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?

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Episode 101: College Application Fees–Oh, My!

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Welcome back after our Thanksgiving break. We hope your holiday was not ruined by college application hysteria. With about a month to go until many application deadlines hit, we would like to take up a practical topic that might affect how many applications your teenager is thinking about submitting in a few weeks. That topic is application fees.

college-application-fees-oh-my-on-usacollegechat-podcast1. The Cost

For some of you, the cost of submitting an application–which is likely to be somewhere between $35 and $75 per application–is not a big deal. Even if your teenager applies to 10 or 15 schools with fees on the higher side, that cost of perhaps $1,000 is not critical in your financial picture.

However, for many families, coming up with even $500 is a significant issue. A lot is written in the education press about the notion that application fees, even reasonable ones, do actually keep some kids from applying to college–especially lower-income kids and first-generation college-goers. All of us interested in improving the educational lives of our nation’s kids should view that as a problem.

The Jack Kent Cooke Foundation, headed by USACollegeChat‘s good friend Harold O. Levy, published an Issue Brief last June, entitled “Opening College Doors To Equal Educational Opportunity: Removing Barriers That Keep Most High-Achieving Students From Low-Income Families Out of Top Colleges and Universities.” (You can listen to our interview with Harold here.) Among the thoughtful recommendations in the Foundation’s excellent examination of college-going is this one: “Automatically waive application fees for students who appear to be from low-income families. Our previous research suggests that not all low-income applicants eligible for fee waivers request them.”

2. The Process

We wholeheartedly agree with the Foundation. Clearly, some families are intimidated by the prospect of figuring out how to get a waiver for those application fees, even though this is one thing that most high school guidance counselors are well equipped to handle. And there are several routes to those waivers.

The Common App makes it relatively easy. In completing the Common App, your teenager will be asked to declare whether and why he or she is eligible for a fee waiver. The question offers all of the choices for confirming eligibility: receiving an ACT/SAT testing fee waiver, getting free or reduced-price lunch at school, meeting family income eligibility guidelines, being enrolled in a government program that aids students from low-income families, receiving public assistance, being homeless or living in a foster home, being a ward of the state or an orphan, or being able to supply a statement from a local school or community official.

If your teenager has already received a fee waiver for taking the SAT or a Subject Test, the College Board will automatically provide four FREE college application fee waivers. The National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) also has a form that can be used to request fee waivers. NACAC suggests using its fee waivers for up to four colleges.

In most cases, at some point, your teenager’s guidance counselor will be asked to verify eligibility for the waiver. So, it is important to stay in contact with the guidance counselor to make sure that the guidance counselor knows that your teenager has applied for the waivers and that process is working. I think it is fair to say that, just as technology has made it easier to apply to colleges, it has also made it easier to get and use application fee waivers. But that doesn’t mean that some families won’t still be intimidated and/or confused by the process, especially if parents are not native English speakers.

3. Interesting Cases

Let’s look at a few cases of colleges that have recently dropped the application fee. Starting this year, Bowdoin College (Brunswick, ME), an excellent small liberal arts college, will automatically waive the $65 application fee “for students applying for financial aid and first-generation-to-college students (neither parent graduated from a four-year college or university),” according to its website. Trinity College (Hartford, CT), another great small liberal arts college, has eliminated its $65 application fee for first-generation college students.

While it is undoubtedly helpful that colleges are making accommodations for families who need them, it was surprising to me to learn just how many colleges–including top-ranked colleges–do not have any application fees at all. For example, Reed College (Portland, OR) eliminated its $50 fee. Its website explains the decision this way:

‘It’s a small but meaningful step,’ said Crystal Williams, Dean for Institutional Diversity. ‘We want Reed to be a more inclusive community and cutting the admission fee levels the playing field at the earliest stage of the game and allows prospective students a chance to explore all their opportunities.’ (quoted from the website)

Here is a short list of great colleges with no fee, in addition to our excellent military academies (you can find them all just by Googling “colleges without application fees,” just as I did):

There are many, many more. To tell you the truth, I couldn’t have been more surprised. We should note, by the way, that some colleges charge a fee for a paper application, even when they do not charge a fee for an online application, like the Common App.

