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…

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Episode 41: Colleges in the New England Region—Part I

This is the fifteenth episode in our virtual tour of colleges across the U.S. We are coming into the home stretch of helping you find colleges that might be perfect 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, the Southwest region, and the Far West region. This episode takes us all the way back across the country to the New England region, which is likely inside the geographic comfort zone of many, but certainly not all, families here in the Northeast—because, as we know, about 70 percent of high school students will stay in their home state—not even in their home region—for college. So, listen carefully, those of you in the Northeast, because there are some interesting colleges relatively nearby in some very small New England states.

Virtual #college tour of New England Region on NYCollegeChat #podcast. Available at http://usacollegechat.org/41

Keep in mind 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 your teenager is headed for a four-year college, as we have said many times.

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

1. The New England 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 New England region: Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and Connecticut.

I am sure that our listeners out in the Rocky Mountain or Plains regions think that these states seem both far away and quite small—compared to Montana, for example. But remember that some of them are densely populated, and that leads to lots of colleges being established over many, many decades. So this week, we will be examining public colleges in these six states; and, next week, we will be taking a look at a variety of very well-known and not-so-well-known private colleges in these six states.

2. Flagship Public State Universities

As we usually do, let’s begin with this region’s flagship public state universities. Each of the six states has one, as those of you who tune in regularly know by now. And, as usual, some of them are better known nationally than others (probably as a result of some great basketball playing). While state public college systems and flagship universities typically have smaller 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.

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.

As I have said before, I think that great flagship campuses in other states are the hidden jewels of the college search for lots of students who never consider them.

With all that said, I also want to say that I do not believe that flagship campuses in New England are nearly the draw that they are in almost all of the other parts of the country (except in the Mid-Atlantic states, which we haven’t talked about yet). In other words, I think that it is much more likely that a high school senior in Texas is dying to go to the flagship campus of the University of Texas in Austin than that a high school senior in Massachusetts is dying to go to the University of Massachusetts Amherst. For high school seniors in Mississippi, the University of Mississippi, or Ole Miss, is the very best place they can imagine going. For high school seniors in Connecticut, the University of Connecticut is likely not the very best place they can imagine going—no matter how good it actually is. It is a cultural thing, not an academic thing. Perhaps there is just a longer or more entrenched tradition of private higher education in the Northeast than there is in other parts of the country.

Now, with all that said, let me also point out that applications to some of these flagship universities in New England are really on the rise—by a lot. So maybe things are beginning to change.

What are these flagship campuses in the New England states? They are The University of Maine (UMaine) in Orono, the University of New Hampshire (UNH) in Durham, The University of Vermont (UVM, from the Latin phrase for “University in the Green Mountains”) in Burlington, The University of Rhode Island (URI) in Kingston, the University of Connecticut (UConn) in Storrs, and the University of Massachusetts Amherst (UMass Amherst).

Let’s look at their locations first. I think of these locations as slightly off the beaten track. In other words, these locations are not the famous cities of these states. These flagship universities are not in Boston, Providence, Portland, or New Haven, for example. These locations are more like small towns—maybe great small towns and maybe even great college towns.

Burlington, Vermont, for example, is the nation’s number 1 college town, according to Travel + Leisure magazine. The University of Vermont is located on beautiful Lake Champlain (personally, I always think that Lake Champlain should be one of the Great Lakes), just 90 miles from Montreal, its closest big city. Burlington is recognized for its outdoor life, the arts, safety, and its overall quality of life.

Or take Orono, which is 140 miles from Portland, Maine’s biggest city. Orono is between the Stillwater and Penobscot rivers and not too far from Acadia National Park, Mt. Katahdin, and Bar Harbor—all well known spots to native Mainers and regular vacationers to the state, of which there are swarms (just try to drive up there on a summer weekend). Or look at Amherst. A lovely small New England town—admittedly in the middle of nowhere—it is in spitting distance of a handful of first-rate private colleges (listen in to hear about them next week) as well as the home of the Commonwealth’s flagship campus. For many people, these New England spots—sometimes close to the water and sometimes close to the mountains—are simply idyllic places to go to college.

Turning to the six flagship universities, we can put them into three groups by enrollment size, starting with the largest universities, which are UConn with about 23,000 undergraduates and a total of about 31,000 undergraduate, graduate, and professional students and UMass Amherst with about 23,000 undergraduates and a total of about 29,000 undergraduate, graduate, and professional students. These enrollment figures are substantial—especially given the size of the states—about on par with the University of Iowa, the University of Oklahoma, the University of Colorado Boulder, and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, to name a few.

About 80 percent of students at UConn and UMass Amherst are state residents, which I think is a surprisingly high percentage since I would guess that these are the two New England flagship universities that are the best known outside the region. At each university, the average SAT score of incoming freshmen is a pair of scores in the low 600s. At UMass Amherst, the high school GPA of incoming freshmen is an impressive 3.78—higher than you might expect with average SAT subtest scores in the low 600s.

But let me tell you the most arresting statistic: Applications at UMass Amherst have doubled in the past 10 years (that is, there were 37,000 applications for just 4,650 seats in the Class of 2018). In the past 20 years, applications at UConn have tripled at the same time as SAT average scores have gone up a combined total of 200 points on two subtests and minority student applications have increased. Currently, UConn undergraduates are about 29 percent minority students, compared to UMass Amherst’s 21 percent. We can say, with certainty, that admission to these two flagship universities is more competitive than it has ever been.

Next in size are URI and UNH, each with about 13,000 to 14,000 undergraduates and a total of about 15,000 to 17,000 undergraduate, graduate, and professional students—just about half the size of UConn and UMass Amherst. Each university draws just about 50 to 55 percent of its students from its own state, and UNH draws another 25 percent from Massachusetts. Incoming freshmen at both URI and UNH have an average high school GPA of a 3.4, with average SAT subtest scores hovering around 550. So these two might be just a bit easier to get into from out of state than UConn and UMass Amherst.

Not too far behind, enrollment-wise, are UMaine and UVM, each with about 9,000 to 10,000 undergraduates and a total of about 11,000 to 12,000 undergraduate, graduate, and professional students. Incoming freshmen at UMaine are academically about like those at URI and UNH, while incoming freshmen at UVM score a bit higher, more like those at UConn and UMass Amherst.

Each of these flagship universities does, in fact, attract students nationally and internationally. And let us say one more time that colleges love geographic diversity and that students might be able to get into a better college far from home if that college is lacking, but wanting, that diversity in its student body. 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 the top flagship campuses in New England.

UVM is, by far, the oldest of these institutions. Founded in 1791, it is the fifth oldest college in New England (after four Ivy League schools), and it, too, began as a private university. The Marquis de Lafayette, the French officer who fought with us during the American Revolution, laid the cornerstone of a building that still stands on the campus. UVM also claims to be the first college with a charter that said it was nondenominational. Then, almost 75 years later, along came the Morrill Act:

The Morrill Act of 1862 provided for the sale of public lands. Income from these sales was to be used to create at least one college in each state with the principal purpose of teaching agriculture and mechanic arts. From this grant of land comes the term “land grant,” which applied to the national system of state colleges. In a later adaptation of the concept, federal funds given to colleges for marine research and extension are called “sea grants.” (quoted from the URI website)

By the way, “space grants” and “sun grants” for additional types of research followed. Both UNH and UConn have land-grant, sea-grant, and space-grant designations.

So, the Morrill Act added a State Agricultural College to UVM, thus making it a public-private blended institution, and it gave rise to UMass Amherst in 1863, UMaine in 1865, UNH in 1866, UConn in 1881, and URI in 1888. They all grew into the full-fledged universities that they are today from their beginnings as “A and M’s.”

Turning to academics, these flagship universities have from 6 to 14 undergraduate, graduate, and professional schools and colleges—from liberal arts and sciences to many career-related fields, including, at the undergraduate level, engineering, education, business, fine arts, nursing, agriculture, forestry, environment and natural resources, information and computer sciences, and public health and health sciences.

Here are some of the schools and colleges that seem perfectly appropriate to the settings of these institutions. UNH’s School of Marine Science and Ocean Engineering, an interdisciplinary school focusing on today’s complicated ocean and coastal issues, offers undergraduates a couple of interdisciplinary degrees and minors in marine and freshwater biology, wetland ecology, oceanography, and coastal-zone-related engineering.

Similarly, URI has a Graduate School of Oceanography, which also offers undergraduate courses and an undergraduate minor. Professors mentor undergraduates in lab- and ship-based independent study courses and internships. There are also 10-week summer programs, but all of this is actually at the Narragansett Bay Campus of URI and not on the grounds of the flagship campus in Kingston.

