Episode 115: What About a Gap Year Before College?

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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!

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Episode 108: Early Decision and Early Action Anxiety in College Admissions–Part I

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Welcome back to Series 10, Issues in Higher Education. This is the second in our series of episodes discussing a variety of issues in higher education, and it’s a two-parter. Today’s and next week’s issue is one that, to put it bluntly, I find infuriating. This infuriation has likely been felt by anyone who has tried to navigate the world of Early Decision and Early Action admission to colleges in these past five or six months. So, let’s get started sorting it all out.

We will talk about Early Decision today; next week, we will look at Early Action and then talk about some colleges that offer both Early Decision and Early Action–and indeed some that offer more than one round of one and/or the other. It’s close to insane.

More than a decade and a half ago in September of 2001, The Atlantic published a long and fascinating article by James Fallows, entitled “The Early-Decision Racket.” We believe that title really says it all–now more than ever. For those of you interested in how we got here, read the article and get a brief history.

1. Early Decision Cons

In the olden days, it used to be that a student could apply to one college and one college only under an Early Decision plan–meaning that the student would apply early, get an answer early, and agree to attend that college if accepted. For students, it was–and still is–a binding decision. Furthermore, Early Decision was also the only “early” game in town.

Perhaps the most important reason that lots of folks grew to dislike the Early Decision option was–and likely still is–that a student accepted under this plan had to agree to attend the college before he or she had any other acceptances and before he or she had any idea what scholarships and other financial aid might be offered by any other colleges. For students who depended on financial aid to pay for college–and that’s more and more students these days, for sure–having to choose a college without being able to compare financial aid packages put those students and their families under undue financial pressure.

Many critics of Early Decision today express a legitimate concern that Early Decision favors the children of the wealthy, who do not need to worry about paying for college and comparing financial aid packages. Frank Bruni, a New York Times writer whose work we have read from twice before at USACollegeChat, wrote a column entitled “The Plague of ‘Early Decision’” last December. Talking about his view of the biggest problem with Early Decision at selective colleges, Mr. Bruni wrote this:

[Early decision] significantly disadvantages students from low-income and middle-income families, who are already underrepresented at such schools. There’s plenty of evidence that applying early improves odds of admission and that the students who do so–largely to gain a competitive edge–come disproportionately from privileged backgrounds with parents and counselors who know how to game the system and can assemble the necessary test scores and references by the November deadline.

These students also aren’t concerned about weighing disparate financial-aid offers from different schools and can commit themselves to one through early decision. Less privileged students need to shop around, so early decision doesn’t really work for them. (quoted from the article)

Mr. Bruni went on to quote one of our favorite experts here at USACollegeChat: Harold O. Levy, the executive director of the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation. (You can listen to our interview with Harold here.) According to Mr. Bruni, Harold said, “That’s just unfair in a profound way.” We know from our own earlier interview with Harold and from the Foundation’s excellent work that they are all about trying to ensure that our nation’s selective colleges open their doors to more low-income bright kids, who are often under-recruited and overlooked by these colleges.

Mr. Bruni goes on to register his own concern about a still different aspect of the Early Decision landscape:

[W]hat worries me . . . is how the early-application process intensifies much of what’s perverse about college admissions today: the anxiety-fueling, disappointment-seeding sense that one school above all others glimmers in the distance as the perfect prize; the assessment of the most exclusive environments as . . . the superior ones.

To follow up on Mr. Bruni’s notion, let me point to a story reported last December in The New York Times by Anemona Hartocollis and Richard Pérez-Peña. The title says it all: “Agony as Tulane Applicants Learn Acceptance Emails Are in Error.”

In a nutshell, 130 kids who had applied under an Early Decision option to Tulane University, a very good private university in New Orleans, received acceptance emails as a result of a glitch in new computer software even though they had not been accepted (in fact, some had been accepted for the following spring term, while others had been deferred to the regular decision pool of applicants). Admittedly, this is an awful and embarrassing situation for Tulane. But here is the “anxiety-fueling, disappointment-seeding” part that Mr. Bruni spoke of: The student being interviewed for The New York Times article “asked not to be fully identified because she was humiliated and did not want to be associated with what she called a scandal.” Humiliated? Really? Because she was not accepted Early Decision to Tulane (even though she was, in fact, accepted for the following spring term)? Maybe things have just gone too far.

The article about Tulane continues this way:

Students and parents, already full of anxiety over the high-stakes admissions process, expressed their disbelief and agony online.

“These kids are already so anxious, and the whole process has become so crazy, so this is really a horrible, horrible thing to put them through,” said Phillip Trout, a college counselor at Minnetonka High School in Minnetonka, Minn., and past president of the National Association for College Admission Counseling. (quoted from the article)

Yes, Mr. Trout. The process looks pretty crazy to many of us watching it, too.

