Episode 115: What About a Gap Year Before College?

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

While today’s topic might not be an issue in higher education generally, it could well be an issue in your own teenager’s higher education–and it’s an issue that you might want to think about quickly right now if you have a high school senior. It is the notion of having your teenager take a gap year between finishing high school this spring and starting college this fall. For those of you who have high school juniors at home, it’s not too early for you to be thinking about this option, too.

For those of you wrestling with which college your teenager should attend when he or she has some options, let us remind you that, last year in April, we did a series of three episodes on how to think about that college decision–one for above-average students, one for average students, and one for below-average students–because we felt that their options and their reasons for choosing one college over another might be very different. You should go back and re-read the show notes or re-listen to Episodes 69, 70, and 71–or, at least, the one that best describes the academic standing of your own teenager. As we said last week when we highlighted some key points from those three episodes, we just can’t do any better now than we did then in pointing out the serious questions you should consider in making this all-important choice with your teenager.

With all that said, we are guessing that there are some families that are not thrilled with the college options they have at the moment, and today’s episode might give those families something else to consider. Like everything, the notion of a gap year has pros and cons, though I have to say that there are a lot of fervent supporters–far more than I thought before I did this episode. Let’s get some background.

1. The Background

Let me start by saying that I happened on an article from The Conversation from way back last May. The Conversation is, in its own words, “an independent source of news and views from the academic and research community.” The Conversation explains that its “team of professional editors work with university and research institute experts to unlock their knowledge for use by the wider public. Access to independent, high quality, authenticated, explanatory journalism underpins a functioning democracy. Our aim is to promote better understanding of current affairs and complex issues. And hopefully allow for a better quality of public discourse and conversation.” (quoted from the website) The Conversation, which was founded in Australia and now operates in the U.K. and U.S. as well, is a free resource, which addresses issues in arts, business, politics, the environment, health, technology, education, and more–so check it out.

The discussion today comes from an article by Joe O’Shea, the Director of Undergraduate Research and Academic Engagement at Florida State University, and Nina Hoe, the Study Director at the Institute for Survey Research at Temple University. In the interest of full disclosure, Mr. O’Shea is the president of the board of the American Gap Association, and Ms. Hoe is the Association’s Director of Research. My guess is that they might not be the most impartial chroniclers of the benefits of a gap year; nonetheless, they offer a lot of information on the topic in their article.

Although gap years have been discussed–and taken–in the U.S. for many years, the notion of a gap year landed squarely on our collective radar when Malia Obama decided to take 2016?2017 as a gap year before attending Harvard this coming fall. Now, that probably had to do with the fact that her father was finishing up his presidency more than anything else, but perhaps she put gap years on the map for a lot of families that had never thought about them.

The data show that about 11 percent of Australian students more than 10 years ago were taking gap years compared to no more than 3 percent of U.S. students today. What is a common topic of discussion and real alternative for educated families in the U.K. is rarely discussed here in the U.S., especially among middle-income and lower-income families.

And yet, Mr. O’Shea and Ms. Hoe assert, in their article, that gap years are getting more popular in the U.S. So, let’s look at what the research shows.

2. The Research

The authors present evidence that an alarmingly sizable percentage of students on college campuses are stressed severely enough–including to the point of being medically diagnosed with anxiety or depression–to cause them to seek counseling from on-campus health services. The authors also note that “faculty and staff are reporting that today’s students lack coping skills such as resilience and the ability to succeed independently despite adversity” (quoted from the article). It is a picture of too many college students who are burned out from intense high school years, over-anxious, and unable to handle the many demands of college academic and social life.

Well, if that’s the problem, what does research say about the solution? Here is what the authors say:

Research shows that a gap year . . . can provide students the opportunity to gain personal skills such as independence, resilience, confidence and focus. A combination of activities during this year that involve volunteering, interning or working, either domestically or internationally, can provide meaningful experiences that challenge students outside their comfort zones. These experience[s] can help students reevaluate how they understand themselves and the world.

Several peer-reviewed studies focusing on students in the U.K. and Australia have shown that students who took a gap year experienced a host of personal benefits, such as higher levels of motivation and higher academic performance in college.

A 2015 survey of over 700 former gap year participants found overwhelming personal, academic, career and civic engagement benefits associated with taking a gap year.