UMaine’s College of Natural Resources, Forestry, and Agriculture has a School of Marine Sciences (with facilities in Walpole, on the coast rather than in Orono) as well as a School of Forest Resources, which offers five different bachelor’s degrees, including one in Forest Operations, Bioproducts, and Bioenergy and one in Forest Ecology. And at UVM, undergraduates can study the environment in about 20 majors across five schools and colleges—majors like Green Building and Community Design, Wildlife and Fisheries Biology, Sustainable Landscape Horticulture, Environmental Engineering, Ecological Agriculture, and Sustainable Business.

These flagship universities offer from about 80 to 120 undergraduate degree programs across their undergraduate colleges and schools. When students cannot find exactly what they want to study at the public university in their own state, the New England Board of Higher Education Regional Student Program kicks into action. This program allows students to study at a public college in another New England state if the program they want is not offered at a public college in their own state—at least for many majors. For example, Massachusetts residents can study in 110 different bachelor’s degree programs in other New England public colleges—like Ocean Engineering or Pharmaceutical Sciences or Textile Marketing at URI. Sometimes students even have a choice of more than one public college in more than one state for a particular program. And, of course, a nice tuition discount goes along with the deal so that out-of-state students in this program do not pay the full out-of-state tuition costs.

Like all other flagship universities, each of these six has more than 100 student clubs and organizations—and sometimes more than a couple hundred and, at UConn, more than 600. And there are lots of outdoor recreation opportunities in or near many of these locales, along with club sports and intramurals.

There are also varsity sports teams—from 15 to 22 women’s and men’s teams. While UMaine has done some damage in the men’s ice hockey NCAA national championships (winning two), it is fairly clear that the NCAA national titles most associated with these flagship universities are those won by the UConn Huskies in men’s and women’s basketball—three for the men and nine for the women since 2000.

As we have seen in some other regions, out-of-state tuition and fees at these flagship universities are not cheap, running from about $28,000 to $33,000 per year, but with a remarkably high $39,000 at UVM —about two to two-and-a half times what a state resident would pay. On the low end, that is still lower than many private colleges in your home state—that is, before any financial aid package is figured in. On the high end, I have to admit the tuition is not much of a bargain. Nonetheless, these flagship universities are better academically and more widely recognized than many private colleges where you would pay as much or more, and, as we are fond of saying, there is no prestige in attending a private college that is not as good as a great public university.

Here are just a few additional fun facts:

  • In the category of famous alumni, brilliant educator and philosopher John Dewey graduated from UVM and popular best-selling author Stephen King graduated from UMaine.
  • UMass Amherst boasts the W.E.B. Du Bois Center—with the tallest library at the time it was completed in 1973—named for the famous civil rights activist, educator, and writer, whose boyhood home is in Great Barrington, Massachusetts.
  • Freshmen at URI are assigned to the residential Living and Learning Community for their college or major or program, where they can live with students who have the same interests, form study groups, work with Residential Academic Mentors, and attend faculty-sponsored programs.
  • UMass Amherst is part of the Five College Interchange, which allows students at five colleges near Amherst to take courses at no extra charge at the other four colleges.       More about that next week since the other four are private!
  • UVM has banned the sale of bottled water on campus in favor of making Burlington’s good local tap water very accessible to students.
  • UMaine’s campus was designed by famous landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, designer of Central Park in New York City (it seems that Olmsted and his firm were responsible for a surprising number of beautiful college campuses, as we have learned in our virtual tour).
  • UVM was the first college to admit women and African Americans into its chapter of the Phi Beta Kappa honor society.
  • UMass Amherst has the Commonwealth Honors College, a residential honors college with its own dormitory and classroom buildings, founded in 1999 (where the average high school GPA of entering freshmen is 4.21).
  • UMaine’s Museum of Art has original pieces by Pablo Picasso, Winslow Homer, and Andy Warhol—quite a range of well-known artists.
  • URI has a great website—one of the easiest to use that I have run across.

When we attended the National Association for College Admission Counseling’s college fair in New York City last April, we spoke with the delightful Mandy Moor, Admissions Counselor at UMaine (her primary territories are New York and California). She offered the following enthusiastic audio pitch for NYCollegeChat. (Be sure to listen to it in our recorded episode.)

3. Other Public State Universities

In each of these New England states, there are also other public universities—both campuses within the flagship system and colleges and universities in their own right. In looking at these other public options, let me say that I always think first about whether any public option is sufficiently attractive to draw a student away from the public options in his or her home state, which would likely be far cheaper.

I believe that flagship universities are very often sufficiently attractive to draw students away from public options in their own states, especially public options that are not their own flagship universities. I also believe that some states have other public options that are quite comparable to their own flagship university—like the University of Michigan and Michigan State University or the University of Texas Austin and Texas A & M University.

I am not sure that there are any such options in the New England states, but let’s look at a few that we think are most likely to attract out-of-state students.

Let’s start with the University of Massachusetts campus in Boston, known as UMass Boston. The second campus in the UMass system, it was established by the Massachusetts Legislature in 1964, about 100 years after UMass Amherst. UMass Boston couldn’t be in a more different setting from the flagship campus in Amherst, obviously—with Amherst’s small-town-in-the-middle-of-nowhere vibe and Boston’s big-city-filled-with-colleges-and-businesses-and-culture-and-sports vibe. I am sure that there are students who would rather be in idyllic Amherst, but I am equally sure that there are students who would rather be in happening Boston, where UMass Boston is the only four-year public choice among something like 100 colleges in the metropolitan area.

UMass Boston’s seven colleges and schools that serve about 12,500 undergraduate students offer about 80 undergraduate programs in the liberal arts and sciences, management, education, health sciences, the environment, and public and community service. Two more schools serve only graduate students—about 4,000 in number. UMass Boston’s students are drawn from 140 countries, though about 85 percent of undergraduate students are Massachusetts residents.

UMass Boston offers more than 100 student organizations and 16 varsity sports teams (eight men’s and eight women’s). Interestingly, UMass Boston does not have dormitories for its students. Its Office of Student Housing does assist students with finding roommates and looking for apartment housing nearby (which seems available) and dealing with landlords. However, a concerned parent or student might have some qualms about a first-year student living off campus in a big city without any college-provided supervision or safeguards.

UMass Boston’s tuition and fees are about $12,500 for Massachusetts residents and about $30,000 for out-of-state students—a good price for residents and a not-great price for out-of-staters, I would say.

Let’s turn to the University of Maine System’s three-campus University of Southern Maine (USM), with campuses in Portland, Gorham, and Lewiston. Gorham, located about 11 miles inland from Portland, is the campus with the residence halls and the sports facilities for one co-ed, 10 men’s, and 11 women’s varsity sports teams. Portland has only classroom and administrative buildings. Portland is an attractive and manageable city, located on the water, which is lovely, when it is warm enough to stand outside and look at it. However, I am not convinced that a student who wanted a traditional college experience in an urban setting would be happy commuting to the Portland campus—especially in the snow. On the other hand, a student who wanted a college experience with some campus life in a quiet setting and easy access to college activities in a city might think USM is perfect.

USM offers about 100 bachelor’s degrees in a wide variety of subject fields spread across three colleges and eight schools within the colleges—including the liberal arts and sciences, fine arts, business, education, nursing and health sciences, technology management, communication, computer science, social work, and recreation and leisure studies. At USM, Maine residents pay about $9,000 in tuition and fees, while out-of-state students pay about $21,000. That’s a better deal for out-of-staters than UMass Boston.

A third institution we would like to mention is more unusual in its focus, and that is the Maine Maritime Academy (MMA), “a college of engineering, management, science, and transportation” (quoted from the website), located about 140 miles northeast of Portland on the coast, for obvious reasons. It is one of six state maritime colleges in the U.S. Established by an act of the Maine Legislature in 1941, MMA is a public, coeducational school with an enrollment of about 950 students pursuing associate’s and bachelor’s degrees (there are also two master’s degree programs). About 70 percent of students are from Maine, with another approximately 15 percent from the rest of New England.

Perhaps surprisingly, there are required liberal arts and sciences courses for all students as well as electives and minors available in the Department of Arts and Sciences. A variety of bachelor’s degrees are available in engineering (including preparation for specific licenses, like the U.S. Coast Guard License), international business and logistics, marine transportation (including Vessel Operations & Technology), and ocean studies (like Marine Biology). While these degrees would not appeal to most students, they would certainly be appealing to some—very appealing. For some of these degrees, students spend time practicing their skills aboard the Training Ship State of Maine and the Schooner Bowdoin. Undoubtedly in part because of this hands-on training, more than 90 percent of graduates are employed within 90 days of earning that degree.

In spite of a highly specialized curriculum, MMA is also a traditional campus—with 14 sports teams, student organizations, and residential halls for students. Tuition for Maine residents is about $10,000 and for out-of-staters about $22,000 (with New England Regional Student Program students in between the two). Fees vary greatly by major—from about $3,000 to $10,000.

