This is the fourth episode in our new series of things we didn’t know about certain colleges–or about higher education generally. Today, we are taking a look inside the ivy-covered walls of Yale University, but I think you will be very surprised about why we are taking that look. I know that many of you parents listening today have kids who have their hearts set on attending Yale or one of the other Ivy League universities or one of the other highly selective universities next fall. And I know that many of them won’t get to do that–not because they weren’t qualified to do it, but because too many other equally qualified kids also wanted to do it. But the perceived greatness of Yale’s academic program is not what we are going to look at today. Instead, we are going to look at just one Yale course, which happens to be Yale’s single most popular course ever offered?that is, the most popular course in Yale’s 316 years, and it’s being offered right now.
1. Happiness Is a Course?
In a provocative New York Times article in late January, David Schimer tells the story of PSYC 157 Psychology and the Good Life, a course that currently enrolls about 1,200 students, or almost one-quarter of Yale undergraduates. And this is not a required freshman seminar, as so many colleges have. Here is what Mr. Schimer says:
The course, taught by Prof. Laurie Santos, 42, a psychology professor and the head of one of Yale’s residential colleges, tries to teach students how to lead a happier, more satisfying life in twice-weekly lectures.
“Students want to change, to be happier themselves, and to change the culture here on campus,” Dr. Santos said in an interview.
“With one in four students at Yale taking it, if we see good habits, things like students showing more gratitude, procrastinating less, increasing social connections, we’re actually seeding change in the school’s culture.” (quoted from the article)
What? A kinder, gentler Yale? A course about how to be happy? It sounds crazy, at first, but maybe she is onto something. The article continues:
Dr. Santos speculated that Yale students are interested in the class because, in high school, they had to deprioritize their happiness to gain admission to the school, adopting harmful life habits that have led to what she called “the mental health crises we’re seeing at places like Yale.” A 2013 report by the Yale College Council found that more than half of undergraduates sought mental health care from the university during their time at the school. (quoted from the article)
Wow. That is concerning to all of us, but especially to parents of Yale hopefuls or parents of kids who want to go to another 25 universities that are just as selective and just as challenging. And with the news we hear every day on our televisions, the mental health of students of all ages is increasingly a worry for all of us.
So, what is in this course (for which parents are paying a hefty Yale tuition price tag)? What is in this course that some students see as “a relaxed lecture with few requirements” (quoted from the article)? Here is what Mr. Schimer reports:
The course focuses both on positive psychology–the characteristics that allow humans to flourish, according to Dr. Santos–and behavioral change, or how to live by those lessons in real life. Students must take quizzes, complete a midterm exam, and, as their final assessment, conduct what Dr. Santos calls a “Hack Yo’Self Project,” a personal self-improvement project?.
But while others might see easy credits, Dr. Santos refers to her course as the “hardest class at Yale”: To see real change in their life habits, students have to hold themselves accountable each day, she said.
She hopes that the social pressures associated with taking a lecture with friends will push students to work hard without provoking anxiety about grades. Dr. Santos has encouraged all students to enroll in the course on a pass-fail basis, tying into her argument that the things Yale undergraduates often connect with life satisfaction–a high grade, a prestigious internship, a good-paying job–don’t increase happiness at all.
“Scientists didn’t realize this in the same way 10 or so years ago, that our intuitions about what will make us happy, like winning the lottery and getting a good grade–are totally wrong,” Dr. Santos said?.
“We have this moment where we can make a difference in Yale’s culture, where students feel like they are part of a movement and fighting the good fight,” she said. (quoted from the article)
Well, that is an interesting take on happiness, and I have to wonder what the parents of those students are thinking. While no one wants to see kids overstressed to the point of mental health crises and while I know for a fact that many of those kids had way-too-intense high school years as they tried to get themselves prepared for Ivy League college applications, I am wondering why high grades and great internships and well-paying jobs can’t actually increase happiness. Certainly, not by themselves; but not at all?
Of course, taking off some of the pressure for high grades at Yale (or any other college) is fine by me. You will recall that we have talked about alternative grading practices at colleges as recently as five episodes ago in Episode 151. All of those alternative grading practices–some of which are used by very selective colleges–seem like a reasonable accommodation to kids who have worked too hard for too long and perhaps have lost sight of the value of learning apart from the value of getting a high grade. For some kids, the constant anxiety about getting high grades can thankfully end in college; but, for those who plan on graduate school or medical school or law school, I am afraid that they will be under the gun for another four years. Can Dr. Santos’s course help them with that? I would hope so.
2. Yale’s Response
While admitting how incredibly popular PSYC 157 has turned out to be, the Yale administration has had an interesting reaction. Here is what will happen next year at Yale, as Mr. Schimer writes:
Offering such a large class has come with challenges, from assembling lecture halls to hiring the 24 teaching fellows required. Because the psychology department lacked the resources to staff it fully, the fellows had to be drawn from places like Yale’s School of Public Health and law school. And with so many undergraduates enrolled in a single lecture, Yale’s hundreds of other classes–particularly those that conflict with Dr. Santos’s–may have seen decreased enrollment?.
Dr. Santos said she does not plan to offer the course again. Dr. [Woo-Kyoung] Ahn [director of undergraduate studies in psychology]?said, “Large courses can be amazing every once in a while, but it wouldn’t be fair to other courses and departments to take all of their students away.”
She added, “It causes conflict, and we can’t afford to offer this every year in terms of teaching fellows and resources.” (quoted from the article)
So, it was great while it lasted–or at least while other professors didn’t get too annoyed about the decrease in enrollment in their less-popular courses or administrators didn’t have to figure out the logistics of offering it. So, just how important is the mental health of the students or didn’t the professors and administrators think that the course was meeting that goal? I am sure that we will never know the answer to that question.
3. Your Response
In case you want to take a closer look at Dr. Santos’s idea or in case you want your kid to do so, “a multipart seminar-style series on the course material–filmed last year in her home and titled “The Science of Well-Being”–will soon be available for free on Coursera, an online education platform” (quoted from the article).
But, more to the point, please do keep in mind the mental health of your kid–both now in that last critical year or two of high school and then when he or she heads off for college, as so many of your kids will do this fall. Take a glance back at Episode 137, which focused on the importance of college support services for kids (like more than half of undergraduates at Yale) who need and seek mental health counseling while in college.
As we said in our new book, How To Explore Your College Options: A Workbook for High School Students, information about support services on a college campus is one thing prospective applicants and their parents might want to consider–especially if your kid identifies with students of color, first-generation-to-college students, LGBTQ students, or students with learning disabilities. And now, I would add, especially if your kid is going to a highly selective university, filled with bright, hardworking, overstressed, and likely anxious students.
As Randy Newman’s theme song for the great television show Monk says, “It’s a jungle out there.”
Today’s episode in our series Researching College Options focuses on a trend in college enrollment that you might have missed entirely. But if you have a son at home, it might be of particular interest to you–especially if your son is in the early days of high school (or even younger!).
Colleges and universities that were started in America’s earliest days were all institutions for men. They were all single-sex institutions then.
Seven of the eight well-known Ivy League institutions served only male students when they were founded in the 1600s and 1700s: the University of Pennsylvania, Columbia, Dartmouth, Brown, Princeton, Harvard, and Yale. Among the Ivies, only Cornell, the youngest of the Ivies, was founded as a co-educational university, which took as its mission from its first day to enroll both men and women.
As time went on, many Ivies created a “sister” school for women: the University of Pennsylvania had its College for Women, Columbia had Barnard, Brown had Pembroke, and Harvard had Radcliffe. Of these, only Barnard remains.