Over 90 percent of all respondents indicated that their gap year provided important time for personal reflection, aided in personal development, increased maturity and self-confidence, and fostered the development of interpersonal communication skills.

Specifically related to college, 73 percent of respondents reported that their gap year helped them increase their readiness for college, 59 percent said it increased their interest in attending college and 57 percent said it helped them figure out what they wanted to study in college. (quoted from the article)

As loyal listeners of USACollegeChat know, we are all about getting kids outside their comfort zone, so that is an appealing aspect of a gap year. And I do think that what the research finds is entirely believable. I imagine that most adults would agree that a one-year dose of the real world?whether that is in a volunteer or paid setting, whether that is at home or far away, whether that is working with people like you or people not at all like you?is likely to help teenagers grow up and give them more life-coping skills than they had when they started.

But what about their future academic life? What if they like the path they are on in their gap year so much that they decide not to go to college at all? Is that a good thing or a bad thing? And what happens when they do go to college after a gap year?

Here is some research cited, with obvious approval, on the American Gap Association website:

From Joe O’Shea’s book, Gap Year: How Delaying College Changes People in Ways the World Needs: “. . . In Australia and the United Kingdom, economic researchers found that high school students who deferred their admission to college to take a Gap Year went to college (after their Gap Year) at the same rate as those who accepted an offer and intended to go straight there (Birch and Miller 2007; Crawford and Cribb 2012). They also found that taking a Gap Year had a significant positive impact on students’ academic performance in college, with the strongest impact for students who had applied to college with grades on the lower end of the distribution (Birch and Miller 2007; Crawford and Cribb 2012).” In fact, in the United Kingdom and in the United States, students who had taken a Gap Year were more likely to graduate with higher grade point averages than observationally identical individuals who went straight to college, and this effect was seen even for Gap Year students with lower academic achievement in high school (Crawford and Cribb 2012, Clagett 2013). (quoted from the website)

Well, now I am really interested–because I feared that kids who took a gap year might end up opting out of college (which would obviously not be my preference for them). It is also persuasive that gap-year kids with lower grades in high school graduated with higher college grades than similar students who went straight to college. Whether that finding is the result of academic knowledge actually gained during the gap year or of enhanced personal traits (like motivation and self-confidence) doesn’t really matter, I guess. So, there does not seem to be a personal or academic downside to a gap year–at least according to this research, these authors, and the American Gap Association.

3. The Design (and Expense) of a Worthwhile Gap Year

How then do Mr. O’Shea and Ms. Hoe characterize an appropriate gap year experience? This is what they say:

Gap years need to be properly designed so they can challenge students with new roles and perspectives that accelerate their growth as thinkers and citizens. Experiences that push students out of their comfort zones and allow them to explore new cultures and people from different backgrounds can create an impactful experience. They provide students an opportunity to reflect on a number of challenges and also allow for critical self-reflection that can root part of their identity in contributions to others.

In an ideal gap year experience, students get to develop actual relationships with people who are different from them. And when that happens, students can begin to see the world from different perspectives and learn about the complexity of social challenges. (quoted from the article)

Of course, that all sounds great. And if that can be done in the context of an internship near home or a volunteer slot in a nearby community, then I can get past one fear I have, which is that that gap years are just one more thing that benefit rich kids who can afford to fly off to some exotic locale or who can get a fascinating internship because of their parents’ connections.   Do you know, by the way, that there are companies that plan gap years for kids, including booking all of the travel? That can’t be cheap. Just like college admissions coaching, the notion of gap year experiences has spawned a whole industry. And that does worry me a bit.

Perhaps the title of a New York Times article last May by Mike McPhate says it all: “Malia Obama’s ‘Gap Year’ Is Part of a Growing (and Expensive) Trend.” His article notes that the price tag on an international gap year program could run as high as $35,000.

But here are a couple of other ways to do it:

[U]niversity administrators . . . note that gap-year plans come in a variety of forms, some of them at no cost. AmeriCorpsCity Year, for example, pays students stipends to teach. Another popular program, Global Citizen Year, provides financial support–more than $6 million since 2010–for students to pursue experiential learning.

But those programs can be highly competitive. City Year, for example, says it selects only about one in four applicants. (quoted from the article)

So, although these programs sound promising, it’s like trying to get into college all over again. I am not sure how that helps kids cope with burnout and stress. And, as we might have expected, colleges themselves are getting into the game, according to Mr. McPhate’s article:

More universities have begun formal gap-year programs that take varying approaches to enrollment and the providing of aid, including Princeton, Tufts, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Elon University.