So, Mr. Bruni offers us yet another perspective on the Early Decision issue, and it is this:

Early decision moves the admissions process forward on the calendar, so that high school students start obsessing sooner. They press themselves to single out a college at the start of senior year, when they may not understand themselves as well as they will toward the end of it. (quoted from the article)

Well, yes, high school seniors mature a bit and can think through complex problems better as the year goes on. I am not sure that there is much difference between applying to a college on November 1 under an Early Decision option and on January 1 under a regular deadline. However, there might indeed be a difference between a student’s making a final decision about a college to attend on November 1 (because the student’s decision would be binding if he or she were accepted in December) and making that final decision the following April from among, hopefully, several choices. So, I’ll give Mr. Bruni that point.

And here’s one last note from Mr. Bruni’s article:

Marla Schay, the head of guidance at Weston High School, in an affluent suburb outside Boston, told me that while 60 percent of the seniors there submitted early applications seven years ago, it’s above 86 percent now. (quoted from the article)

Wow, 86 percent of those likely well-off suburban kids applying early. Times have changed, and the race is clearly escalating. Any high school seniors who have to overcome any kind of barrier when making their college applications–whether that is financial worries or English as a second language or lack of college counseling or parents who cannot help?are going to be just that much further behind.

2. Early Decision Pros

On the other hand, if you can put those very substantial negatives aside, it seems to us that Early Decision is still a great option for some kids. I guess the problem is that Early Decision could be a great option for your own teenager, even if it might be a bad option for teenagers in general. With my education leader’s hat on, I have to say that Early Decision worries me increasingly; but with my advocate-for-one-particular-kid’s hat on, I still might recommend it for that one kid.

If your own teenager is absolutely clear about what his or her first-choice college is, then Early Decision is the way to go if that college has an Early Decision option. Many colleges have the option, but not all colleges have it.

Why might Early Decision be a good move for your teenager? There are two primary reasons. First, your family could get this whole college admissions process over with as efficiently as possible at some point in December. As we have already mentioned, the application is usually due around November 1, with a decision usually coming in December. And that would occasion a huge sigh of relief from everyone concerned! In fact, it also would save all of the stress of completing numerous applications. Even with the Common Application’s cutting down on some of that stress, it means that no more supplemental essays would have to be written and no more application fees would have to be paid.

The second reason might be even more important, and it is why we are hard-pressed not to recommend Early Decision for kids who are ready. It is that your child might actually have a better chance–even a much better chance–of being accepted if he or she applies Early Decision. There has been a lot of press about that recently, but I am going to go back to an excellent article by Nick Anderson in The Washington Post from last March, which offered some really rather astonishing statistics on 2015 numbers from 64 “prominent colleges and universities” (my guess is that this year’s numbers won’t be very different and, if anything, could well be more favorable toward Early Decision applicants). His article was aptly entitled “A college-admissions edge for the wealthy: Early decision.” Unfortunately, it’s just what critics fear. 

Here are the acceptance rates for Early Decision applicants (listed first) compared to the overall acceptance rates (that includes both early and regular admissions) for all applicants (listed second) from a selection of great colleges:

  • University of Pennsylvania: 24% vs. 10%
  • Tufts University: 39% vs. 16%
  • Kenyon College: 58% vs. 24%
  • Barnard College: 43% vs. 20%
  • Northwestern University: 38% vs. 13%
  • Duke University: 27% vs. 12%
  • Williams College: 41% vs. 18%
  • Haverford College: 46% vs. 25%
  • Johns Hopkins University: 29% vs. 13%
  • Smith College: 57% vs. 38%
  • Oberlin College: 54% vs. 29%

By the way, inasmuch as the overall acceptance rate includes both early and regular acceptance rates, the regular acceptance rate by itself would actually be even lower than the second numbers we just read.

Those percentages have got to make you think twice before you as a family dismiss the notion of applying on an Early Decision schedule. But if those numbers weren’t convincing enough, here is another eye-opening statistic from a sample of great colleges–the estimated percentage of the freshman class that is made up of Early Decision acceptances:

  • University of Pennsylvania:       54%
  • Middlebury College:       53%
  • Emory University: 53%
  • Vanderbilt University:       51%
  • Kenyon College: 51%
  • Barnard College: 51%
  • Northwestern University:       50%
  • Hamilton College: 50%
  • Swarthmore College:       50%
  • Bowdoin College: 49%
  • Duke University: 47%
  • Colorado College: 45%
  • Dartmouth College: 43%

Do you get the picture? Just about half of the seats in the freshman classes of these selective, academically first-rate colleges are filled before the applications of high school seniors applying on the regular schedule are even looked at. In fact, The Washington Post article declared that, of the top-60 national liberal arts universities and colleges, as ranked by U.S. News & World Report, 48 filled one-third or more of their seats with Early Decision applicants (including two more Ivy League schools, Brown University and Cornell University, with 38 percent shares each) and 16 filled one-half or more of their seats with Early Decision applicants.

You really have to stop and think about these statistics. No kidding. What are your teenager’s odds of getting into a place when one-third or one-half of the seats are already taken?

Some colleges are publicizing now that students who are accepted on an Early Decision schedule are getting nearly as much financial aid as those accepted on a regular decision schedule, so that’s a good thing for low-income kids who want to better their acceptance chances at a favorite college. And there is usually a disclaimer in college website information that a student may be released from a binding Early Decision acceptance if the financial aid package offered does not make it possible for that student to attend the college–though I have never tried to test that and, therefore, don’t know how sticky a college would make that withdrawal.

