Episode 120: Lots of College Options in Our New Workbook

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

1. Colleges in the Spotlight

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

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

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

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

2. Now, It’s Up to You

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Episode 102: Using Technology To Communicate with Colleges

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Today’s episode takes us into the world of technology, so that means I’m already in trouble, but fortunately not Marie. We want to highlight four ways colleges find out things about applicants, now that we live in a world of super-connectedness–which can be good and can be not so good.

1. Email Address

So, let’s start with the most obvious: an applicant’s email address. Virtually all kids have email addresses these days; indeed, kids are called on to provide them as part of the Common App?under Profile, then under Contact Details. So, tell your teenager that colleges will see his or her email address.

We know that college counselors have certainly talked to kids about this for quite some time, but it never fails that some kid still has an email address that sounds unprofessional, silly, or even offensive. Let me tell you a story about that–one that I have never forgotten, although it happened several years ago when I had the pleasure of hearing a very forthcoming college president speak frankly about this very topic to our juniors at the high school we co-founded.

He recounted a story about how he personally had offered a kid a great scholarship to come to his college and then had to send him a follow-up email. The president of the college saw the young man’s email address–which included language that, though sadly popular among many teens, is considered by many to be a racial slur. The president immediately withdrew the scholarship. He said to the young man that his college was not looking for students who were comfortable using that sort of language to identify themselves or anyone else. Talk about learning a lesson the hard way!

So, parents, look at your teenager’s email address. Double check that it is something straightforward, like his or her name @gmail.com. Make sure it is not too cute, funny, personal, weird, or offensive to anyone of any religion, race, ethnic group, nationality, or gender. No one wants to lose a scholarship because of an email address.

And, by the way, make sure that your teenager actually checks his or her email every day from now through next April. We cannot tell you the number of high school kids we know who have gotten emails from various colleges about important matters and who didn’t see them in a timely manner. This totally irresponsible behavior will be even worse if your teenager makes up a new email address for college applications and really uses another one for all of his or her personal business.

2. Facebook

Let’s turn to Facebook, something else that college counselors have undoubtedly been talking to kids about for some time as well. What we are sure they have said couldn’t be more obvious, at least to an adult. Simply put: Tell your teenager not to put stuff on Facebook that he or she does not want every adult he or she knows to see.

Personally, I have not done the whole Facebook thing for very long, so I had no idea what my own kids posted. But, when my daughter was a teenager, I was comforted by the fact that the associate minister at our church followed Polly on Facebook. I figured that Polly would think twice before posting something that a minister would see.

Today, Marie and I are Facebook friends with a number of the high school students who attended the high school we co-founded. Sometimes, I love what they have posted; other times, I wince. But, to be fair, that is also my reaction to a lot of what my adult friends post.

Just say this to your teenager: Until you receive acceptances or rejections from all of the colleges you are applying to, be especially careful what you post on Facebook. Imagine that every college admissions officer might see what you are posting. For example, don’t post photos of you at parties in various stages of revelry. And, to be safe, use the most restrictive privacy setting so that only your “friends” can see what you post. It just makes sense.

3. ZeeMee

Let’s turn to ZeeMee. If you have been looking at the Common App supplements for various colleges, you might have seen a question like this:

Binghamton University has partnered with ZeeMee, a free service that allows students to showcase themselves using an online profile page. To submit your profile to Binghamton University, paste your ZeeMee link here.

If you don’t know what we are talking about, you should go read about it on ZeeMee’s website. What you will see first is this language: “Get seen. Get connected. THE app for your college journey. Use images and videos to show your story. Colleges see the real you. Sign up. It’s free.” There is also a short video that is quite informative. And, by the way, the ZeeMee story also allows for text to be included.

According to the website, over 200 colleges already ask applicants for a ZeeMee link. While not required, at least by the colleges I have seen, one has to wonder whether not having a ZeeMee link will eventually be something that hurts an applicant’s chances of getting accepted. Maybe it already does, even if only subconsciously on the part of a college admissions officer, who probably enjoys seeing what an applicant looks like and now has a mental image that must make that applicant more real than just an online or printed application. You can watch a video on the ZeeMee website of college admissions officers saying just this sort of thing.

Wisely, ZeeMee has presentations and lessons for high school counselors to use to help kids get their ZeeMee stories ready for prime time. We imagine that the occasional English teacher might also be able to get some mileage out of these resources.

So, how do we feel about ZeeMee? We aren’t sure, to tell you the truth. It seems clear that a good ZeeMee story could be effective in making an applicant’s case to a college. It seems unclear, at this point, whether a ZeeMee story could be the deciding factor in an admissions decision.

We worry a bit that some kids will be able to get a lot more help than others in putting together a ZeeMee story–just as some kids will be able to get a lot more help than others in writing their application essays or studying for the college admissions tests. That could be because some kids can afford to buy more help or because some kids go to high schools that are better equipped to provide more help. It’s great that ZeeMee itself is free for kids, but that in itself doesn’t necessarily level the playing field for high school students.