At Princeton and North Carolina, for example, freshman-year enrollment is deferred and at least some financial help is provided, while Elon considers participants enrolled and charges its regular tuition. Another program offered by the New School in New York City also treats students as enrolled and offers up to a full year of academic credit.

Florida State University is among the latest campuses to start offering scholarships to gap-year students. Late last year, the public institution said applicants could get up to $5,000, and sent an email to the entire incoming [freshman] class urging them to consider deferring their freshman year. (quoted from the article)

Clearly, I am not understanding how a gap year turns into a year where tuition is charged and a full year of academic credit is given. That really makes it sound more like a study abroad program. And, in fact, there are already colleges (NYU is one) where freshmen can take their freshman year in another country–a real study abroad experience before you ever study at home.

4. So What?

So, what is the purpose of a gap year and who should think about taking one? Well, I think that the vocal proponents of gap years think everyone should take one, given the positive results that the research seems to show. I am probably a bit more restrained in my enthusiasm, but I am willing to be persuaded. Parents, I am afraid that you are going to have to do some research of your own if you think your senior would benefit from a year of experiences–paid or unpaid, nearby or far away–before starting into his or her college career.

Here are a few quotations from another New York Times article, written last year by Abigail Falik, who is the founder and CEO of Global Citizen Year (which we mentioned earlier) and who is, I am assuming, a bit partial to the notion of gap years.


What if college freshmen arrived on campus not burnt out from having been “excellent sheep” in high school, but instead refreshed, focused and prepared to take full advantage of the rich resources and opportunities colleges have to offer?

The “gap year,” a common practice across Europe and Australia, has yet to take root in the United States. A primary barrier is the stigma we associate with the term–it conveys privilege and frivolity and is often viewed either as a luxury for a select few, or remediation for kids who didn’t get into the college of their choice.

And yet, the research shows undeniable, positive impacts in terms of increased maturity, confidence and achievement. A recent Middlebury study showed that students who take a year off before arriving outperform their peers in their academic and extracurricular engagement on campus. . . .

Given its known benefits, it’s time to rebrand the “gap year” as anything but a “gap.” When used intentionally, the year before college can be a bridge, a launch pad and a new rite of passage. It’s the students who find the courage to step off the treadmill–replacing textbooks with experience and achievement with exploration–who are best prepared for life after high school. And a growing number of colleges are taking notice.

Bill Fitzsimmons, Harvard’s undergraduate admissions dean, wrote a manifesto about the need for students to take time off before college. Rick Shaw, Stanford’s undergraduate admissions dean, now speaks about the value of non-linear paths and the learning and growth that come from risk taking and failure, as opposed to perfect records. (quoted from the article)

Well, if I had not been sure that the notion of a gap year was an issue in higher education when I started this episode, I am pretty sure now. Parents, start your research!

Ask your questions or share your feedback by…

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

Connect with us through…

Episode 46: Colleges in the Mid-Atlantic Region–Part II

Virtual tour of public colleges in the Mid-Atlantic Region on NYCollegeChat PodcastListen to the episode in the player, download it here, or subscribe on iTunes, Stitcher, or TuneIn.

This is the nineteenth episode in our virtual tour of colleges across the U.S., designed to help you find colleges that might be great choices for your child, but are outside your geographic comfort zone. So far, we have toured the Great Lakes region, the Southeast region, the Rocky Mountain region, the Plains region, the Southwest region, the Far West region, and the New England region, and we started into the Mid-Atlantic region last week. We are on a continuing mission to see whether we can convince even our nearby listeners in this region to check out colleges in their neighboring states.

As always, we are discussing only four-year colleges, reasoning that students who plan to attend two-year colleges are highly likely to go to the closest one, which makes sense for a two-year college.

And let us say it once again, no college has asked us or paid us anything to include it in our virtual tour. These are our own choices.

1. The Mid-Atlantic Region

As we explained last week, even though The Bureau of Economic Analysis (an agency of the U.S. Department of Commerce) calls this region the Mideast region, I will continue to call it the Mid-Atlantic region, which, as a native Pennsylvanian, I have always called it. So, with apologies to the Bureau, we will look at the Mid-Atlantic region of Maryland, Delaware, the District of Columbia, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and New York—but we are going to put off a discussion of New York because it is the home state of many of our listeners and we know that they will be especially interested in it (though we kind of wish they were not).