Oddly, only a handful of men’s colleges remain, perhaps partly because now there are actually more women than men going to college. The men’s college you have most likely heard of is Morehouse College, which is an academically rigorous HBCU located in Georgia and which is the men’s counterpart to Spelman. Morehouse has a roster of famous alumni, ranging from Martin Luther King, Jr., to Samuel L. Jackson and Spike Lee. Here are two more appealing men’s colleges: Hampden-Sydney College, which was founded in 1775 in Virginia and has a long and fascinating history (Patrick Henry and James Madison were among its first Trustees); and Wabash College, which is located in Indiana and was cited in the book Colleges That Change Lives as an institution that is successful in creating engaged students, who become leaders in their chosen fields.
While most single-sex institutions have opened their doors to the opposite sex over the years and especially in the past 50 years, those that remain carry on a tradition that their graduates wholeheartedly support. Some of their graduates–and indeed their families–believe that students can focus better on their studies when they are not being distracted by social interactions with the opposite sex in the classroom. Some of their graduates believe that students will develop a stronger sense of community and camaraderie with their classmates in single-sex institutions. Some of their graduates appreciate the histories and philosophies of these institutions–especially perhaps graduates of women’s colleges who feel that they are better supported as young women and are encouraged to set and pursue whatever education and career goals they can imagine for themselves.
Clearly, there are great reasons for your teenager to choose to apply to and attend a single-sex institution, as we have said before, but there are also great reasons for your teenager to choose a coeducational institution. What is happening now, however, is that some coeducational institutions–institutions that some students chose to attend precisely because they were coeducational–are losing their balance between male and female students in a way that no one would have predicted 40 years ago. Let’s look at why.
2. Male College Enrollment Today
In a very interesting August article, which you should read in its entirety in The Hechinger Report (which also appeared in The Atlantic), reporter Jon Marcus gave us these facts and figures:
Where men once went to college in proportions far higher than women–58 percent to 42 percent as recently as the 1970s–the ratio has now almost exactly reversed.
This fall, women will comprise more than 56 percent of students on campuses nationwide, according to the U.S. Department of Education. Some 2.2 million fewer men than women will be enrolled in college this year. And the trend shows no sign of abating. By 2026, the department estimates, 57 percent of college students will be women. . . .
Reeling from a years-long decline in overall enrollment, colleges and universities nationwide are vying for all the students they can get, and suddenly paying new attention to bolstering the number of men who apply. (quoted from the article)
At this point, I think we might say either “You’ve come a long way, baby” to any young women in the audience or “Where will it end?” Of course, for many years, we lived in a world where more males than females went to college, so is it a problem if those figures are now reversed? Maybe not, unless you have a son at home, and you are wondering if this trend will affect him–either positively or negatively–as he looks toward college and his future.
3. Is College Too Late To Fix This?
The Hechinger Report article goes on to explain some likely causes for the state of male college enrollment. Marcus reports:
Though advocates complain that few in higher education are doing enough to keep those men who do get there from leaving, there’s consensus that men’s reluctance to enroll in the first place isn’t necessarily the colleges’ fault. The problem has its origins as early as primary school, only to be fueled later on by economic forces that discourage men from believing a degree is worth the time and money.
“It’s funny that it’s the colleges that are finally seeing this issue and trying to resolve it,” said Patrick Maloney, president of the Nativity School, a Jesuit Catholic middle school in the central Massachusetts city of Worcester that tries to aim low-income boys toward college. That’s because, by the time students reach college age, Maloney said, “It’s way too late. You’ve already lost them. Maybe [admissions officers] should be going into middle schools and [should] start talking to fifth-graders about the benefits of college education.”
Or even earlier than that. The “anti-school, anti-education sentiment” in boys has roots in kindergarten, when they’re slower to learn to read than girls, said Jim Shelley, manager of the Men’s Resource Center at Lakeland Community College in Ohio. Girls at the primary and secondary level worldwide far outperform boys in reading, according to the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development.
That disparity continues until, “by eighth or ninth grade, boys have lost interest,” Shelley said. (quoted from the article)
All this is likely true, but none of it accounts for the decline in male college enrollment. Why? Because I believe all of this was true 40 years ago when there were more male than female students in colleges. With that said, we will, nonetheless, underline the importance of not waiting till high school to engage actively about college-going with any younger children you have at home. For many students in high schools my nonprofit organization has evaluated, it is clear that they gave up on the goal of pursuing a college education much earlier, just as the article says. I believe that this is especially–and unfortunately–true for low-income students in urban school districts.
And here are some additional issues that are concerning if you have a son at home, according to this article:
Men who do enroll in college, at whatever age, are more likely than women to drop out, and they graduate at lower rates, the Education Department reports. That’s one thing universities and colleges can address directly, but generally don’t, Shelley, [manager of the Men’s Resource Center at Lakeland Community College], said.
Through 21 years running one of the few campus support centers exclusively for men, he said, “I’ve thought it can only get better. But it just has gone nowhere. Not only are there not programs like ours that are supportive of male students, but at most college campuses the attitude is that men are the problem versus men have problems, too. . . .”
Meanwhile, boys in many American communities don’t see male role models who have been to college and succeeded, said Keith Bullock at Kentucky’s Berea College (56 percent female). Bullock is coordinator of programs to support male students, many of them from Appalachia. “They don’t have those examples of doctors and lawyers and professionals.”
. . . The male students under his care are black, white and Hispanic, Bullock said, and they all face similar pressures. He escorts them to the counseling and advising offices and texts them every day to make sure they get to class on time and know when tests are scheduled. “My guys,” he calls them. He also works with them on study habits and time management. “It’s very challenging. It’s very emotional. Sometimes I’m hugging them up and there’s times when I feel I have to curse them out.” (quoted from the article)
4. What Does This Mean for You?
So, if you have a son at home, perhaps The Hechinger Report article has given you some new perspectives and some new facts to think with. But there is also some information here for those of you with a daughter at home. As we said in our new book, How To Explore Your College Options: A Workbook for High School Students, the gender breakdown on a college campus is one thing prospective applicants might want to consider. And now that we know that male students are sometimes in shorter supply than you might have expected, I am glad that we included a question about gender breakdown on the College Profile Worksheet. We give the Worksheet to students to complete for colleges they are interested in applying to (it is found at the end of our book). Here is some of what we wrote in the new book:
If you look at the enrollment statistics for many colleges, you will notice that some are split pretty evenly between male and female students (say, 46 percent vs. 54 percent), while others are way out of balance (say, 30 percent vs. 70 percent). Sometimes colleges that are out of balance can be explained by their history (for example, they were once women’s colleges) or by the types of majors they are best known for (given that some majors, unfortunately, continue to attract more students of one gender). If you want a college to reflect the general undergraduate college student population, it is interesting to note that enrollment figures overall in the fall of 2014 showed that 56 percent of undergraduate students were female. So, if a college is better balanced than that (in other words, closer to 50/50), it might well be working hard to achieve that balance.
Let’s look at a few examples. Carleton College (a great private liberal arts college in Northfield, Minnesota) is 53 percent female and 47 percent male. Carleton is working at it, we would say. Oddly enough, the gigantic University of Minnesota (the excellent public flagship university in the Twin Cities) gets even closer–at 51 percent female and 49 percent male. Not too far away, the Milwaukee School of Engineering (a Wisconsin college that specializes in engineering and technical subjects, though not exclusively) posts a 24 percent female and 76 percent male enrollment–for perhaps obvious reasons.
So, if gender balance at a college is important to your teenager, you all should check it out for each college on your teenager’s list. If you have never thought about it, you should think about it now. By the way, as we said in our new book, “we have not yet seen data reported and presented across colleges on enrollment of students with gender identities other than male and female. However, if you are looking for a college that is particularly accepting of more diverse gender identities, that is a topic that can and should be pursued by looking further on the college’s website and by calling the Admission Office and asking about relevant data and policies.”
Today in our current series, Colleges in the Spotlight, we want to look at a great article published in The New York Times by an award-winning journalist writing a very personal piece. Although the title of our episode is “No Harvard for You,” it is really about many colleges a lot like Harvard–highly selective, prestigious, private colleges, which have disappointed a lot of kids this March and April. This is an unusual perspective and a memorable one. Special thanks to my friend, Regina Rule, school board member in Manhasset, New York, who posted this article on Facebook. I probably never would have seen it without her.
