Episode 120: Lots of College Options in Our New Workbook

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Today, we have figured out a way to talk both about our new book–How To Explore Your College Options: A Workbook for High School Students–and to make good on the title of our current series, Colleges in the Spotlight. As we were writing the book, we realized that we could use a lot of college examples, drawn from our earlier podcast episodes, to illuminate the points we were trying to make. I thought it would be interesting to see just how many colleges were mentioned in the book–and by “mentioned,” I mean that they were used to illustrate the answers to some of the 52 questions that teenagers are asked to find the answers to for each college on their Long List of College Options (LLCO). In a way, these colleges are in our spotlight for things that they are doing right or for characteristics they have that are noteworthy. To find out why we mentioned each college, you are going to have to get the book!

1. Colleges in the Spotlight

So, here we go. Here are the colleges that we thought were worth mentioning–for some reason or other (they are listed roughly in the order in which they are mentioned in the book, and I might have missed a few):

That’s more than 60 colleges, which is actually quite a few. Of course, you can always refer back to the virtual college tour we did in Episodes 27 through 53 for a discussion of even more colleges, organized by geographic region of the U.S.

But the new book doesn’t stop with those 60-plus. We also name some great college towns–“great,” according to one of the lists of great college towns that publications love to compile. Do you know what colleges are located in these towns?

  • College Station, TX
  • Charlottesville, VA
  • Saratoga Springs, NY
  • Asheville, NC
  • Flagstaff, AZ
  • Boulder, CO
  • Santa Cruz, CA
  • St. Augustine, FL
  • Burlington, VT
  • Annapolis, MD
  • Ann Arbor, MI
  • Athens, GA
  • Oxford, MS
  • Iowa City, IA

2. Now, It’s Up to You

Now, it’s up to you. At least, that is what we say at the end of the book. We wrote this to each student, assuming that he or she had done the assignments as they were presented: 

You have done a lot of work to gather information about the colleges on your LLCO. You have completed a College Profile Worksheet on quite a few colleges by now. You have learned more than many high school students know about a variety of specific colleges and about higher education generally. 

So, it’s time to start comparing and contrasting the colleges you have researched. That will be a long process, which will require analysis and evaluation by you and your parents and perhaps other important family members. And it’s okay that it is a long process because this is a big decision for all of you. 

Remember that choosing which colleges to apply to can be every bit as important as choosing which college to attend. In an ideal world, you should be happy with every college you apply to because that will take the pressure off as you wait for acceptances to come in. 

Of course, you might be more excited about some choices than others, but don’t apply to any college that you would not want to attend. That is a waste of your time and money. We are confident that there is a college that you can be admitted to that will make you happy. Even safety schools don’t have to be disappointing choices. If they are for you now, you just haven’t looked hard enough yet! Get busy.

We mean that last point really sincerely: If your teenager’s safety schools are disappointing choices for him or her, you all just haven’t looked hard enough yet. There are great colleges–especially some public flagship universities and some large private universities–that are very likely to admit good students, especially those who come from other states. Having a safety school that your teenager does not want to go to is really not having any safety school at all.

We mean it when we say, “Look harder.” We hope that our new book will help your teenager look harder, think harder, and work harder to expand his or her LLCO, to get exciting colleges onto that LLCO, to learn as much as possible about each one of them (by completing a College Profile Worksheet for each one), and to feel satisfied when all of the applications are submitted–that is, satisfied that all of the colleges he or she applied to are good choices, just for different reasons. And a satisfied teenager is likely to produce a satisfied parent. Or at least it should.

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

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

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

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

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

1. One More Research Study

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. Your Assignment #1

Download the Assignment #1 printable worksheet

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Download the Assignment #1 printable worksheet

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

Ask your questions or share your feedback by…

  • Leaving a comment on the show notes for this episode at http://usacollegechat.org/episode81
  • Calling us at (516) 900-6922 to record a question on our USACollegeChat voicemail if you want us to answer your question live on our podcast

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Episode 52: So, How Many Colleges Did You Say?