So, should your kid have a ZeeMee link to his or her personal story in images and video and text? Probably so. Hopefully, this will be one good use of technology and one that doesn’t discriminate unfairly among its users.

4. LinkedIn

Finally, let’s look at LinkedIn, where many of you parents probably have your own profile. Just as with Facebook, Marie and I are connected to many of our former students on LinkedIn. I am happy to say that they seem quite mature in their LinkedIn posts. But they are college students, not high school students.

Natasha Singer, in an excellent article in The New York Times about a month ago, wrote about a LinkedIn profile as “the new item on the college admission checklist.” Ms. Singer wrote this:

Public schools from San Francisco to New York City are teaching online conduct skills as part of a nationwide digital citizenship push to prepare students for colleges and careers. Teenagers who set up LinkedIn profiles in the hope of enhancing their college prospects represent the vanguard of this trend.

But the phenomenon of ambitious high school students on LinkedIn also demonstrates how social networks are playing a role in the escalation of the college admissions arms race. For students in high-pressure schools who already start packaging themselves for college in ninth grade, LinkedIn could add yet another burden to what might be called the careerization of childhood. (quoted from the article)

We hear you, people who are concerned. “The escalation of the college admissions arms race”–we couldn’t have said it better ourselves. It’s a bit like the way we feel about ZeeMee–maybe worse. Ms. Singer continues on that topic:

Professionalized teenage résumés could also further intensify disparities in college applications.

“Kids from privileged families tend to do more ? both offline and online–joining school clubs, writing for their school newspaper, getting tutoring so their grades go up, doing SAT preparation,” says Vicky Rideout, a researcher who studies how teenagers use technology. Using LinkedIn on college applications, she says, “is yet another way for there to be a disparity between the haves and the have-nots.” (quoted from the article)

Honestly, we did not want one more way to “unlevel” the playing field, and we are hoping that colleges give some thought to that, though we are doubtful that they will.

And here is something else Ms. Singer addresses in the article, and this takes us back to our earlier Facebook comments:

For high school students, LinkedIn is partly a defense mechanism against college admissions officers who snoop on applicants’ public Facebook and Twitter activities–without disclosing how that may affect an applicant’s chance of acceptance.

A recent study from Kaplan Test Prep of about 400 college admissions officers reported that 40 percent said they had visited applicants’ social media pages, a fourfold increase since 2008.

Officials at Vassar College and other institutions that deliberately do not search out applicants’ social media profiles suggested that colleges disclose their admissions practices.

“We prefer to evaluate a candidate based on the items that candidate has prepared and submitted to us,’ said Art D. Rodriguez, Vassar’s dean of admission and financial aid. He added, ‘While we understand that some colleges and universities do look into candidates’ online profiles, we believe those schools should be transparent about the procedure and alert applicants to it.” (quoted from the article)

We would like to say, “Good for you, Mr. Rodriguez and Vassar College.”

And here’s some information about LinkedIn and high school students that I didn’t know:

To attract high school students, LinkedIn in 2013 dropped its minimum age requirement for members in the United States to 14 from 18. Since then, the site has had a significant increase in high school users, said Suzi Owens, a LinkedIn spokeswoman. The company declined to specify how many high school students used the network.

Although LinkedIn has default privacy settings for users under 18–like automatically displaying only their first names and last initials, rather than their full names–students can change the settings. (quoted from the article)

So, I know that technology is great and that it can solve many problems. But I am wondering whether there was a problem here that needed to be solved. Frankly, it’s hard for me to imagine what high school students would have to say in a LinkedIn profile–though I guess it is the same stuff they would put on a résumé, if they were looking for an internship or a part-time job. And we have certainly done our fair share of editing résumés for high school kids looking for internships.

For me, the jury is still out on whether a LinkedIn profile needs to be “the new item on the college admission checklist.” But, parents, if your kid has one, you better believe that we think you should check it out.

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

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Episode 88: Assignment #8–Looking at College Housing and Safety

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Assignment #8 should be another of the more enjoyable and less academic assignments. Its premise is that, if a student is not living at home during college, then the kinds of residence halls or other campus housing available at a college makes a difference in the life of that student–at least for the freshman year and often for much longer. We feel as though you all are getting a well-rounded view of the colleges on your teenager’s long summer list of college options so far. Here’s what you have already done:

So, now let’s turn to campus housing (plus a few words for students who plan to commute).

Episode 88: Assignment #8--Looking at College Housing and Safety on USACollegeChat podcast1. Your Assignment #8

 Download the Assignment #8 Worksheet

For Assignment #8, your teenager and you are going to examine the types of on-campus housing available. You already found out (back in Assignment #1) whether freshmen are required to live on campus–as many are. But there are some colleges–including some really interesting colleges–where students live in campus housing well past the freshman year, such as Hamilton College (in upstate New York), where all students live on campus in 27 residence halls or St. Michael’s College (in Colchester, Vermont) where all full-time undergrads live on campus all four years unless they are living at home with family or Colorado College (in Colorado Springs) where there is a three-year on-campus housing requirement (with a few exceptions) or the University of Rochester (NY) where more than 90 percent of students live in campus housing. What are all those colleges–and their students–thinking?