1. Michael Winerip’s Article
Let me quote first from The New York Times blurb about the article’s author, Michael Winerip, so you can see just how impressive he is:
Mike Winerip hasn’t held every job at The Times, just most of them. Over nearly 30 years, he has written five different columns–Our Towns, On Sunday, On Education (three times), Parenting and Generation B.
He has been a staff writer for the magazine, investigative reporter, national political correspondent, Metro reporter and a deputy Metro editor. . . .
In 2000, he was a Pulitzer Prize finalist for his exposé in the Times magazine of a mentally ill New York City man pushing a woman to her death on the subway. . . . In 2001, he played a leading role on the team of reporters that won a Pulitzer for the series “How Race Is Lived in America.” (quoted from the article)
And there is plenty more. There is no doubt that Mike is a smart, perceptive, and accomplished guy. Clearly, he is someone worth listening to. You should go read his entire piece, entitled “Young, Gifted, and Not Getting Into Harvard,” published in The Times on April 29, 2007. Yes, 2007. It might as well have been yesterday. Perhaps his words are even more true now.
Let’s listen to the beginning of his piece:
On a Sunday morning a few months back, I interviewed my final Harvard applicant of the year. After saying goodbye to the girl and watching her and her mother drive off, I headed to the beach at the end of our street for a run.
It was a spectacular winter day, bright, sunny and cold; the tide was out, the waves were high, and I had the beach to myself. As I ran, I thought the same thing I do after all these interviews: Another amazing kid who won’t get into Harvard.
That used to upset me. But I’ve changed.
Over the last decade, I’ve done perhaps 40 of these interviews, which are conducted by alumni across the country. They’re my only remaining link to my alma mater; I’ve never been back to a reunion or a football game, and my total donations since graduating in the 1970s do not add up to four figures.
No matter how glowing my recommendations, in all this time only one kid, a girl, got in, many years back. I do not tell this to the eager, well-groomed seniors who settle onto the couch in our den. They’re under too much pressure already. Better than anyone, they know the odds, particularly for a kid from a New York suburb.
By the time I meet them, they’re pros at working the system. Some have Googled me because they think knowing about me will improve their odds. After the interview, many send handwritten thank-you notes saying how much they enjoyed meeting me.
Maybe it’s true.
I used to be upset by these attempts to ingratiate. Since I’ve watched my own children go through similar torture, I find these gestures touching. Everyone’s trying so hard. (quoted from the article)
Let me stop right there for a minute. Parents, how many of you had your seniors do one or more of these alumni interviews? Parents of juniors, many of you have these on your horizon. I used to do them years ago for Cornell, so I know a bit about the way Mike feels. A young friend of mine went through alumni interviews for her applications to Georgetown and Yale and Cornell just a few months ago.
To tell you the truth, I am not sure how I feel about alumni interviews and, for those of you who know me, you know that it is rare that I don’t have a strong opinion about something. I see why a college would use its alumni in this role, and I see why alumni would be willing to take on this task. I did myself, after all. But I am not sure how much alumni interviews really contribute to the admissions process or how valid those contributions are.
In the old days, it seems to me that many more applicants were interviewed at the colleges by admissions officers. Maybe they weren’t any smarter or savvier than alumni, but they were trained in what they were doing. They likely knew what to look for, how to get the best from a nervous kid, and how to represent the college–and its admission process–accurately and fairly. I am not entirely sure that alumni interviewers–or, at least, not all alumni interviewers–can do all of those things. So why continue doing it, colleges?
Here is what Mike says about why he continued to interview for his alma mater:
It’s very moving meeting all these bright young people who won’t get into Harvard. Recent news articles make it sound unbearably tragic. Several Ivies, including Harvard, rejected a record number of applicants this year.
Actually, meeting the soon-to-be rejected makes me hopeful about young people. They are far more accomplished than I was at their age and without a doubt will do superbly wherever they go.
Knowing me and seeing them is like witnessing some major evolutionary change take place in just 35 years, from the Neanderthal Harvard applicant of 1970 to today’s fully evolved Homo sapiens applicant.
There was the girl who, during summer vacation, left her house before 7 each morning to make a two-hour train ride to a major university, where she worked all day doing cutting-edge research for NASA on weightlessness in mice.
When I was in high school, my 10th-grade science project was on plant tropism–a shoebox with soil and bean sprouts bending toward the light.
These kids who don’t get into Harvard spend summers on schooners in Chesapeake Bay studying marine biology, building homes for the poor in Central America, touring Europe with all-star orchestras.
Summers, I dug trenches for my local sewer department during the day, and sold hot dogs at Fenway Park at night. (quoted from the article)
Mike is right. The escalation in what kids now present as their credentials on college applications has continued in the decade since this piece was written. College applications have almost become parodies of themselves. What more could high school kids do? Is any kid just a kid anymore? Well, if so, that kid isn’t getting into Harvard–or any other very selective college–where even stellar kids aren’t being admitted. Mike continues this way:
What kind of kid doesn’t get into Harvard? Well, there was the charming boy I interviewed with 1560 SATs. He did cancer research in the summer; played two instruments in three orchestras; and composed his own music. He redid the computer system for his student paper, loved to cook and was writing his own cookbook. One of his specialties was snapper poached in tea and served with noodle cake.
At his age, when I got hungry, I made myself peanut butter and jam on white bread and got into Harvard.
Some take 10 AP courses and get top scores of 5 on all of them.
I took one AP course and scored 3. (quoted from the article)
I wonder if this makes any kid who didn’t get into some Ivy or Stanford or MIT or the like this April feel any better. It probably doesn’t. But it does underscore just how crazy admissions at top schools can be. I keep saying to prospective applicants that these schools could fill their seats with kids with perfect SATs and perfect high school GPAs and incredible extracurricular activities. And I guess it’s true. Of course, these schools would be quick to say that they look for plenty of other things, too. And I hope that’s true, though I would like to see some evidence of it.
One of Mike’s final comments is this:
I see these kids–and watch my own applying to college–and as evolved as they are, I wouldn’t change places with them for anything. They’re under such pressure. (quoted from the article)
They are indeed, Mike. Parents, don’t forget that. Your kids are “under such pressure.”
I have watched a number of kids go through this recently. Let me take one example of a smart and talented kid who did not get into her top Ivy-like choices, but did get into a fine private university and a fine public flagship university. She chose the private university and immediately applied to its honors program (she had already automatically been accepted into the honors program at the public flagship when they sent her the acceptance). But this private university required a separate honors program application–well, actually there were four different honors programs, each one more impressive than the last.
She asked me to look over the FOUR essays she had to write for the honors application. Honestly, I would have had trouble writing the fourth one myself. I felt a bit like Mike as I sat there, with my two Ivy League degrees, staring at the essay and wondering what in the world I would have said.
I did what I could to help her, but she did not get into the honors program she applied for (likely a result of her SAT scores, according to the honors program descriptions). Now, I think that is okay. She will do well at the university. She will probably have a great time there (which is actually an important part of the college experience, too, I think). I am fine that she didn’t get into the honors program, but I doubt she is, and I know her parents are disappointed. So, I will say one more time to you, parents: “They’re under such pressure.” At some point, you have to let that go. Once the acceptances are in and the college-going decision is made, it is time to be happy. No more disappointment. Look forward to the fall and a new adventure for your kid. I don’t want to have to remind you again!
2. Next Week
We are going to take a break next week in honor of college graduations and Memorial Day. I am actually traveling to the U.K. to attend my daughter’s master’s degree graduation ceremony at Richmond, The American International University in London. Many of you are making or just made the same kind of trip if you have older kids graduating from college somewhere this month. It is a time for celebration, and we hope you have a great one!