While a lot of colleges we just named are private liberal arts colleges, let’s take a final look at a very different case–and that is The City University of New York (CUNY), with its 11 four-year colleges and seven community colleges. Elizabeth Harris at The New York Times reported on CUNY’s recent application fee changes for this application season:

New York City public school students from low-income families will no longer have to pay a fee to apply to the City University of New York, . . . part of an effort to encourage more young people to go to college.

Under the initiative, all high school students who meet one of a handful of criteria will be able to apply to CUNY free. The city estimated that the change will affect 37,500 students, up from about 6,500 students in recent years. More than half of the city’s public school students who enroll in college attend CUNY schools.

The application fee is $65 per student, but Mayor Bill de Blasio said that while the amount can seem trivial to some, for many families it is not. And for students who are not sure about applying to college, it is one more hurdle standing in the way of their continued education. . . .

In the past, CUNY granted fee waivers to students with the greatest need, according to the city’s Education Department. Now, any student who qualifies for free or reduced-price lunch, who is homeless or in foster care, or whose family lives in federally subsidized public housing or receives public assistance will automatically be given a waiver. Undocumented students in those categories will also be eligible.

The city’s schools chancellor, Carmen Fariña, said students would not need to apply to skip the fee, so this requires no extra step. (quoted from the article)

I think this is a great move by CUNY, but let me go one step more. Why should any student have to pay an application fee to a public university in his or her own home state? It seems to me that no application fee should be one of the perks of public higher education–if not for all students, then at least for students in that state. If an application fee is an obstacle to students–as many have said it is–then shouldn’t that obstacle be removed in public higher education? Maybe then we would have more students from low-income families and even middle-income families applying to the great public flagship university in their own state or to the public universities in states that are lucky enough to have more than one.

4. A Final Thought

While application fee waivers can help solve the problem of getting more lower-income students to apply to college and even to apply to more colleges so that they can have a wider selection of colleges to choose from next spring, what about kids from middle-income families and even upper-income families who do not qualify for the waivers? I think we have said this before, but it bears repeating right now: Limiting the number of colleges your teenager can apply to because of the cost of making the applications could be penny wise and pound foolish.

We continue to believe that it is important for kids to have as many options as possible once those acceptance letters come in. If a couple of hundred dollars now means that your teenager is looking at more options next April, then we think it is worth it. We don’t say that lightly, but we know that giving teenagers their best chance to choose a college from among a handful of acceptances can be priceless and can be a sound investment for many years to come. So, it’s still not too late to add a few colleges to the list–especially if you have not maxed out your Common App slots!

The Kindle ebook version of our book, How To Find the Right College, is on sale for $0.99 through 2016! Read it on your Kindle device or download the free Kindle app for any tablet or smartphone. The book is also available as a paperback workbook.

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Episode 30: Colleges in the Southeast Region—Part II

Colleges in the Southeast Region—Part II
For show notes including links to all the colleges we mention, visit http://usacollegechat.org/30

In our last episode, we continued our virtual tour of colleges by focusing in on the six states in the Southern Southeast region: Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina. We looked at public universities—both the flagship state public universities and other public universities in those states. In this episode, we will continue our look into the Southern Southeast states by switching our focus to private colleges and universities.

Again, we want to make it clear that no college has asked us or paid us anything to name it. These are entirely our own choices.

Some of the colleges we will spotlight in this episode will require that your child have very good high school grades and college admission test scores to get in. Others will be a bit easier, especially if a college is looking for out-of-state students to enhance its student body’s geographic diversity.

Two general notes: First, when we talk about the colleges and universities in this episode, we are going to be talking about the main campus—that is, the one that most people associate with that institution—in those cases where an institution has more than one campus. Second, because enrollment figures are not necessarily comparable as reported by various colleges, you should use the figures we provide here just as an approximation of the actual campus enrollment, but one that is good enough to help you understand whether the student body is the right size for your child—roughly, small, medium, or really huge.

1. Private Colleges and Universities

The Southern Southeast states have a wide array of private higher education institutions—from small Bible colleges to small liberal arts colleges to larger universities. Let’s start with two private universities that most people have long considered two of the best in the South and that also enjoy a great national reputation: Emory University and Tulane University. Your child would need very good high school grades and college admission test scores to be admitted to either one.