Last week, we examined the public flagship universities in the Mid-Atlantic region, including one HBCU, and we will continue to look at public options in this region in this episode. Next week, we will be taking a look at a variety of private colleges here.

2. Other Public State Universities

In each of these states, there are also other public universities—campuses within the flagship system, campuses within a second-tier system in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, and colleges and universities in their own right. As we said last week, some of these campuses are, in fact, historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs), and we will look at them separately. In looking at all of these other public options, I want to say again that we always consider whether any one of these public options is sufficiently attractive to draw a student away from the public options in his or her home state, which would likely be far cheaper.

I do believe that flagship universities are very often appealing enough to attract students away from public options in their own states, especially public options that are not their own flagship universities. I am not sure how many other public options there are in the Mid-Atlantic states that are that attractive, but let’s look at a few of the best candidates.

Let’s start in Pennsylvania with the University of Pittsburgh (commonly referred to as Pitt), a major urban university in a major city in the far western part of the commonwealth. Pitt was founded in 1787 as Pittsburgh Academy in a log cabin on the frontier and later came to be called Western University of Pennsylvania. In addition to its main campus—which enrolls about 19,000 undergraduates and 10,000 graduate and professional students, for a total of 29,000 students—Pitt also has four regional campuses.

Pitt has 14 undergraduate, graduate, and professional schools and colleges, including all the standard undergraduate colleges for a large university—arts and sciences, education, business, engineering, and information sciences—plus a School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences, School of Nursing, and School of Social Work. Pitt also has graduate and professional schools of law, medicine, public health, dentistry, and pharmacy. By the way, Jonas Salk developed his world-changing polio vaccine at Pitt in 1955.

Pitt offers over 400 student organizations and 19 varsity sports teams. Pitt Panthers play some good basketball and football. The football team was the first college team to wear numbers on their jerseys, the first to fly to away games, and the first to play in games broadcast on the radio. And in case you didn’t know, Pitt’s four-time All-America Tony Dorsett was the first football player to win a college national championship (and the prestigious Heisman Trophy in 1976) and then the Super Bowl for the Dallas Cowboys in back-to-back years. Unfortunately, Dorsett has been diagnosed with chronic traumatic encephalopathy as a result of brain trauma from his playing years. So here’s a shout-out to you, Tony Dorsett: We loved to see you run and wish the very best for you now.

The latest class of Pitt freshmen came from 44 states and 17 foreign countries. About 65 percent were Pennsylvania residents (just about like Penn State), with New Jersey and New York being the next-most-popular home states. SAT subtest scores were in the low to mid-600s, and the average high school GPA was about a 4.0 (75 percent of students posted a GPA of 3.75 or higher). About 25 percent of students were non-white—a record high for the University.

Though tuition differs some by school within Pitt, tuition and fees run about $19,000 per year for in-state students and about $30,000 per year for out-of-state students—with out-of-state tuition and fees comparable to the flagship universities in the region, but with in-state costs a bit higher.

Coming along about 100 years after Pitt in the far western part of Pennsylvania was Temple University in Philadelphia in the far eastern part of the commonwealth. Temple had an interesting beginning:

Temple University’s history begins in 1884, when a young working man asked Russell Conwell if he could tutor him at night. A well-known Philadelphia minister, Conwell quickly said yes. It wasn’t long before he was teaching several dozen students—working people who could attend class only at night, but had a strong desire to make something of themselves.

Conwell recruited volunteer faculty to participate in the burgeoning night school, and in 1888 he received a charter of incorporation for “The Temple College.” His founding vision for the school was to provide superior educational opportunities for academically talented and highly motivated students, regardless of their backgrounds or means….