This is the third in our series of episodes discussing issues in higher education, and it’s the second part of a two-parter that looks at the Early Decision and Early Action options for high school students who will be applying to colleges next fall. I mentioned last week that I was infuriated by this issue. I meant that I was infuriated on behalf of the kids and families who are trying to figure out how to play this college admissions game, which is hard enough without having to calculate the advantages and disadvantages of various Early Decision and Early Action options at various colleges and how those options interact with each other.
Last week, we discussed the pros and cons of Early Decision. I won’t repeat all of the reasoning here, but I will repeat my conclusion, which is this: Early Decision is better for an individual applicant than it is for the pool of applicants. In other words, Early Decision might be great for your own teenager, even though it could well be concerning for the futures of all of our teenagers collectively. Of course, you have the luxury of thinking only about your own teenager. You aren’t setting policy for colleges or high schools across the country, and you don’t have to be fair to all high school seniors. You are likely to do what is best for your own teenager.
In that world, I believe that many of you will end up considering an Early Decision option very seriously, given everything we said last week. However, if your teenager just isn’t ready to make such a big decision around November 1–a decision that will be a binding decision–then let’s look at an alternative option for you. That alternative option is Early Action, the option that some would call the kinder, gentler option in the early admissions game.
1. Early Action
Under the Early Action option, high school seniors can still apply early–around November 1–but they are not ethically committed to enroll at the college if accepted. That is, the decision to apply Early Action is not a binding decision by a high school senior to attend that college and only that college. Early Action enables kids to apply to more than one college that offers an Early Action option and hold onto any acceptances until April–before having to make a final decision among all of the acceptances that come in on both the early and the regular schedules.
In counseling students myself, I encourage them to apply under the Early Action option to as many of the colleges on their final list as they can. I just don’t see a downside. And it can certainly take the pressure off a student to know in December that he or she has a guaranteed acceptance from a college or two or three well before April comes.
Here is one thing you have to keep in mind, however. Students have to take the SAT or ACT early enough to have the scores before November 1, and a student has to believe that the scores he or she has by November 1 is about as good as he or she can get. Because most students are going to take the SAT and/or the ACT more than once, that means taking the exam in the late spring of the junior year and again in the early fall of the senior year. Or, perhaps, it means taking the exam in late summer and again in the fall. There are, of course, pros and cons to these choices.
For example, we often advise good students who have had a rigorous high school program to take the test in the late spring of the junior year, to study and prep over the summer, and to take it again in the early fall of the senior year. Students who might not be as strong and who are not well prepared by the spring of their junior year might be better off studying and prepping over the summer and taking the test for the first time in September of the senior year. Here is one thing we do know: Taking the test just a couple of months apart and doing nothing to prepare in between the two testing dates is a waste of time and money; not much is going to be gained in regular school learning or in maturation in a couple of months.
Here is another option we have recommended. Apply Early Action to one or more colleges using your available test scores if you think you are likely to be accepted. In this case, the Early Action colleges would likely be your safety schools–that is, schools you can probably get into without improving your scores. If there are more selective colleges that you are holding out hope for, but for which you need better scores, re-take the SAT or ACT in November or December and don’t apply to those colleges until the regular deadline of January 1 or later.
2. Single-Choice Early Action or Restrictive Early Action
Let’s look at a mixed approach that has now been taken by some colleges, including some prestigious ones, and that is an option called Single-Choice Early Action, or Restrictive Early Action. This option means that applicants cannot apply to any other college under an Early Action or Early Decision option, but may apply on a regular decision timeline. If an applicant is admitted under this single-choice or restrictive option, that student may have until about May 1 to make a decision. Could it get any more confusing?
So, Single-Choice Early Action, or Restrictive Early Action, is like Early Decision in that the student is permitted to apply to only one college early, but it’s like Early Action in that the student is permitted to wait until regular decision acceptances come in before making a final decision about enrolling. You can see how that is pretty good for the student and pretty good for the college, though not ideal for either one. You can also see how this option just further complicates an already-complicated admissions process. This option, we believe, is not nearly as widespread among colleges as either Early Decision or regular Early Action.
3. The Craziness of Some College Admissions Options
I must confess that I myself have had to read and re-read some colleges’ website information on admissions many times to figure out what all the options meant. I cannot imagine how a high school kid by himself or herself ever completes and submits a college application anymore, especially if that kid has parents who do not speak English or cannot help for whatever reason. That’s probably the subject for an episode of its own!
Before we look at a few examples of colleges with crazy admissions options, let’s put one more option on the table: two rounds of Early Decision, or Early Decision I and Early Decision II. (By the way, colleges may also have Early Action I and II, though Early Decision I and II appear to be more common.)
So, why Early Decision I and II, with Early Decision II having a later deadline? One reason is that some students want the college to have access to later college admission test scores or to their first semester senior grades, in case either of those is better than earlier scores or grades. Another reason is that a student who gets rejected from his or her first-choice Early Decision college in December can then apply to his or her second-choice college in a round II of Early Decision. Both of these situations happen to favor the student.
But another reason is that having two rounds of Early Decision is a way for a college to improve its own statistics–in this case, the “yield rate,” or the percentage of students who are admitted and then attend. It has been said that this statistic might affect a college’s ranking on some publication’s list or other. So, that might be reason enough for how we got to this place.
Now, let’s look at a few real examples of colleges, all of which shall remain nameless:
Take this private Southern university, which has both Early Action and Single-Choice Early Action options, but no Early Decision option.
Or this public Southern university, which has three options: Early Decision I (with notification in late December), Early Decision II (for those who need a little more time to apply, with notification in mid-February), and Early Action (with notification in late January).
Or this Midwestern college with only about 1,000 undergraduates, which offers Early Action I and Early Decision I as well as Early Action II and Early Decision II options (with all decisions no later than February 15)–plus a regular decision option, of course. That’s five options!
Take this private Northeastern college, which offers the following information, quoted from the website:
Students who apply by the November 15 deadline for [Early Decision] Round I will be notified of the decision on their application in mid-December. Those who apply by the January 15 [Early Decision] Round II deadline will hear by February 15, as will those who convert Regular Decision applications to Early Decision by February 1. While Early Decision candidates may initiate applications to other colleges, if they are accepted under one of the Early Decision plans they must immediately withdraw all other applications and enroll at [this college].
Or this Ivy League university, which offers the following information, quoted from the website:
If you are a Single-Choice Early Action applicant to [this university], you may apply to another institution’s early admission program as follows:
You may apply to any college’s non-binding rolling admission program.
You may apply to any public institution at any time provided that admission is non-binding.
You may apply to another college’s Early Decision II program, but only if the notification of admission occurs after January 1. If you are admitted through another college’s Early Decision II binding program, you must withdraw your application from [this university].
You may apply to another college’s Early Action II program.
You may apply to any institution outside of the United States at any time.
My view is this, not that the university asked: If a student can follow that, he or she deserves to be admitted right now!
And one last word, parents: Remember that your teenager can be deferred when applying early, in which case the application will go into the pile to be considered with the applications submitted on the regular decision timeline. Or, your teenager can be rejected, in which case he or she cannot re-apply in some cases on the regular decision timeline. So that’s one more piece of the puzzle that you will need to consider.
4. A Personal Anecdote
Permit me a final personal anecdote. It may give you an idea of what awaits you next fall. This is a real story about a high school senior we worked with last fall. Let’s call her Kate. Kate had great grades (straight A’s, including in AP courses and honors courses), great activities (including excellent community service activities, a variety of school activities, and championship school and community sports teams), and satisfactory (but not great) SAT scores.
We helped Kate apply under Early Action plans to three universities, where we thought she would be accepted, based on her record. In fact, Kate got three Early Action acceptances in December: from Binghamton University (one of New York State’s best public universities), from the University of Colorado Boulder (a great public flagship university in one of the most beautiful settings in the U.S.), and from Baylor University (a very good private Southern university, which gave birth to one of the great medical schools in the U.S.). Kate got good scholarships from both the University of Colorado Boulder and Baylor. By the way, listeners, this is what it means to get outside your geographic comfort zone; be the New Yorker applying to colleges in Colorado and Texas. So, three Early Action acceptances are making life in Kate’s household a lot easier these days–while she waits on answers from eight more highly selective private universities, including two Ivies, in April.