And then there is the issue of safety. That’s a topic that, unfortunately, seems to be in the news more and more often lately. What can you find out about safety on campus before your teenager enrolls or even applies? And what about the safety of students who are commuting to campus day and night by public transportation or by car?

2. Why On-Campus Housing?

Let me start by saying that your teenager should live on campus if that is at all possible, given whatever financial constraints your family has, and we have already said that many colleges require it. I am sure colleges have good and bad reasons for requiring it. A really good reason is that living together in campus housing (whether that means traditional dorms or residential “houses” or something else) does promote a kind of camaraderie among students that is hard to develop any other way. Living in close proximity to others in your same situation often provides a system of support and friendship that many kids at college want and need–whether that comes from studying late into the evening/morning together or eating together or walking back and forth to classes together or meeting each other’s friends and just hanging out together. I bet lots of us still have friends from that freshman dorm experience; I know I do, and that was 46 years ago. Perhaps a bad reason, though an understandable one from the colleges’ point of view, is that colleges need to fill those dorm rooms and bring in the revenue that comes from filling those dorm rooms.

I feel about the importance of living on campus the same way I feel about the importance of going away to college. Both provide students with a way to spread their wings in a relatively safe and protected environment before they are ready to be on their own completely. Living in campus housing requires a student to figure out how to eat, study, do laundry, clean up, sleep enough, and manage money–without having to deal with the safety and transportation and utilities issues that come with off-campus housing and without the perhaps comparative ease of living at home.

So, even if your teenager is going to a college close to home within commuting distance, opt for letting him or her live on campus, especially if you can afford it, but even if you need scholarship funds or loans to cover it. Why? Because it is an integral part of the college experience and one that your teenager needs, especially if he or she is going to a college close to home.

3. On-Campus Housing Options

So, now that your teenager is going to live on campus, hopefully, remember that not all residential facilities are created equal when it comes to comfort, convenience, supervision, and security. And, when choosing colleges to apply to, remember to think about what residential life will be like not only when your teenager is a freshman, but also when he or she is an upperclassman with perhaps different housing options, including perhaps fraternity and sorority houses and apartments off campus.

Assignment #8 asks you to check out the residential facilities that a college provides. These facilities are usually well described?even bragged about?on the college’s website, can be seen on virtual tours on the website, or can certainly be seen firsthand on a college visit if you are visiting colleges with your teenager. College tours love to take visiting kids and parents to look at dorms, even when they are of the most ordinary kind. While I don’t think you should choose a college because of its housing facilities, I do think you might consider housing as a possible tiebreaker between two colleges that seem otherwise equal or as a way to take a college off your teenager’s list if the housing options seem nonexistent or terrible.

Here are some options you are going to find:

  • Many colleges have traditional college dorms, with long halls of double and single rooms and a huge bathroom shared by everyone on the hall. There are usually upperclassmen serving as residential advisors–maybe one on each floor–who provide at least some level of supervision and care for students.
  • Many colleges have apartment-style suites, with several bedrooms and a bathroom–and sometimes with a living area and a kitchen–for four to six students. Students in these suites often develop strong friendships–meaning that they take care of each other and watch out for each other. And there is still usually a residential advisor nearby.
  • Some colleges have really interesting residential “houses,” which sponsor both social and academic activities for residents, have one or two faculty families living with the students, have their own eating facilities where everyone dines together, and have their own sense of community pride. And the idea of some live-in adult supervision can be pretty appealing to parents. Here are two examples of residential housing plans:

Undergraduates at Rice University in Houston, Texas, are randomly assigned to one of 11 residential colleges?each with its own dining hall, public rooms, dorm rooms, and competitive website. In fact, about 75 percent of undergraduates continue to live in their residential college throughout their time at Rice. Each residential college has a faculty master, who lives in an adjacent house and encourages a rich intellectual and cultural life and a plan for self-governance at the residential college.

At Vassar College, about 98 percent of students live on campus, and about 70 percent of faculty members also live on or near the campus, with one or two faculty families living in each residence hall. Residential life at Vassar is described this way on the website:

Vassar has eight coeducational houses, one house for women only, and one cooperative (where students do their own shopping, cooking, and cleaning).  The great majority of students live in one of these houses through their junior year. Most seniors (and some juniors) choose to live in one of the college’s partially furnished apartment complexes.  Within easy walking distance of the main campus, these apartments house four to five students, each with his/her own bedroom.

The houses are self-governing and self-directing, led by a House Team that includes faculty residents (House Fellows), residential life professionals (House Advisors), residential life student staffers (Student Fellows and House Interns), and house officers elected by the residents of the house.  The house president also sits on the Vassar Student Association Council, representing the house in the student government.  Together, the House Team strives to create an environment that complements the academic life of the college by providing social, cultural, and educational programming in the houses. (quoted from the website)

Many colleges have a mix of housing facilities, too, including off-campus apartment buildings owned and operated by the college.