Today, Temple’s . . . students continue to follow the university’s official motto—Perseverantia Vincit, or “Perseverance Conquers.” (quoted, with editing, from the website)

Currently, Temple serves about 32,000 undergraduate, graduate, and professional students on its main campus in downtown Philadelphia. Temple has other campuses in Philadelphia; three campuses outside Philadelphia, but in Pennsylvania; a campus in Rome; and quite a campus in Japan. The Japan Campus serves about 800 students in undergraduate degree programs (almost half are U.S. residents) and another 2,500 graduate, professional, and corporate adult students from about 60 countries:

Temple University, Japan Campus (TUJ), is the oldest and largest foreign university in Japan. Founded in 1982, TUJ has developed into a nationally recognized institution offering an extensive range of educational programs. In addition to its core undergraduate program, TUJ offers graduate programs in law, business, and education; an English-language preparation program; continuing education courses; and corporate education classes….

TUJ is the first educational institution in Japan to be officially recognized as a Foreign University, Japan Campus by Japan’s Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology. This status allows TUJ to sponsor student visas, enabling international students to study at the university on either a short-term basis (one or two semesters) or a long-term basis (such as to complete a full four-year program). (quoted from the website)

Temple has 17 undergraduate, graduate, and professional schools and colleges—including all of the regular choices, plus a School of Environmental Design, a School of Tourism and Hospitality Management, and the Boyer College of Music and Dance. It offers undergraduates over 100 degree programs.

Like the big public universities we have been discussing, Temple has hundreds of student organizations and 19 varsity sports teams. Temple also offers Army ROTC—Reserve Officers’ Training Corps, which provides leadership training during the year and in the summer. ROTC cadets graduate as Second Lieutenants, with a required service commitment. ROTC scholarships can pay for up to full tuition for eligible students. Though we haven’t talked about ROTC much, it is available on about 1,100 college campuses nationwide.

Incoming freshmen at Temple post SAT subtest scores averaging in the mid-500s, with a high school GPA average of about 3.5. About 75 percent are Pennsylvania residents—meaning to me that Temple is not as well known outside the commonwealth as Pitt and Penn State.

Its tuition differs by school/college, with the College of Liberal Arts running about $15,000 a year for Pennsylvania residents and about $25,000 a year for out-of-state students. But out-of-state students attending Temple’s fine arts schools or business school, for example, will pay closer to $33,000 a year. So, parents, check the tuition rates carefully school by school at universities you are looking at for your teenager.

Let’s turn our focus to New Jersey and its two public research universities in addition to Rutgers: Rowan University and New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT). Let’s start with Rowan, which came rather late to the game for colleges in this part of the country—that is, in 1923. It was started as a normal school to train teachers for South Jersey on a piece of land that 107 residents of Glassboro raised money to buy and donate to the state for this institution. Becoming a junior college and then Glassboro State Teachers College, Rowan got its new name in 1992 from benefactors Henry and Betty Rowan, who gave the university $100 million, with a request “that a College of Engineering be created with a curriculum that would address the shortcomings of engineering education at that time” (quoted from the website). Wow. Glassboro, by the way, is a reasonably short drive from both Philadelphia and Atlantic City. Rowan also has a campus in Camden to serve the needs of its inner-city residents.

Rowan offers its approximately 11,000 undergraduates about 90 degree programs in about a dozen undergraduate, graduate, and professional schools and colleges, including the Henry M. Rowan College of Engineering. Rowan also serves another approximately 2,500 graduate and professional students, for a total of about 13,500 students, and provides plenty of student organizations and 16 varsity sports teams.

The Henry M. Rowan College of Engineering offers degrees in biomedical, chemical, civil and environmental, electrical and computer, and mechanical engineering. According to the website, “A signature component of the program, the Engineering Clinics, thread the 4-year program of study. The Clinic sequence accentuates a hands-on, team-oriented approach to a highly multidisciplinary education. The importance placed on technical and communication skills make Rowan engineers a valuable asset for the region and the profession.”

Incoming freshmen two years ago posted average SAT subtest scores in the mid-500s and an average high school GPA of 3.5. Interestingly, beginning with this year’s freshman class, students who had a high school GPA of 3.5 or better could choose not to submit college admission test scores—with some exceptions, including engineering students, homeschooled and international students, and students applying for merit scholarships—but rather write an additional admissions essay.

In-state tuition and fees run about $13,000 a year, while out-of-state tuition and fees run about $21,000 a year—which make it one of the better-priced options for out-of-state students we have discussed. Rowan also offers Wintersession, which allows students to take a three-credit course on an accelerated schedule—and out-of-state students pay the same lower cost as in-state students. So, students can finish a degree faster and cheaper!

