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Podcast title USACollegeChat Podcast
Website URL http://usacollegechat.org
Description USACollegeChat is a weekly podcast for parents and high school students about the world of college options hosted by Regina Paul and Marie Segares. USACollegeChat is a program of Policy Studies in Education, a non-profit organization with over 40 years of success in engaging parents and school boards in K-12 education. For more information, including detailed show notes with links to all the colleges mentioned in each episode, visit http://usacollegechat.org/. Connect with us! Follow us on Facebook or Twitter as NYCollegeChat. Contact us with questions at 516-900-6922 or info@policystudies.org
Updated Sat, 16 Dec 2017 20:51:14 +0000
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Episodes

1. Episode 147: It’s a New College World, Or Is It?
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It’s the middle of December, and those of you with teenagers who are facing application deadlines in the first week of January either see that the end is in sight or are pulling out your hair.  Whichever it is, I am not sure how much more we can do for you.  I will make our standard offer, nonetheless:  If you are wrestling with a question about a college application or trying to figure out another college or two to add to your list--yes, it’s not too late--then, give us a call.  Quick, free advice is available for the next two weeks.  I am guessing that those of you who are our regular listeners might have had enough advice from us already about making your teenager’s long and short lists of colleges and researching those college options.  But, we are here if you need us.

But, before we take an end-of-year break, I thought you might like to look into the future of U.S. higher education.  Admittedly, this future might come too late for your current senior, but you might have another kid or two at home.  If so, this episode could be for you. 

1. Who Is Clayton Christensen?

The prolific author and thinker who is giving us this picture of the future of higher education is none other than Clayton M. Christensen, a well-known Harvard Business School professor.  He is famous in the business community for his 1997 book, The Innovator’s Dilemma: The Revolutionary Book That Will Change the Way You Do Business, in which he espoused his theory of disruptive innovation.  The back cover of the book explains it this way: 

In this revolutionary bestseller, innovation expert Clayton M. Christensen says outstanding companies can do everything right and still lose their market leadership—or worse, disappear altogether. And not only does he prove what he says, but he tells others how to avoid a similar fate. 

Focusing on “disruptive technology,” Christensen shows why most companies miss out on new waves of innovation. Whether in electronics or retailing, a successful company with established products will get pushed aside unless managers know when to abandon traditional business practices. Using the lessons of successes and failures from leading companies, The Innovator’s Dilemma presents a set of rules for capitalizing on the phenomenon of disruptive innovation. (quoted from the book cover)

Then, a decade later in 2008, Christensen became the guy that educators loved to quote when he wrote Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns, with co-authors Michael B. Horn and Curtis W. Johnson.  Well-respected psychologist, Harvard professor, and author Howard Gardner wrote this in praise of Disrupting Class on its back cover:  “After a barrage of business books that purport to ‘fix’ American education, at last a book that speaks thoughtfully and imaginatively about what genuinely individualized education can be like and how to bring it about.”  How to bring it about was, of course, through innovative uses of technology, including really good online instruction. 

2. Christensen’s Latest Vision

That brings us to November 15 of this year and an article on CNBC’s website entitled “Harvard Business School professor: Half of American colleges will be bankrupt in 10 to 15 years.”  But, here’s some background.  In her article, Abigail Hess writes this about Christensen’s 2011 book, The Innovative University: Changing the DNA of Higher Education from the Inside Out:

. . . Christensen and co-author Henry Eyring analyze the future of traditional universities, and conclude that online education will become a more cost-effective way for students to receive an education, effectively undermining the business models of traditional institutions and running them out of business. (quoted from the article)

In the Q and A with the authors on the Amazon website, they say this about their book:

We wanted to show how new strategies, many of them driven by online technology, make it possible to serve more students at lower cost while also increasing quality and improving the learning experience--something we saw in practice within our own university homes. Since then, the world has moved into a major economic downturn. Slow economic growth, high government and household debt, rising college tuition, declining graduation rates, and growing competition from the rapidly growing for-profit higher education sector combined to create a renewed sense of urgency for our message. We could see how the same online learning technologies that can benefit traditional institutions can also disrupt them. So, our message became cautiously optimistic. Online learning, we believe, will either disrupt traditional universities and colleges or create opportunities for them to serve more students and lead the country to greater prosperity. It depends on whether they cling to a model that has changed little in the past 150 years or embrace learning innovations made possible by new technology. (quoted from the website)

The authors continue:

We assert that colleges and universities must break with tradition and find innovative, less costly ways of performing their uniquely valuable functions, allowing them to once again become responsive to the needs of learners. . . .

Online technology makes a college or university vastly more attractive to a wide subset of students. It gives many people a second chance at learning--i.e. those who cannot afford a traditional college education, those who do not have the flexibility to take part in a full plate of coursework, and late bloomers or dropouts who have fallen behind and now have the chance to catch up.

But online learning doesn’t just offer cheaper education for the masses. It improves the student learning experience across the spectrum by allowing remedial to elite students to learn at their own pace and on their own timetable. Students can receive a fully customized education adapted to their own individual learning style, something that even the world’s best one-on-one tutor would have trouble systematically emulating. Students also benefit from a full array of choices about where, when, what and how they learn. And they can access the best teachers and information faster, connect with more global networks, and all in all consume a much more attractive [product]. In addition, online learning is a cost-saver to the university, which saves on the expense of building and managing a brick-and-mortar facility. 

Combine the lower cost of delivery with the lower cost of attendance, and it’s clear that online learning is a major cost advantage. Therefore, we urge traditional colleges and universities to adopt these technologies. (quoted from the website) 

I think it is critical to note here that Christensen believes that online higher education is not just a way to make college cheaper or more accessible for more students, but also a way to “[improve] the student learning experience across the spectrum.”  That might be the key here--because I think most of us would agree that online education can make college cheaper and more accessible to students who would otherwise be unable to attend.  But how many of us agree that online education can actually “improve the learning experience”?  I have to say that I don’t agree with that yet, but perhaps the time will come. 