And then there are some colleges that do not offer housing at all–and not just two-year community colleges, many (but not all) of which expect students to commute to the campus. Take the University of Massachusetts campus in Boston, known as UMass Boston. The second campus in the UMass system, established about 100 years after UMass Amherst. UMass Boston couldn’t be in a more different setting from the flagship campus in Amherst?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. Interestingly, UMass Boston, the only public four-year college in 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 freshman living off campus in a big city without any college-provided supervision or safeguards.

4. The Safety Issue

And that brings us to the safety issue?at least the safety issue of being safe in campus housing and on the campus, especially at night. This is, of course, not the whole safety issue on college campuses today, but it is the part we are talking about in this episode. By the way, for real help and insights about all kinds of safety issues, you should listen to The Security Brief with Paul Viollis, coming to a TV station near you this fall and currently a podcast on CBS radio. Paul is truly the expert on this topic. (You can listen to Regina’s interview with Paul about college campus safety on his podcast here.)

So, if you visit a campus housing facility with your teenager, notice whether there is an adult uniformed security guard with sign-in and sign-out books at the entrance of that residential facility. Ask whether the security guard is there 24 hours a day. I know that many college students find these security guards to be a drag, and I know that this amount of supervision is one reason some students prefer to move into off-campus housing after the freshman year. But, I can tell you as a parent that I loved seeing that security guard at the entrance to my daughter’s super-attractive high-rise of apartment-like suites in the middle of Manhattan at Fordham University‘s Lincoln Center campus?even if I did have to get out my driver’s license and sign in and sign out every time I stopped by.

Obviously, uniformed guards provide a higher level of security than a reception desk staffed by students who are working part-time jobs or work-study jobs. And some colleges, as a matter of fact, do not have anyone on duty monitoring the flow of traffic in and out of residential buildings; students just go in and out with their own keys or cards, as I did years ago at Cornell.

If you are on a campus tour, notice and ask about what the daytime and nighttime transportation options are:

  • Many colleges use shuttle buses or vans to take students from one part of campus to another, especially when the campus is big. They are not only safer than having a student walk a long way alone, but also warmer or cooler and drier, if the weather is not cooperating.
  • Many colleges have blue-light phones–on those stand-along towers with the blue light on top that are placed along walkways, in parking lots, or in distant parts of the campus. They let a student in trouble call for help instantly. Some are also outfitted with cameras, sirens, and broadcast systems to alert students nearby or to get more information for the police or security guards. Some colleges believe these blue-light phones deter criminal activity; others believe they are mainly a good thing to be able to advertise to prospective students and their parents.
  • Some colleges provide students who serve as walking escorts from building to building or from buildings to the parking lots after dark?because you just can’t always have a buddy with you.

And some colleges have all of the above and more. As any parent would likely say, “The more, the better.”

Again, if you are on a campus tour, notice and ask about these questions:

  • Are there security guards at the entrances to all of the classroom buildings, libraries, auditoriums, sports facilities, and so on?
  • Are student IDs needed to get in and out of the buildings?
  • How do guests and visitors get in and out of the buildings?
  • Is the campus gated or fenced in or walled in or otherwise closed off? Are there guards at the campus entrances? Of course, many urban campuses do not have any enclosed campus to speak of; they are more like a collection of buildings in a group of city blocks without any sense of a campus. It’s harder to provide a sense of security in those cases. But access to the campus is not just an urban issue. On suburban and rural campuses, is it possible for those outside of the college community to wander on and off the campus at will? That can be just as dangerous as any urban setting.

But, before you even visit a campus, ask your teenager to find out what each college’s website says about the ways security is provided in the residential facilities and on the campus generally.

And then ask your teenager to go to our best friend, College Navigator, the great online search service provided by the National Center for Education Statistics, and look under “Campus Security” for each college on that long summer list of college options. There you will find crime statistics for three years, including the number of and reasons for criminal offenses and arrests on campus and, specifically, in the residence halls. I do believe that the fair interpretation of these statistics is not necessarily easy for just any layperson to do.

Let’s say a word to those of you who plan for your teenager to live at home and commute to campus. Safety is an issue for you, too. Your teenager still needs to pay attention to all of the security measures on campus, just as a residential student does. But you and your teenager also have to worry about the convenience and safety of the commute. Sometimes doing the commute by public transportation seems as though it would be the easy choice. But what about late-night trips home after a meeting on campus or a late class or studying in the library? What about the safety of getting to a remote parking lot to get in your car or of waiting for 20 minutes or more on a subway platform or on an empty street for a public bus? What about commuting in bad weather, especially in snowstorms, when a college campus might close down unexpectedly and public transportation is snarled?   And none of those safety issues take into account simply the time commitment of what might be two or even three hours of commuting each day.

So, have your teenager take the Assignment #8 worksheet and complete one for each college on his or her long summer list of college options. First, jot down the types of campus housing available and anything particularly interesting about those options. Second, note any safety measures discussed on the website and any concerns raised by the Campus Security section of College Navigator. Finally, is you are thinking to have your teenager commute, jot down what that really might mean.

