these are the same two cuts that often get made at the high school level when public funds are tight. (Read Regina’s related blog post for more information.)

Maybe these states should have listened to what some colleges are saying—oh, and what employers are saying.

4. What Employers Are Saying

According to a survey by the Association of American Colleges and Universities, about 75 percent of the 318 corporate leaders surveyed “want more emphasis on critical thinking, problem-solving, written and oral communication, and applied knowledge . . . exactly the kinds of skills advocates for the liberal arts say they teach. Ninety-three percent agree that ‘a demonstrated capacity to think critically, communicate clearly, and solve complex problems’ is more important than a job candidate’s undergraduate major” (quoted from the article).

I am taking that to mean that a good job applicant who has an undergraduate liberal arts degree, who can speak and write and think and solve problems well, could be just as attractive to a corporation as a good job applicant who has an undergraduate business degree. So, parents, that is a viewpoint worth considering when it comes time for your teenager to choose a major for real as a college sophomore or junior or even to declare a tentative one on a college application.

5. A Few Practical Considerations

Let’s conclude with a few practical considerations. Marie and I have a preference for liberal arts study unless a student is absolutely dead certain that a technical field is his or her preference. That preference would have to be based on a long-time interest in that field, good grades in high school subjects that prepare a student for that field, discussions with people who work in that field, and some kind of internship or summer work experience in that field. All too often kids have an idea of a career they want to pursue without having any practical information about what that career is like in the real world.

And here’s one important thing to remember: Credits in liberal arts college courses (especially those taken in the first year of college) can be transferred far more easily among degree programs and even among colleges than credits in technical courses can. That means that a kid can change his or her mind after starting college (and many, many do) without losing too much time and, parents, too much of your money.

Listen to the podcast to find out about…

  • How all students get their vocational or technical education at some point in their lives
  • What other reasons some states have for not wanting to fund liberal arts studies
  • Whether foreign languages, a traditional liberal arts discipline, are actually a technical career skill

Check out these higher education institutions and organizations we mention…

In New York State

Outside of New York State

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  • Leaving a comment on the show notes for this episode below
  • Calling us at (516) 900-NYCC to record a question on our NYCollegeChat voicemail if you want us to answer your question live on our podcast
  • Emailing us at paul@policystudies.org to ask a question if you want us to answer it privately

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Episode 47: Colleges in the Mid-Atlantic Region—Part III

NYCollegeChat Episode 47: Colleges in the Mid-Atlantic Region—Part III: A virtual tour of private collegesListen to the episode in the player, download it here, or subscribe on iTunes, Stitcher, or TuneIn.

In our episodes for the past two weeks, we have focused our virtual tour of colleges on the public higher education institutions in the Mid-Atlantic region: Maryland, Delaware, the District of Columbia, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. As we explained then, we are going to put off a discussion of New York (also part of the Mid-Atlantic region) for another week because it is the home state of many of our listeners and we know that they will be especially interested in it (though, as we have said repeatedly, we wish you all would look outside your home state).

This week and next week, we will take a look at some of the many private colleges and universities in the rest of the Mid-Atlantic region. We are going to talk about a group of nationally known higher education institutions, which draw students internationally; a selection of institutions with one or another kind of special focus; and a host of smaller liberal arts colleges.

There are enough well-known colleges and universities in the Mid-Atlantic region to fill two episodes and then some—or perhaps I just think there are so many because I grew up in one of these states and have lived in another one of them for the past 40 years. So, I have been around these colleges and universities literally my whole life. Nonetheless, I learned some new things about them when I wrote this episode. As we often say, information about colleges changes all the time. We know that it is hard to keep up, even when it is your job to do so.

And, as we say every time, no college has asked us or paid us anything to include it. These are our own choices.

1. Nationally Known Higher Education Institutions

Let’s start by saying that two of the eight Ivy League schools are located in the part of the Mid-Atlantic region we are looking at this week: the University of Pennsylvania (commonly referred to as Penn) in Philadelphia and Princeton University in Princeton, New Jersey.