Not to be outdone, Massachusetts also has its own Maritime Academy, established in 1891. It offers seven bachelor’s degrees in engineering and maritime fields (plus two master’s degree programs). Students spend six months on international waters, gaining important hands-on training, during their four years. Here is an idea of the culture at Massachusetts Maritime Academy:

The Regiment of Cadets and regimental-style uniforms play an important role in campus life at Massachusetts Maritime Academy.  It reinforces that the status at the Academy is not an entitlement based on gender, race, or socio-economic class; it is earned through hard work, honor, and integrity. Though the Academy is structured as a regimented academy designed to grow effective leaders, only cadets who volunteer for commissioning programs have military obligations during and after their time at Massachusetts Maritime Academy.

While Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island residents pay about $7,000 in tuition and fees and New England residents pay just about $1,000 more, students in states all along the East Coast (“Maritime Regional States”) also get a tuition-and-fees deal of about $17,000 a year—which seems quite attractive.

As we have said before, virtually all of these public universities (and there are more in these states than those we mentioned here) would cost an out-of-state student more than a public university in his or her own state, but less than most private colleges. That is still true, albeit some of these out-of-state tuition figures seem a bit high to me. So, consider looking at public universities, beyond just the flagship university, for the unusual programs or the special career focus or the appealing locations or even acclaimed sports teams they offer.

Finally, let us talk about one unique public institution in New England, and that is the U.S. Coast Guard Academy—one of the nation’s five military service academies—founded in 1876 and located in New London, Connecticut. As we said in an early episode of NYCollegeChat, the federally funded military service academies are all outstanding, academically rigorous institutions, whose mission is to build highly trained and highly ethical leaders. One of the smaller academies, the U.S. Coast Guard Academy enrolls about 900 students—about 35 percent women and 30 percent minorities. There is one faculty member (either civilian or military) for every seven students—a remarkable student-to-faculty ratio.

Though highly selective in admissions, the Academy does not require a Congressional nomination as some academies do. Its median SAT subtest scores for entering freshmen are in the low to mid-600s.

Interestingly, seven of the Academy’s 24 core curriculum courses are from its Humanities Department, so cadets are well versed in the liberal arts. Cadets may major in government (about 25 percent typically do) in addition to marine and environmental sciences and majors more directly related to maritime studies. Cadets also take strategic intelligence courses designed to help them keep their vessels and America safe.

Tuition is free, as with all federal military service academies. About 85 percent of graduates serve beyond the five-year service commitment they complete after graduating from the Academy, and about 80 percent go on to graduate school, mostly paid for by the Coast Guard. I can honestly say that you cannot read the Academy’s website without being impressed.

Listen to the podcast to find out about…

  • What might have caused the increase in applications to these universities
  • Which students should really think hard about these universities and academies
  • What the maritime academies have to offer and how they differ

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Episode 37: Colleges in the Southwest Region—Part I

This is our eleventh episode in our virtual tour of colleges across the U.S. For those of you who have been with us since the beginning, you will recall that we launched the tour to help you find colleges that are appropriate for your child, but that are outside your geographic comfort zone. Because the majority of high school students stay in their home states to attend college, we feel that a lot of appealing—even life-changing—colleges are never even considered by most families. That is a shame.

Virtual audio tour of public colleges and universities in the Southwest Region on the NYCollegeChat podcast

So far, we have toured the Great Lakes region, the Southeast region, the Rocky Mountain region, and the Plains region. This episode takes us to the Southwest.

And, as we are fond of saying, no college has asked us or paid us anything to include it in our virtual tour. These are our picks.

1. The Southwest 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 four states in the Southwest region: Arizona, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Texas.

I bet a lot of our listeners here in the Northeast have never thought about sending a child to a college in the Southwest. Perhaps you will think again after today’s episode about public colleges in these states or next week’s episode about private colleges in these states.

2. Flagship Public State Universities

As is our custom, let’s start with this region’s flagship public state universities. Each of the four states has one, as those of you who are regular listeners know by now. And, as is typical, 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.

Let us remind you 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. And nowhere is that truer than in the state of Texas.

So, what are these flagship campuses in the Southwest region? They are The University of Arizona in Tucson (UA), The University of New Mexico in Albuquerque (UNM), The University of Oklahoma in Norman (OU), and The University of Texas at Austin (UT Austin)—that is, two cities that epitomize the Southwest desert lifestyle, one great college town located in Tornado Alley, and one state capital that everyone seems to be talking about these days. Let us tell you from personal experience, if you don’t already know, that Austin is a great town with lots going on, including, of course, the annual South by Southwest (SXSW) music, film, and interactive festivals (that’s interactive, as in digital creativity, meaning websites, video games, and new things I don’t understand). Austin has a spread-out feel, with lots of old and new neighborhoods, a beautiful state capitol building, the impressive University, strong businesses, and lots of large hotels and tiny places to eat great barbecue and Tex-Mex cuisine. Albuquerque, in the Land of Enchantment (New Mexico), is in the middle of breathtaking mesas and mountains and the Rio Grande. It has an old Southwest feeling that is distinctive and memorable. The Spanish Colonial and Pueblo Revival architecture of the University fits into picturesque Albuquerque quite well. Old Town, the historic spot where Albuquerque was founded by Spanish settlers in 1706, is filled with museums and shops and places that you would really enjoy visiting.

Turning to the four flagship universities, we can put them into two groups by enrollment size, starting with the smaller universities: UNM with about 18,000 undergraduates and a total of about 26,000 undergraduate, graduate, and professional students and OU with about 20,000 undergraduates and a total of about 30,000 undergraduate, graduate, and professional students. By the way, UNM, a federally designated Hispanic-serving institution (HSI), was one of the first minority-majority universities, with about a 45 percent Hispanic student body and an Anglo student population of just about 35 percent. While UNM and OU are smaller than the other two flagship universities in the Southwest region, they are certainly not small by anyone’s standards. Any new freshman is going to feel that an undergraduate student body of 18,000 or more is huge.

So what about UA with about 33,000 undergraduates and a total of about 42,000 students and UT Austin with about 39,000 undergraduates and a total of about 51,000 students? Though we have already mentioned in our virtual tour some universities with even more undergraduate students than that—namely, the University of Central Florida and The Ohio State University, and there are still more gigantic universities in the episodes coming up—UA and UT Austin would, without a doubt, seem enormous to almost any freshman walking onto those campuses. Of course, with many students, come many opportunities.

Each of these four flagship universities attracts students nationally and internationally. Nonetheless, at UT Austin, about 90 percent of students are Texas residents, and there is a good chance that freshmen will make the trip to Austin with at least a handful of their smartest high school friends—because, for many bright Texas high school students, UT Austin is at the top of their list. Similarly, UNM also has a student body that is about 90 percent home grown. Students will find a bit more geographic diversity at OU and UA, where just about 60 to 65 percent of students are state residents.

In our episodes so far, we have often said that colleges love geographic diversity and that 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. That is usually true. However, I think it is more difficult than usual for out-of-state students to get into UT Austin—a highly respected public institution, like the University of Virginia or the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill or the University of Michigan, all of which we have talked about in previous episodes. In fact, Texas law almost guarantees that many of its best students stay in the state for college by mandating that public colleges automatically admit a certain percentage of each high school’s top graduates (last year, for UT Austin, that was any student who ranked in the top 7 percent of his or her class at the end of the junior year). I have to believe that the 10 percent of the UT Austin student body that comes from out of state is made up of pretty bright kids, too. Of course, if your teenager is bright, then UT Austin is a fabulous choice.

Each of these flagship universities was founded in the mid- to late 1800s, with UT Austin first in 1839 and the others around 1890. All were founded before statehood—three by their territorial legislature and UT Austin by order of the Congress of the Republic of Texas. This trend, which we also saw in the Rocky Mountain and Plains regions, continues—that is, pioneers and early settlers giving a college education a high priority.

Turning to academics, these flagship universities have from 13 to 21 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 and mass communication, fine arts, architecture, and agriculture and life sciences. All of them have a law school and elaborate medical schools/health sciences centers. They are truly one-stop shopping at the undergraduate, graduate, and professional levels.

Perhaps related to its location in Tornado Alley, OU has a College of Atmospheric and Geographic Sciences, with a well-respected School of Meteorology. UA has an impressive College of Optical Sciences, with research in optical engineering, optical physics, photonics, and image science.

UT Austin does something different with its freshmen by putting all of them into the School of Undergraduate Studies, where they explore their interests through a liberal-arts-and-sciences core curriculum of 42 credits. In their freshman year, students take UT’s Signature Course, which is actually an array of 150 course offerings for students to choose from, all of which provide college-level experiences in thinking and writing and speaking and research. Students are encouraged to go outside their comfort zone when choosing from the Signature Courses, which are often interdisciplinary, like Astronomy and the Humanities. UT students leave the School of Undergraduate Studies by the end of their second year to pursue their major course of study. This structure is a comforting idea, given the uncertainty that most entering college freshmen have about their futures.