Now, I will be the first to tell you that I lobbied hard for Kate to apply to Cornell’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences under its Early Decision plan. Kate wants to go to medical school eventually, and the Ag School (as we Cornellians call it) is a good stepping stone to that. I believed that she might barely get into the Ag School on the Early Decision plan, given her academic record and the high proportion of Early Decision applicants who are accepted into the Ag School’s freshman class. Furthermore, she is a New York State resident, and the Ag School is one of the State-supported colleges within Cornell (which is a unique private-public partnership that we have spoken about several times at USACollegeChat). Finally, I did not believe that Kate would get into Cornell on a regular decision timeline, largely because of her less-than-stupendous SAT scores.
Here was the problem: Kate had her heart set on Yale or Georgetown. I was pretty sure she would not get into Yale, and I doubted that she would get into Georgetown. I thought Early Decision at the Ag School would be her best chance to get into a highly selective university, but that meant giving up any hope of Yale or Georgetown. In the end, I was not persuasive, so I settled for getting her to do those three Early Action applications. Now we are all waiting for April. Since I believe she will be happy at either Boulder or Baylor, I am less concerned than I might otherwise have been. She is less concerned, too–thankfully–and that is the beauty of Early Action.
So, what’s our advice? Well, it’s nothing straightforward. You are going to have to lay out the Early Action and Early Decision options and rules for each college your teenager is going to apply to next fall and figure out the best path. We are afraid that each case is unique. We are convinced, however, that making some use of some early options is likely to be in your teenager’s favor. Good luck, and call us when you get stuck.
Ask your questions or share your feedback by…
Leaving a comment below on the show notes
Calling us at (516) 900-6922 to record a question on our USACollegeChat voicemail if you want us to answer your question live on our podcast
In last week’s episode, we picked up our virtual tour of colleges with the public universities and academies in the six states of the New England region: Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and Connecticut. This week, we will spotlight the private higher education institutions in New England.
We are going to talk about a group of nationally known higher education institutions, which draw students internationally; a selection of institutions with one or another kind of special focus; a host of smaller liberal arts colleges; and a few institutions that are probably best known in the New England region. Let us say now that there are a surprising number of well-known institutions in these New England states, even though the states themselves are quite small. A lot of those institutions are in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. We cannot possibly do them all justice—or even mention them all. To that end, we are going to split this content into two episodes—this week and next week.
I have to say that I feel a bit uncomfortable making extra episodes for one of the regions of the country that is nearest to our home base in New York—just when I am trying to get our listeners outside of their comfort zone. But I can rationalize this action in one of two ways. First, these states have been states since the very beginning of our country and, thus, have lots and lots of colleges and universities—the oldest of which were founded more than 100 years earlier than any of those in our Western states. Second, I have to believe that many of our New York State listeners, who make up a big percentage of our audience and who are worried about sending their kids away to college, might be persuaded to send them away—but not too far away. New England might be about right. So, we will do the best we can to cover as many institutions as we can this week and next week.
Finally, as we say in every episode, no college has asked us or paid us anything to include it. These are our own choices.
Founded between 1636 and 1769, all four were operating before the American Revolution and all four were founded by religious groups—Congregationalists for three of them and Baptists for Brown. Today, they serve from 4,000 to about 7,000 undergraduates, with about 6,000 to more than 20,000 total undergraduate, graduate, and professional students. Dartmouth is the smallest Ivy League school, and Harvard is one of the largest.
Ivy League schools are well known for their high academic standards, wide range of undergraduate and graduate majors, longtime traditions, famous professors, beautiful campuses, and the extreme selectivity of their admissions process. That is one reason I am not going to talk too much about them.
Their tuition is sky-high, though they have a surprising amount of financial aid available for students whose family resources are very limited. However, your child would first have to have extraordinary high school grades and college admission test scores to be accepted.
I think it is fair to say that one thing that the Ivies do not do as well as many large public universities is varsity sports. In the interest of full disclosure, let me say that my father was the Sports Information Director at the University of Pennsylvania (another of the Ivies and his alma mater), and he helped to establish the Ivy League athletic conference in the 1950s. I have been attending Ivy League sports contests since I was in elementary school. I later covered sports for my own Ivy League school’s newspaper, The Cornell Daily Sun. So, I know what I am talking about. I am not saying that we don’t have some talented athletes and, on occasion, some incredible individual athletes and even teams. Nonetheless, most students don’t come to an Ivy League school for sports.
An equally prestigious and equally selective institution is the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Founded much later in 1861, MIT now serves about 4,500 undergraduates (about 25 percent are underrepresented minority students) and a total of about 11,000 undergraduate, graduate, and professional students. MIT has schools of Architecture and Planning, Engineering, Management, Science, and—last, but not least—the School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences. While we think of MIT as turning out first-rate engineers and scientists, students can also major in subjects in the School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences; by the way, all undergraduates at MIT take eight courses in this school (about 25 percent of their undergraduate program) so they truly become well-rounded students and citizens. But, like the Ivies, your child would need extraordinary high school grades and college admission test scores to get in.
Now let’s look briefly at three great nationally known universities—all well respected, but slightly less selective. They all happen to be in or near Boston. Starting with the smallest, we have Tufts University, with its main campus located on Walnut Hill in Medford, just outside of Boston. Founded in 1852, Tufts currently enrolls about 5,000 undergraduates and a total of about 11,000 undergraduate, graduate, and professional students in nine schools—five of which are related to medical and health sciences. Undergraduates study in two of those schools: the School of Arts and Sciences and the School of Engineering. Over 20 percent of Arts and Sciences students major in International Relations, and many students participate in Tufts’ 10 study abroad programs or in coursework at Tufts’ own European Center in France. Tufts also has a graduate school of international affairs, with intriguing interdisciplinary majors.
Tufts offers 14 men’s and 14 women’s varsity sports as well as club and intramural sports. The Jonathan M. Tisch College of Citizenship and Public Service is a unique University-wide venture that provides curricular and extracurricular programming that all students are able to participate in; Tufts students and faculty members practice their active citizenship skills both locally and internationally. Average SAT scores for the Class of 2018 are a trio of scores in the low 700s, so the students are plenty smart. Like other first-rate universities, undergraduate tuition and fees are high at about $48,500.
Moving to a larger university in Boston proper, we find Northeastern University, founded in 1898. The University offers about 17,500 undergraduates (out of a total of about 24,500 undergraduate, graduate, and professional students) more than 90 majors and concentrations across seven colleges and schools: Arts, Media and Design; Business; Computer and Information Science; Engineering; Health Sciences; Science; and Social Sciences and Humanities. Northeastern has added more than 55 interdisciplinary undergraduate majors in the past eight years. But the hallmark of Northeastern’s programming is cooperative education, which began at Northeastern more than 100 years ago:
Experiential learning, anchored by our signature cooperative education program, lies at the heart of academic life at Northeastern. The integration of study and professional experience enables students to put ideas into action through work, research, international study, and service in 93 countries around the world. . . .
Co-op is different from internships – our students alternate classroom studies with full-time work in career related jobs for six months. This allows employers to get real work done while evaluating talent before making any long-term commitments. Our employer relations team is dedicated to collaborating with employers to develop innovative and meaningful programs to engage our talented students. We deliver an individualized approach to building and maintaining partnerships that contribute to the employers’ success and ours. Our various recruitment options provide employers with cost effective approaches to hiring, training, evaluating and on-boarding talent. (quoted from the website)
About 90 percent of students do at least one co-op program (with one of the 3,000 co-op employers worldwide); many students do two. Many students also stay for a fifth year and complete three co-op programs. About 50 percent of students get a job offer from their co-op employer, and about 99 percent would recommend co-op education to a friend.