According to my father, Penn’s most loyal alumnus ever, Penn is the greatest university in the world. Certainly, its history is remarkable:

[I]n 1749, Benjamin Franklin—printer, inventor and future founding father of the United States—published his famous essay, Proposals Relating to the Education of Youth, circulated it among Philadelphia’s leading citizens, and organized 24 trustees to form an institution of higher education based on his proposals. The group purchased [a building, and] in 1751, opened its doors to children of the gentry and working class alike as the Academy and Charitable School in the Province of Pennsylvania. Franklin served as president of the institution until 1755 and continued to serve as a trustee until his death in 1790.

Franklin’s educational aims, to train young people for leadership in business, government and public service, were innovative for the time. In the 1750s, the other Colonial American colleges educated young men for the Christian ministry, but Franklin’s proposed program of study was much more like the modern liberal arts curriculum. His fellow trustees were unwilling to implement most of his then-radical ideas though, and Penn’s first provost, William Smith, turned the curriculum back to traditional channels soon after taking the helm from Franklin.

In the years that followed, Penn went on to obtain a collegiate charter (1755), graduate its first class (1757), establish the first medical school in the American colonies (1765) and become the first American institution of higher education to be named a university (1779). (quoted and excerpted from the website)

Today, more than two centuries later, Penn enrolls almost 11,000 undergraduates and just as many graduate and professional students, for a total of almost 22,000 students on its Center City campus in Philadelphia.

Princeton, which was chartered as the College of New Jersey in 1746, is just a bit older than Penn, though its Graduate School is quite a bit younger (it was established in 1900). It is also quite a bit smaller than Penn, serving a total of about 8,000 students, with just over 5,000 being undergraduates. It has a lovely campus in small-town Princeton—also quite different from downtown Philadelphia.

Both universities have famous schools: Penn has its undergraduate and graduate Wharton School, highly respected among business schools, its Annenberg School for Communication, and well-known professional schools, including medicine, law, dental medicine, veterinary medicine, and nursing; Princeton has its graduate Woodrow Wilson School for students pursuing public and international affairs.

As we said a few weeks ago, Ivy League schools are well known for their high academic standards, excellent undergraduate and graduate majors, longtime traditions, famous professors, ivy-covered campuses, and the extreme selectivity of their admissions process (the average SAT subtest scores of Penn freshmen are in the mid-700s). They have sky-high tuition, though they also have quite a bit of financial aid available for students whose family resources are very limited. However, your child would first have to have extraordinary high school grades and college admission test scores to be accepted. If your child is that bright, then my father would say to consider Penn.

As I said a few weeks ago, one thing that the Ivies do not do as well as many large public universities is varsity sports. You might recall that my father was the Sports Information Director at Penn when he helped to establish the Ivy League athletic conference in the 1950s. I have been attending Ivy League sports contests since I was in elementary school (did you know that Penn had the first college double-decker football stadium?). I later covered sports for my own Ivy League school’s newspaper, The Cornell Daily Sun. So, I know what I am talking about. I am not saying that we don’t have, on occasion, some good teams and truly talented individual athletes—in soccer and ice hockey and even, occasionally, football. Nonetheless, as we have said previously, most students don’t come to an Ivy League school for sports.

An equally prestigious and equally selective institution is Johns Hopkins University (JHU) in Baltimore, Maryland. Founded more than a century later than Penn and Princeton in 1876, JHU got its start as a research university from the first day:

The university takes its name from . . . philanthropist Johns Hopkins, an entrepreneur and abolitionist with Quaker roots who believed in improving public health and education in Baltimore and beyond. . . .

In his will, he set aside $7 million to establish a hospital and affiliated training colleges, an orphanage, and a university. At the time, it was the largest philanthropic bequest in U.S. history.

Johns Hopkins University opened in 1876 with the inauguration of . . . president Daniel Coit Gilman. He guided the opening of the university and other institutions, including the university press, the hospital, and the schools of nursing and medicine. . . .