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Episode 52: So, How Many Colleges Did You Say? on NYCollegeChat podcast: How many colleges should your high school student apply to on NYCollegeChat podcastToday’s episode is an official stop on our blog tour to get the word out about our new book—How To Find the Right College: A Workbook for Parents of High School Students. We appreciate the hosts of the other blogs we have visited on our tour—both through written guest posts we have done and recorded interviews where we have had the chance to chat with great hosts. We have enjoyed all of it. Here are the links to our virtual tour so far:

November 2: ParentChat with Regina

November 4: The College Money Maze

November 5: Parents’ Guide to the College Puzzle

November 6: Mission: Authors Talk About It

November 11: Together with Family

November 12: NYCollegeChat

November 13: The Staten Island Family

November 16: Road2College

November 18: Viva Fifty

November 19: Paying For College 101 Facebook group

November 20: Underground Crafter

November 24: High School Survival Guide

How To Find the Right College is now available for sale as a Kindle ebook or as a paperback workbook on Amazon or Barnes & Noble.

The great thing about the tour was that the hosts of the blogs we visited told us what they wanted us to talk about, so all we had to do was talk. On this stop, we had to decide what to talk about. As we thought through what is likely to be going through the minds of our listeners who have high school seniors right now, we decided to talk about a question that will keep coming up over the next two months: How many colleges should my child be applying to?

You would think that this question would have gotten asked and answered at the beginning of the college search, but we believe that it gets asked and answered over and over again as the time to finish up college applications gets closer and closer.

In the interest of full disclosure, it happened to me. When my daughter was applying to colleges five years ago, we developed our list carefully—partly because she was looking for a dance major and that limited our choices significantly. We got almost to the end of the application season before we realized that she didn’t really have a safety school on the list—that is, a school that we were confident she would be admitted to. At the last minute, I remember saying something like, “Oh, no. We had better get a safety school on this list. Let’s choose a great campus of The City University of New York.” And we did, and that put our minds at ease—even though she didn’t end up needing that acceptance after all.

So, let’s talk about safety schools and about how many schools should be on your list. For more information on both of these topics, check out our book as well as our recent episodes of NYCollegeChat, which have taken our listeners on a virtual tour of public and private colleges in every region of the U.S.

As we said a few weeks ago when we did an episode about putting the final touches on that all-important college application essay, we had an opportunity recently to talk with about 100 high school seniors from one of New York City’s best public high schools—the kind of high school where students have to take an admissions test to get in. In addition to looking at their college essay topics (go back and listen to Episode 49 for that discussion), we asked them to make a list of colleges that they intended to apply to and a list of colleges that they would like to apply to, but weren’t for whatever reason (e.g., it was too expensive, it was too far from home, it was too hard to get into). After looking over their lists, here is what we noticed:

  1. Too many students do not spell the names of colleges correctly. Okay, I know this seems like a low hurdle, but you would be surprised at the mistakes we saw. For example, one of the premier campuses of the public State University of New York is Stony Brook University, which we talked about in Episode 50.  That’s S-T-O-N-Y, not S-T-O-N-E-Y. Another of the premier campuses of the public State University of New York is Binghamton University. That’s B-I-N-G-H-A-M-T-O-N, not B-I-N-G-H-A-M-P-T-O-N. And here’s one that adults sometimes get wrong, and it’s not really a spelling mistake: It’s Johns Hopkins University, not John Hopkins University—named for its benefactor, 19th-century philanthropist Johns Hopkins, an entrepreneur and abolitionist.
  2. For most students, there appeared to be little difference between the two lists of colleges—they were equally hard to get into, equally near and far away, equally expensive, and so on. In other words, I couldn’t figure out why the students weren’t applying to colleges on both lists. This observation led me to believe that they had not done a very good job of sorting through college options and applying their own criteria (that is, their own deal breakers, as we call them in our book) to the full set of college options in order to create their own list.
  3. As good students in a highly respected New York City high school, these kids had two great options for safety schools—the campuses of the public State University of New York (SUNY) and the campuses of the public City University of New York (CUNY). And yet, there were a lot of second-tier and third-tier private colleges on their lists—colleges that I imagine were meant to be safety schools for these kids students from a well-known high school. These second-tier and third-tier private colleges were not as good or as respected as many of the public SUNY and CUNY campuses. So, why were they on the lists? As we have said repeatedly in our NYCollegeChat episodes, there is no prestige in going to a private college—just because it is private—when it is worse than a good public university.
  4. Very few students had any public flagship universities outside of New York State on their lists. As we have said repeatedly in our NYCollegeChat episodes, we believe that public flagship universities are the hidden jewels of the higher education system. Here’s what we said in our book:

For many students, the public flagship state university is the place to be. Just remember, the best and the brightest high school students who live in the state really want to go to their flagship state university. Why? Because these universities are relatively inexpensive, academically respectable, well regarded across the state and across the country, often very competitive in sports arenas, chocked full of student clubs and activities, within driving distance of home, and a social hub for lots of their high school classmates. What could be better?

Some of my favorite colleges to talk to kids about are these great flagship universities, which many families, especially here in New York, never even consider. Many of the best flagship universities are as hard to get into as any top-tier private college—for example, the University of Michigan, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the University of Virginia, UC Berkeley, and more. But some are less selective than those, making them super-appealing choices from many perspectives, including cost, caliber of the students, caliber of the faculty, and campus life. High on my list of great universities you didn’t consider: the University of Colorado Boulder. High on my list of intriguing universities you never dreamt of: the University of Hawai‘i at Manoa. High on my list of interesting choices that a good, if not quite great, student from the Northeast can likely be admitted to: the University of Mississippi (Ole Miss) in Oxford and Louisiana State University (LSU) in Baton Rouge. For a good out-of-state student from a different part of the country, Ole Miss and LSU could serve as interesting safety schools.

So, looking at your child’s college list one more time, how many colleges is enough? Here is what we said in our book:

Of course, there is no right answer to that question. Through some common sense thinking and discussion, we could probably agree that applying to just two or three colleges sounds like too few and that applying to, say, 15 colleges sounds like too many. The right answer for your teenager probably lies somewhere in between, depending on how much variety there is in the kinds of colleges you are considering and depending on how many deal breakers you and your teenager have [when it comes to the types of colleges to put on the list].

For example, you can see right away that deciding to keep a student close to home for college—maybe even within commuting distance—would limit the number of options available to that student (unless, of course, home is a major metropolitan area, like New York City). Such a student might feel that five or six applications would be a reasonable sample of the variety of opportunities available close to home. On the other hand, deciding to send a student away to college would open up an almost limitless number of options. Such a student might feel that even a dozen applications would not be an adequate sample of all the opportunities out there.

As you and your teenager add more deal breakers—that is, more restrictions on the colleges you want to consider—you probably will feel better that fewer applications can cover the remaining college options. For example, let’s say you and your teenager have decided to limit your applications to small, private, four-year colleges in upstate New York that have French majors. With all of those restrictions, four or five applications might feel like plenty (though you might need a safety school, in that case, and perhaps a public one).

One more point: Your teenager should apply only to colleges that he or she actually knows something about and wants to attend. That might sound obvious to you, but it is not nearly so obvious to high school students as you might think. We find that students sometimes cannot explain why they are considering a certain college and sometimes cannot even find it on a map—even on a map of their home state. We have often used this minimum standard: If a student cannot find a college on a map, then he or she probably shouldn’t apply to it. Such students need more help in applying their deal breakers to a list of possible colleges, in finding out about a good many of them, and then in narrowing down the possibilities to a reasonable number—probably about eight to 12.

So, we notice that a couple of sources, like The College Board, are suggesting that the right number is probably from five or six to eight colleges. I think five or six is low, and here’s why. I want every kid to have some options—after any acceptances come in—for two reasons. First, a kid who has some choices likely feels better about his or her decision about which college to attend; a student who has only one acceptance—unless it was based on an Early Decision application and it is the kid’s dream choice—might feel a bit less excited about attending that college. Second, a kid who has some choice likely feels better about himself or herself when chatting with classmates in school and outside of school as all the kids compare their college acceptances. Now, I admit that maybe this is the mother in me speaking and that this is what I wanted for my own children. But I would like kids to feel satisfied with—even proud of—their college choice so that they will do the very best they can when they get there.