Download the Assignment #8 Worksheet

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

Ask your questions or share your feedback by…

  • Leaving a comment below on the show notes for this episode
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Episode 53: Colleges in New York State–Part III

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

Recently, we have brought our virtual tour back home—here to New York State. We have looked at public four-year colleges and at nationally known private universities.

Virtual tour of private colleges in New York State on NYCollegeChat podcast Episode 53

This week, we are going to continue our examination of private options in New York. Let us say again, that the private institutions we will be discussing in this episode will be only a sample of the more than 100 private colleges and universities in New York. So, you out-of-staters, here is your chance to move outside your geographic comfort zone and to take a look at the many options New York offers. Today, we will check out some relatively small liberal arts institutions and then some higher education institutions with a special academic focus.

As we are now saying for a final time as we bring our virtual tour to a close, no college has asked us or paid us anything to include it. These are our own choices.

1. Liberal Arts Institutions

Let’s shine our spotlight on seven smallish liberal arts institutions, four upstate and three downstate, but north of New York City. Let’s start upstate, with Colgate University in Hamilton, Hamilton College in Clinton, and Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs. These upstate small towns are lovely—especially beautiful in the fall and before the snow comes. In many ways, they are perfect college locations—especially great for students who want that gracious and idyllic ivy-covered campus with handsome buildings in a safe and slightly isolated environment. Saratoga Springs, just north of Albany, is a particularly appealing town. You might know it as home to the famous racetrack and summer home to the New York City Ballet and Philadelphia Orchestra and, way back, to lots of wealthy New Yorkers. Our fourth upstate choice is Union College in Schenectady, which gives students an attractive campus, but in more of an urban setting.

Let’s begin with Colgate University—not a liberal arts “college,” but rather a small liberal arts university, which was founded in 1819 and today enrolls almost 2,900 undergraduates only. Both the students, who are drawn internationally, and the faculty members are about 25 percent multicultural. As befits a small liberal arts institution, Colgate has an enviable 9:1 student-to-faculty ratio.

Colgate’s undergraduates study in 54 majors, which come from a strong and broad liberal arts Core Curriculum. Students are required to take four courses in their first two years: Legacies of the Ancient World, Challenges of Modernity, Communities and Identities, and Scientific Perspectives on the World. Students are also required to take one course with a Global Engagements designation and six more courses from three liberal arts and sciences areas. Colgate offers more than 180 student organizations and 25 varsity sports teams.

Admitted students this fall had an average high school GPA of 3.8 and a combined SAT critical reading and math score of 1405. About 85 percent ranked in the top tenth of their high school graduating class. Interestingly, about 55 percent came from public high schools, while about 45 percent came from private high schools. Tuition and fees at Colgate run about $50,000 per year—quite high, to be sure, but like many other private institutions we have seen.

Hamilton College has a fascinating origin, and you all know that I love college histories. So here it is:

Hamilton College had its beginnings in a plan of education drawn up by Samuel Kirkland, missionary to the Oneida Indians. The heart of the plan was a school for the children of the Oneidas and of the white settlers, who were then streaming into central New York from New England in search of new lands and opportunities in the wake of the American Revolution.

In 1793 the missionary presented his proposal to President George Washington in Philadelphia, who “expressed approbation,” and to Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton, who consented to be a trustee of the new school, to which he also lent his name. The Hamilton-Oneida Academy was chartered soon thereafter. On July 1, 1794, in colorful ceremonies attended by a delegation of Oneida Indians, the cornerstone was laid by Baron von Steuben, inspector general of the Continental Army and “drillmaster” of Washington’s troops during the War for Independence.

The academy remained in existence for nearly 20 years. It faltered, almost failed, and never came to serve Samuel Kirkland’s original purpose, which was to help the Oneidas adapt to a life in settled communities. In fact, few Oneidas came to attend the school, and its students were primarily the children of local white settlers. Yet the academy remained the missionary’s one enduring accomplishment when, a few years after his death, it was transformed into Hamilton College.

The new institution of higher learning was chartered [by the State of New York] in 1812. (quoted from the website)

Starting out as a men’s college, Hamilton became fully coeducational in 1978. Today, it enrolls about 1,850 undergraduates only, split close to 50-50 between men and women. Just over 25 percent are U.S. students of color or international students. About 60 percent of students came from public high schools, while about 40 percent came from private high schools. Like Colgate, Hamilton has a desirable 9:1 student-to-faculty ratio. About 30 percent of classes have nine or fewer students—which seems really impressive, if small classes are something that your child would enjoy and thrive in.

Hamilton students pursue studies in 51 fields, based on a broad liberal arts and sciences curriculum that each student works out with his or her advisor. There are a few requirements—such as at least three writing-intensive courses—but there seems to be quite a bit of freedom in operationalizing the spirit of a liberal arts education.

All students live on campus in 27 residence halls, and many are likely kept busy on 29 varsity sports teams (given the size of the enrollment and the number of teams).

Like Colgate, about 85 percent of admitted students at Hamilton this fall ranked in the top tenth of their high school graduating class. They posted a trio of SAT subtest scores in the low 700s. Tuition and fees at Hamilton run about $49,500 per year—unfortunately, right in the private college ballpark.