Ms. Hess continues in her article:

Christensen is not alone in thinking that online educational resources will cause traditional colleges and universities to close. The U.S. Department of Education and Moody’s Investors Service project that in the coming years, closure rates of small colleges and universities will triple, and mergers will double. (quoted from the article) 

So, will online higher education cause small struggling colleges that can’t make ends meet to close; or, rather, will it allow some to stay open by helping them offer cheaper courses and fewer expensive facilities and, therefore, attract more students; or, more generally, will it simply improve the landscape of higher education options available to college students?  Maybe it will do some of all of these.

In recent years, as Marie and I have advised graduating high school seniors going off to college (or staying home for college nearby), we have shied away from advising them to take online courses.  We have worried that it might be hard for kids new to the college scene to stay disciplined enough to keep up with online coursework when there is no required attendance at classes or, at least, expectation of attendance at classes.  And yet, maybe this is the way of the future--a disrupted future--even for first-time, more traditional college students.

No one might know this better than Marie, who has developed online college courses and taught online college courses and taken online graduate-level college courses.  So, is it time to change our advice?  I actually have a longtime colleague who is establishing an online college, complete with full degree programs, as we speak.  Maybe Ben is exactly right.  Stay tuned.

3. Happy Holidays!

We hope that you enjoy your December holidays and that you have a fantastic New Year’s--free from too much college application hysteria.  We are going to take two weeks off, as I fly out to Alaska on business and then Phoenix for a family holiday gathering, two places about as different as you can get.  We will return on January 4 with a new episode.  It is going to be our best one yet.  Happy holidays and welcome to 2018!

Find our books on Amazon! How To Find the Right College: A Workbook for Parents of High School Students (available as a Kindle ebook and in paperback) How To Explore Your College Options: A Workbook for High School Students (available in paperback) Ask your questions or share your feedback by... Leaving a comment on the show notes for this episode at http://usacollegechat.org/episode147 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 Connect with us through... Subscribing to our podcast on Google Play Music, iTunes, Stitcher, or TuneIn Liking us on Facebook or following us on Twitter Reviewing parent materials we have available at www.policystudies.org Inquiring about our consulting services if you need individualized help Reading Regina's blog, Parent Chat with Regina

2. Episode 146: The Biggest College Application Mistake You Are About To Make
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As you head into December and draw near to the looming college application deadlines that follow in the first two weeks of January, we are sure you have a lot on your minds, parents.  Almost all of you are worried about how you are going to pay for whatever college your teenager eventually enrolls in. Most of you are worried about whether your teenager is going to get into his or her first choice.  Many of you are worried about whether your teenager will get into any of his or her top several choices.  Some of you are worried about whether your teenager will get into any of the colleges that are your top choices for him or her.  And a few of you, undoubtedly, are worried about whether your teenager will get into any college at all.

But, here is something you already know:  Parents, you have no control over what colleges choose to admit your teenager, so you might as well stop worrying about that.  On the other hand, here is something else you already know, but rarely think as hard about as that first thing:  Parents, you have plenty of control over the number of applications your teenager submits.  And that is the subject of this episode on the biggest college application mistake you are about to make.

1. What Is the Mistake?

This mistake that you and your teenager are about to make could be the biggest mistake of the whole college application process that has been going on in your family perhaps for the past six months--or longer.  And the mistake couldn’t be simpler to recognize or easier to correct. 

Quite simply, make sure that your teenager applies to enough colleges.  If there are a few colleges that you aren’t quite sure about even at this point in December, our advice would be to go ahead and have your teenager apply to them.  One might be a reach school that your teenager hasn’t quite gotten out of his or her system.  Another might be a target school that you thought your teenager didn’t need because he or she had enough of those on the list.  Another might be a safety school that was an interesting idea, but a bit outside your comfort zone.  Frankly, it doesn’t matter what those additional colleges might be.  Just go ahead and have your teenager apply.  Why?  Because having colleges to choose from next April is priceless, as they say. 

2. Looking at the Numbers

When we took up this topic about 18 months ago (way back in Episode 77), we quoted from an article by Mike McPhate in The New York Times on April 11, 2016, which explained that students were applying to more colleges than they used to:

In 1990, just 9 percent of students applied to seven or more schools, according to the National Association for College Admission Counseling.  By 2013, that group had grown to 32 percent. (quoted from the article)

And, if I had to guess, based on all the articles we read and chatter we hear, I would say that the 32 percent is likely still higher now in the 2017-2018 round of applications.

You already know all of the reasons for that rise in the number of applications--from the fact that The Common Application now makes it so easy to apply to additional colleges with just the click of a button--at least when those additional colleges don’t have supplementary application questions and essays to complete--to lots of talk about how certain colleges are receiving record numbers of applications and, therefore, lowering their acceptance rates.  According to a U.S. News & World Report article by Delece Smith-Barrow last September, California placed eight public institutions on the list of the 10 U.S. colleges that received the most applications for fall, 2016.  Great for public California higher education institutions, maybe not so great for California kids!  As we mentioned a couple of weeks ago, UCLA had over 102,000 freshman applicants for this past fall, up another approximately 5,000 applications from the 2016 number in this news article.  Joining UCLA on the list are five other University of California campuses (including the flagship UC Berkeley campus, with about 82,000 applications), two California State University campuses, and two private universities whose names make them sound public:  New York University and Boston University.  Each of these institutions received more than 57,000 applications almost two years ago now.