So, College Board or not, I am sticking with eight to 12 applications. By the way, as you are looking over the application requirements for each college on your list, we think you are going to find that some applications require little to no more effort than the work you have already done to complete others, especially if those colleges accept the Common Application and have no required additional essays. Other than perhaps paying an additional application fee, you really lose nothing by going ahead and applying.

Even though it is the second week of November, if you have a senior at home, we believe that you still would find our book to be helpful in these next two crucial months. And if you have a younger teenager at home, you will definitely find our book to be helpful as you and your child discuss your deal breakers and make that perhaps life-changing college list.

Check out these higher education institutions and organizations we mention…

In New York State

Outside of New York State

Listen to the podcast to find out about…

  • Why you should check out the percentage of applicants a college accepts when choosing a safety school
  • Why your child should apply to more than one SUNY or CUNY campus at a time
  • Why eight is not enough

Learn more about these topics in previous episodes…

Ask your questions or share your feedback by…

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

Connect with us through…

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

Episode 39: Colleges in the Far West Region—Part I

This is the thirteenth episode in our virtual tour of colleges across the U.S. as we continue to help you find colleges that might be appropriate for your child, but that are outside your geographic comfort zone. So far, we have toured the Great Lakes region, the Southeast region, the Rocky Mountain region, the Plains region, and the Southwest region. This episode takes us out to the Far West, which I know is likely to be outside the geographic comfort zone of lots of families here in the Northeast. But don’t be too hasty, listeners.

Virtual tour of public colleges in the Far West region of the US on NYCollegeChat podcast. Show notes available at http://usacollegechat.org/39

Remember that we are discussing only four-year colleges in our tour, reasoning that students who plan to attend two-year colleges are highly likely to go to the closest one, which makes a certain amount of sense for a two-year college. We think it makes less sense if you are planning to send your teenager to a four-year college for lots of reasons we have discussed.

And, just to repeat, no college has asked us or paid us anything to include it in our virtual tour. These are our own choices.

1. The Far West Region

As we have said, the Bureau of Economic Analysis (an agency of the U.S. Department of Commerce) has divided the U.S. into eight regions, with each region’s covering from four to 12 states. In this episode, we will start our examination of the six states in the Far West region: Washington, Oregon, California, Nevada, Alaska, and Hawai‘i.

I am sure that our listeners east of the Mississippi are thinking that some of those states sound very far away. But that alone doesn’t make them a bad choice as a place for your child to go to college. So let’s have a look this week at public colleges in these six states and next week at private colleges in these six states.

2. Flagship Public State Universities in Five States

As is our custom, let’s start with this region’s flagship public state universities. Each of the six states has one, as those of you who are regular listeners know by now. And, as usual, some of them are better known nationally than others. While flagship universities typically have smaller branch campuses in other locations in their states, it is the main location—that is, the flagship of each state’s public system—that we will talk about here because that is the campus that is most respected and most widely recognized, both in the state and certainly outside the state. Right now, let’s look at five of the states. We are going to save California for its own segment in a few minutes, because its public higher education system is enormous and complex and needs its own separate explanation.

Let us remind you one more time of what we have said in other episodes about flagship campuses: They are the place to be, if you graduated from high school in that state. Why? Because they are relatively inexpensive, academically respectable, well regarded across the state and across the country, usually super-competitive in sports arenas, chocked full of student clubs and activities, within driving distance of home, and a social hub for high school classmates.

For many students, I think that great flagship campuses in other states are the hidden jewels of the college search.

So, what are these flagship campuses in our five Far West states (not counting California)? They are the University of Washington in Seattle (UW), the University of Oregon in Eugene (UO), the University of Nevada, Reno (UNR), the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa (UH Mānoa), and the University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF).

So, let’s talk cities. Have you been to Seattle? It’s a lovely city—a real city—with relatively nearby mountains and lots of water. There are picturesque neighborhoods and boats and the famous fish market, and there is also a major city center. The UW campus, by the way, is perfectly beautiful—one of the prettiest I have ever seen.