Emory is located in Atlanta, Georgia, an impressive Southern city, which is the home of quite a few higher education institutions, both public and private. Emory is made up of nine undergraduate, graduate, and professional schools and colleges and offers undergraduates a chance to study the liberal arts and sciences, business, or nursing. It serves about 8,000 undergraduates and about 7,000 graduate and professional students. Emory has a unique program at its Oxford College, the site of the original Emory campus before it was moved to Atlanta. Oxford College now offers the first two years of a liberal arts college program on its smaller, residential campus east of Atlanta. Oxford “concentrates on the intellectual, social, and developmental needs of first- and second-year students. Oxford faculty are hired and promoted on the quality of their teaching and community service. Classes are intimate, with much discussion and interaction.” (Text taken from the website) After finishing the two years at Oxford, students can join any of the undergraduate schools on Emory’s Atlanta campus. What an interesting transition this is to life on a big urban university campus. Founded by Georgia Methodists, Emory also has an excellent graduate school of theology.

Turning to New Orleans, one of the true gems of the South, let’s look at Tulane. Tulane has five undergraduate schools—the School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine, the School of Science and Engineering, the School of Architecture, the A.B. Freeman School of Business, and the School of Liberal Arts—plus graduate and professional schools for law, medicine, and social work. Tulane enrolls about 8,000 undergraduates and about 5,000 graduate and professional students, drawn nationally and internationally. It also has something that I know Marie is going to love—the Newcomb College Institute, named for the original H. Sophie Newcomb Memorial College, which opened as the women’s college of Tulane in 1886. With its programming on women’s issues available to the whole university community, the Institute has the following mission: “To cultivate lifelong leadership among undergraduate women; to empower women by integrating teaching, research, and community engagement; to preserve, document, produce, and disseminate knowledge about women; and to honor the memory of H. Sophie Newcomb and carry forward the work of Newcomb College by providing a woman-centered experience in a co-ed institution” (text taken from the website). And did I say it was in New Orleans? No better place to be.

Let’s talk about one more private university—the University of Miami, with about 11,000 undergraduates and 5,000 graduate and professional students, drawn nationally and internationally. Located in suburban Coral Gables, the University of Miami has a name that sounds as though it might be public, but it is, in fact, private. It has grown in reputation over the past decade and a half during the presidency of Donna Shalala (who is resigning this year). Shalala was the former president of Hunter College here in New York City, the Chancellor of the University of Wisconsin–Madison (which we talked about in this Great Lakes episode), the U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services under President Clinton, and, most importantly, my professor at Teachers College, Columbia University, in 1975. The Coral Gables Campus of the University of Miami houses two colleges and seven schools, including the Frost School of Music, one of two original schools when the University was founded in 1926. The University’s Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science is located in Biscayne Bay, and there is a separate Medical Campus, which includes three hospitals. Undergraduates can earn degrees in 115 bachelor’s programs.

A Look at Five Interesting Choices. As we said in Episode 28, Colleges That Change Lives is a nonprofit organization that was founded after the publication of the book Colleges That Change Lives, by Loren Pope, a retired New York Times education editor. There are now 44 colleges and universities profiled in the book and on the organization’s website. Those that are included are not necessarily famous institutions, but they all care deeply about individual students and strive to make the college into a community to support students. Many of the institutions have engaging and experiential aspects to their programs—such as internships, international and intercultural programs, and service-learning projects. Most of the institutions are smaller colleges and universities that have proved to be successful at developing students both personally and academically so that they can succeed in life after their undergraduate college years.

Five of the 44 institutions on the list are located in the Southern Southeast states. You should read about them in the book or on the website, because you will learn much more about them than I can tell you here. Here are the five:

In Alabama: Birmingham–Southern College
In Mississippi: Millsaps College
In Florida: New College of Florida and Eckerd College
In Georgia: Agnes Scott College
New College of Florida, located in Sarasota, is an interesting choice because it was founded as a private college in 1960 and then joined the public State University System as part of the University of South Florida in 1975. In 2001, it was designated as the Honors College for the state of Florida. It enrolls just 800 students from 40 states and 15 foreign countries. Agnes Scott College, located in Decatur (right outside Atlanta), is an interesting choice because it is one of the just over 40 remaining women’s colleges in the U.S. It enrolls about 900 women, drawn from 36 states and 36 foreign countries. A liberal arts college, it offers 34 majors.