By the way, is it obvious why a college would want so many Early Decision students? It should be. A college wants good students who really want to be at that college. It doesn’t want to play the admissions game any more than the applicants do. It doesn’t want to be worried about the incoming class in April, either.

But somehow, my concern is still on the side of the students. And the number of Early Decision applications is going up, as more and more families hear the numbers you have just heard. Where will it all end?

Ask your questions or share your feedback by…

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Episode 42: Colleges in the New England Region—Part II

In last week’s episode, we picked up our virtual tour of colleges with the public universities and academies in the six states of the New England region: Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and Connecticut. This week, we will spotlight the private higher education institutions in New England.

Virtual #college tour of New England Region on NYCollegeChat #podcast. Available at http://usacollegechat.org/42

We are going to talk about a group of nationally known higher education institutions, which draw students internationally; a selection of institutions with one or another kind of special focus; a host of smaller liberal arts colleges; and a few institutions that are probably best known in the New England region. Let us say now that there are a surprising number of well-known institutions in these New England states, even though the states themselves are quite small. A lot of those institutions are in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. We cannot possibly do them all justice—or even mention them all. To that end, we are going to split this content into two episodes—this week and next week.

I have to say that I feel a bit uncomfortable making extra episodes for one of the regions of the country that is nearest to our home base in New York—just when I am trying to get our listeners outside of their comfort zone. But I can rationalize this action in one of two ways. First, these states have been states since the very beginning of our country and, thus, have lots and lots of colleges and universities—the oldest of which were founded more than 100 years earlier than any of those in our Western states. Second, I have to believe that many of our New York State listeners, who make up a big percentage of our audience and who are worried about sending their kids away to college, might be persuaded to send them away—but not too far away. New England might be about right. So, we will do the best we can to cover as many institutions as we can this week and next week.

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

1. Nationally Known Higher Education Institutions

Let’s start by saying that four of the eight Ivy League schools are located in New England: Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island; Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire; Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts; and Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut.

Founded between 1636 and 1769, all four were operating before the American Revolution and all four were founded by religious groups—Congregationalists for three of them and Baptists for Brown. Today, they serve from 4,000 to about 7,000 undergraduates, with about 6,000 to more than 20,000 total undergraduate, graduate, and professional students. Dartmouth is the smallest Ivy League school, and Harvard is one of the largest.

Ivy League schools are well known for their high academic standards, wide range of undergraduate and graduate majors, longtime traditions, famous professors, beautiful campuses, and the extreme selectivity of their admissions process. That is one reason I am not going to talk too much about them.

Their tuition is sky-high, though they have a surprising amount of financial aid available for students whose family resources are very limited. However, your child would first have to have extraordinary high school grades and college admission test scores to be accepted.

I think it is fair to say that one thing that the Ivies do not do as well as many large public universities is varsity sports. In the interest of full disclosure, let me say that my father was the Sports Information Director at the University of Pennsylvania (another of the Ivies and his alma mater), and he helped to establish the Ivy League athletic conference in the 1950s. I have been attending Ivy League sports contests since I was in elementary school. I later covered sports for my own Ivy League school’s newspaper, The Cornell Daily Sun. So, I know what I am talking about. I am not saying that we don’t have some talented athletes and, on occasion, some incredible individual athletes and even teams. Nonetheless, most students don’t come to an Ivy League school for sports.

An equally prestigious and equally selective institution is the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Founded much later in 1861, MIT now serves about 4,500 undergraduates (about 25 percent are underrepresented minority students) and a total of about 11,000 undergraduate, graduate, and professional students. MIT has schools of Architecture and Planning, Engineering, Management, Science, and—last, but not least—the School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences. While we think of MIT as turning out first-rate engineers and scientists, students can also major in subjects in the School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences; by the way, all undergraduates at MIT take eight courses in this school (about 25 percent of their undergraduate program) so they truly become well-rounded students and citizens. But, like the Ivies, your child would need extraordinary high school grades and college admission test scores to get in.

Now let’s look briefly at three great nationally known universities—all well respected, but slightly less selective. They all happen to be in or near Boston. Starting with the smallest, we have Tufts University, with its main campus located on Walnut Hill in Medford, just outside of Boston. Founded in 1852, Tufts currently enrolls about 5,000 undergraduates and a total of about 11,000 undergraduate, graduate, and professional students in nine schools—five of which are related to medical and health sciences. Undergraduates study in two of those schools: the School of Arts and Sciences and the School of Engineering. Over 20 percent of Arts and Sciences students major in International Relations, and many students participate in Tufts’ 10 study abroad programs or in coursework at Tufts’ own European Center in France. Tufts also has a graduate school of international affairs, with intriguing interdisciplinary majors.

Tufts offers 14 men’s and 14 women’s varsity sports as well as club and intramural sports. The Jonathan M. Tisch College of Citizenship and Public Service is a unique University-wide venture that provides curricular and extracurricular programming that all students are able to participate in; Tufts students and faculty members practice their active citizenship skills both locally and internationally. Average SAT scores for the Class of 2018 are a trio of scores in the low 700s, so the students are plenty smart. Like other first-rate universities, undergraduate tuition and fees are high at about $48,500.