These four flagship universities offer from about 120 to more than 200 undergraduate degree programs across their numerous undergraduate colleges and schools. The opportunities are almost limitless.

Like all other flagship universities, each of these four has hundreds of student clubs and organizations, including fraternities and sororities—actually more than 1,300 at UT Austin. It would be impossible for your child not to find some organizations he or she would like to join—which is especially important for students on large campuses like these.

Of course, there are also plenty of varsity sports teams—from 19 to 21 women’s and men’s teams. OU and UT Austin play in the Big 12 Conference and UA plays in the Pac-12 Conference—where sports are taken seriously. The winner in national championships and conference titles is UT Austin, with 51 national championships since 1949 and 507 conference titles. Can you say “Hook ’em Horns” or sing “The Eyes of Texas”? As we have said before, participating in intercollegiate sports and, just as much, attending wildly popular sports events are a big part of campus life at schools like these.

Need something more cultural? Each of these flagship universities (like many others) has museums right on the campus. UNM has the Maxwell Museum of Anthropology, which has a “special emphasis on 11,000 years of cultural heritage in the Southwest” (quoted from the website). UA has the Arizona State Museum (an affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution), founded in 1893, which houses the world’s largest collection of Southwest American Indian pottery and basketry. UT Austin has the LBJ Presidential Library, an amazing collection of papers and memorabilia from LBJ’s political career and from the civil rights work he championed.

David L. Boren became president of OU in 1994, after a political career as governor of Oklahoma and U.S. Senator from Oklahoma—the only person to serve in all three jobs. Impressively, he teaches a freshman-level political science course each semester. Here is a paragraph from his website Welcome to OU:

OU’s Fred Jones Museum of Art ranks in the top 5 university art museums in the United States. It received the Weitzenhoffer Collection, the largest gift of French Impressionist art ever given to a public university in the US. The Sam Noble Museum of Natural History is the largest university based museum of its kind in the world. OU’s Bizzell Memorial Library features one of the three largest history of science collections in the world, and is the only place in the United States where you can hold a book with Galileo’s handwriting in your own hands.  (quoted from the website)

In addition to the cultural sites on campus, these universities offer study abroad programs, sometimes with hundreds of choices and certainly all kinds of cultural benefits. OU has its own campus in Arezzo, Italy—The Italian Center of the University of Oklahoma. It offers semester-long and year-long programs, and, if you have ever been to Arezzo, you know how fantastic it would be to study there.

Admittedly, out-of-state tuition in these flagship universities is not cheap, running from about $17,000 to $22,000 per year—two or three times what a state resident would pay. But that is still lower (and sometimes way lower) than most 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 is getting more and more typical, there are a couple of attractive tuition programs at these universities. UNM has a Finish-in-Four initiative, in which the university will pay any tuition that the student is responsible for in the final semester if the student graduates in eight or fewer semesters. UA guarantees its tuition rate for entering freshmen for eight consecutive semesters. OU offers a flat tuition at 15 credits, with additional credits taken for free (thus encouraging students to take more credits each semester and finish sooner, saving even more money). UT Austin offers a fixed tuition rate, providing rebates if a student enrolled in the program graduates in four years. So, graduating in four years or even sooner—which is good for the university and good for the family—is the theme we see here.

Additionally, UA and UNM 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.

As these colleges carefully advertise on their websites, these tuition deals and reciprocal arrangements with other states are not automatic. You have to apply for them, and you sometimes have to apply to your home state first. And, again, space is limited. So look hard at any public universities your child is interested in to see whether there might be similar programs in place for you and, if so, apply early.

By the way, if you want your child to be among the 94 percent who say they believe their degree prepared them for their career or further education, send your child to UNM.

In leaving the flagship universities, let us just say a word or two more about Texas (perhaps because everything is bigger in Texas). While all of the universities we have discussed so far have branch campuses, we should point out that the University of Texas System is actually made up of nine universities and six health institutions, all of which are more like institutions in their own right. UT has huge campuses at Arlington, El Paso, San Antonio, and Dallas, and it is currently merging two of its campuses (Brownsville and Pan American) into a new institution opening this fall as UT Rio Grande Valley. These campuses all have student bodies larger than many flagship campuses in smaller states.

3. Other Public State Universities

In each of these Southwest 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. We would like to focus on two that we think are most likely to attract out-of-state students—one with a long history and one that has seen a lot of changes and increased national visibility in the past decade.

Let’s start with the one with the long history—that is, Texas A&M University, which those of us outside of Texas might think of as one university (Go, Aggies!), but which those of you in Texas know to be a gigantic 11-university system (plus health science center) in cities throughout the state, serving a total of more than 125,000 students. The well-known flagship campus of the Texas A&M University System is in the twin cities of Bryan and College Station, and it was established in 1876.

Established at the same time—that is, during Reconstruction—was Prairie View A&M University, a separate state-supported college for African-American students, which started out as Alta Vista Agricultural & Mechanical College for Colored Youth and later merged with the Prairie View Normal School for training African-American teachers. Today, Prairie View A&M is part of the Texas A&M University System and is one of nine HBCUs (historically black colleges and universities) in Texas, three of which are public. Prairie View has about 7,000 undergraduates and another 1,500 graduate and professional students; about 85 percent are African American, and about 95 percent are Texans. Prairie View offers students both liberal arts degrees and degrees in architecture, education, engineering, agriculture, business, juvenile justice, and nursing. Incidentally, the other four-year public HBCU in Texas is Texas Southern University in Houston, with almost 10,000 total students in 11 colleges and schools. It is one of the largest HBCUs in the country and is the alma mater of much-admired U.S. Congressional Representative Barbara Jordan.

Texas A&M’s flagship campus in College Station serves a total of about 42,000 undergraduate students and another approximately 10,000 graduate and professional students, drawn nationally and internationally. About 95 percent of A&M undergraduates are from Texas. It has 16 undergraduate, graduate, and professional schools and colleges, including the only college of veterinary medicine in Texas (and one of the largest nationally). A&M offers more than 120 undergraduate degree programs.

About 25 percent of students in A&M’s freshman class are first-generation college students. Students can participate in more than 800 student organizations and 20 men’s and women’s varsity sports teams. About 25 percent of students participate in intramural sports. Interestingly, A&M was originally a military institution, and today its voluntary Corps of Cadets is second only to the U.S. military service academies in the number of officers commissioned each year.

By the way, Texas has four more public systems of higher education, with the next most widely known likely being the Texas Tech University System. Its main campus in Lubbock serves a total of about 35,000 students. Again, everything is bigger in Texas.

Now let’s turn to the public university that has seen a lot of changes in the past decade, and that is Arizona State University (ASU), with its main campus in Tempe. ASU serves about 50,000 undergraduate, graduate, and professional students in Tempe, about 80 percent of whom are undergraduates—again, a massive campus. Only about 60 percent of ASU students are Arizona residents, and a truly impressive approximately 40 percent are first-generation college students.

ASU’s president, Michael Crow, who came to the University in 2002, has made a successful effort to increase enrollment, especially of Hispanic and black students, and has made it possible for more low-income students to attend ASU by increasing ASU-supplied financial aid to them. Furthermore, he works hard at providing whatever extra help low-income minority students need in order to graduate. President Crow has also increased the number of out-of-state students (especially from California), who pay about double what state residents pay in tuition (about $22,000 compared to $10,000). He encourages innovation among his administrators and is moving forward in using technology to get students through courses faster and more conveniently. (And I have to believe that he is even more dynamic than this paragraph makes him sound.)

Founded as a territorial school in 1885, ASU is now a university known for its Innovation Challenge competitions, a Startup School and a Startup Accelerator for new ventures, an Entrepreneurship Outreach Network, and the Furnace Technology Transfer Accelerator. It offers nine undergraduate, graduate, and professional colleges and schools on the Tempe campus, including the nation’s first School of Sustainability, established in 2006, with 99 percent of that School’s bachelor’s degree graduates currently employed or pursuing graduate degrees. And, in the midst of all that, it offers nine men’s and 12 women’s Sun Devils sports teams and more than 1,000 student organizations.

Perhaps to sum up President Crow’s vision, “ASU is a comprehensive public research university measured not by whom it excludes, but by whom it includes and how they succeed…” (quoted from the website).

In closing our look at public universities, we would like to mention one more public HBCU, and that is Langston University in Oklahoma, with its main campus in Langston, just north of Oklahoma City, serving about 1,800 students. Its mostly undergraduate students study in 47 undergraduate degree programs and nine graduate degree programs in six schools, including liberal arts and education, business, health professions, and agriculture. About 80 percent of its students are black, and just about 60 percent are Oklahoma residents. Its tuition is very reasonable, in case you are looking for an HBCU in the Southwest.

As we have said before, all of these public universities (and there are many more in these states than those we mentioned here, especially in Texas) 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 special programs or the appealing locations or the sense of history and tradition that they offer.