Because these institutions are relatively small and thus are not particularly well known outside of their geographic region, it is my feeling that out-of-state students with a good high school record might have a decent chance of being accepted.

2. Colleges with a Special Academic Focus

In episode 4 of NYCollegeChat, we talked about colleges that have a special focus, whether it is an academic focus or a focus on certain student populations or something else. In our last episode, we spotlighted Georgia Tech, with its focus on technologically based fields.

Now let’s look at an institution with an arts focus, and that is Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD), located in Georgia’s prettiest town—and, I would argue, the prettiest town almost anywhere. Founded relatively recently in 1978, SCAD offers more than 40 undergraduate and graduate majors. The top five majors in 2014 were animation, graphic design, illustration, fashion, and film and television (though it also offers more traditional fine arts majors, like painting, sculpture, photography, and even writing). In the general education course requirements, students take courses in the humanities and fine arts, natural sciences and mathematics, social and behavioral sciences, written and oral communication, and computer literacy. SCAD enrolls a total of about 11,000 students, drawn nationally and internationally (almost 25 percent of the student body is international). Its rolling admissions process seems quite individualized, and portfolios will be an important part of the application process for some programs.

A more unusual special focus among higher education institutions is military service. In a much earlier episode of NYCollegeChat, we talked about the U.S. military service academies: the United States Naval Academy in Maryland (often referred to as Annapolis), the United States Military Academy in New York (commonly referred to as West Point), the Air Force Academy in Colorado, the United States Coast Guard Academy in Connecticut, and the United States Merchant Marine Academy in New York.

But now let’s look at the Military College of South Carolina, The Citadel, which is a public college located in Charleston. Founded in 1842, The Citadel has about 2,300 undergraduates (about half from South Carolina), who make up the South Carolina Corps of Cadets, and about 1,000 students in The Citadel Graduate College, a civilian evening program, which also offers undergraduate studies. As described on its website, “The men and women in the Corps live and study under a classical military system that makes leadership and character development an essential part of the educational experience.” The Citadel offers 20 undergraduate majors—with mandatory leadership and ethics studies—in the schools of business, education, engineering, science and mathematics, and humanities and social sciences. About one-third of graduating cadets are commissioned into military service, mostly into the Army.

A Look at Historically Black Colleges and Universities. In Episode 4 in Series 1 of NYCollegeChat, we talked 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—that is, a mission of serving students who had been excluded from many other higher education institutions because of their race. You might recall that there are just over 100 HBCUs—public and private, rural and urban, large and small (even very small), two-year and four-year and graduate schools. Many were founded in the South shortly after the Civil War, and these HBCUs share a proud history of becoming the first collegiate homes for family members of freed slaves.

As we explained in our earlier episode, HBCUs today enroll students who are not black. Some people say that it has become harder for HBCUs to recruit African-American students, who are now welcome at both selective and nonselective colleges across the U.S. Nonetheless, there is still a strong sense of community among the alumni/alumnae of HBCUs and a strong sense of tradition and shared culture on HBCU campuses.

As it turns out, a large number of HBCUs are located in the six Southern Southeast states—about 35 four-year HBCUs, plus the only HBCU public system, the Southern University and A & M College System in Louisiana, with campuses in Baton Rouge, Shreveport, and New Orleans. Southern University’s main campus in Baton Rouge enrolls about 6,000 undergraduates and 1,000 graduate and professional students, with another approximately 3,000 undergraduates at each of the New Orleans and Shreveport campuses. In Baton Rouge, undergraduate students can study in 34 majors across six colleges, including the College of Sciences and Agriculture and the College of Engineering and Computer Science, as befits an A & M (agricultural and mechanical) university.

Also in Louisiana is Xavier University of Louisiana, the only Catholic HBCU, which offers about 3,000 undergraduate, graduate, and professional students a choice of 46 majors. Xavier was founded as a high school by Sister Katharine Drexel and her Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament, a religious community dedicated to the education of African Americans and Native Americans. The college program was added in 1925.

One of the most famous HBCUs is Tuskegee University, founded in Alabama in 1881 by Booker T. Washington, who was the institution’s first teacher and its head until his death in 1915. Booker T. Washington brought George Washington Carver to Tuskegee to head its agricultural studies, and it was at Tuskegee that Carver did his work on peanuts and sweet potatoes and mobile classrooms to educate farmers and more. Both Washington and Carver are buried on Tuskegee grounds. Now serving about 3,000 students in seven schools and colleges, Tuskegee is the only HBCU to award a doctoral degree in veterinary medicine (from its College of Veterinary Medicine, Nursing & Allied Health), and it is the only college campus to be designated a National Historic Site by the U.S. Congress.