Moving to a larger university in Boston proper, we find Northeastern University, founded in 1898. The University offers about 17,500 undergraduates (out of a total of about 24,500 undergraduate, graduate, and professional students) more than 90 majors and concentrations across seven colleges and schools: Arts, Media and Design; Business; Computer and Information Science; Engineering; Health Sciences; Science; and Social Sciences and Humanities. Northeastern has added more than 55 interdisciplinary undergraduate majors in the past eight years. But the hallmark of Northeastern’s programming is cooperative education, which began at Northeastern more than 100 years ago:

Experiential learning, anchored by our signature cooperative education program, lies at the heart of academic life at Northeastern. The integration of study and professional experience enables students to put ideas into action through work, research, international study, and service in 93 countries around the world. . . .

Co-op is different from internships – our students alternate classroom studies with full-time work in career related jobs for six months.  This allows employers to get real work done while evaluating talent before making any long-term commitments. Our employer relations team is dedicated to collaborating with employers to develop innovative and meaningful programs to engage our talented students. We deliver an individualized approach to building and maintaining partnerships that contribute to the employers’ success and ours. Our various recruitment options provide employers with cost effective approaches to hiring, training, evaluating and on-boarding talent. (quoted from the website)

About 90 percent of students do at least one co-op program (with one of the 3,000 co-op employers worldwide); many students do two. Many students also stay for a fifth year and complete three co-op programs. About 50 percent of students get a job offer from their co-op employer, and about 99 percent would recommend co-op education to a friend.

Northeastern offers over 300 student organizations, 18 varsity sports, and 22 Living Learning Communities built around themes for freshmen (e.g., creative expression, globalization, sustainability). Average SAT scores for students who entered in 2014 were a pair of scores in the low 700s, and about 65 percent of incoming freshmen ranked in the top 10 percent of their high school class. So, these students, too, are plenty smart. And, in the past 10 years, Northeastern has seen huge increases in the percentages of students of color, of international students, and of students coming from outside of New England and the Mid-Atlantic states. In keeping with its competitors, Northeastern’s tuition and fees are about $45,000 per year.

Moving to a still larger university in Boston proper, we come to Boston University (BU), which had a great beginning:

LaRoy Sunderland, an ardent abolitionist and leading figure in Boston’s Bromfield Street Church, in 1839 persuaded his fellow church members to found the United Methodist Church’s first seminary. Their collective goal, we should note, was to provide a higher quality of training to their ministers than was then available. The school was founded in Vermont and relocated several times, in 1867 reopening on 30 acres in nearby Brookline as the “Boston School of Theology.” The president of that school, William Fairfield Warren, persuaded three of the school’s trustees—all wealthy Boston merchants—to petition the Massachusetts legislature in 1869 to charter “Boston University.” The petition was granted, and today’s BU was born. . . . Thanks to the Methodists’ strong belief in social equality, the new University would be accessible to all members of society, without regard to race, class, sex, or creed. (quoted from the website)

Today, BU serves about 16,500 undergraduates and a total of about 30,500 undergraduate, graduate, and professional students (including about 7,000 students from 130 foreign countries) in 17 colleges and schools. Undergraduates can pursue majors in about half of those: Arts and Sciences, Communication, Engineering, Fine Arts, Business, Education, Global Studies, and Hospitality Administration. As if that’s not enough, BU annually sends about 2,200 undergraduates to study abroad in 83 programs in 21 countries.

Like most universities of its size—and it is a very large size for a private university—BU offers over 450 student organizations and 24 varsity sports teams (10 men’s and 14 women’s).

There were almost 55,000 applications for the 3,600 spots in the incoming freshman class. The average overall high school grade was an A– (with an average class rank in the top 8 percent), and the average SAT scores were a trio of scores in the very high 600s. Just like Tufts, undergraduate tuition and fees are high at about $48,500.

As we said in our last episode, Boston itself is a very attractive place for students to study, including for foreign students coming to the U.S. It has culture and sports and business and a beautiful waterfront and more than 100 colleges nearby. It is easy to see why there are so many good private options available.

2. Institutions with a Special Focus

New England also has a large number of well-known institutions that have a special focus, including faith-based and single-sex institutions and institutions with an academic focus or a focus on students with special needs. So here we go.

Faith-Based Institutions

New England has a wide selection of faith-based universities that are well regarded, including both outstanding Catholic institutions and a first-class Jewish institution. Among the many Catholic institutions in these states are three of the 28 Catholic Jesuit universities in the U.S.: The College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts, a liberal arts college with about 2,900 undergraduate students; Fairfield University in Fairfield, Connecticut, with about 4,000 undergraduates and a total of about 5,000 undergraduate, graduate, and professional students; and Boston College (BC) in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts—by far the largest of the three—with about 9,000 undergraduates and a total of about 14,000 undergraduate, graduate, and professional students.