Of course, as more students apply to more colleges for fear they won’t get into any, more applications are received by each college, and the whole thing becomes a vicious cycle.  You might recall that we have talked recently about the fact that high school graduates are shrinking in number and, consequently, that college enrollment is also shrinking.  Experts say that the worst of the admissions crunch might be over for high school seniors and their parents.  Nonetheless, we have also noted that the great colleges and the most selective colleges (which might or might not always be the same thing) are not really hurting for applicants.  And, I don’t think ever will be in my lifetime.  So, getting into top colleges and getting into popular colleges (again, which might or might not be the same thing) will still be a concern for lots of you out there, for sure.

By the way, according to The Common Application website, the “total number of applications submitted through November 1[of this year] was 1,518,131 (+20% over 2016) from 510,912 unique applicants (+13.3% over 2016).”  By November 15, that number was up to almost 2 million applications and another 100,000 unique applicants.  So, it’s not just that more applications are being made; it’s that more are being made under Early Decision and Early Action plans.  And we have said that before, too.

According to a Common Application spokeswoman about 18 months ago, about 4 or 5 applications is what the typical student submitted for admission in fall, 2017.  Of course, in addition, this typical student could have submitted applications to colleges that do not use The Common App, but my guess is that would perhaps just add one or two colleges to the list.

3. What Is the Magic Number? 

So, what is the magic number of applications to submit?  The first thing to say is that, according to The College Board’s website, there is no magic number.  I am sorry to hear that because I was hoping there was a magic number that we could just tell all of you and you could quit worrying about it!  But The College Board’s website goes on to say that 5 to 8 applications are usually sufficient to get a good match for a student.

In a more recent July article also by Delece Smith-Barrow at U.S. News & World Report, Ms. Smith-Barrow quotes Matthew Proto, vice president and dean of admissions and financial aid at Colby College, a lovely liberal arts college in Waterville, Maine, as saying, “I don’t know if there is an actual best number.” But she goes on to note:

While there may not be a specific number applicants should aim for, experts say, there is a specific range. Prospective students should have between four and eight schools on their list, experts say. (quoted from the article)

Interesting, because I don’t think that we actually agree with this advice, generally speaking.  The article also says this: 

Applicants should carefully weigh the number of schools where they’ll submit applications to maximize their chances of being a strong candidate, and to avoid the drawbacks that can come with applying to too many or too few schools, admissions experts say.

Applying takes work, experts say, and submitting applications to a large number of schools may ruin the quality of the prospective student’s applications. (quoted from the article)

Really?  A drawback to applying to too many colleges is that you will have to work hard on each application so that each one is of high quality?  I would say this to students: “Get over it.  If you can’t work hard enough to do a bunch of applications over perhaps four months (when most of them are maybe 80 percent the same), then I am worried about your chances of succeeding in any college.  Really.”

While we have talked in plenty of other episodes about the variety of colleges we think your teenager should have on the list of colleges he or she will actually apply to (different sizes, different locations, both public and private institutions), we are not going to go into that here.  Today is just a numbers game.

So, what is the right number?  Every expert (you just heard from a couple of them) and every college counselor has a number.  Some of these numbers--like the 4 to 8 or the 5 to 8 we just heard--seem low to me, but maybe that’s because I like teenagers to have plenty of good options available to them next April. 

In our first book (How To Find the Right College: A Workbook for Parents of High School Students, still available through Amazon), Marie and I offered a recommendation of applying to 8 to 12 colleges.  We do know that most--though not all--applications cost money.  We also know that, if you are eligible, you can get fee waivers for many of them.  And, since those of you who listen often already know that I am not very cost sensitive about a decision this important to your teenager’s future, I am going to suggest that several hundred dollars (to even $1,000) spent now on application fees might save your family a lot of heartache next spring. 

Now, I am going to say, like the late great Jerry Orbach said in Dirty Dancing, “When I’m wrong, I say I’m wrong.”  When Marie and I did our most recent book How To Explore Your College Options: A Workbook for High School Students (also available at Amazon), we said that 15 college applications is probably a sensible average, plus or minus 5.  So, that’s a bit more than our earlier advice.  We are pretty sure that we are right this time, and we trust that you can keep your teenager working through this month to produce high-quality applications until the very last one is submitted.  Good luck!

Find our books on Amazon! How To Find the Right College: A Workbook for Parents of High School Students (available as a Kindle ebook and in paperback) How To Explore Your College Options: A Workbook for High School Students (available in paperback) Ask your questions or share your feedback by... Leaving a comment on the show notes for this episode at http://usacollegechat.org/episode146 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 Connect with us through... Subscribing to our podcast on Google Play Music, iTunes, Stitcher, or TuneIn Liking us on Facebook or following us on Twitter Reviewing parent materials we have available at www.policystudies.org Inquiring about our consulting services if you need individualized help Reading Regina's blog, Parent Chat with Regina

3. Episode 145: Supplemental College Application Essays—The Sequel
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First, Happy Thanksgiving to all our listeners!  We hope you will have a lovely day, filled with family and food, and that you will have a relaxing long weekend.  Oh, except for the fact that some of your teenagers will be finishing up college application supplemental essays--or worse still, just starting them--so your weekend is not likely to be all that relaxing. 

Those of you who listened last week heard our discussion of the number of supplemental essays that various colleges require, the range of topics those essays can cover, the applicant’s choice of prompts for those essays, and the word limits that are typical for those essays.

This week we have some more advice, and we hope it will be helpful in the coming days.

1.  Supplemental Essays:  The Tone

So, let’s talk about tone.  I am going to use “tone” to mean the attitude the writer has toward the audience (and by “audience,” we mean, of course, the college admissions staff). 

Let me say that this is one of the worst problems I find with supplemental essays, perhaps because they are too often tributes to an individual college, written by carried-away teenagers.  The problem with the tone of many supplemental essays is that teenagers gush over how wonderful the college is or what smart students go there or how much praise the college receives in national publications or what great extracurricular activities are available or how brilliant its professors are.  Really, parents and teenagers.  Colleges know how great they are (or like to think they are); they don’t need a high school teenager to tell them. 