We find two well-known and highly respected HBCUs in Atlanta: the all-female Spelman College and the all-male Morehouse College, both founded by Baptist leaders. Spelman is a liberal arts college that offers 27 majors to just over 2,000 undergraduate women, drawn from most states (with New York as one of the top five states sending students to Spelman). It has an enviable student to faculty ratio of 10:1, meaning that students should typically be in small classes and get close attention from faculty members. Morehouse enrolls about 2,500 undergraduate men and offers 26 majors across three liberal arts and sciences academic divisions. Students are required to complete a core curriculum, which includes four courses in the humanities—one in religion, one in philosophy, one in art history, and one in music history. Morehouse has a roster of famous alumni, ranging from Martin Luther King, Jr., to Samuel L. Jackson and Spike Lee. Both Spelman and Morehouse have especially strong senses of tradition and pride in their college communities and among their alumni/alumnae.

If you are interested in an HBCU for your child, the Southern Southeast region is a particularly fertile spot to find one. There are 30 more in this region that you can read about on your own. Just search for the White House Initiative on HBCUs for a complete list.

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In our last episode, we continued our virtual tour of colleges by focusing in on the six states in the Southern Southeast region: Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina. We looked at public universities—both the flagship state public universities and other public universities in those states. In this episode, we will continue our look into the Southern Southeast states by switching our focus to private colleges and universities.

A virtual tour of private colleges in the Southeast Region of the US on NYCollegeChat podcast

Again, we want to make it clear that no college has asked us or paid us anything to name it. These are entirely our own choices.

Some of the colleges we will spotlight in this episode will require that your child have very good high school grades and college admission test scores to get in. Others will be a bit easier, especially if a college is looking for out-of-state students to enhance its student body’s geographic diversity.

Two general notes: First, when we talk about the colleges and universities in this episode, we are going to be talking about the main campus—that is, the one that most people associate with that institution—in those cases where an institution has more than one campus. Second, because enrollment figures are not necessarily comparable as reported by various colleges, you should use the figures we provide here just as an approximation of the actual campus enrollment, but one that is good enough to help you understand whether the student body is the right size for your child—roughly, small, medium, or really huge.

1. Private Colleges and Universities

The Southern Southeast states have a wide array of private higher education institutions—from small Bible colleges to small liberal arts colleges to larger universities. Let’s start with two private universities that most people have long considered two of the best in the South and that also enjoy a great national reputation: Emory University and Tulane University. Your child would need very good high school grades and college admission test scores to be admitted to either one.

Emory is located in Atlanta, Georgia, an impressive Southern city, which is the home of quite a few higher education institutions, both public and private. Emory is made up of nine undergraduate, graduate, and professional schools and colleges and offers undergraduates a chance to study the liberal arts and sciences, business, or nursing. It serves about 8,000 undergraduates and about 7,000 graduate and professional students. Emory has a unique program at its Oxford College, the site of the original Emory campus before it was moved to Atlanta. Oxford College now offers the first two years of a liberal arts college program on its smaller, residential campus east of Atlanta. Oxford “concentrates on the intellectual, social, and developmental needs of first- and second-year students. Oxford faculty are hired and promoted on the quality of their teaching and community service. Classes are intimate, with much discussion and interaction.” (Text taken from the website) After finishing the two years at Oxford, students can join any of the undergraduate schools on Emory’s Atlanta campus. What an interesting transition this is to life on a big urban university campus. Founded by Georgia Methodists, Emory also has an excellent graduate school of theology.