Listen to the podcast to find out about…

  • Why flagship universities seem unusual to New Yorkers
  • Why there are so many tuition incentive programs
  • How attractive these campuses and cities really are

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Episode 32: Colleges in the Southeast Region—Part IV

In our last episode, we continued our virtual tour of colleges by focusing in on the six states in the Northern Southeast region: Arkansas, Tennessee, North Carolina, Kentucky, West Virginia, and Virginia. We looked at public universities—both the flagship state public universities and other public universities in those states—in last week’s episode. In this episode, we will continue our tour of the Northern Southeast states by switching our focus to private colleges and universities. Virtual Tour of Colleges in the Southeast Region Part IV on NYCollegeChat podcastAgain, 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 to get into, especially if a college is looking for out-of-state students to enhance its student body’s geographic diversity.

One note: 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 Universities

The Northern 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: Duke University and Vanderbilt University. Your child would need very good high school grades and college admission test scores to be admitted to either one.

Duke is located in Durham, North Carolina—not far from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and North Carolina State University at Raleigh, both of which we talked about in our last episode on public universities. This part of North Carolina is known as the Research Triangle, taking its name from Research Triangle Park, home to high-tech companies for more than 50 years, and now embracing the one private and two public research universities that anchor it. Duke has a total enrollment of approximately 15,000 students, about 6,500 of whom are undergraduates. After the states of North Carolina and California, New York sends more students to Duke than any other state. Duke has an impressive 95 percent four-year graduation rate, which is especially impressive, given Duke’s high academic standards. The University boasts 10 undergraduate and graduate schools and colleges, with 80 percent of undergraduates enrolling in the Trinity College of Arts & Sciences, with its 49 majors, and with the remaining undergraduates enrolling in the Pratt School of Engineering. And, by the way, Duke has a national championship men’s basketball team.

Turning to Nashville, a great Southern city known, of course, for its country music scene, let’s look at Vanderbilt. Vanderbilt enrolls approximately 13,000 students, about 7,000 of whom are undergraduates. Undergraduates study in four of Vanderbilt’s 10 schools and colleges—namely, the College of Arts and Science (with the largest enrollment, by far), the Blair School of Music, the School of Engineering, and the well-known Peabody College of Education and Human Development. In addition to graduate and professional schools of medicine, nursing, management, and law, Vanderbilt also has a graduate Divinity School. After Tennessee, Illinois and then New York and Texas send the most students to Vanderbilt. An enviable 88 percent of its students graduate in four years—another good showing, like Duke’s. Railroad and shipping tycoon Cornelius Vanderbilt gave $1 million to create the University in 1873, a university that would “contribute to strengthening the ties that should exist between all sections of our common country.” He got his wish for a national university.

Let’s talk about one more private university—Wake Forest University, located on a beautiful campus in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. It has one undergraduate college of liberal arts and sciences, plus graduate and professional schools in liberal arts, divinity, business, law, and medicine. “Wake Forest College stands as the cornerstone of Wake Forest University. It is a distinctive academic institution that values and maintains the liberal arts tradition within the context of an internationally recognized research university,” as explained on its website. This is an interesting model, designed to give students the best of both worlds: a smaller, more personalized liberal arts undergraduate education, set in the broader context of graduate and professional studies. Founded in 1834, Wake Forest now enrolls about 4,800 undergraduate students, drawn internationally and studying in about 40 majors. Its graduate and professional schools enroll another approximately 2,800 students. Of special importance to prospective applicants is the fact that Wake Forest has been a “test-optional” college since 2008. As the website states: “If you think your scores are an accurate representation of your ability, feel free to submit them. If you feel they are not, don’t. You won’t be penalized.” Wake Forest would say that its student body diversity has increased and that its academic standards have not declined at all as a result of its position on college admission testing.

2. Single-Sex Colleges and Universities

Let’s highlight one of only a handful of men’s colleges remaining in the U.S.: Hampden-Sydney College, a liberal arts college located in Hampden-Sydney, Virginia, which is in southern Virginia. It enrolls about 1,100 men from 30 states and 13 foreign countries, with about 70 percent of those students hailing from Virginia. It offers its students over 25 liberal arts majors and a required Rhetoric Program, which focuses on making students into highly competent writers. Its history is quite impressive:

In continuous operation since November 10, 1775 (Patrick Henry and James Madison were among its first Trustees), Hampden-Sydney is the tenth oldest institution of higher learning in the United States, holds the oldest (1783) private charter in the South, and is the oldest of the country’s few remaining colleges for men. (quoted from the website)

Virginia is also home to two well-known women’s colleges: Hollins University (in Roanoke) and Mary Baldwin College (in Staunton). Hollins enrolls just about 550 undergraduate women in 27 liberal arts majors and a couple hundred men and women graduate students. Mary Baldwin serves about 750 residential undergraduate women and almost 600 undergraduate men and women adult students in over 50 majors and minors; it also enrolls about 400 men and women graduate students. Founded in 1842, Mary Baldwin is named for one member of its first class of 57 students, who later became the head of the institution. (A third well-known women’s college in Virginia, Sweet Briar College, is closing in 2015.)

3. Colleges That Change Lives: Six 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. Most 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.

Six of the 44 institutions profiled are located in the Northern 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 in this episode. Here are the six:

Let’s look at Centre College for a minute. It is a liberal arts college, located in the geographic center of Kentucky in Danville—just about 35 miles south of Lexington, home to the University of Kentucky, which we discussed in our last episode. Centre College was founded in 1819 by Presbyterian leaders, when British spelling (centre rather than center) was still common in the U.S. It maintains its Presbyterian affiliation today. Here is the Centre Commitment:

All students are guaranteed 1) study abroad, 2) an internship or research opportunity, and 3) graduation in four years, or Centre will provide up to a year of additional study tuition-free (as long as academic and social expectations have been met). (quoted from the website)

Centre enrolls almost 1,500 undergraduate students, drawn mostly nationally and about half from Kentucky itself. Its students study in 27 liberal arts majors in courses taught entirely by professors—that is, no teaching assistants. Engineering, education, and nursing degrees can be obtained through partnerships with cooperating universities. About 85 percent of students study abroad at least once, and about 25 percent study abroad at least twice.

Because these Colleges That Change Lives 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 decent high school record might have a good chance of being accepted.

4. Historically Black Colleges and Universities

In an earlier episode 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.

Just as we saw with our previous episodes on the Southern Southeast states, a large number of HBCUs are located in the six Northern Southeast states—31 public and private four-year HBCUs, to be exact. We have already talked about a number of the public HBCUs in our previous episode on public colleges in the Northern Southeast states, but let’s look at two very famous private HBCUs in this region, each of which has a long and impressive history.

Let’s start with Hampton University and its lovely campus in Hampton, Virginia. The history of Hampton University is so intriguing that I cannot do it justice here. Let me start simply with a long, slightly edited excerpt from its website:

The year was 1861. The American Civil War had shortly begun and the Union Army held control of Fort Monroe in Hampton, Virginia at the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay. In May of that year, Union Major General Benjamin Butler decreed that any escaping slaves reaching Union lines would be considered “contraband of war” and would not be returned to bondage. This resulted in waves of enslaved people rushing to the fort in search of freedom. A camp to house the newly freed slaves was built several miles outside the protective walls of Fort Monroe. It was named ‘The Grand Contraband Camp’ and functioned as the United States’ first self-contained African American community… (Quoted from the Hampton University website. Read Hampton’s full history here.)

Regular listeners will recall that we talked about Tuskegee Institute, now Tuskegee University, in an earlier episode.

Today, Hampton enrolls about 3,500 undergraduates and almost 1,000 graduate students. About 90 percent are black, and about 65 percent are women (that might be good news for young men looking for a college to attend). They come from across the U.S. and across the world, and only about 25 percent are Virginia residents. Hampton offers 48 bachelor’s degree programs in the School of Liberal Arts, School of Science, School of Business, School of Education and Human Development, School of Engineering and Technology, School of Nursing, and the Scripps Howard School of Journalism and Communications. Tuition is about $20,000 per year—making it about half as expensive as many other private colleges.

Moving back west to Tennessee, let’s look at Fisk University in Nashville. Another HBCU with an incredible history, this is the story of Fisk:

In 1865…three men — John Ogden, the Reverend Erastus Milo Cravath, and the Reverend Edward P. Smith — established the Fisk School in Nashville. The school was named in honor of General Clinton B. Fisk of the Tennessee Freedmen’s Bureau, who provided the new institution with facilities in former Union Army barracks near the present site of Nashville’s Union Station. In these facilities, Fisk convened its first classes on January 9, 1866. The first students ranged in age from seven to seventy, but shared common experiences of slavery and poverty — and an extraordinary thirst for learning. (Quoted from the Fisk University website. Read Fisk’s full history here.)