Eugene and Reno are both set in hiking-rafting-kayaking-mountain biking outdoor country. Eugene is an hour from Oregon’s breathtaking Pacific coast and two hours from Portland, seemingly everyone’s new favorite city on the West Coast. Eugene makes everybody’s list of great college towns to live in. At the base of the Sierra Nevada, Reno is 30 minutes from the majesty of Lake Tahoe, a true vacationland. Though Reno is often associated with Las Vegas because of its casinos, it is actually closer geographically to Sacramento than to Las Vegas—a two-hour drive vs. a seven-hour drive.

And what is there to say about Mānoa and Fairbanks—two spots as physically different and dramatic as we can imagine in the U.S., but both intriguing to most of us in the rest of the country.

Turning to the five flagship universities, we can put them into three groups by enrollment size, starting with the largest university, which is UW with about 31,000 undergraduates and a total of about 45,000 undergraduate, graduate, and professional students. These enrollment figures put UW right up there with our larger flagship universities nationwide, though below the very largest. About 75 percent of students at all three UW System campuses are Washington residents (my guess is that the percent of residents is a bit lower at the flagship campus in Seattle because that is the one most likely to attract out-of-state students). The average high school GPA of incoming freshmen is an impressive 3.75, and the average SAT score for all three subtests is a combined 1833—in other words, perhaps a set of scores in the low 600s across the three subtests.

UO comes in next with about 21,000 undergraduates and a total of about 24,000 undergraduate, graduate, and professional students—a bit more than half the size of UW. Just over 50 percent of UO’s students come from Oregon, so students from out of state would feel quite at home in Eugene. Freshmen at UO come with an average high school GPA of 3.58 and SAT subtest scores in the high 500s. Perhaps the relatively low percentage of home-grown Oregonians at UO is accounted for by the fact that high school students in Oregon have a second attractive state university—that is, Oregon State University in Corvallis—with just as many students, if not more, and an entering GPA that is just as high. More about Oregon State University later.

Following close behind UO are UH Mānoa and UNR, each with about 19,000 total students, with 14,000 to 16,000 being undergraduates. Each university draws about 65 to 70 percent of its students from its own state. Interestingly, UNR serves about one-third “underrepresented” students, and the University has set a goal to grow its enrollment to 22,000 total students. So, it is on the move. Not surprisingly, at UH Mānoa, white students make up just about one-quarter of the enrollment, with Asian students being the largest segment at about one-third of the student body.

Compared to these first four flagship universities, UAF is rather small, with just about 6,500 total students; about 90 percent are undergraduates, and 90 percent are Alaska residents. While it is understandable that not too many high school graduates from around the U.S. are drawn to a university in faraway Alaska, UAF does boast students from 49 states. Though UAF is just about one-third the size of UNR or UH Mānoa, it is safe to say that a university of 6,000 undergraduates would still feel quite large to a new freshman; after all, that is a lot bigger than the student body at many, many small liberal arts colleges. One advantage of UAF’s size is its enviably low 11:1 student-to-faculty ratio—extraordinarily low for a public university.

Each of these flagship universities does, in fact, attract students nationally and internationally, even if not in great numbers. As we have often said, colleges love geographic diversity, and students might be able to get into a better college by looking a bit farther afield at a college that is lacking, but is seeking, that diversity. Any of these universities would likely be interested in a student from the other side of the country if that student posted a decent high school GPA and some decent college admission test scores—though those grades and scores will have to be better than decent if the student is interested in UW.

The flagship universities in Washington, Oregon, and Nevada were all founded in the 1860s and 1870s. UW was founded in 1861 before statehood by its Territorial Legislature, which stipulated that the Territorial University would have four departments: literature, science, and the arts; law; medicine; and the military—an interesting set of choices.

UH Mānoa and UAF came along later in the early 1900s, though well before statehood. In fact, in 1959, the Alaska Constitution was written in one of the buildings on the UAF campus and then signed in another. Also prior to statehood, UAF opened its Geophysical Institute, which has an international reputation in the study of the earth and the physical environment at high latitudes and which is now home to the Poker Flat Research Range, the only university-based rocket range in the world (it provides launching facilities for NASA and the Department of Defense).