In [his inaugural address], he defined the model of the American research university, now emulated around the globe. The mission he described then remains the university’s mission today:

To educate its students and cultivate their capacity for lifelong learning, to foster independent and original research, and to bring the benefits of discovery to the world. (quoted and excerpted from the website)

JHU now serves a total of about 21,000 undergraduate, graduate, and professional students, making it about the size of Penn. It has nine schools (including the Peabody Institute for music) and, according to the website, “more than 240 programs in the arts and music, the humanities, the social and natural sciences, engineering, international studies, education, business, and the health professions”—though it might be best known nationally for its outstanding School of Medicine. And its men’s lacrosse team has won 44 national championships (I told you two weeks ago that these Mid-Atlantic colleges are proud of their lacrosse programs).

But, like the Ivies, JHU will be quite expensive, and your child will need the same extraordinary high school grades and college admission test scores to get in. Here is one tiny bit of help: You can read Essays That Worked and get tips on writing good college essays in the undergraduate admissions section of the JHU website.

Now let’s look briefly at two nationally known universities, indeed “national” universities, chartered by an Act of Congress, in the nation’s capital—both well respected, but slightly less selective. (Incidentally, that does not mean that they are easy to get into; they are not. Your child will still need very good high school grades. But, except for about 25 colleges, almost every other college in the U.S. is less selective than Penn, Princeton, and Johns Hopkins.) The two “national” universities we are going to discuss now are George Washington University (commonly referred to as GW) and American University (AU).

GW was established in 1821, “fulfilling George Washington’s vision of an institution in the nation’s capital dedicated to educating and preparing future leaders” (quoted from the website). Today, GW serves about 9,500 undergraduates in 70 degree programs in the arts and humanities, sciences and mathematics, social sciences, business, engineering, nursing, public health, international affairs, and communications on its two D.C. campuses. About 25 percent of GW undergraduates are “multicultural,” and about 25 percent speak more than one language fluently. GW also serves another approximately 14,000 graduate and professional students at locations in D.C., Virginia, and Maryland.

About 90 percent of GW undergraduates participate in an internship or career-related opportunity, and many have more than one. In addition to its own study abroad programs at GW Latin America, GW England, GW Madrid, and GW Paris, GW students can also attend another 240 affiliated programs worldwide. Rounding out college life, GW also offers more than 450 student organizations and 23 varsity sports teams.

With some exceptions (such as students applying to accelerated degree programs and homeschooled students), GW is a “test-optional” college as of August, 2015. Students may submit college admission test scores if they wish to do so, but students who choose not to submit them “will not be viewed negatively” (quoted from the website). Like other first-rate universities, undergraduate tuition and fees are super-high at about $51,000 per year. However, GW’s Fixed-Tuition Program guarantees that tuition is fixed for a total of 10 semesters as long as a student remains enrolled full time.

Turning to American University, its campus in northwest D.C. serves just about half as many students as GW—that is, about 7,000 undergraduates and about 5,000 graduate and professional students, drawn nationally and internationally from about 140 countries, like GW. AU offers 69 bachelor’s degree programs in five colleges and schools: arts and sciences, business, public affairs, international service, and communications. Interestingly, about 75 percent of incoming freshmen said that “keeping up to date with political affairs” was important—which befits a university with a school of public affairs located in the nation’s capital.

Similar to GW, about 90 percent of AU’s undergraduates complete an internship. AU students also participate in over 200 student organizations and play on 14 varsity sports teams.

Like GW, AU was also chartered by Congress, but some years later—in 1893. It was founded by Methodist Bishop John Fletcher Hurst as an institution for training public servants. When the Methodist-affiliated university opened in 1914, President Woodrow Wilson spoke at the ceremony.

Students admitted to last fall’s (2014) freshman class posted an average SAT critical reading score of 645 and an average math score of 624. Their average high school GPA was about a 3.8. Tuition and fees at AU are a bit lower than GW’s—but certainly not low—at about $43,000 per year.

And just a word about Washington itself. It is a really appealing place for students to live and to study. It has museums and the arts and historical sites and sports and good public transportation and some of the most beautiful buildings and monuments in the U.S.