Northeastern offers over 300 student organizations, 18 varsity sports, and 22 Living Learning Communities built around themes for freshmen (e.g., creative expression, globalization, sustainability). Average SAT scores for students who entered in 2014 were a pair of scores in the low 700s, and about 65 percent of incoming freshmen ranked in the top 10 percent of their high school class. So, these students, too, are plenty smart. And, in the past 10 years, Northeastern has seen huge increases in the percentages of students of color, of international students, and of students coming from outside of New England and the Mid-Atlantic states. In keeping with its competitors, Northeastern’s tuition and fees are about $45,000 per year.
Moving to a still larger university in Boston proper, we come to Boston University (BU), which had a great beginning:
LaRoy Sunderland, an ardent abolitionist and leading figure in Boston’s Bromfield Street Church, in 1839 persuaded his fellow church members to found the United Methodist Church’s first seminary. Their collective goal, we should note, was to provide a higher quality of training to their ministers than was then available. The school was founded in Vermont and relocated several times, in 1867 reopening on 30 acres in nearby Brookline as the “Boston School of Theology.” The president of that school, William Fairfield Warren, persuaded three of the school’s trustees—all wealthy Boston merchants—to petition the Massachusetts legislature in 1869 to charter “Boston University.” The petition was granted, and today’s BU was born. . . . Thanks to the Methodists’ strong belief in social equality, the new University would be accessible to all members of society, without regard to race, class, sex, or creed. (quoted from the website)
Today, BU serves about 16,500 undergraduates and a total of about 30,500 undergraduate, graduate, and professional students (including about 7,000 students from 130 foreign countries) in 17 colleges and schools. Undergraduates can pursue majors in about half of those: Arts and Sciences, Communication, Engineering, Fine Arts, Business, Education, Global Studies, and Hospitality Administration. As if that’s not enough, BU annually sends about 2,200 undergraduates to study abroad in 83 programs in 21 countries.
Like most universities of its size—and it is a very large size for a private university—BU offers over 450 student organizations and 24 varsity sports teams (10 men’s and 14 women’s).
There were almost 55,000 applications for the 3,600 spots in the incoming freshman class. The average overall high school grade was an A– (with an average class rank in the top 8 percent), and the average SAT scores were a trio of scores in the very high 600s. Just like Tufts, undergraduate tuition and fees are high at about $48,500.
As we said in our last episode, Boston itself is a very attractive place for students to study, including for foreign students coming to the U.S. It has culture and sports and business and a beautiful waterfront and more than 100 colleges nearby. It is easy to see why there are so many good private options available.
2. Institutions with a Special Focus
New England also has a large number of well-known institutions that have a special focus, including faith-based and single-sex institutions and institutions with an academic focus or a focus on students with special needs. So here we go.
New England has a wide selection of faith-based universities that are well regarded, including both outstanding Catholic institutions and a first-class Jewish institution. Among the many Catholic institutions in these states are three of the 28 Catholic Jesuit universities in the U.S.: The College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts, a liberal arts college with about 2,900 undergraduate students; Fairfield University in Fairfield, Connecticut, with about 4,000 undergraduates and a total of about 5,000 undergraduate, graduate, and professional students; and Boston College (BC) in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts—by far the largest of the three—with about 9,000 undergraduates and a total of about 14,000 undergraduate, graduate, and professional students.
In 1843, Holy Cross became the first Catholic college to be established in New England; its first valedictorian was the son of a slave. Holy Cross was soon followed by BC in 1863 and, much later, by Fairfield in 1942. They all offer strong liberal arts programs, with BC and Fairfield also offering undergraduate majors in career fields—nursing, business, education, and engineering, between them. They are all traditional colleges with lovely campuses and plenty of student organizations and varsity sports teams.
Admitted freshmen post SAT subtest scores in the low 600s at Fairfield, the mid-600s at Holy Cross, and the very high 600s at BC. Pricewise, their annual tuition and fees are in the $45,000 to $47,000 range.
As we have said in previous episodes, the Society of Jesus, which was founded in Paris in the 1500s, traces its commitment to education to St. Ignatius of Loyola, who founded the first Jesuit college in Messina, Sicily, in 1548. Jesuit institutions today place a strong emphasis on intellectual rigor and a liberal arts foundation, social justice issues worldwide, and a life of service. While about 70 percent of students at BC are Catholic, students of all faiths are welcome and comfortable at Jesuit institutions.
And let’s take a quick look at Providence College in Rhode Island, located close to downtown Providence. Founded in 1917 by the Diocese of Providence and Dominican Friars, it is the only Dominican college in the U.S. and the only one with Dominican Friars in their habits teaching on campus. Its charter, however, states that no one should be refused admission because of the “religious opinion he may entertain.” Students are required to take two courses in philosophy and two courses in theology, and masses that are conducted on campus are well attended. While most students and faculty members are Catholic, the College also has a long-standing relationship with Rhode Island’s Jewish community.
Providence College offers its nearly 4,000 undergraduate students 49 majors, predominantly in the liberal arts and sciences, but including business, education, computer science, and health sciences. It also offers a double handful of master’s degree programs. All undergraduates complete 16 credits in the Development of Western Civilization over four semesters—seminars on significant texts from Western and other world civilizations for three semesters and a team-taught colloquium in the fourth semester that focuses on a contemporary issue.
Incoming freshmen in the Class of 2017 posted an average 3.37 high school GPA and SAT subtest scores in the high 500s. Annual tuition and fees are about $45,000, right in the ballpark with its competitors. And, speaking of competitors, I think that the Providence Friars play some pretty competitive basketball.
Turning to a different faith-based tradition, we have Brandeis University, located in Waltham, Massachusetts, just west of Boston. Brandeis describes itself this way:
Characterized by academic excellence since its founding in 1948, Brandeis is one of the youngest private research universities, as well as the only nonsectarian Jewish-sponsored college or university in the country.
Named for the late Justice Louis Dembitz Brandeis of the U.S. Supreme Court, Brandeis University combines the faculty and resources of a world-class research institution with the intimacy and personal attention of a small liberal arts college. (quoted from the website)
And here is my favorite piece of Brandeis history trivia:
Former first lady Eleanor Roosevelt had a long and successful relationship with Brandeis. In addition to serving on the board of trustees, she hosted a public television series on campus, taught International Relations and delivered the university’s first commencement address. (quoted from the website)
Brandeis offers its approximately 3,700 undergraduates an enviable student-to-faculty ratio of 10:1. Its undergraduates study in the College of Arts and Sciences—an undergraduate liberal arts college in a research university, as Brandeis says—in 43 majors and 46 minors (some in career fields). Brandeis serves about 2,200 graduate students in four graduate schools as well.
There are more than 260 student organizations and 19 men’s and women’s varsity sports teams to keep students engaged. Entering freshmen in 2014 posted an SAT average critical reading score around 650 and an SAT average mathematics score around 740. The tuition of about $46,000 is right in the range we have been seeing for private institutions in New England.
Three of the “Seven Sisters” colleges are found in Massachusetts: Mount Holyoke in South Hadley, Smith College in Northampton, and Wellesley College in Wellesley. The Mount Holyoke website gives us a little background:
The Seven Sisters, a consortium of prestigious East Coast liberal arts colleges for women, originally included Mount Holyoke, Vassar, Smith, Wellesley, Bryn Mawr, Barnard, and Radcliffe colleges. Today, five of the Seven Sisters remain women’s colleges; Vassar is coeducational and Radcliffe has merged with Harvard, becoming the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study.
The female equivalent of the once predominantly male Ivy League, the Seven Sisters originated in 1915, when Mount Holyoke, Vassar, Smith, and Wellesley colleges held a conference to discuss fund-raising strategies. This historic meeting led to additional conferences over the next decade, at Bryn Mawr, Barnard, and Radcliffe. By 1927 these seven elite women’s colleges were known as the Seven Sisters and over the years have continued to meet to discuss issues of common concern, such as institutional goals, admissions, financial aid, and curriculum matters.