It is fine to be admiring, of course; but, gushing just sounds naïve and unsophisticated.  Have your teenager try, instead, to point out specific factual things they admire about the college (that is, things that are worth admiring)--like its biology department is ranked in the top 10 in the country, because that is factual, not gushing.

In talking with students, I have realized that it is very hard for them to see this problem in their own writing.  You might try reading aloud what your teenager has written to see if it is easier to recognize that way.  Here is one example, which was written by one of my advisees as the conclusion to a prompt about why she was interested in attending the university in question:  

The programs offered, opportunities provided, and the praise the school has received for being one of the top colleges in the nation are some of the many reasons why I believe University X would be a good fit for me.

As I explained to her when I read this, “the praise the school has received for being one of the top colleges in the nation” is neither specific nor concrete.  Who gave the university that praise?  Where was it published?  Isn’t this just heaping it on?  And, by the way, I explained that this University is not actually one of the top colleges in the nation.  I said that, if you named the top 50 colleges in the nation, this University would not be on the list, and it might not even be on the list of the top 100 colleges in the nation--although it is a nice private university in the South and one that is very popular with teenagers in our part of the country.  So, her statement in the essay was just too extreme, too flattering, too effusive, too gushing.  As a matter of fact, I doubt that even the University itself believes that it is one of the top colleges in the nation.

Here are two more examples from essays written for that same prompt: 

I know that the city University X is located in is a prime destination for those who want to immerse themselves in the glorious visual and performing arts available at the school and within the city. 

 

As an undergraduate at University X, knowing the variety of career opportunities available for me would not only make me feel more confident and self-assured when it comes time for me to look for work, it would also make me feel more excited knowing that I would have nearly endless possibilities provided for me.

I, too, believe the arts are “glorious” and wish that career possibilities would be “nearly endless,” but both words are too exaggerated and too over-the-top to be taken seriously by an admissions officer.  This is the kind of writing you need to watch out for, parents.  By the way, the teenagers who wrote these are smart, and they go to great high schools.  They have had a lot of extracurricular experiences in the U.S. and travel abroad.  They are not naïve.  And yet, their writing hasn’t quite caught up to them, yet.

2.  Supplemental Essays:  The Likely Topics

There are several often-used and often not-optional topics that your teenager should have a longer (about 350 words) answer and shorter (about 150 words) answer for:

“Why our college” or “Why is our college a good fit for you” or “How will our college contribute to your goals and interests” or some version of that--The unsuccessful examples we just shared with you were for this topic.  This topic requires your teenager to read up on the college; to refer, in the essay, to what he or she has learned from that research; and to match what he or she has learned about the college with his or her own interests and pursuits.  For example, an applicant could reference the college’s diversity or award-winning academic departments or core curriculum or research opportunities for students or community outreach efforts or faith-based mission or something else--along with what the applicant thinks about them or admires about them.  If this is one of the longer-length essays, then the applicant will need to reference at least four or five things about the college.  Whatever the applicant references should be as specific as possible.  Here is a good example:

University X’s community service requirement also makes the University stand out in comparison to other universities. I find it intriguing that the requirement is actually built into the curriculum and that there is such a wide variety of community service activities offered, including internships, public research projects, and faculty-supported projects. One program that stood out to me was volunteering with an organization that trains dogs to help people with disabilities. I used to volunteer at a local animal shelter to walk and feed the new dogs. So, this opportunity would be something that I would welcome.

Do you see how specific that is--and memorable?  But remember:  This is an essay that is not easily used from college to college because of the specifics about the college, so tell your teenager to be careful about trying to get double duty out of it. By the way, if this is the only supplemental essay required by a college, then your teenager can write about his or her interest in a major or a field of study that the college offers as one important thing to mention.

“How can you contribute to our college” or “What can you bring to our college” or “Our students live in suites, so what would you bring to your suitemates” or some version of that--This is the reverse of the previous topic, like “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”  This essay has to be about what traits and skills and talents your teenager has--like commitment to community service or love of research or musical talent or athletic prowess--and how those will be a plus for the college if he or she is admitted.  Again, if this is one of the longer-length essays, then your teenager will likely need to write about several of his or her traits or skills or talents in order to make his or her best case. 

It’s hard to write this essay without sounding boastful, so watch the tone.  Again, if this is the only supplemental essay, then your teenager can write about his or her interest in a field of study that the college offers and how he or she might contribute to classes or activities or research in that field.

 “Why are you interested in the field of study you are proposing to major in” or some version of that--We frequently see applicants write a version of this essay for the main Common App essay.  That is a serious mistake.  Tell your teenager to save any talk about his or her field of academic interest for this supplemental essay if this is one that a college requires.  For example, whatever led to his or her interest in art or French or electrical engineering or something else--all of that goes into this essay. 

This is also the place to look carefully on the college’s website at the academic degrees and majors listed (and concentrations, if available, within those majors) and to cite the exact name of the degree, major, and concentration, if available, that the college uses.  For example, there are many variations of “biology” within some colleges and indeed from college to college; it is important to write each college’s essay on this topic as specifically as possible, using the words that each college uses to describe its own majors, concentrations, and so on.  Know, for example, that some colleges offer both a B.A. and a B.S. in Biology.  So, what is the difference and which one is your teenager headed for? 

If your teenager has no idea what he or she wants to major in, we totally understand that, but it will probably make for a less appealing essay.  Tell him or her to keep in mind that the major written about here is not cast in stone, so it is likely better to write about something specific with as much enthusiasm as possible. 