Let’s move on to NJIT, located on a 45-acre campus in the University Heights district of downtown Newark and founded as Newark Technical School by an act of the New Jersey legislature in 1880 to provide for industrial education for New Jersey residents. Known as New Jersey’s Science and Technology University, NJIT serves almost 8,000 undergraduates and another approximately 3,000 graduate students, for a total of about 11,000 students—one of the smaller public options.

NJIT is a specialized technical university, offering over 45 bachelor’s degree programs in its schools and colleges of engineering, architecture and design, computing sciences, management, and science and liberal arts (which is understandably heavy on the sciences). Despite its technical orientation, NJIT also offers students traditional college life, including over 90 student organizations and 17 varsity sports teams and with about half the freshman class choosing to live in NJIT residence halls on campus.

Almost 20 percent of NJIT undergraduates are female. The Murray Center is dedicated to helping those undergraduate women succeed. As well as serving as an informal gathering place, the Center houses the Society of Women Engineers and NJIT’s Big Sister–Little Sister and Alumnae–Student mentoring programs.

Average SAT subtest scores for incoming freshmen last fall were a 563 in critical reading and a 629 in math. I think this is an unusually clear statement of what NJIT is looking for in an applicant, according to its website:

The average composite SAT score for our enrolling freshmen is 1190. If your score is below 1100, we recommend that you retake the test to try to raise it.

Class rank: We look for students in the top 30 percent of their class. For schools that don’t use a ranking system, we consider a B average to be equivalent. (quoted from the website)

I think that these scores and high school grades put NJIT within reach for a lot of students who thought a highly technical university might be too selective for them.

Tuition and fees for New Jersey residents run about $16,000 per year, while tuition and fees for out-of-state residents are almost twice that at about $30,000 per year. These figures put NJIT about on a par with the flagship universities we discussed last week. Incidentally, NJIT offers rolling admissions, with a decision coming just two to three weeks after an application is complete (and note that some programs in the College of Architecture and Design do require a portfolio of creative work as part of the application).

Let’s head over to Maryland to look at two special colleges: St. Mary’s College of Maryland and the U.S. Naval Academy. Starting with St. Mary’s College of Maryland, The Public Honors College, we find a very small public institution, located on the St. Mary’s River in the Chesapeake Bay region, about 70 miles southeast of our nation’s capital and about 95 miles south of Baltimore. St. Mary’s has a most unusual history from the moment colonists reached the land that is now its campus:

English colonists arrived aboard the Ark and Dove in 1634, determined to establish a settlement under a charter from King Charles I, authorizing them to take dominion of the lands surrounding the Chesapeake Bay. Led by Leonard Calvert, second son of Lord Baltimore, they came ashore within sight of where the College stands today, signed a treaty of peaceful coexistence with the Yaocomaco, and named their town St. Mary’s City. Though the settlement had ceased to flourish by the end of the 17th century, it was the capital of Maryland for 61 years (until 1695) and saw the beginnings of civil rights and representative government on this continent.

From the very first, St. Mary’s embraced the ideal of making an excellent education affordable. In 1846, the first board of trustees designed tuition and living costs to be substantially lower than those at similar schools. After 1868, when the General Assembly began giving the school annual appropriations, the seminary frequently educated up to half of its students…free of charge…. During the 20th century, the school expanded its campus and enriched the quality of instruction to serve the growing numbers of young women, and eventually men, who desired a fine education….

In 1927, … St. Mary’s became Maryland’s first junior college, affording students the unique opportunity to complete four years of high school and two years of college at the same institution.

In 1947, the Maryland Commission on Higher Education slated St. Mary’s Female Seminary-Junior College for dissolution although it was fully accredited and had begun admitting male students. Before the governor could act, a large public outcry, prompted by tireless alumnae, not only saved the school from extinction, but created the momentum for removing the word “Female” and renaming it St. Mary’s Seminary Junior College (1949), and its eventual evolution into a four-year baccalaureate college (1967). In 1992, the Maryland legislature designated it the state’s public honors college. (quoted, with editing, from the website)

Today, St. Mary’s serves almost 1,800 undergraduates (and about 35 graduate students in a Master of Arts in Teaching program). It is the quintessential liberal arts college, offering 24 majors in 17 departments, with seven intriguing cross-disciplinary minors. Students take a truly liberal arts core curriculum, which includes a freshman seminar on the liberal arts skills; a one-course international language requirement; courses in six academic fields that represent “liberal arts approaches to understanding the world” (arts, cultural perspectives, humanistic foundations, mathematics, natural sciences, and social sciences); and an “experiencing the liberal arts in the world” requirement, which can be satisfied by a study tour or a semester or year-long study abroad program, or a credit-bearing internship, or a service learning class.