The name “Seven Sisters” has its origins in Greek mythology. It refers to the Pleiades, the seven daughters of Atlas who, according to one myth, were changed into stars by Zeus. (quoted from the website)
Interestingly, Mt. Holyoke, Smith, and Wellesley now all admit men to some of their graduate programs and/or nondegree coursework, but not to their undergraduate programs, which remain for women only.
These three liberal arts colleges are traditionally as difficult to get into as the Ivy League schools, so your daughter would need outstanding academic credentials to consider applying. Mt. Holyoke and Smith do not require college admission test scores. At Wellesley, which does require them, about 80 percent of admitted students have a trio of SAT subtest scores over 700. About 55 to 60 percent of admitted students to Mount Holyoke and Smith are in the top 10 percent of their high school class.
Founded between 1837 and 1871, these colleges now serve about 2,200 to 2,500 undergraduates, who study in about 50 to 55 liberal arts majors. All three have excellent student-to faculty ratios—from Mount Holyoke’s 10:1 down to Wellesley’s remarkable 7:1. Mount Holyoke and Smith are members of the Five College Consortium, which we talked about last week with UMass Amherst; so their women can take courses at any of the five campuses (the two remaining campuses will be discussed in next week’s episode). Wellesley, on the other hand, has exchange programs with about 15 other colleges of various types and in various locations—from MIT and Brandeis nearby to Spelman College and Mills College far away.
Priced from about $44,000 to $46,000 in tuition and fees, these Seven Sisters colleges are no bargain—though I am quite sure that most of their graduates believe they were worth it. Like most women’s colleges, each has a strong and loyal group of alumnae, including quite a few well-known women in all career fields.
Another women’s college, located in Boston proper, is Simmons College, which was founded in 1899 by businessman John Simmons who believed that “women should be able to earn independent livelihoods and lead meaningful lives” (quoted from the website)—which doesn’t sound that unusual now, but which was likely unusual for 1899. Today, Simmons offers 1,700 undergraduate women (about 250 are adult women) a predominantly liberal arts program of about 50 majors (but including some business majors, health sciences and nursing, social work, and computer studies), combined with professional work experience. Simmons has the only M.B.A. program designed especially for women as well as graduate programs in a variety of liberal arts and career fields for about 4,000 women and men.
Interestingly, about 70 percent of its faculty members are women, and Simmons, too, has an attractive 10:1 student-to-faculty ratio. Its Class of 2019 posted, on average, a pair of SAT subtest scores in the very high 500s and an average high school GPA of 3.37. And with tuition and fees of about $37,000, Simmons is, hopefully, in reach for more young women.
Institutions with a Special Academic Focus
We mentioned some of these institutions in an early episode of NYCollegeChat, when we first introduced the idea that some institutions are devoted, more or less, to the study of certain disciplines.
The Arts. For example, we talked about two institutions that have the arts as their academic focus—Berklee College of Music and Rhode Island School of Design (commonly referred to as RISD—pronounced RIZ-dee). Berklee is the premier higher education institution in the world for the study of contemporary music of all styles and cultures—unlike traditional conservatories that focus on classical music. (In the interest of full disclosure, my oldest child got an undergraduate degree from Berklee in Boston and then a graduate degree from its relatively new and architecturally impressive campus, designed by Santiago Calatrava, in gorgeous Valencia, Spain). Founded by Lawrence Berk in 1945, it was the first U.S. school to teach jazz. It became Berklee School of Music in 1954 and then Berklee College of Music in 1970, several years after it began offering bachelor’s degrees. Roger H. Brown currently serves as only the third president in Berklee’s 70-year history, and my personal observations of him in a variety of settings is that he is an impressive guy.
Currently, Berklee offers 12 undergraduate majors to its just over 4,000 students—from music performance to music therapy to film scoring to composition to songwriting to music education to music business to electronic production and design and more. In addition to singing, 29 different principal instruments can be studied (including hand percussion, banjo, and mandolin as the ones the most recently added). All students take both a core music curriculum (e.g., ear training, arranging, harmony) and a core liberal arts curriculum in the humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences and mathematics.
About 30 percent of Berklee’s students come from other countries to study at this unique school. Berklee’s professors are, typically, both great teachers and great practicing musicians. As befits a music school where individual instruction is a key component, the student-to-faculty ratio is an understandable and appealing 8:1. There are hundreds of Grammy winners among its faculty and its graduates. Its annual concert given by graduating seniors on the night before graduation is simply mind-blowing. Berklee does not require college admission test scores, but does require an intensive live audition and interview. Perhaps not surprisingly, its annual tuition and fees are about $41,000—and, I can tell you, Berklee is totally worth it.
Let’s look at RISD, a top-tier art and design school founded in 1877 and located in lovely Providence, Rhode Island. RISD offers 16 undergraduate degree programs to just over 2,000 students (as well as 16 graduate degree programs to about 500 more students). About 30 percent of students are international, and about 30 percent are students of color. RISD’s most popular majors are illustration, industrial design, graphic design, film/animation/video, and painting, but students can also earn degrees in glass, jewelry and metalsmithing, furniture design, textiles, photography, architecture, landscape architecture, and more. Most undergraduates at RISD earn a Bachelor of Fine Arts (B.F.A.) degree, but RISD also offers a Bachelor of Architecture degree for students in that field.
Interestingly, RISD and Brown, one of the Ivies, have campuses next to each other, and students can register for some courses at the other school at no extra cost. RISD students typically look to Brown for foreign language and advanced math and science courses, all of which can be used to satisfy some of RISD’s liberal arts requirements. Not surprisingly, the RISD Museum, which serves southeastern New England, has an excellent and large collection, ranging from ancient art to contemporary art and including well-known artists from many countries and cultures.
Average SAT scores for incoming freshmen last fall were a trio of scores in the mid-600s. Applicants must also submit online a portfolio of 12 to 20 examples of their best recent artwork in any medium as well as two specific drawings, as described in the application. RISD’s tuition and fees at about $46,000 are in line with the other private schools we have been discussing.
Business. In an early episode, we also talked about two institutions in New England that focused on business: Babson College and Bentley University. Let’s start with Babson—founded relatively recently in 1919 and located in Wellesley, Massachusetts—which has a very definite focus, even within business, according to its website:
We develop entrepreneurs of all kinds.
At Babson, we believe that entrepreneurship can be a powerful force within organizations of all types and sizes, in established businesses as well as new ventures. In any industry, in any position, it takes Entrepreneurial Thought and Action® to solve problems and make an impact.
We were the first to understand that thinking and acting entrepreneurially is more than just an inclination. It can be taught. And we do it better than anyone.
Today in our collaborative community, students gain the fundamental business skills and liberal arts knowledge necessary to cultivate an entrepreneurial mindset. They then use that mindset to navigate real business situations, putting what they learn into practice and becoming leaders equipped to make a difference on campus and around the world.
Serving about 2,100 undergraduates and another approximately 900 graduate students, Babson students study with faculty members who have both academic credentials in their field and practical business experience as executives and entrepreneurs themselves. They write case studies about specific businesses and industries in specific regions to teach from. And “cocurricular programs provide students with hands-on experience through internships, volunteer opportunities, and consulting projects” (quoted from the website).
At Babson, at least half of students’ courses are in the liberal arts, including the study of a language that is useful in business dealings today—perhaps a bit surprising for a business-focused institution. In addition to a slate of foundation business courses, students may choose up to two concentrations from 27 options.
Students admitted in the Class of 2018 posted a trio of average SAT scores in the mid- to high 600s. Babson’s tuition is admittedly high at $47,000 a year, though it does charge this flat rate for up to and including 20 credits—meaning that students do not have to pay additional tuition fees charged by many colleges beyond the more typical 16 credits or so (that could save some money and encourage students to move through courses faster).