“Describe an activity that is important to you” or “Elaborate on one of your extracurricular activities” or, more specifically, “Talk about the role of sports in your life” or some version of that--We often see applicants write a version of this topic for the main Common App essay or personal statement.  Again, that is a serious mistake.  Tell your teenager to save any talk about an activity or sport that is especially meaningful or significant to him or her for this supplemental essay topic.  Remember:  “Activity” can mean something a teenager does for the family.

Here is a recent example of an out-of-school activity essay that I think worked particularly well, with a limit of 250 words:

Last year, I began taking Czech lessons at the Czech Consulate in New York City. I had been studying French in school, but could not fit both AP French and AP Biology into my schedule. I chose AP Biology, but I was not ready to give up studying a language altogether. To understand why I chose Czech, I should tell you about my grandfather.

My grandfather grew up in a rural town in North Dakota. The child of Czech immigrants, he spoke primarily Czech as a young boy, hardly using English until he started school. Because his English was limited, his classmates called him “stupid.” He grew to hate his Czech roots. Although he learned English quickly in school, he carried with him a resentment of his Czech heritage, including his native tongue.

As soon as he was old enough, my grandfather joined the U.S. Army and left home. Eventually, he proved his childhood classmates wrong. He became a scientist and traveled the world while working for the United Nations. In time, he had a change of heart about his roots.

My grandfather taught me to honor my Czech heritage as he had to teach himself to do. Our trip together to the Czech Republic to visit distant relatives was evidence of that. When I could no longer study French at school, I knew immediately that I wanted to find a Czech class to take. It is my way of paying tribute to where he and I have come from.

So, not everyone has a Czech grandfather.  Here’s another essay that could be a bit more common, but it is also effective--again with a limit of 250 words:

The time I’ve spent working and creating art at the Art Workshop Experience (AWE) will always be memorable. The first time I attended AWE’s summer session, I was just 10. I have been going back ever since, the last several summers as an intern. The staff and the kids who come back year after year are like family. The summer session, staffed by five counselors and three interns, enrolls about 50 kids—all painting and drawing and sculpting and working in close quarters in a large one-room studio. It is an amazing way to spend the summer. 

At AWE, there are no set lessons or prescribed techniques. Kids are allowed to work on any art project of their choosing; the counselors and interns are there simply for guidance. As kids work on their pieces, they develop their skills and their understanding of techniques, with few limits that would restrict their creative choices. Opportunities are nearly endless for those who are willing to indulge their imaginations.

Five years ago, I painted my cat at the summer session. Someone saw it at AWE’s annual gallery show that August and actually wanted to buy it. I couldn’t have been more surprised—or delighted. Without the encouragement of the staff, I never could have sold a painting at the age of 12. Although I may never sell another painting, I am proud to have spent the past seven summers with an organization that can make something like that happen for a kid.

One thing that the Czech grandfather and AWE essays share is a great sentimental ending.  A couple of episodes back, we talked about the need for a great last sentence--the one that leaves the lasting impression about the applicant in the mind of the college admissions official.  Well, here are two good examples.

“Describe a community that you are part of” or some version of that--This essay allows for a bit of creativity in defining the “community” that the applicant chooses to discuss.  It also, happily, allows for the applicant to take one of the basic essays he or she has written and to bend it cleverly to fit this topic.  For example, it could be a school community or church community or community of athletes or community of volunteers or theatrical community or musical community or you name it.  “Write about a time when you had to work with someone whose background (e.g., race, ethnicity, religion, politics, income, gender identity, or sexual orientation) was different from yours” or some version of that--Many colleges are committed to promoting student diversity on their campuses and are, understandably, interested in how new students will react to that diversity.  Specific examples drawn from an applicant’s school or community would probably work best to show whether and how that applicant values diversity.  For students who go to school or live in a community that is not racially, ethnically, socioeconomically, or otherwise diverse, this topic might be harder to write about, but could turn out to be very insightful—if, in fact, diversity is one of the main reasons the applicant chose to apply to that college.

You and your teenager must look at the totality of the supplemental essays each college asks for and mix and match the ones you have with the ones that are needed. One college’s “activity that is significant to you” is another college’s “community that you are part of.”  You see how that works?  Be creative in using what you have, especially if you have a great essay that just needs a little tweaking to match a different prompt.

3.  Our Thanksgiving Break

Since we were anxious to get you this advice to use on your Thanksgiving break, we did not take this week off.  But, fair is fair.  We are going to take our break next week.  So, just keep writing those essays until we are back together on Thursday, December 7.  The college application deadline clock will really be ticking by then!  Happy Thanksgiving!

Find our books on Amazon! How To Find the Right College: A Workbook for Parents of High School Students (available as a Kindle ebook and in paperback) How To Explore Your College Options: A Workbook for High School Students (available in paperback) Ask your questions or share your feedback by... Leaving a comment on the show notes for this episode at http://usacollegechat.org/episode145 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 Connect with us through... Subscribing to our podcast on Google Play Music, iTunes, Stitcher, or TuneIn Liking us on Facebook or following us on Twitter Reviewing parent materials we have available at www.policystudies.org Inquiring about our consulting services if you need individualized help Reading Regina's blog, Parent Chat with Regina

4. Episode 144: Supplemental College Application Essays—Oh, My!
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I really was not going to do this episode.  I resisted doing our last two--one episode about The Common Application main essay (that 650-word statement that all seniors’ parents and teachers have come to loathe at this time of year) and one episode about the sad fact that our high school seniors in the U.S. cannot write.  I was glad when last week was over, and I thought that I could move on to other topics of importance in the college applications season.  And yet, I am drawn back into the quagmire of college application essays.  