As interesting as this early history is, my favorite time in Fisk’s story is right after the Harlem Renaissance in roughly the 1930s and 1940s. At that time, Charles Spurgeon Johnson, the brilliant sociologist who was the intellectual architect of the Harlem Renaissance, left New York City to take a teaching position at Fisk. He later became its first black president in 1946. He eventually brought with him some of the artists and writers he had nurtured in New York City during the Harlem Renaissance—including inimitable visual artist Aaron Douglas and masterful writers James Weldon Johnson and Arna Bontemps.

Today, Fisk serves about 800 students in its School of Humanities and Social Sciences, its School of Natural Sciences, Mathematics and Business, and its School of Graduate Studies. About 25 percent of Fisk students are home grown in Tennessee; the rest come from 22 other states and a handful of foreign countries. Like Hampton, tuition at Fisk is about $20,000 per year—making it a relative bargain among private colleges.

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

Listen to the podcast to find out about…

  • Hampton University’s great summer programs for high school students
  • Why single-sex colleges still make sense
  • Appealing smaller undergraduate colleges within larger research universities

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Episode 31: Colleges in the Southeast Region—Part III

Today we are continuing our virtual tour of colleges across the U.S. to try to stretch your thinking about colleges that might be attractive to your child. We made our first stop in the Great Lakes region and our second stop in what we have nicknamed the “Southern Southeast” region. In this episode, we will head just slightly north.

As we have said from the beginning of our tour, we are looking at four-year colleges only, reasoning that students headed to a public two-year college are highly likely to go to one in their home state and are not, therefore, looking to leave their own geographic region—at least not right away. We also want to repeat that no college has asked us to spotlight it in our episodes and that no college has paid us anything to choose it. For better or worse, these are entirely our own choices.

It is certainly true that some of the colleges we are spotlighting will require that your child have very good high school grades and college admission test scores to get in. On the other hand, 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. But, because each student’s profile of grades and test scores and activities is his or her own unique package, it will be up to you to look at your child’s high school record to see which colleges might be most appropriate.

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. The Southeast Region

As we said in our last episode, 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. In our recent episodes, we have been looking at the Bureau’s Southeast region, which has 12 states. Because we thought that would be a lot of states to investigate all at once, we divided the Bureau’s Southeast region into what we called the Southern Southeast region and the Northern Southeast region. In our last episode, we finished up our tour of the Southern Southeast region. Today we will move on to the six states of the Northern Southeast region: Arkansas, Tennessee, North Carolina, Kentucky, West Virginia, and Virginia.

If you are one of our listeners from the West Coast or the Southwest, for example, I am going to guess that you have not considered almost any colleges in the Northern Southeast region for your child, with a rare exception. Perhaps you will reconsider after today’s episode about public colleges in these states or next week’s episode about private colleges in these states.

2. Flagship Public State Universities

Let’s start with the flagship public state universities in these six states. Each state has one, though some are better known nationally than others. They are all good schools, and most people would agree that two of them would be in anyone’s list of outstanding public universities. While these universities 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 outside the state.

Some of these flagship campuses attract students from far away states more often than others; at least two of the ones we are spotlighting today can be thought of really as national universities, annually drawing students from across the U.S. But for the others, an application from a student in New York is not so commonplace; in those cases, a New York student with decent, but not spectacular, high school grades and college admission test scores might have a real chance of being accepted. As we have said before, colleges like to have geographic diversity in the student body.

Let us repeat 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, 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. So, these flagship campuses draw a large portion of the best high school students in the state, which understandably drives up the average high school GPA of entering freshmen. At one of these universities, where 80 percent of the students are residents of the state, the average high school GPA of entering freshmen was a 3.79.

So, what are these flagship campuses in the Northern Southeast region? They are the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville; University of Tennessee, Knoxville; University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; University of Kentucky in Lexington; West Virginia University in Morgantown; and University of Virginia in Charlottesville. These universities are located in different kinds of settings—from picturesque small college towns to substantial cities—but they have some things in common.

One thing they have in common is that they have a lot of students. The typical number of undergraduates at these campuses is around 21,000, with the University of Virginia (commonly known as UVA) on the low end at about 15,000. The total undergraduate, graduate, and professional student enrollment averages about 28,000 students, with UVA again at the low end with about 21,000. While these student bodies are smaller than the flagship campuses we looked at in the Great Lakes states, these campuses are still going to feel quite large to incoming freshmen.

Each campus, of course, has its own history, and I personally love to read about college histories. I could tell you stories about every college we mention. But I would be remiss, on this occasion, if I didn’t offer you at least a brief recounting of the founding of UVA (as quoted from the website):

Thomas Jefferson founded the University of Virginia in 1819. He wished the publicly supported school to have a national character and stature. Jefferson envisioned a new kind of university, one dedicated to educating leaders in practical affairs and public service rather than for professions in the classroom and pulpit exclusively. It was the first nonsectarian university in the United States and the first to use the elective course system.

Jefferson considered the founding of the University to be one of his greatest achievements. Undertaking the project toward the end of his life—after a long, illustrious career that included serving as a colonial revolutionary, political leader, writer, architect, inventor, and horticulturalist—he was closely involved in the University’s design. He planned the curriculum, recruited the first faculty, and designed the Academical Village, a terraced green space surrounded by residential and academic buildings, gardens, and the majestic center-point—the Rotunda. The most recognizable symbol of the University, the Rotunda stands at the north end of the Lawn and is half the height and width of the Pantheon in Rome, which was the primary inspiration for the building. The Lawn and the Rotunda have served as models for similar designs of “centralized green areas” at universities across the United States.

If you have not seen Thomas Jefferson’s campus in Charlottesville, it is truly lovely—like a picture postcard of a university, with its red brick buildings and white columns. But I don’t want to overemphasize UVA, because I feel that it is one of the harder flagship universities to get into from out of state—both because of its smaller size and its high standards. Ditto for the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (commonly known as UNC).

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 you can imagine. Here are some of the more distinctive ones: UVA has the Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy; UNC has the Gillings School of Global Public Health; The University of Tennessee, Knoxville, has the College of Communication and Information; University of Kentucky has the College of Design; West Virginia University has the College of Physical Activity and Sport Sciences; and the University of Arkansas has the J. William Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences, which is named, obviously, for J. William Fulbright, former university president and longtime U.S. senator from Arkansas, who introduced the legislation that set up the well-known Fulbright scholarships for U.S. and foreign scholars.

When we attended the National Association for College Admission Counseling’s college fair in New York City last month, we had a nice chat with Christie Banks, an Admissions Counselor at the University of Tennessee, who did a quick audio pitch for our listeners. So, take it away, Christie. (Be sure to listen to it in our recorded episode. Christie mentions the VIP page for prospective students, which can be accessed here.)

These flagship universities offer from about 75 to 175 undergraduate majors across their numerous undergraduate colleges and schools—truly something for everyone.

Like other large universities, each one has many student clubs and organizations and many men’s and women’s varsity sports teams (plus club sports and intramurals). Sports are a bigger part of college life on some of these campuses than others—for example, with basketball teams at Kentucky and UVA ranking in everyone’s top 10 in 2015 (and with UNC not far behind).

Speaking of Kentucky, when we attended the National Association for College Admission Counseling’s college fair in New York City last month, we spoke with Cara Franke, a University of Kentucky recruiter for parts of Kentucky plus the New England and Mid-Atlantic states. Cara, a Lexington native, did the following audio pitch for her alma mater for NYCollegeChat. (Be sure to listen to it in our recorded episode. Cara mentions the online virtual tour of the University of Kentucky campus, which is available here.)

Each of these six flagship universities is well enough known to attract students from many states and foreign countries, but most of the undergraduate students attending these campuses are home grown—ranging from about half of the students at West Virginia to about 85 percent of the students at Tennessee. For some of the universities, that could mean that a solid application from outside of the state would be viewed with interest, and your child could likely get a great education at a cost lower than at a private school in your home state—that is, before any financial aid package is figured in. More important, as we said in an earlier episode, these six 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.

3. Other Public State Universities

In these six Northern Southeast states, there are also other public universities—some are branches of the flagship campus, but others are universities in their own right. Interestingly, each state has at least one public university designated as one of our nation’s HBCUs (historically black colleges and universities).

Virginia has a number of public universities that are well known outside the state, starting with the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in Blacksburg in southwest Virginia (commonly known today as Virginia Tech, though it was known as V.P.I. some years ago before the legislature changed its name), which offers about 90 undergraduate majors in seven undergraduate colleges to about 24,000 undergraduates, about 70 percent of whom are Virginia residents. With a large total enrollment of about 31,000 students, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Maryland are four of the top five home states for out-of-state students.

Other large and well-known public universities in Virginia include George Mason University, Old Dominion University, and Virginia Commonwealth University—with total enrollments from about 24,000 to 32,000 students.