Turning to Bentley University, located just outside Boston in Waltham, this business school allows its just over 4,000 undergraduate students to “choose from a wide range of programs that address all functional areas including accountancy, finance, marketing, management and liberal arts — all anchored in technology” (quoted from the website). Bentley is also home to another approximately 1,500 graduate students.
Bentley offers its undergraduates 23 majors in 11 business fields and five arts and sciences disciplines. In fact, about 20 percent of undergraduates double major in business and Bentley’s Liberal Studies Major (with eight interdisciplinary concentrations). Students majoring in the arts and sciences must complete either a Business Studies Major (which is a core of eight business courses) or a business minor. About 90 percent of students complete one professional internship during their four years; about 60 percent complete more than one.
Bentley was founded as Bentley School of Accounting and Finance in 1917 by Harry C. Bentley, who taught accounting at BU and other institutions and wanted to open a school where he could teach using his own methods. He remained as president until 1953. Bentley offered its first bachelor’s degrees in 1961. Today, tuition and fees at Bentley are about $44,000 annually—in keeping with the figures we have seen so far in this episode.
Science and Technology.Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) is located in Worcester, Massachusetts, the second-largest city in New England and home to a double handful of colleges. Founded in 1865, it is the third-oldest private technological university in the U.S. Home to about 4,000 undergraduates and another almost 2,000 graduate and professional students, WPI describes its mission this way:
WPI was founded in 1865 to create and convey the latest science and engineering knowledge in ways that are most beneficial to society.
WPI’s founding motto of Theory and Practice continues to underlie our academic programs. WPI graduates emerge ready to take on critical challenges in science and technology, knowing how their work can impact society and improve the quality of life. (quoted from the website)
WPI offers 50 undergraduate and graduate degree programs in science, engineering, technology, management, the social sciences, and the humanities and arts. Going to its strength, WPI offers 12 types of engineering—all the regular ones plus aerospace, biomedical, environmental, robotics, and management engineering. It was the first university to offer a bachelor’s, master’s, and Ph.D. in robotics engineering. A Humanities and Arts requirement ensures that WPI students are well-rounded; it consists of six courses of the student’s choosing, including courses from at least two disciplines, or a six-course sequence in Spanish, German, or Chinese—along with a final project. Project-based learning helps students learn how to think about and propose solutions for real-world problems studied in WPI’s programs. Let’s look at one unique program feature:
WPI believes that in order to become the best engineers and scientists they can be, students should have a broad understanding of the cultural and social contexts of those fields, and thus be more effective and socially responsible practitioners and citizens.
That’s the intent of the Interactive Qualifying Project (IQP), a nine-credit-hour interdisciplinary requirement involving applied research that connects science or technology with social issues and human needs.
The IQP is not organized as a course, nor is it related to the major. Instead, small teams of students work under the guidance of faculty members from all disciplines to conduct research, using social science methods, directed at a specific problem or need. Students deliver findings and recommendations through formal reports and oral presentations to project sponsors (often nonprofit, municipal, or government agencies) and faculty advisors.
Sustainability serves as a common theme for IQPs, many of which address problems related to energy, environment, sustainable development, education, cultural preservation, and technology policy. About half of all IQPs are completed off-campus through the Global Project Program [at 38 sites in 25 countries]. (quoted from the website)
WPI teaches classes in four seven-week terms, with students taking three courses at a time. Faculty members issue grades of A, B, C, and NR (No Record)—to encourage students to explore their interests without fear of negatively affecting their GPA, WPI says.
Though a technological university, WPI has all of the student organizations (more than 200) and varsity sports (10 men’s and 10 women’s) that any traditional college student could want. Incoming freshmen post an average high school GPA of 3.85 and a trio of average SAT subtest scores in the mid-600s. WPI’s tuition and fees are about $44,500, which seems to be the norm.
Environmental Stewardship. Every once in a while, I find a college that I never heard of and that seems unusually intriguing. The one for this episode is Sterling College, located in rural Craftsbury Common, Vermont. While I cannot personally vouch for Sterling the way I can for many other colleges that I have visited, I do believe that it could be exactly the right thing for some students and their families. So, here we go.
Founded in 1958, this is the way Sterling describes itself:
Sterling was among the very first colleges in the United States to link the liberal arts to ecology, outdoor education, and sustainable agriculture. We believe that the wellbeing of humanity depends on small, interconnected communities, committed to conscientious and sustainable practices in agriculture and energy use, and in stewardship of our air, soil, and water. . . .
To be an environmental steward means having the skills to educate others, and introduce them to the natural world. Hiking, climbing, canoeing, camping, and skiing are only a few of the ways in which we interact with the wilderness around us. Most importantly, at Sterling you can learn important skills like starting a fire, how to use an axe, and how to find your way home from almost anywhere, including the top of a mountain.
Sterling is a federally recognized Work College—one of seven in the U.S.—which means that all residential students earn at least $1,650 per semester toward their tuition by working at least 80 hours each semester in a job that supports the operation of the College or nearby community. Everyone is a winner: The College wins by keeping its operational costs lower, and the student wins by getting work experience and lowering his or her own costs of attending.
Sterling’s approximately 120 undergraduate students choose from five majors or design their own; the five are ecology, outdoor education, sustainable agriculture, sustainable food systems, and environmental humanities. I could describe these majors, but I believe you would be better off reading about them firsthand on Sterling’s website. Not surprisingly, given the small student body that Sterling intends to keep just as it is, the student-to-faculty ratio is an attractive 7:1. Sterling prides itself on being a place where one weekly community meeting can include all students, faculty members, and staff and where everyone (including the president) is on a first-name basis.
Sterling operates three semesters per year—fall, spring, and summer—and students may attend all three (and finish sooner) or the traditional two per year. Student applications are reviewed on a rolling basis, and students may enter at any one of the three semesters. No college admission test scores are required. Tuition and fees run about $17,000 per semester, or about $34,000 for a two-semester year, which makes Sterling less expensive by $10,000 or more than a lot of the schools we have been talking about.
Students with Special Needs
In an early episode of NYCollegeChat, we talked about Landmark College in Putney, Vermont, founded in 1983 to help students with dyslexia succeed in college. Today, Landmark serves a variety of students who learn differently—that is, students with learning disabilities, autism spectrum disorder, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder—and also provides an impressive array of academic and personal support services to help its students cope with college courses and college life. Faculty members and staff help students understand their own learning styles and what that means for in-class and out-of-class work. They also provide students with up-to-date assistive technology (e.g., text-to-speech technology, digital pens), designed to make it easier for students to succeed in their coursework.
Landmark offers its approximately 500 students from 38 states and 10 foreign countries a choice of four associate’s degrees and three bachelor’s degrees—a Bachelor of Arts in Liberal Studies, a brand-new Bachelor of Arts in Studio Art, and a brand-new Bachelor of Science in Computer Science. Almost one-third of Landmark students actually transfer to Landmark after struggling at another college.
Given the intensive support services, personalized approach, and remarkable 6:1 student-to-faculty ratio, Landmark’s high annual tuition and fees of about $52,000 are to be expected. Landmark claims that its students graduate from bachelor’s degree programs (either at Landmark or at colleges they transfer to subsequently) at a higher rate than the national average and at a significantly higher rate than the national average for students with similar learning disabilities. That could make even these very high tuition costs seem like a great deal.
By the way, summer programs are also available to rising high school juniors and seniors who learn differently and could benefit from Landmark’s approach; that could be a great head start for special needs high school students, regardless of where they go on to college.
Some students with special needs feel isolated or left out in an educational setting that is filled with all kinds of students and would prefer a school that focused on them, where they feel they could fit into a community of students they could easily relate to. For such students, Landmark could be an empowering, even life-changing, experience.
Listen to the podcast to find out about…
Postponing the Ivy League until graduate school
Being a socially conscious engineering student
Finding a good fit outside of traditional programs
Check out these higher education institutions and organizations we mention…