Another well-respected university in the Mid-Atlantic region is found in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (you will remember that we have already talked about the University of Pittsburgh as a great public university), and that is Carnegie Mellon University. Founded as Carnegie Technical Schools by industrialist and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie in 1900, Carnegie Mellon has gone through a number of stages and mergers to get to the research university it is today, boasting colleges/schools of engineering, fine arts, humanities and social sciences, business, science, and computer science—and, for graduate students, information systems and management and public policy and management.

Carnegie Mellon serves just over 6,000 undergraduates and about 7,000 graduate and professional students. It has a good student-to-faculty ratio of 10:1—especially good for a university as large as it is—and virtually all undergraduate classes are taught by faculty members (not by teaching assistants).

It is intriguing that a university with its innovative technical history and the world’s first university robotics department (in 1979) would also be the first U.S. university to award a degree in drama (way back in 1914) and would count 114 Emmy Award winners, 41 Tony Award winners, and 7 Academy Award winners among its alumni/alumnae and professors. Its alumni/alumnae are famous in a wide variety of fields—from genius mathematician John Nash, Jr., (whose life was chronicled in A Beautiful Mind) to pop artist Andy Warhol to television icons like Steven Bochco and Ted Danson to actress Holly Hunter.

Carnegie Mellon also offers more than 275 student organizations, fraternities and sororities, and 16 varsity sports teams, known as the Tartans (thanks to Andrew Carnegie’s Scottish roots).

Carnegie Mellon requires college admission tests, including the writing component and including SAT Subject Tests for many majors; these are more testing requirements than a lot of colleges have these days. Freshmen last fall posted SAT critical reading and writing average scores in the high 600s to low 700s and an average mathematics score in the mid-700s, perhaps as befits a university known for its technical programs (about 80 percent of students scored 700 or better in math). About 80 percent were in the top one-tenth of their high school graduating class, and the average high school GPA for these new freshmen was a 3.7. So, I would say that is pretty selective.

By the way, tuition and fees are going to run you almost $51,000 per year—putting Carnegie Mellon in a league with GW. Interestingly, Carnegie Mellon offers financial aid only to U.S. citizens and permanent residents.

Heading east from Pittsburgh across Pennsylvania, we come to three universities that are perhaps a bit better known on the East Coast than the West Coast: Bucknell University in Lewisburg, Lehigh University in Bethlehem, and Drexel University in Philadelphia.

Let’s start with Bucknell, founded in 1846 and renamed 40 years later for benefactor William Bucknell. Today, the University is proud of its 9:1 student-to-faculty ratio and the fact that all of its classes for its 3,600 undergraduate students are taught by faculty, not graduate assistants. About 85 percent of its undergraduates graduate in four years, with a major in one of 50 degree programs (about 25 percent of students have a double major) in one of these schools/colleges: arts and sciences, management, and/or engineering (with eight types of engineering offered). Bucknell also has a small graduate program of about 60 students.

Bucknell offers 27 varsity sports teams and about 200 student-run organizations plus fraternities and sororities. About 85 percent of seniors do volunteer or community service work.

Incoming freshmen last year posted average SAT subtest scores in the mid-600s, with math just a shade higher than critical reading and writing. About 70 percent of students were in the top one-tenth of their high school graduating class, and their average high school GPA was a 3.6. Tuition and fees at Bucknell will set you back about $50,000 per year—another high price tag among private universities in the Mid-Atlantic region. Interestingly, Bucknell offers arts merit scholarships from $2,500 to $20,000 per year for students who are extremely talented in art, art history, creative writing, dance, film and media, literature, music, and theater. Personally, I think of Bucknell as a quintessential small-town college.

Moving farther east, we come to Lehigh University, founded in 1865 by Asa Packer, president of the Lehigh Valley Railroad, and now home to about 5,000 undergraduate and 2,000 graduate and professional students, who study in four colleges: arts and sciences, engineering and applied science, business and economics, and education. According to the website, Lehigh got its start at a railroad junction, which was in walking distance for managers of the railroad:

Packer and his associates designed the school to chiefly focus on mathematics and science education, but provide pupils with a sufficient knowledge of classics. He knew, as did many others, that a strong national economy depended on more than technical skills. It needed people broadly educated in the liberal arts and sciences — people who could combine practical skills with informed judgments and strong moral self-discipline. (quoted from the website)

Undergraduates (who are about 55 percent male and 45 percent female) can study in 90 majors or choose from 20 multidisciplinary programs. They enjoy a 10:1 student-to-faculty ratio. About 97 percent “of recent graduates found career-related opportunities in six months” (quoted from the website).