But perhaps the most respected public university in Virginia is actually one that doesn’t sound public, and that is the College of William & Mary, located in Williamsburg. The second oldest college in the U.S., William & Mary was chartered by King William III and Queen Mary II in 1693 in the Virginia Colony. The college cut its ties with England in 1775 and became state supported in 1903 (and coeducational in 1918). Unlike most public universities, William & Mary is small—just about 6,000 undergraduates and 2,000 graduate students. Even so, its has over 400 student organizations. Students at William & Mary are smart and accomplished, and it is quite selective in admitting students. But, if you have the high school record to go, it is a fantastic education at a public price for Virginia students—though out-of-state students are going to be paying private college tuition rates to attend (about $35,000 a year currently). William & Mary is proud of its “firsts,” including the first Greek-letter society (Phi Beta Kappa, founded in 1776), the first student honor code, the first college to become a university, and the first law school in America.

Going from smallest to biggest, let’s take a quick look in North Carolina at North Carolina State University in Raleigh—not too far from UNC at Chapel Hill. NC State is actually the largest higher education institution in the state, serving a total of about 34,000 undergraduate, graduate, and professional students in 12 colleges, including the College of Textiles and the College of Natural Resources among all the usual choices. NC State offers its 24,000 undergraduate students over 100 majors and 700 student organizations to choose from. Engineering was the top declared major of incoming freshmen last year. The average high school GPA of these incoming freshmen was a 3.66, with SAT scores in math and reading of 1248—good grades and scores for such a large university. Just as with Virginia Tech, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Maryland are four of the top five home states for out-of-state students.

And before leaving North Carolina, let us say a word about the University of North Carolina School of the Arts, one of 17 campuses of the University of North Carolina and located in Winston-Salem. The UNC School of the Arts is a well known and respected institution among those in the arts world. It offers high school diplomas as well as undergraduate and graduate degrees. Undergraduate students can earn degrees in dance, design and production (includes visual arts), drama, filmmaking, and music. As with all fine arts schools, there is a rigorous interview and/or audition process for admitting its approximately 850 undergraduates—about half in-state and half out-of-state students.

Before leaving public universities in this region, let’s take a quick look at just some of the public HBCUs in these states. (For more about HBCUs, see our show notes from our last episode, Episode 30.) They are smaller—sometimes quite a bit smaller—than most of the other public universities in their own states and typically draw more students from their home states, but they do offer a cultural experience for students and a campus history that is different from what other public universities offer. West Virginia State University, located in Institute, West Virginia, a suburb of the capital of Charleston, offers about 20 majors to its 2,800 undergraduate students (the slight majority of whom are now white). Kentucky State University, located in the state capital of Frankfort, offers 24 bachelor’s degree majors to its 1,800 undergraduate students (about three-quarters of whom are black).

The University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff offers more than 30 majors across its four academic schools—including the School of Agriculture, Fisheries and Human Sciences—to about 2,300 undergraduate students; about 90 percent of UAPB students are black, and about 65 percent are Arkansas residents. Both Virginia State University, located about 20 minutes south of the capital of Richmond in the village of Ettrick, and Norfolk State University, located in Norfolk, offer majors across five or six undergraduate schools and colleges to about 4,500 undergraduates (about 80 percent of their students are black, and about 80 percent are Virginia residents).

Tennessee State University, located on two campuses in Nashville, offers 45 bachelor’s degree programs across seven undergraduate colleges and schools—including the College of Public Service and Urban Affairs—to its 7,100 undergraduate students (it has another 2,000 graduate students); it merged with the University of Tennessee at Nashville in 1979 to form a new institution serving students of all races, though its current student body is about 70 percent black.

North Carolina Agricultural & Technical State University, located in Greensboro, offers 55 degrees through seven schools and colleges to about 9,000 undergraduate students (there are another 1,500 graduate students). NC A&T’s students are about 75 percent black, and about 80 percent are North Carolina residents. Winston-Salem State University, Fayetteville State University, and North Carolina Central University in Durham all serve about 6,000 undergraduates. Their student bodies range from about 65 to 80 percent black, and about 90 percent of their students are North Carolina residents. Though smaller than many other public universities in North Carolina, they have some unique programs. For example, Winston-Salem has a bachelor’s degree in Motorsports Management, and NC Central offers bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Jazz Studies and is the only HBCU in the nation with a School of Library and Information Sciences.

As we have said before, all of these public universities (and there are even more in these states than those we mentioned here) 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 special programs or the appealing locations or the sense of history and tradition that they offer.

Listen to the podcast to find out about…

The University of Kentucky firsthand
The University of Tennessee, Knoxville, firsthand
A wealth of public HBCUs
Check out these higher education institutions and organizations we mention…

Outside of New York State

College of William & Mary (Virginia)
Fayetteville State University (North Carolina)
George Mason University (Virginia)
Hampton University (Virginia)
Kentucky State University
National Association for College Admission Counseling
Norfolk State University (Virginia)
North Carolina Agricultural & Technical State University
North Carolina Central University, including the School of Library and Information Sciences
North Carolina State University, including the College of Natural Resources and the College of Textiles
Old Dominion University (Virginia)
Tennessee State University, including the College of Public Service and Urban Affairs
University of Arkansas, including the J. William Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences
University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, including the School of Agriculture, Fisheries and Human Sciences
University of Kentucky, including the College of Design
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, including the Gillings School of Global Public Health
University of North Carolina School of the Arts
University of Tennessee, Knoxville, including the College of Communication and Information
University of Virginia, including the Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy
Virginia Commonwealth University
Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University
Virginia State University
West Virginia State University
West Virginia University, including the College of Physical Activity and Sport Sciences
Winston-Salem State University (North Carolina)
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Today we are continuing our virtual tour of colleges across the U.S. to try to stretch your thinking about colleges that might be attractive to your child. We made our first stop in the Great Lakes region and our second stop in what we have nicknamed the “Southern Southeast” region. In this episode, we will head just slightly north.

NYCollegeChat virtual audio tour of Colleges in the Southeast Region Part III

As we have said from the beginning of our tour, we are looking at four-year colleges only, reasoning that students headed to a public two-year college are highly likely to go to one in their home state and are not, therefore, looking to leave their own geographic region—at least not right away. We also want to repeat that no college has asked us to spotlight it in our episodes and that no college has paid us anything to choose it. For better or worse, these are entirely our own choices.

It is certainly true that some of the colleges we are spotlighting will require that your child have very good high school grades and college admission test scores to get in. On the other hand, 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. But, because each student’s profile of grades and test scores and activities is his or her own unique package, it will be up to you to look at your child’s high school record to see which colleges might be most appropriate.

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. The Southeast Region

As we said in our last episode, 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. In our recent episodes, we have been looking at the Bureau’s Southeast region, which has 12 states. Because we thought that would be a lot of states to investigate all at once, we divided the Bureau’s Southeast region into what we called the Southern Southeast region and the Northern Southeast region. In our last episode, we finished up our tour of the Southern Southeast region. Today we will move on to the six states of the Northern Southeast region: Arkansas, Tennessee, North Carolina, Kentucky, West Virginia, and Virginia.

If you are one of our listeners from the West Coast or the Southwest, for example, I am going to guess that you have not considered almost any colleges in the Northern Southeast region for your child, with a rare exception. Perhaps you will reconsider after today’s episode about public colleges in these states or next week’s episode about private colleges in these states.

2. Flagship Public State Universities

Let’s start with the flagship public state universities in these six states. Each state has one, though some are better known nationally than others. They are all good schools, and most people would agree that two of them would be in anyone’s list of outstanding public universities. While these universities 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 outside the state.

Some of these flagship campuses attract students from far away states more often than others; at least two of the ones we are spotlighting today can be thought of really as national universities, annually drawing students from across the U.S. But for the others, an application from a student in New York is not so commonplace; in those cases, a New York student with decent, but not spectacular, high school grades and college admission test scores might have a real chance of being accepted. As we have said before, colleges like to have geographic diversity in the student body.

Let us repeat 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, 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. So, these flagship campuses draw a large portion of the best high school students in the state, which understandably drives up the average high school GPA of entering freshmen. At one of these universities, where 80 percent of the students are residents of the state, the average high school GPA of entering freshmen was a 3.79.

So, what are these flagship campuses in the Northern Southeast region? They are the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville; University of Tennessee, Knoxville; University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; University of Kentucky in Lexington; West Virginia University in Morgantown; and University of Virginia in Charlottesville. These universities are located in different kinds of settings—from picturesque small college towns to substantial cities—but they have some things in common.

One thing they have in common is that they have a lot of students. The typical number of undergraduates at these campuses is around 21,000, with the University of Virginia (commonly known as UVA) on the low end at about 15,000. The total undergraduate, graduate, and professional student enrollment averages about 28,000 students, with UVA again at the low end with about 21,000. While these student bodies are smaller than the flagship campuses we looked at in the Great Lakes states, these campuses are still going to feel quite large to incoming freshmen.