It gets worse.  When I started putting this episode together--this episode that I did not want to do--I figured that I could keep it short and sweet.  When I hit nine pages of text, I realized that it was not short (nor was it sweet, actually).  And so, I have done something else that I didn’t want to do.  I have planned for two episodes on this topic of supplemental essays.                                        

Of course, I thought you might go back and re-listen to Episode 106, where we talk about supplemental essays.  But I fear you won’t, and so I am going to reprise it here and add some new, updated thoughts.  Why?  Because I have just spent a fair number of days working on college application supplemental essays for a few teenagers I work with individually--and they have confirmed my worst nightmare.  Our high school seniors cannot write these supplemental essays any better than they can write anything else.  I base this bold statement not just on the teenagers I am working with now (who are, by the way, bright students with excellent grades and admission test scores), but also on the teenagers I have worked with over the past several years.  I have read--and edited--hundreds of these supplemental essays.  And I still have more to read and edit ahead of me this season.  If I keep working with more and more teenagers every year, soon I will have 10 episodes on this topic.

Anyway, the last time we chatted about this topic was last January.  Let’s see what, if anything, you remember--in case you were listening then. 

1. How Many and the Choice, If You Have One 

As you probably know, supplemental essays are required by lots of colleges, especially by the highly selective ones.  Some colleges require one, some require two, and some require as many as four. If you include short-answer open-ended questions that require just a sentence or two or a list of things--for example, cultural events you have attended recently--that number of supplemental “essays” for some colleges could go up to seven.  Yikes! 

Let’s look at the University of California system--a public university system with a zillion applicants (okay, zillion might be a slight exaggeration).  But not much of one.  UCLA, one of nine University of California campuses, had over 102,000 freshman applicants for this past fall.  So, how UCLA, for example, can process four essays from each applicant is, frankly, beyond me.  But the University of California has some great universities--including the University of California, Berkeley, and UCLA--and some very smart people.  Here are the directions for University of California applicants for what are called the “personal insight questions” (quoted from the University of California website):

Directions You will have 8 questions to choose from. You must respond to only 4 of the 8 questions. Each response is limited to a maximum of 350 words. Which questions you choose to answer is entirely up to you: But you should select questions that are most relevant to your experience and that best reflect your individual circumstances. Keep in mind All questions are equal: All are given equal consideration in the application review process, which means there is no advantage or disadvantage to choosing certain questions over others. There is no right or wrong way to answer these questions: It’s about getting to know your personality, background, interests and achievements in your own unique voice.   Questions & guidance

Remember, the personal questions are just that--personal. Which means you should use our guidance for each question just as a suggestion in case you need help. The important thing is expressing who you are, what matters to you and what you want to share with UC.  

Describe an example of your leadership experience in which you have positively influenced others, helped resolve disputes or contributed to group efforts over time.  

Things to consider: A leadership role can mean more than just a title. It can mean being a mentor to others, acting as the person in charge of a specific task, or taking the lead role in organizing an event or project. Think about what you accomplished and what you learned from the experience. What were your responsibilities? 

Did you lead a team? How did your experience change your perspective on leading others? Did you help to resolve an important dispute at your school, church, in your community or an organization? And your leadership role doesn’t necessarily have to be limited to school activities. For example, do you help out or take care of your family?

Every person has a creative side, and it can be expressed in many ways: problem solving, original and innovative thinking, and artistically, to name a few. Describe how you express your creative side.

Things to consider: What does creativity mean to you? Do you have a creative skill that is important to you? What have you been able to do with that skill? If you used creativity to solve a problem, what was your solution? What are the steps you took to solve the problem?

How does your creativity influence your decisions inside or outside the classroom? Does your creativity relate to your major or a future career? 

What would you say is your greatest talent or skill? How have you developed and demonstrated that talent over time?  

Things to consider: If there’s a talent or skill that you’re proud of, this is the time to share it. You don’t necessarily have to be recognized or have received awards for your talent (although if you did and you want to talk about it, feel free to do so). Why is this talent or skill meaningful to you?

Does the talent come naturally or have you worked hard to develop this skill or talent? Does your talent or skill allow you opportunities in or outside the classroom? If so, what are they and how do they fit into your schedule?

Describe how you have taken advantage of a significant educational opportunity or worked to overcome an educational barrier you have faced. 

Things to consider: An educational opportunity can be anything that has added value to your educational experience and better prepared you for college. For example, participation in an honors or academic enrichment program, or enrollment in an academy that’s geared toward an occupation or a major, or taking advanced courses that interest you--just to name a few. 

If you choose to write about educational barriers you’ve faced, how did you overcome or strive to overcome them? What personal characteristics or skills did you call on to overcome this challenge? How did overcoming this barrier help shape who are you today?

Describe the most significant challenge you have faced and the steps you have taken to overcome this challenge. How has this challenge affected your academic achievement? 

Things to consider: A challenge could be personal, or something you have faced in your community or school. Why was the challenge significant to you? This is a good opportunity to talk about any obstacles you’ve faced and what you’ve learned from the experience. Did you have support from someone else or did you handle it alone?

If you’re currently working your way through a challenge, what are you doing now, and does that affect different aspects of your life? For example, ask yourself, “How has my life changed at home, at my school, with my friends or with my family?” 

Think about an academic subject that inspires you. Describe how you have furthered this interest inside and/or outside of the classroom. 

Things to consider: Many students have a passion for one specific academic subject area, something that they just can’t get enough of. If that applies to you, what have you done to further that interest? Discuss how your interest in the subject developed and describe any experience you have had inside and outside the classroom--such as volunteer work, internships, employment, summer programs, participation in student organizations and/or clubs--and what you have gained from your involvement.

Has your interest in the subject influenced you in choosing a major and/or future career? Have you been able to pursue coursework at a higher level in this subject (honors, AP, IB, college or university work)? Are you inspired to pursue this subject further at UC, and how might you do that? 

What have you done to make your school or your community a better place?  