Turning to New Orleans, one of the true gems of the South, let’s look at Tulane. Tulane has five undergraduate schools—the School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine, the School of Science and Engineering, the School of Architecture, the A.B. Freeman School of Business, and the School of Liberal Arts—plus graduate and professional schools for law, medicine, and social work. Tulane enrolls about 8,000 undergraduates and about 5,000 graduate and professional students, drawn nationally and internationally. It also has something that I know Marie is going to love—the Newcomb College Institute, named for the original H. Sophie Newcomb Memorial College, which opened as the women’s college of Tulane in 1886. With its programming on women’s issues available to the whole university community, the Institute has the following mission: “To cultivate lifelong leadership among undergraduate women; to empower women by integrating teaching, research, and community engagement; to preserve, document, produce, and disseminate knowledge about women; and to honor the memory of H. Sophie Newcomb and carry forward the work of Newcomb College by providing a woman-centered experience in a co-ed institution” (text taken from the website). And did I say it was in New Orleans? No better place to be.

Let’s talk about one more private university—the University of Miami, with about 11,000 undergraduates and 5,000 graduate and professional students, drawn nationally and internationally. Located in suburban Coral Gables, the University of Miami has a name that sounds as though it might be public, but it is, in fact, private. It has grown in reputation over the past decade and a half during the presidency of Donna Shalala (who is resigning this year). Shalala was the former president of Hunter College here in New York City, the Chancellor of the University of Wisconsin–Madison (which we talked about in this Great Lakes episode), the U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services under President Clinton, and, most importantly, my professor at Teachers College, Columbia University, in 1975. The Coral Gables Campus of the University of Miami houses two colleges and seven schools, including the Frost School of Music, one of two original schools when the University was founded in 1926. The University’s Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science is located in Biscayne Bay, and there is a separate Medical Campus, which includes three hospitals. Undergraduates can earn degrees in 115 bachelor’s programs.

A Look at Five Interesting Choices. As we said in Episode 28, Colleges That Change Lives is a nonprofit organization that was founded after the publication of the book Colleges That Change Lives, by Loren Pope, a retired New York Times education editor. There are now 44 colleges and universities profiled in the book and on the organization’s website. Those that are included are not necessarily famous institutions, but they all care deeply about individual students and strive to make the college into a community to support students. Many of the institutions have engaging and experiential aspects to their programs—such as internships, international and intercultural programs, and service-learning projects.   Most of the institutions are smaller colleges and universities that have proved to be successful at developing students both personally and academically so that they can succeed in life after their undergraduate college years.

Five of the 44 institutions on the list are located in the Southern Southeast states. You should read about them in the book or on the website, because you will learn much more about them than I can tell you here. Here are the five:

New College of Florida, located in Sarasota, is an interesting choice because it was founded as a private college in 1960 and then joined the public State University System as part of the University of South Florida in 1975. In 2001, it was designated as the Honors College for the state of Florida. It enrolls just 800 students from 40 states and 15 foreign countries. Agnes Scott College, located in Decatur (right outside Atlanta), is an interesting choice because it is one of the just over 40 remaining women’s colleges in the U.S. It enrolls about 900 women, drawn from 36 states and 36 foreign countries. A liberal arts college, it offers 34 majors.

Because these institutions are relatively small and thus are not particularly well known outside of their geographic region, it is my feeling that out-of-state students with a good high school record might have a decent chance of being accepted.

2. Colleges with a Special Academic Focus

In episode 4 of NYCollegeChat, we talked about colleges that have a special focus, whether it is an academic focus or a focus on certain student populations or something else. In our last episode, we spotlighted Georgia Tech, with its focus on technologically based fields.

Now let’s look at an institution with an arts focus, and that is Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD), located in Georgia’s prettiest town—and, I would argue, the prettiest town almost anywhere. Founded relatively recently in 1978, SCAD offers more than 40 undergraduate and graduate majors. The top five majors in 2014 were animation, graphic design, illustration, fashion, and film and television (though it also offers more traditional fine arts majors, like painting, sculpture, photography, and even writing). In the general education course requirements, students take courses in the humanities and fine arts, natural sciences and mathematics, social and behavioral sciences, written and oral communication, and computer literacy. SCAD enrolls a total of about 11,000 students, drawn nationally and internationally (almost 25 percent of the student body is international). Its rolling admissions process seems quite individualized, and portfolios will be an important part of the application process for some programs.

A more unusual special focus among higher education institutions is military service. In a much earlier episode of NYCollegeChat, we talked about the U.S. military service academies: the United States Naval Academy in Maryland (often referred to as Annapolis), the United States Military Academy in New York (commonly referred to as West Point), the Air Force Academy in Colorado, the United States Coast Guard Academy in Connecticut, and the United States Merchant Marine Academy in New York.