Turning to Skidmore College, we have an institution that was started by Lucy Skidmore Scribner in 1903 as the Young Women’s Industrial Club, which, according to its constitution (as quoted on Skidmore’s website), “promoted ‘the cultivation of such knowledge and arts as may promote (members’) well-being, physical, mental, spiritual, and ability to become self-supporting.’ To this end, the Club offered courses in typewriting, bookkeeping, sewing and dressmaking, physical education, music and folk dancing.” And the website makes the following really good point:

Today we may snicker at the courses in sewing, shirtwaist making and millinery, but these were among the few fields in which women could manage businesses, and those courses were embedded in a broader context of creative expression and aesthetic appreciation. (quoted from the website)

In 1911, the institution was chartered as Skidmore School of Arts, a secondary school, and became Skidmore College in 1922. It became coeducational in 1971.

Today, Skidmore enrolls about 2,600 students, virtually all undergraduates (Skidmore appears to be closing its one master’s degree program).   Just over 20 percent of students are U.S. students of color, and about 10 percent are international students. Skidmore undergraduates are studying in more than 40 bachelor’s degree liberal arts and sciences majors, plus pre-professional studies in business, education, social work, and health and exercise sciences. Many students graduate with a double major. All of the arts—both for majors and non-majors—are also prominent on Skidmore’s campus.

Skidmore students enjoy the same appealing student-to-faculty ratio as the other colleges we have been talking about. They participate in 100 student organizations and 19 varsity sports teams.

Entering freshmen post average SAT subtest scores in the low to mid-600s, and about 45 percent were in the top tenth of their high school graduating class. Tuition and fees at Skidmore run about $49,000 per year—just like every place else.

Before we leave upstate, let’s turn the clock way back to 1795 when Union College became the first college chartered by the New York State Board of Regents. According to the website, “The name Union reflected the founders’ desire to create a welcoming, unified academic community open to all the diverse religious and national groups in the region.” That spirit did not, evidently, apply to women, who were not admitted until 1970. Union had the first unified campus plan, done by French architect Joseph Ramée in 1813. In the center of the grounds lies the distinctive round Nott Memorial building.

Union is proud of its history of re-conceiving the liberal arts:

When the classics were considered the only acceptable field of study, we introduced a bachelor’s degree with an emphasis on history, modern languages, science and mathematics. We were the first liberal arts college in the nation to offer engineering.(quoted from the website)

Like other colleges of its kind, Union has its Common Curriculum, which is required of students and gives students fundamental understandings and skills in a range of liberal arts disciplines, in fields that cross disciplines, and in thinking and research. Union students can then choose from about 45 majors (including about 20 interdisciplinary studies majors) or can create their own interdepartmental major.

Currently, Union enrolls about 2,200 undergraduates (no graduate students), with slightly more male than female students. That is about a 10:1 student-to-faculty ratio. It draws from 37 states and 29 countries—so not quite as far ranging as some other colleges we have looked at. Freshmen last year posted an average high school GPA of about a 3.4, and about 70 percent were in the top tenth of their high school graduating class. This year’s freshmen posted average SAT subtest scores in the mid- to high 600s (with scores higher in math than in critical reading and writing). However, submitting college admission test scores is optional for most students at Union (unless applicants have been homeschooled or are applying to some special programs). The website advises that applicants submit their scores if they are at or above the average scores of applicants, which the website provides. About two-thirds of applicants do submit scores.

Union offers students 100-plus student organizations, 20 fraternities and sororities, and 26 or so varsity sports teams. All first-year students and some upperclassmen live in Minerva Houses, which are all-purpose academic and social self-governed residences. Union charges a comprehensive fee (including tuition, room, and board) of about $62,000 per year (for three 10-week trimesters), with about $51,000 of that making up the tuition and fees we have been quoting for other colleges in our episodes.

Let’s turn now to the three colleges downstate: Vassar College in Poughkeepsie and Sarah Lawrence College in Yonkers, both originally women’s colleges, and Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson.

Vassar College, founded in 1861, is located about 75 miles north of New York City in the beautiful Hudson Valley, which we spoke about in an earlier episode as the location of the State University of New York at New Paltz. It chose to become coeducational in 1969, after deciding not to merge with Yale University.

Vassar’s approximately 2,400 undergraduates—about 65 percent of whom come from public high schools—are about 35 percent students of color and about 10 percent international students. They choose from a broad range of about 50 liberal arts and sciences majors. Interestingly, Vassar has a longstanding commitment to teaching from original source materials, including a rare book collection, manuscripts, and the personal papers of noted scholars and writers. It also has a longstanding commitment to art; it was the first college to have a museum, which actually is older than New York City’s world-renowned Metropolitan Museum of Art.

About 98 percent of students live on campus, taking part in over 100 student organizations and 23 varsity sports teams. About 70 percent of faculty also live on or near the campus, with one or two faculty families living in each residence hall. So there are ways for students to develop relationships with faculty members—in addition to the very low 8:1 student-to-faculty ratio.