In 1843, Holy Cross became the first Catholic college to be established in New England; its first valedictorian was the son of a slave. Holy Cross was soon followed by BC in 1863 and, much later, by Fairfield in 1942. They all offer strong liberal arts programs, with BC and Fairfield also offering undergraduate majors in career fields—nursing, business, education, and engineering, between them. They are all traditional colleges with lovely campuses and plenty of student organizations and varsity sports teams.

Admitted freshmen post SAT subtest scores in the low 600s at Fairfield, the mid-600s at Holy Cross, and the very high 600s at BC. Pricewise, their annual tuition and fees are in the $45,000 to $47,000 range.

As we have said in previous episodes, the Society of Jesus, which was founded in Paris in the 1500s, traces its commitment to education to St. Ignatius of Loyola, who founded the first Jesuit college in Messina, Sicily, in 1548. Jesuit institutions today place a strong emphasis on intellectual rigor and a liberal arts foundation, social justice issues worldwide, and a life of service. While about 70 percent of students at BC are Catholic, students of all faiths are welcome and comfortable at Jesuit institutions.

And let’s take a quick look at Providence College in Rhode Island, located close to downtown Providence. Founded in 1917 by the Diocese of Providence and Dominican Friars, it is the only Dominican college in the U.S. and the only one with Dominican Friars in their habits teaching on campus. Its charter, however, states that no one should be refused admission because of the “religious opinion he may entertain.” Students are required to take two courses in philosophy and two courses in theology, and masses that are conducted on campus are well attended. While most students and faculty members are Catholic, the College also has a long-standing relationship with Rhode Island’s Jewish community.

Providence College offers its nearly 4,000 undergraduate students 49 majors, predominantly in the liberal arts and sciences, but including business, education, computer science, and health sciences. It also offers a double handful of master’s degree programs. All undergraduates complete 16 credits in the Development of Western Civilization over four semesters—seminars on significant texts from Western and other world civilizations for three semesters and a team-taught colloquium in the fourth semester that focuses on a contemporary issue.

Incoming freshmen in the Class of 2017 posted an average 3.37 high school GPA and SAT subtest scores in the high 500s. Annual tuition and fees are about $45,000, right in the ballpark with its competitors. And, speaking of competitors, I think that the Providence Friars play some pretty competitive basketball.

Turning to a different faith-based tradition, we have Brandeis University, located in Waltham, Massachusetts, just west of Boston. Brandeis describes itself this way:

Characterized by academic excellence since its founding in 1948, Brandeis is one of the youngest private research universities, as well as the only nonsectarian Jewish-sponsored college or university in the country.

Named for the late Justice Louis Dembitz Brandeis of the U.S. Supreme Court, Brandeis University combines the faculty and resources of a world-class research institution with the intimacy and personal attention of a small liberal arts college. (quoted from the website)

And here is my favorite piece of Brandeis history trivia:

Former first lady Eleanor Roosevelt had a long and successful relationship with Brandeis. In addition to serving on the board of trustees, she hosted a public television series on campus, taught International Relations and delivered the university’s first commencement address. (quoted from the website)

Brandeis offers its approximately 3,700 undergraduates an enviable student-to-faculty ratio of 10:1. Its undergraduates study in the College of Arts and Sciences—an undergraduate liberal arts college in a research university, as Brandeis says—in 43 majors and 46 minors (some in career fields). Brandeis serves about 2,200 graduate students in four graduate schools as well.

There are more than 260 student organizations and 19 men’s and women’s varsity sports teams to keep students engaged. Entering freshmen in 2014 posted an SAT average critical reading score around 650 and an SAT average mathematics score around 740. The tuition of about $46,000 is right in the range we have been seeing for private institutions in New England.

Single-Sex Institutions

Three of the “Seven Sisters” colleges are found in Massachusetts: Mount Holyoke in South Hadley, Smith College in Northampton, and Wellesley College in Wellesley. The Mount Holyoke website gives us a little background:

The Seven Sisters, a consortium of prestigious East Coast liberal arts colleges for women, originally included Mount Holyoke, Vassar, Smith, Wellesley, Bryn Mawr, Barnard, and Radcliffe colleges. Today, five of the Seven Sisters remain women’s colleges; Vassar is coeducational and Radcliffe has merged with Harvard, becoming the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study.

The female equivalent of the once predominantly male Ivy League, the Seven Sisters originated in 1915, when Mount Holyoke, Vassar, Smith, and Wellesley colleges held a conference to discuss fund-raising strategies. This historic meeting led to additional conferences over the next decade, at Bryn Mawr, Barnard, and Radcliffe. By 1927 these seven elite women’s colleges were known as the Seven Sisters and over the years have continued to meet to discuss issues of common concern, such as institutional goals, admissions, financial aid, and curriculum matters.

The name “Seven Sisters” has its origins in Greek mythology. It refers to the Pleiades, the seven daughters of Atlas who, according to one myth, were changed into stars by Zeus. (quoted from the website)

Interestingly, Mt. Holyoke, Smith, and Wellesley now all admit men to some of their graduate programs and/or nondegree coursework, but not to their undergraduate programs, which remain for women only.