Things to consider: Think of community as a term that can encompass a group, team or a place--like your high school, hometown or home. You can define community as you see fit, just make sure you talk about your role in that community. Was there a problem that you wanted to fix in your community?

Why were you inspired to act? What did you learn from your effort? How did your actions benefit others, the wider community or both? Did you work alone or with others to initiate change in your community?

Beyond what has already been shared in your application, what do you believe makes you stand out as a strong candidate for admissions to the University of California?

Things to consider: If there’s anything you want us to know about you, but didn’t find a question or place in the application to tell us, now’s your chance. What have you not shared with us that will highlight a skill, talent, challenge or opportunity that you think will help us know you better?

From your point of view, what do you feel makes you an excellent choice for UC? Don’t be afraid to brag a little.

I think that these eight topics are sensible and fair, if not especially creative.  On balance, I think that is a good thing.  I believe that teenagers can actually write answers to these, and sometimes that is the biggest hurdle.  (To tell you the truth, I have read some quirky or overly philosophical prompts that I could not respond to at all.)  And yet, four essay questions of 350 words each is a lot of writing--especially if an applicant might have used up the answer to one of the prompts in the main Common App essay, which seems quite possible to me.

Sometimes, the topics for the supplemental essays, especially short ones, can be a bit odd, chosen perhaps to allow an applicant to show a creative or funny or witty side.  If given a choice among essay topics, I rarely recommend that a teenager choose one of the odder ones--unless that teenager is particularly creative or perhaps naturally funny or witty. 

For some examples of essay topics that can be a bit odd, let’s look at the University of Chicago.  If you don’t know the University of Chicago (one of those private universities whose name makes it sound like a public university), it is an outstanding, highly selective private university in, obviously, Chicago.  Here are the directions for University of Chicago applicants (quoted from the University of Chicago website):

The University of Chicago has long been renowned for its provocative essay questions. We think of them as an opportunity for students to tell us about themselves, their tastes, and their ambitions. They can be approached with utter seriousness, complete fancy, or something in between.

Each year we email newly admitted and current College students and ask them for essay topics. We receive several hundred responses, many of which are eloquent, intriguing, or downright wacky. 

As you can see from the attributions, the questions below were inspired by submissions from UChicago students and alumni. . . .

Required Question:

How does the University of Chicago, as you know it now, satisfy your desire for a particular kind of learning, community, and future? Please address with some specificity your own wishes and how they relate to UChicago.

Extended Essay Questions:

(Required; Choose one)

Essay Option 1.

“The aim of argument, or of discussion, should not be victory, but progress.” – Joseph Joubert

Sometimes, people talk a lot about popular subjects to assure ‘victory’ in conversation or understanding, and leave behind topics of less popularity, but great personal or intellectual importance. What do you think is important but under-discussed?

-Anonymous Suggestion

Essay Option 2.

Due to a series of clerical errors, there is exactly one typo (an extra letter, a removed letter, or an altered letter) in the name of every department at the University of Chicago. Oops! Describe your new intended major. Why are you interested in it and what courses or areas of focus within it might you want to explore? Potential options include Commuter Science, Bromance Languages and Literatures, Pundamentals: Issues and Texts, Ant History... a full list of unmodified majors ready for your editor’s eye is available here.

-Inspired by Josh Kaufman, Class of 2018

Essay Option 3.

Earth. Fire. Wind. Water. Heart! Captain Planet supposes that the world is made up of these five elements. We’re familiar with the previously-noted set and with actual elements like hydrogen, oxygen, and carbon, but select and explain another small group of things (say, under five) that you believe compose our world.

-Inspired by Dani Plung, Class of 2017

Essay Option 4.

The late New York Times photographer Bill Cunningham once said "Fashion is the armor to survive the reality of everyday life. I don’t think you could do away with it. It would be like doing away with civilization." Tell us about your “armor.”

-Inspired by Adam Berger, Class of 2020

Essay Option 5.

Fans of the movie Sharknado say that they enjoy it because “it’s so bad, it’s good.” Certain automobile owners prefer classic cars because they “have more character.” And recently, vinyl record sales have skyrocketed because it is perceived that they have a warmer, fuller sound. Discuss something that you love not in spite of but rather due to its quirks or imperfections.

-Inspired by Alex Serbanescu, Class of 2021

Essay Option 6.

In the spirit of adventurous inquiry, pose your own question or choose one of our past prompts. Be original, creative, thought provoking. Draw on your best qualities as a writer, thinker, visionary, social critic, sage, citizen of the world, or future citizen of the University of Chicago; take a little risk, and have fun.

And, by the way, some of the past prompts are truly wacky.  Choosing the right prompt in this kind of situation can make all the difference.  When I work with teenagers on this, we always talk through several options before settling on the one that seems the most appropriate and the most likely to yield a convincing, insightful essay.  And, yes, sometimes we get one written and realize that it just doesn’t work, and we have to switch prompts and start again! 

So, the University of California and the University of Chicago are at the extremes, in terms of number of essays required and provocativeness of essay topics, respectively.  Parents, you might be thankful now if the colleges on your teenager’s list have just one or two slightly boring supplemental essays to complete!

2. The Word Count

Typically, supplemental essays are not as long as the main personal statement, fortunately (though I just saw one from Tulane University, where the upper limit was 800 words!).  We all know that higher word counts allow us to be a bit sloppy and that it is sometimes easier to write more rambling words than to write fewer better-chosen words.  Many supplemental essays seem to call for about 350 to 400 words, or about four meaty paragraphs, which is not really too long when you think about it.  Many of them seem to run quite a bit shorter, at about 150 to 250 words, which can be downright restricting if you actually have something to say.  Some of them--which are not really essays at all, but more like short-answer questions--ask for just 200 characters (or about 35 words), as one Ivy League school put it. 