Each campus, of course, has its own history, and I personally love to read about college histories. I could tell you stories about every college we mention. But I would be remiss, on this occasion, if I didn’t offer you at least a brief recounting of the founding of UVA (as quoted from the website):

Thomas Jefferson founded the University of Virginia in 1819. He wished the publicly supported school to have a national character and stature. Jefferson envisioned a new kind of university, one dedicated to educating leaders in practical affairs and public service rather than for professions in the classroom and pulpit exclusively. It was the first nonsectarian university in the United States and the first to use the elective course system.

Jefferson considered the founding of the University to be one of his greatest achievements. Undertaking the project toward the end of his life—after a long, illustrious career that included serving as a colonial revolutionary, political leader, writer, architect, inventor, and horticulturalist—he was closely involved in the University’s design. He planned the curriculum, recruited the first faculty, and designed the Academical Village, a terraced green space surrounded by residential and academic buildings, gardens, and the majestic center-point—the Rotunda. The most recognizable symbol of the University, the Rotunda stands at the north end of the Lawn and is half the height and width of the Pantheon in Rome, which was the primary inspiration for the building. The Lawn and the Rotunda have served as models for similar designs of “centralized green areas” at universities across the United States.

If you have not seen Thomas Jefferson’s campus in Charlottesville, it is truly lovely—like a picture postcard of a university, with its red brick buildings and white columns. But I don’t want to overemphasize UVA, because I feel that it is one of the harder flagship universities to get into from out of state—both because of its smaller size and its high standards. Ditto for the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (commonly known as UNC).

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 you can imagine. Here are some of the more distinctive ones: UVA has the Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy; UNC has the Gillings School of Global Public Health; The University of Tennessee, Knoxville, has the College of Communication and InformationUniversity of Kentucky has the College of Design; West Virginia University has the College of Physical Activity and Sport Sciences; and the University of Arkansas has the J. William Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences, which is named, obviously, for J. William Fulbright, former university president and longtime U.S. senator from Arkansas, who introduced the legislation that set up the well-known Fulbright scholarships for U.S. and foreign scholars.

When we attended the National Association for College Admission Counseling’s college fair in New York City last month, we had a nice chat with Christie Banks, an Admissions Counselor at the University of Tennessee, who did a quick audio pitch for our listeners. So, take it away, Christie. (Be sure to listen to it in our recorded episode. Christie mentions the VIP page for prospective students, which can be accessed here.)

These flagship universities offer from about 75 to 175 undergraduate majors across their numerous undergraduate colleges and schools—truly something for everyone.

Like other large universities, each one has many student clubs and organizations and many men’s and women’s varsity sports teams (plus club sports and intramurals). Sports are a bigger part of college life on some of these campuses than others—for example, with basketball teams at Kentucky and UVA ranking in everyone’s top 10 in 2015 (and with UNC not far behind).

Speaking of Kentucky, when we attended the National Association for College Admission Counseling’s college fair in New York City last month, we spoke with Cara Franke, a University of Kentucky recruiter for parts of Kentucky plus the New England and Mid-Atlantic states.   Cara, a Lexington native, did the following audio pitch for her alma mater for NYCollegeChat. (Be sure to listen to it in our recorded episode. Cara mentions the online virtual tour of the University of Kentucky campus, which is available here.)

Each of these six flagship universities is well enough known to attract students from many states and foreign countries, but most of the undergraduate students attending these campuses are home grown—ranging from about half of the students at West Virginia to about 85 percent of the students at Tennessee. For some of the universities, that could mean that a solid application from outside of the state would be viewed with interest, and your child could likely get a great education at a cost lower than at a private school in your home state—that is, before any financial aid package is figured in. More important, as we said in an earlier episode, these six 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.

3. Other Public State Universities

In these six Northern Southeast states, there are also other public universities—some are branches of the flagship campus, but others are universities in their own right. Interestingly, each state has at least one public university designated as one of our nation’s HBCUs (historically black colleges and universities).

Virginia has a number of public universities that are well known outside the state, starting with the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in Blacksburg in southwest Virginia (commonly known today as Virginia Tech, though it was known as V.P.I. some years ago before the legislature changed its name), which offers about 90 undergraduate majors in seven undergraduate colleges to about 24,000 undergraduates, about 70 percent of whom are Virginia residents. With a large total enrollment of about 31,000 students, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Maryland are four of the top five home states for out-of-state students.

Other large and well-known public universities in Virginia include George Mason University, Old Dominion University, and Virginia Commonwealth University—with total enrollments from about 24,000 to 32,000 students.

But perhaps the most respected public university in Virginia is actually one that doesn’t sound public, and that is the College of William & Mary, located in Williamsburg. The second oldest college in the U.S., William & Mary was chartered by King William III and Queen Mary II in 1693 in the Virginia Colony. The college cut its ties with England in 1775 and became state supported in 1903 (and coeducational in 1918). Unlike most public universities, William & Mary is small—just about 6,000 undergraduates and 2,000 graduate students. Even so, its has over 400 student organizations. Students at William & Mary are smart and accomplished, and it is quite selective in admitting students. But, if you have the high school record to go, it is a fantastic education at a public price for Virginia students—though out-of-state students are going to be paying private college tuition rates to attend (about $35,000 a year currently). William & Mary is proud of its “firsts,” including the first Greek-letter society (Phi Beta Kappa, founded in 1776), the first student honor code, the first college to become a university, and the first law school in America.

Going from smallest to biggest, let’s take a quick look in North Carolina at North Carolina State University in Raleigh—not too far from UNC at Chapel Hill. NC State is actually the largest higher education institution in the state, serving a total of about 34,000 undergraduate, graduate, and professional students in 12 colleges, including the College of Textiles and the College of Natural Resources among all the usual choices.   NC State offers its 24,000 undergraduate students over 100 majors and 700 student organizations to choose from. Engineering was the top declared major of incoming freshmen last year. The average high school GPA of these incoming freshmen was a 3.66, with SAT scores in math and reading of 1248—good grades and scores for such a large university. Just as with Virginia Tech, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Maryland are four of the top five home states for out-of-state students.

And before leaving North Carolina, let us say a word about the University of North Carolina School of the Arts, one of 17 campuses of the University of North Carolina and located in Winston-Salem.   The UNC School of the Arts is a well known and respected institution among those in the arts world. It offers high school diplomas as well as undergraduate and graduate degrees. Undergraduate students can earn degrees in dance, design and production (includes visual arts), drama, filmmaking, and music. As with all fine arts schools, there is a rigorous interview and/or audition process for admitting its approximately 850 undergraduates—about half in-state and half out-of-state students.

Before leaving public universities in this region, let’s take a quick look at just some of the public HBCUs in these states. (For more about HBCUs, see our show notes from our last episode, Episode 30.) They are smaller—sometimes quite a bit smaller—than most of the other public universities in their own states and typically draw more students from their home states, but they do offer a cultural experience for students and a campus history that is different from what other public universities offer. West Virginia State University, located in Institute, West Virginia, a suburb of the capital of Charleston, offers about 20 majors to its 2,800 undergraduate students (the slight majority of whom are now white). Kentucky State University, located in the state capital of Frankfort, offers 24 bachelor’s degree majors to its 1,800 undergraduate students (about three-quarters of whom are black).

The University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff offers more than 30 majors across its four academic schools—including the School of Agriculture, Fisheries and Human Sciences—to about 2,300 undergraduate students; about 90 percent of UAPB students are black, and about 65 percent are Arkansas residents. Both Virginia State University, located about 20 minutes south of the capital of Richmond in the village of Ettrick, and Norfolk State University, located in Norfolk, offer majors across five or six undergraduate schools and colleges to about 4,500 undergraduates (about 80 percent of their students are black, and about 80 percent are Virginia residents).

Tennessee State University, located on two campuses in Nashville, offers 45 bachelor’s degree programs across seven undergraduate colleges and schools—including the College of Public Service and Urban Affairs—to its 7,100 undergraduate students (it has another 2,000 graduate students); it merged with the University of Tennessee at Nashville in 1979 to form a new institution serving students of all races, though its current student body is about 70 percent black.

North Carolina Agricultural & Technical State University, located in Greensboro, offers 55 degrees through seven schools and colleges to about 9,000 undergraduate students (there are another 1,500 graduate students). NC A&T’s students are about 75 percent black, and about 80 percent are North Carolina residents. Winston-Salem State University, Fayetteville State University, and North Carolina Central University in Durham all serve about 6,000 undergraduates. Their student bodies range from about 65 to 80 percent black, and about 90 percent of their students are North Carolina residents. Though smaller than many other public universities in North Carolina, they have some unique programs. For example, Winston-Salem has a bachelor’s degree in Motorsports Management, and NC Central offers bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Jazz Studies and is the only HBCU in the nation with a School of Library and Information Sciences.

As we have said before, all of these public universities (and there are even more in these states than those we mentioned here) 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 special programs or the appealing locations or the sense of history and tradition that they offer.

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