These three liberal arts colleges are traditionally as difficult to get into as the Ivy League schools, so your daughter would need outstanding academic credentials to consider applying. Mt. Holyoke and Smith do not require college admission test scores. At Wellesley, which does require them, about 80 percent of admitted students have a trio of SAT subtest scores over 700. About 55 to 60 percent of admitted students to Mount Holyoke and Smith are in the top 10 percent of their high school class.

Founded between 1837 and 1871, these colleges now serve about 2,200 to 2,500 undergraduates, who study in about 50 to 55 liberal arts majors. All three have excellent student-to faculty ratios—from Mount Holyoke’s 10:1 down to Wellesley’s remarkable 7:1. Mount Holyoke and Smith are members of the Five College Consortium, which we talked about last week with UMass Amherst; so their women can take courses at any of the five campuses (the two remaining campuses will be discussed in next week’s episode). Wellesley, on the other hand, has exchange programs with about 15 other colleges of various types and in various locations—from MIT and Brandeis nearby to Spelman College and Mills College far away.

Priced from about $44,000 to $46,000 in tuition and fees, these Seven Sisters colleges are no bargain—though I am quite sure that most of their graduates believe they were worth it. Like most women’s colleges, each has a strong and loyal group of alumnae, including quite a few well-known women in all career fields.

Another women’s college, located in Boston proper, is Simmons College, which was founded in 1899 by businessman John Simmons who believed that “women should be able to earn independent livelihoods and lead meaningful lives” (quoted from the website)—which doesn’t sound that unusual now, but which was likely unusual for 1899. Today, Simmons offers 1,700 undergraduate women (about 250 are adult women) a predominantly liberal arts program of about 50 majors (but including some business majors, health sciences and nursing, social work, and computer studies), combined with professional work experience. Simmons has the only M.B.A. program designed especially for women as well as graduate programs in a variety of liberal arts and career fields for about 4,000 women and men.

Interestingly, about 70 percent of its faculty members are women, and Simmons, too, has an attractive 10:1 student-to-faculty ratio. Its Class of 2019 posted, on average, a pair of SAT subtest scores in the very high 500s and an average high school GPA of 3.37. And with tuition and fees of about $37,000, Simmons is, hopefully, in reach for more young women.

Institutions with a Special Academic Focus

We mentioned some of these institutions in an early episode of NYCollegeChat, when we first introduced the idea that some institutions are devoted, more or less, to the study of certain disciplines.

The Arts. For example, we talked about two institutions that have the arts as their academic focus—Berklee College of Music and Rhode Island School of Design (commonly referred to as RISD—pronounced RIZ-dee). Berklee is the premier higher education institution in the world for the study of contemporary music of all styles and cultures—unlike traditional conservatories that focus on classical music. (In the interest of full disclosure, my oldest child got an undergraduate degree from Berklee in Boston and then a graduate degree from its relatively new and architecturally impressive campus, designed by Santiago Calatrava, in gorgeous Valencia, Spain). Founded by Lawrence Berk in 1945, it was the first U.S. school to teach jazz. It became Berklee School of Music in 1954 and then Berklee College of Music in 1970, several years after it began offering bachelor’s degrees. Roger H. Brown currently serves as only the third president in Berklee’s 70-year history, and my personal observations of him in a variety of settings is that he is an impressive guy.

Currently, Berklee offers 12 undergraduate majors to its just over 4,000 students—from music performance to music therapy to film scoring to composition to songwriting to music education to music business to electronic production and design and more. In addition to singing, 29 different principal instruments can be studied (including hand percussion, banjo, and mandolin as the ones the most recently added). All students take both a core music curriculum (e.g., ear training, arranging, harmony) and a core liberal arts curriculum in the humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences and mathematics.

About 30 percent of Berklee’s students come from other countries to study at this unique school. Berklee’s professors are, typically, both great teachers and great practicing musicians. As befits a music school where individual instruction is a key component, the student-to-faculty ratio is an understandable and appealing 8:1. There are hundreds of Grammy winners among its faculty and its graduates. Its annual concert given by graduating seniors on the night before graduation is simply mind-blowing. Berklee does not require college admission test scores, but does require an intensive live audition and interview. Perhaps not surprisingly, its annual tuition and fees are about $41,000—and, I can tell you, Berklee is totally worth it.

Let’s look at RISD, a top-tier art and design school founded in 1877 and located in lovely Providence, Rhode Island. RISD offers 16 undergraduate degree programs to just over 2,000 students (as well as 16 graduate degree programs to about 500 more students). About 30 percent of students are international, and about 30 percent are students of color. RISD’s most popular majors are illustration, industrial design, graphic design, film/animation/video, and painting, but students can also earn degrees in glass, jewelry and metalsmithing, furniture design, textiles, photography, architecture, landscape architecture, and more. Most undergraduates at RISD earn a Bachelor of Fine Arts (B.F.A.) degree, but RISD also offers a Bachelor of Architecture degree for students in that field.

Interestingly, RISD and Brown, one of the Ivies, have campuses next to each other, and students can register for some courses at the other school at no extra cost. RISD students typically look to Brown for foreign language and advanced math and science courses, all of which can be used to satisfy some of RISD’s liberal arts requirements. Not surprisingly, the RISD Museum, which serves southeastern New England, has an excellent and large collection, ranging from ancient art to contemporary art and including well-known artists from many countries and cultures.