St. Mary’s offers public higher education students a small-college atmosphere, with a student-to-faculty ratio of just 10:1 (very unusual for a public higher education institution)—as well as 85 student organizations and 17 varsity sports teams. While designated as an honors college, the academic profile of its freshman class seems achievable by many college-bound students. Average SAT subtest scores are a trio of scores in the high 500s, and the average high school GPA is about a 3.4. About 90 percent of its students are Maryland residents, and I am guessing that is partly because St. Mary’s has a low profile outside the state.

Maryland residents pay about $14,000 per year in tuition and fees, and out-of-state students pay about $29,000—or twice as much. That out-of-state figure is equivalent to many of the other public institutions we have been discussing. But families and students who are looking for a small liberal arts college vibe at a public price might find St. Mary’s remarkably attractive.

Another almost-unique public institution in Maryland is the U.S. Naval Academy (often referred to by its location as Annapolis)—one of the nation’s five military service academies—founded in 1845. As we said in an early episode of NYCollegeChat, the federally funded military service academies are all outstanding, academically rigorous institutions, whose mission is to build highly trained and highly ethical leaders, in this case for the Navy and the Marine Corps. Students are classified as midshipmen on active duty in the Navy.

Young men and women at the Academy 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, though they can major in Arabic, Chinese, economics, English, history, or political science (and minor in other foreign languages). Upon graduation, they are commissioned as Ensigns in the Navy or Second Lieutenants in the Marine Corps. Academy graduates serve at least five years after graduation—a significant, and perhaps scary, commitment for many high school seniors to make.

Admissions to the Academy is a multi-step process, which includes the well-known appointment by a government official, typically a U.S. Representative, a U.S. Senator, or the Vice President of the U.S. Those government officials look over applications from interested students and decide which to put forward for possible admission to the Academy. Clearly, admission to the Academy is highly selective in every possible way.

As with all federal military service academies, tuition, room and board, and everything else are free. Midshipmen also receive a monthly stipend while in school, though certain expenses are deducted from it. Actual cash pay is about $100 a month to start. Midshipmen get normal holiday breaks, but only three weeks of vacation in the summer. The Academy and what follows are a way of life—with enormous benefits and likely some sacrifices.

3. Historically Black Colleges and Universities

As we said last week, we have talked many times about historically black colleges and universities (commonly referred to as HBCUs), which were established with the mission of educating African-American students solely or primarily. You might recall that there are just over 100 HBCUs—public and private, rural and urban, large and small, two-year and four-year and graduate schools. They all have a strong sense of community among the alumni/alumnae and a strong sense of tradition and shared culture on HBCU campuses.

Eight of the public HBCUs are located in this Mid-Atlantic region—the University of the District of Columbia, the flagship university, which we discussed last week; The Lincoln University in Chester County, Pennsylvania, and Cheyney University of Pennsylvania; Delaware State University; Morgan State University in Baltimore; and three campuses of the University System of Maryland, namely Coppin State University, Bowie State University, and the University of Maryland Eastern Shore. Let’s look briefly at two of these.

Starting in Maryland, Morgan State University is located in residential northeast Baltimore and carries “the responsibility of addressing the needs of residents, schools, and organizations within the Baltimore Metropolitan Area” (quoted from the website). Though Morgan awards more bachelor’s degrees to African-American students than any other higher education institution in Maryland, it has served and continues to serve students of all racial and ethnic backgrounds. Morgan has an interesting history:

Founded in 1867 as the Centenary Biblical Institute by the Baltimore Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church, the institution’s original mission was to train young men in ministry. It subsequently broadened its mission to educate both men and women as teachers. The school was renamed Morgan College in 1890 in honor of the Reverend Lyttleton Morgan, the first chairman of its Board of Trustees, who donated land to the college. Morgan awarded its first baccalaureate degree . . . in 1895. . . .

Morgan remained a private institution until 1939. That year, the state of Maryland purchased the school in response to a state study that determined that Maryland needed to provide more opportunities for its black citizens. . . .