Turning to academics, these flagship universities have from 8 to 16 undergraduate, graduate, and professional schools and colleges—from liberal arts and sciences to every kind of career-related field, including, at the undergraduate level, engineering, education, business, journalism, fine arts, architecture, nursing, and agriculture and natural resources.

But here are some of the more innovative schools and colleges where undergraduates can study. UW has a College of Built Environments, which houses its architecture, construction management, landscape architecture, urban design and planning, and real estate departments. UO has a School of Architecture and Allied Arts, offering studies in architecture, art, arts administration, digital arts, historic preservation, the history of art and architecture, interior architecture, landscape architecture, planning, public policy and management, and product design. Perhaps as should be perfectly obvious, UAF offers a College of Engineering and Mines and a School of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences.

However, my vote for most intriguing colleges and schools has to go to UH Mānoa. Among its 14 colleges and schools, it offers a School of Travel Industry Management, which integrates the studies of hospitality, tourism, and transportation management, designed to support the state’s leading industry with a decidedly international flavor, including studies in international economic and political systems. UH Mānoa also offers a School of Pacific and Asian Studies, with eight individual Centers for Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Okinawan, Pacific Islands, Philippine, South Asian, and Southeast Asian Studies.

Its newest school, established in 2007, is the School of Hawaiian Knowledge, created “to pursue, perpetuate, research, and revitalize all areas and forms of Hawaiian knowledge, including its language, origins, history, arts, sciences, literature, religion, education, law, and society, its political, medicinal, and cultural practices, as well as all other forms of knowledge” (quoted from the website). This school offers a B.A. in Hawaiian Studies, which includes third-level proficiency in the Hawaiian language. I am struck by how unique some of these area studies and cultural offerings are and how much studying at UH Mānoa could be like studying abroad for virtually all students from the other 49 states.

Let us also say that UNR does something interesting with its freshmen by requiring students to take their choice of two of UNR’s three interdisciplinary Core Humanities courses, taught by English, history, foreign languages and literatures, philosophy, and political science professors: Ancient and Medieval Cultures, The Modern World, and/or American Experiences and Constitutional Change.

These flagship universities offer from about 100 to more than 200 undergraduate degree programs across their numerous undergraduate colleges and schools. So students should be able to find exactly what they want. Interestingly, at UW, the largest of the universities with the most options to choose from, about 70 percent of undergraduate degrees are from the College of Arts and Sciences.

Like all other flagship universities, each of these has more than 100 student clubs and organizations—and sometimes several hundred. And there are lots of outdoor recreation opportunities in all of these locales, along with club sports and intramurals. By the way, UAF is the only U.S. university with its own snowboarding terrain park.

There are also varsity sports teams—from 16 to 21 women’s and men’s and co-ed teams (with just 10 teams at the smaller UAF campus). Though UW Huskies fans might dispute this, I am going to say that the sport I think of first at these universities is track and field at UO, where the men just won back-to-back NCAA national championships and where Hayward Field, a dedicated track venue, is the frequent host of national championships and Olympic trials.

As we have seen in other regions, out-of-state tuition at these flagship universities is not cheap, running from about $20,000 to $34,000 per year—about three times what a state resident would pay. But that is still lower than many private colleges in your home state—that is, before any financial aid package is figured in. More important, as we have said before, these flagship universities are better academically and more widely recognized than many private colleges in the U.S., and there is no prestige in attending a private college that is not as good as a great public university.

As we have mentioned in previous episodes, some of these universities are members of the Western Undergraduate Exchange (WUE), a program of the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education (WICHE). WUE allows students who are residents of WICHE states to request a reduced tuition rate of just 150 percent of resident tuition at participating colleges outside of their home state (as we discussed in Episode 33). WUE effectively broadens a student’s opportunities to look at first-rate public institutions in nearby states, without any substantial financial consequences. Look hard at any public universities your child is interested in to see whether there might be a similar exchange program in place in your state.

3. Other Public State Universities

In each of these Far West states, there are also other public universities—not branches of the flagship campus or campuses within the flagship system, but universities in their own right. Let’s look at three that we think are most likely to attract out-of-state students.