But now let’s look at the Military College of South Carolina, The Citadel, which is a public college located in Charleston. Founded in 1842, The Citadel has about 2,300 undergraduates (about half from South Carolina), who make up the South Carolina Corps of Cadets, and about 1,000 students in The Citadel Graduate College, a civilian evening program, which also offers undergraduate studies. As described on its website, “The men and women in the Corps live and study under a classical military system that makes leadership and character development an essential part of the educational experience.” The Citadel offers 20 undergraduate majors—with mandatory leadership and ethics studies—in the schools of business, education, engineering, science and mathematics, and humanities and social sciences. About one-third of graduating cadets are commissioned into military service, mostly into the Army.

3. Historically Black Colleges and Universities

In Episode 4 in Series 1 of NYCollegeChat, we talked 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—that is, a mission of serving students who had been excluded from many other higher education institutions because of their race. You might recall that there are just over 100 HBCUs—public and private, rural and urban, large and small (even very small), two-year and four-year and graduate schools. Many were founded in the South shortly after the Civil War, and these HBCUs share a proud history of becoming the first collegiate homes for family members of freed slaves.

As we explained in our earlier episode, HBCUs today enroll students who are not black. Some people say that it has become harder for HBCUs to recruit African-American students, who are now welcome at both selective and nonselective colleges across the U.S. Nonetheless, there is still a strong sense of community among the alumni/alumnae of HBCUs and a strong sense of tradition and shared culture on HBCU campuses.

As it turns out, a large number of HBCUs are located in the six Southern Southeast states—about 35 four-year HBCUs, plus the only HBCU public system, the Southern University and A & M College System in Louisiana, with campuses in Baton Rouge, Shreveport, and New Orleans. Southern University’s main campus in Baton Rouge enrolls about 6,000 undergraduates and 1,000 graduate and professional students, with another approximately 3,000 undergraduates at each of the New Orleans and Shreveport campuses. In Baton Rouge, undergraduate students can study in 34 majors across six colleges, including the College of Sciences and Agriculture and the College of Engineering and Computer Science, as befits an A & M (agricultural and mechanical) university.

Also in Louisiana is Xavier University of Louisiana, the only Catholic HBCU, which offers about 3,000 undergraduate, graduate, and professional students a choice of 46 majors. Xavier was founded as a high school by Sister Katharine Drexel and her Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament, a religious community dedicated to the education of African Americans and Native Americans. The college program was added in 1925.

One of the most famous HBCUs is Tuskegee University, founded in Alabama in 1881 by Booker T. Washington, who was the institution’s first teacher and its head until his death in 1915. Booker T. Washington brought George Washington Carver to Tuskegee to head its agricultural studies, and it was at Tuskegee that Carver did his work on peanuts and sweet potatoes and mobile classrooms to educate farmers and more. Both Washington and Carver are buried on Tuskegee grounds. Now serving about 3,000 students in seven schools and colleges, Tuskegee is the only HBCU to award a doctoral degree in veterinary medicine (from its College of Veterinary Medicine, Nursing & Allied Health), and it is the only college campus to be designated a National Historic Site by the U.S. Congress.

We find two well-known and highly respected HBCUs in Atlanta: the all-female Spelman College and the all-male Morehouse College, both founded by Baptist leaders. Spelman is a liberal arts college that offers 27 majors to just over 2,000 undergraduate women, drawn from most states (with New York as one of the top five states sending students to Spelman). It has an enviable student to faculty ratio of 10:1, meaning that students should typically be in small classes and get close attention from faculty members. Morehouse enrolls about 2,500 undergraduate men and offers 26 majors across three liberal arts and sciences academic divisions. Students are required to complete a core curriculum, which includes four courses in the humanities—one in religion, one in philosophy, one in art history, and one in music history. Morehouse has a roster of famous alumni, ranging from Martin Luther King, Jr., to Samuel L. Jackson and Spike Lee. Both Spelman and Morehouse have especially strong senses of tradition and pride in their college communities and among their alumni/alumnae.

If you are interested in an HBCU for your child, the Southern Southeast region is a particularly fertile spot to find one. There are 30 more in this region that you can read about on your own. Just search for the White House Initiative on HBCUs for a complete list.

Listen to the podcast to find out about…

  • Atlanta!
  • New Orleans!
  • Savannah!

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