By the time it became a public campus, the College had become a relatively comprehensive institution. Until the mid-1960s, when the state’s teachers colleges began their transition to liberal arts campuses, Morgan and the University of Maryland College Park were the only two public campuses in the state with comprehensive missions. . . .

[I]n 1975 the State Legislature designated Morgan as a university. . . . In 1988 Maryland reorganized its higher education structure and . . . campuses in the state college system became part of the University of Maryland System. Morgan and St. Mary’s College of Maryland were the only public baccalaureate-granting institutions authorized to have their own governing boards. The legislation also strengthened Morgan’s authority to offer advanced programs and designated the campus as Maryland’s Public Urban University. (quoted and edited from the website)

Today, Morgan boasts nine undergraduate schools and colleges, including the School of Community Health and Policy, the School of Global Journalism and Communication, the School of Architecture and Planning, the School of Engineering, and, appropriately, the School of Education and Urban Studies. Morgan’s approximately 6,500 undergraduates choose among about 45 bachelor’s degree programs. (Morgan enrolls another approximately 1,500 graduate and professional students.)

About 80 percent of Morgan’s students are African American, and about 75 percent are Maryland residents, with nearby New York, New Jersey, D.C., and Pennsylvania being the next-most-popular residences. Tuition and fees are a relative bargain at Morgan, with Maryland residents paying just about $7,500 per year, and out-of-state residents paying about $17,000 per year.

When Marie and I attended the National Association for College Admission Counseling’s college fair in New York City last April, we spoke with Grayson Savoie, an admissions officer, who offered the following audio pitch for Morgan for NYCollegeChat. (Be sure to listen to it in our recorded episode.)

For a last look at HBCUs in the Mid-Atlantic region, I would like to spotlight The Lincoln University, located in Chester County, Pennsylvania—just southwest of Philadelphia and northwest of Newark, Delaware. The University “formally associated” with the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania as a public institution in 1972, but its roots go far, far back as the oldest degree-granting HBCU in the country. Chartered as the private Ashmun Institute in 1854, it was renamed after President Abraham Lincoln in 1866.

Horace Mann Bond, Lincoln Class of 1923 and the eighth president of the University, wrote that it was “the first institution found anywhere in the world to provide a higher education in the arts and sciences for male youth of African descent” (quoted from his book, Education for Freedom). If President Bond’s name sounds familiar, it will be obvious why in this statement by current Interim President Richard Green last month:

Lincoln University’s administration, faculty, staff and students are deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Julian Bond, an admired civil rights leader who leaves a rich legacy that others can only aspire to achieve. He spent many years on this campus with his father, Horace Mann Bond ’23, the university’s first African American president, from 1945 to 1957. (quoted from the website)

Currently, the University enrolls about 1,600 undergraduate students and about 200 graduate students. About 80 percent of its undergraduates are black, and only about 40 percent are Pennsylvania residents. For a small school, it has quite a list of prominent alumni/alumnae, including poet Langston Hughes, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, and the first presidents of both Ghana and Nigeria.

The University offers over 25 undergraduate degree programs in the liberal arts and sciences and in some career fields, including business, criminal justice, mass communications, health science, and nursing.

Applications are accepted any time after completion of a student’s junior year in high school, with admissions decisions made on a rolling basis, with no firm deadline and with decisions made in three to four weeks. Students may apply for spring admission, too. Its incoming freshmen last fall posted average SAT subtest scores in the low 400s and an average high school GPA of about a 2.8.

Tuition and fees run about $12,000 per year for Pennsylvania residents and about $17,000 for out-of-state students—the slimmest difference we have seen.

Again, when we attended the National Association for College Admission Counseling’s college fair in New York City last April, we also spoke with Kenyatta Austin, an admissions counselor, who offered the following audio pitch for The Lincoln University, her alma mater, for NYCollegeChat. (Be sure to listen to it in our recorded episode.)

Listen to the podcast to find out about…

  • Public colleges with reasonable admissions standards
  • Public colleges with special missions and specialized curricula
  • Public colleges with remarkable histories

Check out these higher education institutions and organizations we mention…

Outside of New York State

Learn more about these topics in previous episodes…

Ask your questions or share your feedback by…

  • Leaving a comment on this post.
  • 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

Connect with us through…

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