Lehigh fields 25 varsity sports teams. The Lehigh–Lafayette football rivalry is legend, with the first game played in 1884 and then annually since 1897. Lafayette College is located not 20 miles away in Easton, Pennsylvania.

Incoming freshmen this year posted average SAT subtest scores in the mid-600s, in critical reading and in the low 700s in mathematics. Tuition and fees at Lehigh are about $46,000 per year.

Finally, let’s look at Drexel University, located in downtown Philadelphia—quite a different setting from Bucknell and Lehigh. Founded in 1891 by financier and philanthropist Anthony J. Drexel, the University began as the Drexel Institute of Art, Science and Industry and granted its first bachelor’s degrees in 1914. It became Drexel Institute of Technology in 1936 and Drexel University in 1970. Today it serves about 26,000 total students in 15 colleges and schools—with about 17,000 undergraduates in the colleges/schools/centers of arts and sciences; biomedical engineering, science and health systems; business; computing and informatics; education; engineering; entrepreneurship; hospitality and sport management; media arts and design; nursing and health professions; and public health.

A hallmark of Drexel’s education is its cooperative education program:

Founded in 1919, Drexel’s cooperative education program was one of the first of its kind, and it continues to be among the largest and most renowned.

Drexel Co-op is based on paid employment in practical, major-related positions consistent with the interests and abilities of participating students. The benefits are obvious—during their time at Drexel, students experience up to three different co-ops. Because of this, Drexel students graduate having already built a professional network, and they typically receive higher starting salaries than their counterparts from other schools.

Through the co-op program:

Students choose from more than 1,600 employers in 33 states and 48 international locations, or conduct an independent search.

The average paid six-month co-op salary is more than $16,000.

Co-op students are entrusted with projects vital to the day-to-day functioning of the workplace. (quoted from the website)

Drexel operates on 10-week quarters (rather than two longer semesters), which helps when it comes time to schedule co-op programs. Drexel also offers its students traditional college activities, including more than 300 student organizations, fraternities and sororities, and 18 varsity sports teams.

Last fall, Drexel had over 47,000 applications for its freshman class of just under 3,000 students. Incoming freshmen posted an average high school GPA of about a 3.5. Average SAT subtest scores in critical reading and writing were in the high 500s and in the low 600s for mathematics. Tuition and fees run about $49,000 per year, though these differ by college/school and by the number of co-op placements. The bottom line is that Drexel is about as expensive as the other pricy private universities in the Mid-Atlantic region (except, of course, that students are earning a decent salary during the co-op placements).

2. Institutions with a Special Academic Focus

In an early episode of NYCollegeChat, we first introduced the idea that some institutions are devoted, more or less, to the study of certain disciplines. The Mid-Atlantic region has several institutions worth talking about in two categories: the arts and technology.

The Arts. Philadelphia has three higher education institutions that fall into this category:

  • The Curtis Institute of Music—Curtis offers diplomas, bachelor’s degrees, master’s degrees, and professional certificates to extraordinarily talented musicians, all of whom attend on full-tuition scholarships. Both music and liberal arts courses are part of the curriculum. Everything about Curtis sounds amazing. Founded in 1924, Curtis now enrolls 166 students. Only musical geniuses need apply.
  • Moore College of Art and Design—Founded in 1848 as the Philadelphia School of Design for Women, Moore enrolls just over 400 undergraduate women, who choose a Bachelor of Fine Arts major from one of 10 fields—from art education to art history to fine arts to fashion design to graphic design and more. It is the only visual arts women’s college in the U.S. (its website has an impressive list of reasons from the Women’s College Coalition about why to attend a women’s college). It also has a very small graduate program, which is coeducational. About 55 percent of students are from Pennsylvania, and another 25 percent are from neighboring states. Its tuition and fees run about $37,000 per year, and it also offers a paid internship program. College admission test scores are optional, though a portfolio of artwork is required.
  • The University of the Arts (UArts)—Founded in 1876 as the Philadelphia College of Art (originally part of the Philadelphia Museum of Art) and in 1870 as the Philadelphia Musical Academy, several mergers and renamings during the course of a century produced UArts in 1987. Now enrolling about 1,700 undergraduate and just over 100 graduate students, UArts offers 25 bachelor’s degree programs in design, fine arts, media arts, crafts, creative writing, music, dance, and theater (including a new B.F.A. in Game Art) through its College of Art, Media & Design, its College of Performing Arts, and its Division of Liberal Arts (liberal arts are part of each degree program). UArts has a 37 percent minority student enrollment. With an impressive 8:1 student-to-faculty ratio, UArts boasts professors who not only are academically credentialed in their fields, but also are practicing artists. Freshman applicants must present a portfolio of artwork or written work, or pass an audition, or have an interview. College admission test scores are also required, unless the student has passed a college-level English Composition course with a grade of C or better. Its tuition and fees run about $38,000 per year.

Technology. Just one state away in New Jersey, we find Stevens Institute of Technology, located in Hoboken on the Hudson River, on a lovely campus with what can be described only as one of the best views of New York City ever. Marie and I took a group of high school students to Stevens for a tour several years ago, and we both came away super impressed.

Known as The Innovation University®, Stevens was founded in 1870 and now comprises a College of Arts and Letters and schools of Engineering and Science, Business, and Systems and Enterprises. It serves almost 3,000 undergraduates in 32 undergraduate majors and another approximately 3,500 graduate students, with a very good 8:1 student-to-faculty ratio. Perhaps not surprisingly, about 70 percent of its undergraduate and graduate students are men. About 75 percent of undergraduates do research or complete an internship or cooperative education placement. This is how Stevens describes its “entrepreneurial spirit”:

Stevens is driven by core values that include a solid commitment to immersing students in the comprehensive process of innovation. This means students are continuously exposed to advancing their ideas through Research and Development (R&D) to the commercialization stage, the point at which their vision and knowledge have the greatest impact. One way Stevens achieves this is by integrating the startup experience into the curriculum. Two major programs, specifically, provide students with experiential instruction in real-world startup companies: an 18-month curriculum that brings both business and engineering students together to develop university technology into an engineered solution under the guidance of an experienced CEO, and the capstone experiences provided for students in all majors, many of which are sponsored by government and industry and go on to be actualized and patented.  (quoted from the website)

But Stevens students also major in art, music, literature and communications, philosophy, history, and the social sciences and “benefit from pursuing these disciplines charged by the latest advances in technology, science, and innovation and the fundamental idea that science and technology can be used as intellectual tools of inquiry” (quoted from the website).

There are plenty of other intriguing things to say about Stevens, including its engineering “Design Spine”—a set of eight courses “that are the major vehicle for developing a set of competencies to meet educational goals in areas such as creative thinking, problem solving, teamwork, economics of engineering, project management, communication skills, ethics, and environmental awareness” (quoted from the website). But, if your child is interested in technology or engineering, you should really visit the website—or, better yet, the Stevens campus—yourselves.

Though a technological university, Stevens has enough of the traditional student organizations (almost 100) and varsity sports (12 men’s and 12 women’s) that any college student would want. New freshmen at Stevens posted an average high school GPA of 3.8 and an average SAT critical reading and mathematics score of about 1300 (so mid-600s per subtest). About 60 percent were in the top one-tenth of their high school graduating class. Steven’s tuition and fees are about $47,000 per year, which seems to be in line with the other private universities we have been spotlighting.

Next week, we will be back to look at more private higher education institutions with a special focus as well as quite a group of small liberal arts colleges.

Listen to the podcast to find out about…

  • Appealing Washington, D.C.
  • Appealing cooperative education and internship programs
  • Appealing high school programs at Stevens Institute of Technology

Check out these higher education institutions and organizations we mention…

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