Vassar requires either the SAT plus two SAT Subject Tests (in different subjects) or the ACT plus the writing exam. This fall’s freshmen had average SAT subtest scores in the low 700s and an A– (unweighted) high school GPA. About 70 percent of them graduated in the top tenth of their high school class. Tuition and fees run about $51,000 a year.

Founded in 1860, Bard College is located on the Hudson River about 90 miles north of New York City—yet another college in our lovely Hudson River Valley. Some people know Bard for its slightly wild-looking Fisher Center for the Performing Arts, designed by famed architect Frank Gehry. Bard also is noted for its strong commitment to Early College high school programs, running high schools in New York and other states, which enroll almost 1,000 students.

Today, Bard serves about 2,000 undergraduates and about 200 graduate students. About 25 percent are international students. The undergraduate student-to-faculty ratio is 10:1, with courses taught by full faculty members. Bard also offers 15 graduate degree programs at U.S. and international locations, including at the main campus.

“The Love of Learning,” a piece by Bard President Leon Botstein that can be found on the website, addresses the question of what college is for and what kinds of learning and teaching are important for colleges to preserve. You really should go read it because I cannot possibly do it justice. One of my favorite paragraphs is this:

No department wants to become a “service department” without its own majors, relegated to teaching skills and materials to students who are primarily interested in other subjects. It does not seem sufficiently dignified for the purpose of an English department, for example, to educate a literate physician. This is unfortunate. Academic departments often function as if they were merchants in a bazaar, hustling undergraduates to become majors. Administrations, in turn, measure success by counting heads in terms of enrollments that derive from majors: the more majors, the more successful the department. This pattern even spills down to the college applicant, who is asked a ridiculous question: What would you like to major in? (quoted from the website)

In the interest of providing a truly liberal arts curriculum, Bard has a common curriculum for first-year students, an elaborate set of distribution requirements (I say this with obvious approval), and the intriguing idea of Moderation—a process whereby three professors judge a student’s two specific thoughtful written papers before deciding whether the student can move up from the Lower College to the Upper College after two years of study. Undergraduates at Bard can earn a bachelor’s degree in one of 35 fields.

In addition to its innovative curriculum, Bard offers its students about 100 student organizations and 18 varsity sports teams. Bard’s new freshmen come from 34 states and 20 foreign countries—about half from the New England and Mid-Atlantic states. Their average SAT critical reading and math scores were in the low to mid-600s, and about 50 percent graduated in the top tenth of their high school class. Tuition and fees are about $50,000 per year.

Founded in 1926 (the latest of this group we have looked at), Sarah Lawrence College today enrolls about 1,350 undergraduate students and about 350 graduate students. The undergraduates are about 70 percent female and 25 percent students of color. Sarah Lawrence, which began as Sarah Lawrence College for Women and was named for the wife of its benefactor, first admitted men under the G.I. Bill in 1946 and became fully coeducational in 1968.

Sarah Lawrence offers a unique undergraduate curriculum approach. For example, this is what the website says about its signature seminar-conference courses:

At Sarah Lawrence, 90 percent of classes are small, round-table seminars—all taught directly by faculty.

Every semester, for each of your seminar classes, you will complete conference work: an in-depth, individual project developed in collaboration with faculty during bi-weekly, one-on-one meetings. Each conference project is an opportunity for you to demonstrate your subject mastery by creating original work that builds upon the course in ways that you—and only you—can imagine.

Your conference work may be an academic research paper, a piece of creative writing, a staged reading,
 a scientific inquiry, or fieldwork. Conference work at Sarah Lawrence reflects your passions, interests, and aspirations, so projects take many forms and directions. (quoted from the website)

Students work with their don, or faculty advisor, from the beginning of their four years to create a course of study unique to them. Students major in one or more than one of almost 50 disciplines and take courses in three of four broad liberal arts and sciences areas of study. Student assessment includes an evaluation of critical abilities, detailed narrative evaluations, and traditional letter grades. Sarah Lawrence fields 16 varsity sports teams, known as the Gryphons (that is, part eagle, part lion, for those of you who don’t know).

Sarah Lawrence is also a test-optional college, with about 60 percent of students submitting college admission test scores. The average high school GPA of this fall’s freshmen is about a 3.6. Tuition and fees come in at about $51,000 per year.

2. Institutions with a Special Academic Focus

As we seem to have done fairly often in our virtual tour, let’s look at both arts and technology institutions.

Starting in New York City, let’s take a quick look first at a famous institution devoted to the arts: The Julliard School, located at Lincoln Center in Manhattan. Juilliard started as a music academy in 1905, then added a Dance Division in 1951, and finally added a Drama Division (for training both actors and playwrights) in 1968. We won’t say much about Juilliard, because you have to be impossibly talented to get in; but, if you have an impossibly talented child in music, dance, or drama, then you should certainly take a look. For example, the Actor Training Program accepts only 8 to 10 undergraduates and 8 to 10 graduate students each year; these students then move through a required four-year acting curriculum together as a group.