Average SAT scores for incoming freshmen last fall were a trio of scores in the mid-600s. Applicants must also submit online a portfolio of 12 to 20 examples of their best recent artwork in any medium as well as two specific drawings, as described in the application. RISD’s tuition and fees at about $46,000 are in line with the other private schools we have been discussing.

Business. In an early episode, we also talked about two institutions in New England that focused on business: Babson College and Bentley University. Let’s start with Babson—founded relatively recently in 1919 and located in Wellesley, Massachusetts—which has a very definite focus, even within business, according to its website:

We develop entrepreneurs of all kinds.

At Babson, we believe that entrepreneurship can be a powerful force within organizations of all types and sizes, in established businesses as well as new ventures. In any industry, in any position, it takes Entrepreneurial Thought and Action® to solve problems and make an impact.

We were the first to understand that thinking and acting entrepreneurially is more than just an inclination. It can be taught. And we do it better than anyone.

Today in our collaborative community, students gain the fundamental business skills and liberal arts knowledge necessary to cultivate an entrepreneurial mindset. They then use that mindset to navigate real business situations, putting what they learn into practice and becoming leaders equipped to make a difference on campus and around the world.

Serving about 2,100 undergraduates and another approximately 900 graduate students, Babson students study with faculty members who have both academic credentials in their field and practical business experience as executives and entrepreneurs themselves. They write case studies about specific businesses and industries in specific regions to teach from. And “cocurricular programs provide students with hands-on experience through internships, volunteer opportunities, and consulting projects” (quoted from the website).

At Babson, at least half of students’ courses are in the liberal arts, including the study of a language that is useful in business dealings today—perhaps a bit surprising for a business-focused institution. In addition to a slate of foundation business courses, students may choose up to two concentrations from 27 options.

Students admitted in the Class of 2018 posted a trio of average SAT scores in the mid- to high 600s. Babson’s tuition is admittedly high at $47,000 a year, though it does charge this flat rate for up to and including 20 credits—meaning that students do not have to pay additional tuition fees charged by many colleges beyond the more typical 16 credits or so (that could save some money and encourage students to move through courses faster).

Turning to Bentley University, located just outside Boston in Waltham, this business school allows its just over 4,000 undergraduate students to “choose from a wide range of programs that address all functional areas including accountancy, finance, marketing, management and liberal arts — all anchored in technology” (quoted from the website). Bentley is also home to another approximately 1,500 graduate students.

Bentley offers its undergraduates 23 majors in 11 business fields and five arts and sciences disciplines. In fact, about 20 percent of undergraduates double major in business and Bentley’s Liberal Studies Major (with eight interdisciplinary concentrations). Students majoring in the arts and sciences must complete either a Business Studies Major (which is a core of eight business courses) or a business minor. About 90 percent of students complete one professional internship during their four years; about 60 percent complete more than one.

Bentley was founded as Bentley School of Accounting and Finance in 1917 by Harry C. Bentley, who taught accounting at BU and other institutions and wanted to open a school where he could teach using his own methods. He remained as president until 1953. Bentley offered its first bachelor’s degrees in 1961. Today, tuition and fees at Bentley are about $44,000 annually—in keeping with the figures we have seen so far in this episode.

Science and Technology. Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) is located in Worcester, Massachusetts, the second-largest city in New England and home to a double handful of colleges. Founded in 1865, it is the third-oldest private technological university in the U.S. Home to about 4,000 undergraduates and another almost 2,000 graduate and professional students, WPI describes its mission this way:

WPI was founded in 1865 to create and convey the latest science and engineering knowledge in ways that are most beneficial to society.

WPI’s founding motto of Theory and Practice continues to underlie our academic programs. WPI graduates emerge ready to take on critical challenges in science and technology, knowing how their work can impact society and improve the quality of life. (quoted from the website)

WPI offers 50 undergraduate and graduate degree programs in science, engineering, technology, management, the social sciences, and the humanities and arts. Going to its strength, WPI offers 12 types of engineering—all the regular ones plus aerospace, biomedical, environmental, robotics, and management engineering. It was the first university to offer a bachelor’s, master’s, and Ph.D. in robotics engineering. A Humanities and Arts requirement ensures that WPI students are well-rounded; it consists of six courses of the student’s choosing, including courses from at least two disciplines, or a six-course sequence in Spanish, German, or Chinese—along with a final project. Project-based learning helps students learn how to think about and propose solutions for real-world problems studied in WPI’s programs. Let’s look at one unique program feature:

WPI believes that in order to become the best engineers and scientists they can be, students should have a broad understanding of the cultural and social contexts of those fields, and thus be more effective and socially responsible practitioners and citizens.

That’s the intent of the Interactive Qualifying Project (IQP), a nine-credit-hour interdisciplinary requirement involving applied research that connects science or technology with social issues and human needs.

The IQP is not organized as a course, nor is it related to the major. Instead, small teams of students work under the guidance of faculty members from all disciplines to conduct research, using social science methods, directed at a specific problem or need. Students deliver findings and recommendations through formal reports and oral presentations to project sponsors (often nonprofit, municipal, or government agencies) and faculty advisors.