We have already mentioned one, and that is Oregon State University in Corvallis, which actually has a larger total student enrollment than UO (about 30,000 across two campuses) and which attracts equally talented freshmen. Corvallis, located 90 miles south of Portland, is a small, safe, environmentally responsible, outdoorsy college town. Offering over 200 undergraduate degree programs in nine of its 11 colleges, OSU has a College of Forestry and a College of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences—both of which make sense, given its location between the Cascade Range and the Pacific Ocean. Founded in 1868, its campus is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is known for its classic and well-planned architectural and landscape design. It is one of two U.S. universities to have Land Grant, Sea Grant, Space Grant, and Sun Grant designations. In a future episode, we should talk about the history of land grant universities, but, suffice it to say, that having all four designations is impressive.

Let’s turn to the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV), founded relatively recently in 1957 as an outpost of UNR and then earning independent and equal status in 1968. It serves about 24,000 undergraduates and a total of about 29,000 undergraduate, graduate, and professional students, making it considerably larger than the flagship UNR. About 85 percent of its students are from Nevada, and about 55 percent are minority students. It has a total of 10 schools and colleges, including the William F. Harrah College of Hotel Administration, the Greenspun College of Urban Affairs, the Howard R. Hughes College of Engineering, and a College of Fine Arts. Its urban location in Las Vegas makes it a very different choice for students from UNR’s location in the northern part of the state.

Given the size and the diversity of academic offerings of OSU and UNLV, it seems that these two universities are competitively attractive when compared to the flagship universities in their states (perhaps a bit like the University of Michigan and Michigan State University, as we discussed in our Great Lakes public university episode). So both could be worth a look for out-of-state students.

The third institution we would like to spotlight is The Evergreen State College, located about an hour south of the Seattle-Tacoma airport in Washington’s capital city of Olympia. When you view Evergreen by air, what you see are—wait for it—a million evergreen trees, calm waters, and a few college buildings. Founded quite recently in 1971, Evergreen is a public liberal arts college, serving about 4,500 students, mostly undergraduates, and offering them more than 60 fields of study to choose from. It is deeply environmentally responsible and has been repeatedly recognized for its innovative, cool, free spirit style and substance. Evergreen prides itself on having its students learn through interdisciplinary study, collaborative learning activities with their classmates from diverse backgrounds, and opportunities to link theory with practical applications.

Students at Evergreen take one interdisciplinary course, called a program, at a time, which might last one, two, or even three quarters. Built around a theme, a program integrates several subjects and is taught by a team of two to four professors from different subject fields. Students participate in a mixture of lectures, seminars, tutorials, field trips, labs, and the like during each program. There are no required programs or distribution requirements or major requirements (because there are no majors) for earning a Bachelor of Arts degree. A Bachelor of Science or a Bachelor of Arts and Science does have some math, science, or computer science requirements.

Out-of-state students pay about $22,000 per year in tuition (compared to the $8,000 that Washington residents pay). But, even so, that is about half as much as most private liberal arts colleges, especially those that have this innovative a take on higher education.

As we have said before, all of these public universities (and there are more in these states than those we mentioned here, especially in Washington) would cost an out-of-state student more than a public university in his or her own state, but less than most private colleges. So, consider looking at public universities, beyond just the flagship university, for the innovative programs or the appealing locations or the breadth of opportunties that they offer.

4. Public State Universities in California

We now come to public universities in California. Remembering that California is a physically huge and populous state, we can expect a lot of public options. California boasts its University of California campuses (California’s premier public system), its California State University campuses (its second tier of public colleges), and its California Community Colleges System campuses (its third tier of public colleges, which offer opportunities to an enormous number of California students who do not have the high school grades and/or the financial resources and/or the inclination to attend one of California’s public four-year campuses). In the wake of tight state budgeting, whether California universities should accept more out-of-state students, who bring their higher tuition payments, or keep more spaces open for its own students has been a political football tossed back and forth in the media a lot lately.