Interestingly, even though Juilliard awards its bachelor’s degrees in fine arts and in music (offering 14 different music majors), it requires its students to take at least 24 credits in the liberal arts, all taught in small seminar classes:

Juilliard actively promotes a liberal arts education that provides the humanistic, ethical, social, critical, and aesthetic background essential to personal development and professional excellence. Studies in literature, philosophy, history, social sciences, arts, and languages, foster in students a deeper understanding of themselves and the complex world in which they live. . . . Through their work in the Liberal Arts, students refine skills in reading, writing, speaking, and critical thinking, learning to communicate with greater clarity and effectiveness. This program equips them to become active, well-informed citizens; develops their awareness of the social and humanistic dimensions of professional work; and lays the basis for a fulfilling cultural and intellectual life. (quoted from the website)

Juilliard does not require college admission test scores (except for homeschooled students), but does require auditions, of course. Tuition runs about $40,000 per year, and room and board costs at Juilliard are about $15,000 to $18,000 per year. These are certainly high, but actually not so high as other top-tier New York City institutions.

Let’s also look at Pratt Institute, which is located in Brooklyn and is a bit more realistic option, though this time mainly for artistically talented students. Founded in 1887, today Pratt serves about 3,000 undergraduates (about 70 percent female and about 70 percent from outside New York State) and 1,500 graduate students, drawn internationally.

Undergraduates can pursue degrees in architecture, construction management, fine arts, photography, digital arts, graphic design, industrial design, fashion design, interior design, but also film, writing, the history of art and design, and more. The student-to-faculty ratio is 10:1.

First-year students take two Survey of Art courses, two English courses, and the Foundation Core, which is, according to the website, “a series of studio experiences that deal with the analysis of problems in perception, conception, and imagination. The studio work encompasses both 2- and 3-D forms in their optical, technical, and symbolic natures. In addition, students receive an introduction to 4-D time arts through the use of computers and other media. At one point, students may deal with specifically designed structural problems and at another point may examine these problems from expressive, social, and historical perspectives. Through this process, individual imagination, skill, ambition, and preferences are examined.” That sounds both impressive and difficult.

Pratt fields 10 varsity sports teams—though, as we have said for some other great institutions, I don’t think you go to Pratt for the athletics.

Incoming freshmen bring average SAT subtest scores in the very high 500s and an average high school GPA of about a 3.6. All majors, except construction management, require a visual or writing portfolio as part of the application process. Tuition and fees run about $45,000 per year.

Moving upstate now, let’s take a look at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) in Troy (which is close to Albany).

RPI, founded in 1824, claims to be the oldest technological research university in the U.S. It offers bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees and comprises five schools: Engineering; Science; Architecture; Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences; and the Lally School of Management. RPI also offers bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Information Technology and Web Science. Perhaps the most surprising majors of the 38 undergraduate majors that RPI offers are in psychology and philosophy—both through the Cognitive Science Department (which is devoted to “the scientific study of the mind, brain, and intelligence”). RPI also encourages interdisciplinary study across departments and schools.

RPI’s key research topics are biotechnology and the life sciences; energy and the environment; computational science and engineering; nanotechnology and advanced materials; and media, arts, science, and technology. Its mission, as stated when it was founded, is in “the application of science to the common purposes of life” (quoted from the website).

Today, RPI enrolls about 5,500 undergraduates (about 70 percent male) and almost 1,500 graduate students. Larger than the other institutions we have talked about in this episode, its student-to-faculty ratio is 15:1. RPI also fields 23 varsity sports teams.

I first learned about RPI’s president some years ago when we were doing a project for RPI, and I have to tell you that Shirley Ann Jackson is an impressive person. Here is a bit of her profile from the website:

A theoretical physicist, Dr. Jackson has had a distinguished career that includes senior leadership positions in academia, government, industry, and research. She holds an S.B. in Physics, and a Ph.D. in Theoretical Elementary Particle Physics–both from MIT. She is the first African-American woman to receive a doctorate from MIT—in any field—and has been a trailblazer throughout her career, including as the first African-American woman to lead a top-ranked research university. (quoted from the website)

Last year’s freshman class posted average SAT subtest scores at just about 700, with an average high school GPA of almost a 3.8. About 70 percent finished in the top tenth of their high school graduating class. Tuition and fees run about $49,500.

By the way, you might also want to check out the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT), if you have a child interested in technical fields of study.

3. Winding Up New York State and Our Virtual Tour

It might be hard for us to leave New York State, but I feel we must. There are plenty of other higher education institutions we have not discussed, any one of which might be right for your child. I could name Clarkson University, St. Lawrence University, Pace University, Manhattan College, Molloy College, Ithaca College, St. John’s University, Yeshiva University, The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art, Hobart and William Smith Colleges, and more. It’s just as the song says, “I love New York.”

It is even harder for us to end our virtual tour. We have learned a lot about a lot of colleges—some we had known quite well, and some we had not known at all. We hope you learned just as much and that what you learned will prove useful to your child’s search for the perfect college for him or her.

Listen to the podcast to find out about…

  • What about our colleagues at The American University in Paris? We are hoping for a safe recovery for all of you.
  • What about Molloy College?
  • What about Manhattan College?

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