Sustainability serves as a common theme for IQPs, many of which address problems related to energy, environment, sustainable development, education, cultural preservation, and technology policy. About half of all IQPs are completed off-campus through the Global Project Program [at 38 sites in 25 countries]. (quoted from the website)

WPI teaches classes in four seven-week terms, with students taking three courses at a time. Faculty members issue grades of A, B, C, and NR (No Record)—to encourage students to explore their interests without fear of negatively affecting their GPA, WPI says.

Though a technological university, WPI has all of the student organizations (more than 200) and varsity sports (10 men’s and 10 women’s) that any traditional college student could want. Incoming freshmen post an average high school GPA of 3.85 and a trio of average SAT subtest scores in the mid-600s. WPI’s tuition and fees are about $44,500, which seems to be the norm.

Environmental Stewardship. Every once in a while, I find a college that I never heard of and that seems unusually intriguing. The one for this episode is Sterling College, located in rural Craftsbury Common, Vermont. While I cannot personally vouch for Sterling the way I can for many other colleges that I have visited, I do believe that it could be exactly the right thing for some students and their families. So, here we go.

Founded in 1958, this is the way Sterling describes itself:

Sterling was among the very first colleges in the United States to link the liberal arts to ecology, outdoor education, and sustainable agriculture. We believe that the wellbeing of humanity depends on small, interconnected communities, committed to conscientious and sustainable practices in agriculture and energy use, and in stewardship of our air, soil, and water. . . .

We were eating local food and advocating for sustainability in the 1970s, and we continue to do so today. Many colleges have a farm—Sterling College is a farm. Our campus is a living system that supports our community and our educational mission.

To be an environmental steward means having the skills to educate others, and introduce them to the natural world. Hiking, climbing, canoeing, camping, and skiing are only a few of the ways in which we interact with the wilderness around us. Most importantly, at Sterling you can learn important skills like starting a fire, how to use an axe, and how to find your way home from almost anywhere, including the top of a mountain.

Sterling is a federally recognized Work College—one of seven in the U.S.—which means that all residential students earn at least $1,650 per semester toward their tuition by working at least 80 hours each semester in a job that supports the operation of the College or nearby community. Everyone is a winner: The College wins by keeping its operational costs lower, and the student wins by getting work experience and lowering his or her own costs of attending.

Sterling’s approximately 120 undergraduate students choose from five majors or design their own; the five are ecology, outdoor education, sustainable agriculture, sustainable food systems, and environmental humanities. I could describe these majors, but I believe you would be better off reading about them firsthand on Sterling’s website. Not surprisingly, given the small student body that Sterling intends to keep just as it is, the student-to-faculty ratio is an attractive 7:1. Sterling prides itself on being a place where one weekly community meeting can include all students, faculty members, and staff and where everyone (including the president) is on a first-name basis.

Sterling operates three semesters per year—fall, spring, and summer—and students may attend all three (and finish sooner) or the traditional two per year. Student applications are reviewed on a rolling basis, and students may enter at any one of the three semesters. No college admission test scores are required. Tuition and fees run about $17,000 per semester, or about $34,000 for a two-semester year, which makes Sterling less expensive by $10,000 or more than a lot of the schools we have been talking about.

Students with Special Needs

In an early episode of NYCollegeChat, we talked about Landmark College in Putney, Vermont, founded in 1983 to help students with dyslexia succeed in college. Today, Landmark serves a variety of students who learn differently—that is, students with learning disabilities, autism spectrum disorder, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder—and also provides an impressive array of academic and personal support services to help its students cope with college courses and college life. Faculty members and staff help students understand their own learning styles and what that means for in-class and out-of-class work. They also provide students with up-to-date assistive technology (e.g., text-to-speech technology, digital pens), designed to make it easier for students to succeed in their coursework.

Landmark offers its approximately 500 students from 38 states and 10 foreign countries a choice of four associate’s degrees and three bachelor’s degrees—a Bachelor of Arts in Liberal Studies, a brand-new Bachelor of Arts in Studio Art, and a brand-new Bachelor of Science in Computer Science.  Almost one-third of Landmark students actually transfer to Landmark after struggling at another college.

Given the intensive support services, personalized approach, and remarkable 6:1 student-to-faculty ratio, Landmark’s high annual tuition and fees of about $52,000 are to be expected. Landmark claims that its students graduate from bachelor’s degree programs (either at Landmark or at colleges they transfer to subsequently) at a higher rate than the national average and at a significantly higher rate than the national average for students with similar learning disabilities. That could make even these very high tuition costs seem like a great deal.

By the way, summer programs are also available to rising high school juniors and seniors who learn differently and could benefit from Landmark’s approach; that could be a great head start for special needs high school students, regardless of where they go on to college.

Some students with special needs feel isolated or left out in an educational setting that is filled with all kinds of students and would prefer a school that focused on them, where they feel they could fit into a community of students they could easily relate to. For such students, Landmark could be an empowering, even life-changing, experience.

Listen to the podcast to find out about…

  • Postponing the Ivy League until graduate school
  • Being a socially conscious engineering student
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