With that said, both the UC campuses and the CSU campuses have elaborate eligibility standards, which include the student’s high school GPA calculated for 15 required core courses, class rank, and SAT or ACT scores, and which vary by the student’s place of residence in and outside of California. While it is not necessary to go into these details right now, suffice it to say that out-of-state students will have to meet higher admission standards than California residents for both UC and CSU campuses. And that is on top of the fact that space in some programs on some of these campuses is extremely limited.

With all that as a backdrop, let’s start by taking a quick look at the University of California, Berkeley, considered by most to be the flagship public university (though it seems to me, as an outsider, that California is really more like New York—that is, it has many individual universities, loosely coupled into a system and governed by that system, but each having the stature and character of an independent well-known university). There is a lot to recommend it as a place to study, including its charming campus in Berkeley, north of San Francisco and Oakland. Founded in 1868 by the merger of two tiny colleges, UC Berkeley (fondly referred to as Cal by Californians) is the oldest of the UC campuses. Today it has an undergraduate enrollment of about 27,000 students and a total enrollment of about 38,000 students, who are studying in 14 undergraduate, graduate, and professional colleges and schools. Those of us of a certain age remember the UC Berkeley of the 1960s as a campus where politically conscious students protested for their right to free speech in the wake of civil rights struggles and then the war in Vietnam. While UC Berkeley has long been known for its brainy students, today it is super-hard to get into, posting a low acceptance rate of about 17 percent of applicants. The average high school GPA of new freshmen is a 4.19 and their entering SAT scores are at about 700 on each of three subtests. To be sure, UC Berkeley ranks as one of the very best public institutions in the U.S. and, indeed, as one of the best public or private institutions in the U.S. While California residents pay about $13,000 in tuition per year, nonresidents pay about $34,000 in tuition per year—still less than you would pay at comparable first-class private universities.

Perhaps the best known of the UC campuses is UCLA—the University of California, Los Angeles. Started in 1919 as the University of California’s Southern Branch, UCLA’s star has been rising ever since and, by many accounts, it now ranks academically with UC Berkeley. Its incoming freshman class average GPA is 4.25, with comparably high SAT scores. UCLA currently serves about 28,000 undergraduates and a total of about 42,000 undergraduate, graduate, and professional students. About one-third of its undergraduates are Asian, and about one-quarter are white. About 80 percent are California residents. UCLA’s undergraduates study in 125 majors across five schools and colleges: College of Letters and Science and the Schools of the Arts and Architecture; Engineering and Applied Science; Theater, Film and Television; and Nursing. And they play some great basketball (can you say Kareem Abdul-Jabbar?), have won more NCAA titles than any other university, and have produced 250 Olympic medalists. Again, your child would need to be exceptional to get into UCLA these days.

The UC System has seven more campuses that serve undergraduate students, but all require out-of-state students to have a 3.4 GPA for a set of 15 required core courses taken in high school, with no grade lower than a C. So the admission standards are indeed high.

The California State University System, on the other hand, has 23 campuses, spread from the top to the bottom of the state. Tuition is a bargain at about $5,500 per year for California residents and about $17,000, by my calculation, for out-of-state students. It has always been my impression that these state universities are easier to get into than those in the University of California System, but deciphering the admissions requirements can be daunting for non-Californians unfamiliar with the lingo. Our best advice is that you should talk directly with an admissions officer at the campus, if your child is interested in attending a public state university in California—many of which could be attractive options.

Let me just say a word about paying close attention to which university you are actually investigating because names can be mighty similar. For example, there is the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), but also the California State University, Los Angeles. Or, to make matters worse, there is the University of California, San Diego, but also San Diego State University (in the California State University System), as well as the University of San Diego (a private Catholic university).

So, is it more trouble than it is worth to try to go to a public university in California as an out-of-state student? Well, it is certainly trouble. But I don’t think any student currently studying on a public campus in beautiful Santa Barbara or San Diego or Monterey Bay or Sonoma County or San Francisco would think it’s more trouble than it’s worth.

Listen to the podcast to find out about…

  • How remarkably diverse college options are in the Far West
  • How remarkably unique The Evergreen State College is for a public college
  • How remarkably complex public higher education is in California

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