Here is the point:  Lower word limits imply a different style of writing.  While an applicant might relax into a narrative personal story in The Common App main 650-word essay, using lots of descriptive detail and many examples to elaborate the main idea, the shorter essays do not really permit that.  They need a much more focused, straightforward, get-to-the-point style if the question is to be answered effectively in far fewer words. 

Now, I am sure that there are some creative writers among our current crop of college applicants who could write a brilliant poetic response to one of these shorter essay prompts.  But, I am going to state, for the record, that I have not found too many of them.

So, if you are a parent who is reading supplemental essays in the next few weeks, look for essays that make sense and that are clearly written.  They need to make a point (or two or maybe three), both effectively and efficiently.  Help your teenager edit out the extra sentences and superfluous words--including all of those that don’t contribute to the point. 

One final note on word limits:  As you might already have guessed, one college’s 350-word essay topic is another college’s 150-word essay topic.  As we will talk about in our next episode, there are some topics that come up over and over again across many, many colleges.  You will quickly learn that it is truly helpful for your teenager to have a drafted long response to these topics and--just as important--a drafted short response for the same topics.  That takes some thoughtful and careful editing. Having a long version and a short version of popular essay topics--like an extracurricular activity that is particularly meaningful to you--can save a lot of time. 

3.  No Thanksgiving Break:  New Episode Next Week

Next week is Thanksgiving, and we were going to take a holiday break.  However, we realized that the long Thanksgiving weekend might be just the time that some of you will use to work on supplemental essays for applications that will be due just weeks later.  So, we will have a new episode next week, which will cover the rest of the advice we have on supplemental essays.   We will bring it out on Tuesday, instead of our usual Thursday--just in time for the Thanksgiving celebration!

Find our books on Amazon! How To Find the Right College: A Workbook for Parents of High School Students (available as a Kindle ebook and in paperback) How To Explore Your College Options: A Workbook for High School Students (available in paperback) Ask your questions or share your feedback by... Leaving a comment on the show notes for this episode at http://usacollegechat.org/episode144 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 Connect with us through... Subscribing to our podcast on Google Play Music, iTunes, Stitcher, or TuneIn Liking us on Facebook or following us on Twitter Reviewing parent materials we have available at www.policystudies.org Inquiring about our consulting services if you need individualized help Reading Regina's blog, Parent Chat with Regina

5. Episode 143: High School Students Can’t Write
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Last week when we talked about college application essays for what seems to be the millionth time in our three years together, we suggested that you go back and listen to Episodes 98, 99, 106, and 110 if you have a senior at home with college application essays due now and over the next few weeks.  As I said last week, I have been spending some time in one of New York City’s most exclusive high schools to help two classes of seniors with their essays.  As a result, I have been thinking hard about the sorry state of the writing skills displayed by some of our best public school students--and, of course, what to do about it. 

1.  One of My Favorite Stories

As we mentioned back in Episode 99, no one--not me, not you, not the best English teacher you ever knew, not the most expensive college consultant you can find--can truly fix a kid’s writing in the middle of trying to get his or her college application essays created, edited, and submitted on time.  The situation is too pressured, everyone is too anxious, and there is too little time.  So, let me tell you my favorite story about how to solve the problem. 

As we said back in Episode 99, in the more than 100 Common Application main essays I read and edited last year (and that number does not include all of the supplemental essays that I also read and edited), I found one essay that was surprisingly well written, including from a grammar and mechanics point of view.  (By the way, this year, I have also read one, maybe two, really good essays from students in that highly respected school.)  Last year, I called the best writer aside and said to him, “How did you learn to write like this when none of your classmates appears to be able to do it?”  His answer was immediate and seemed exactly right to me.

He said that he had worked regularly with a writing tutor since he had been in ninth grade.  His tutor went over his written work and showed him how to improve it.  He said that she had worked shoulder to shoulder with him in many, many sessions.  I got the feeling that she was relentless and demanding.  He said that he did not enjoy the tutoring and did not enjoy writing now.  But he sure could do it, and he knew that he could do it.

In my experience with high school students and with younger professionals who have worked for me and with my own three children, this is what it takes to improve someone’s writing.  It is not lessons taught from the front of a classroom--although some grammar and mechanics lessons undoubtedly should be taught from the front of the classroom for openers.  Rather, it is painstaking discussion and editing of the student’s own work, while the student watches and learns and absorbs and understands the reason for every change that is being made.  This shoulder-to-shoulder editing process has to be repeated and repeated and repeated--until the student becomes almost as good at it as the teacher is.  It sounds slow and laborious, and it is.  But it works, and I am not sure that anything else does.  This is writing tutoring, not writing group instruction.

Here is the rest of the problem, which is already clear to every teacher in the U.S. and, I hope, will now be equally clear to all of you parents who are listening (if it is not already).  Today’s middle school and high school English teachers cannot serve as writing tutors for each of your kids--and that is precisely why so many of our high school students will not learn to write well enough for college.  Imagine trying to correct the written work of 150 students on a line-by-line basis--or even of 100 students or even of 50 students--day after day and week after week, while talking through those corrections with each student one by one.  And, of course, that’s not all English teachers have to do.  I am not defending overworked English teachers here; I am merely stating the obvious--something so obvious that I can’t believe more schools haven’t tried to solve it rather than just looking away and pretending the problem doesn’t exist.

I recently said something pretty objectionable to two classes of quite smart high school seniors--at least, they thought it was objectionable.  I was talking about their draft essays that I had just read and tried to edit.  Some were so poorly conceived and written that I really couldn’t even edit them.  Here is what I said: 

“This writing will not get you through college.  You might think that it will, but it won’t.  You might think that it will because you are going to major in mathematics or chemistry or engineering.  But it still won’t.  That’s because each of you will likely have to take at least a couple of humanities courses that will involve writing essays or papers or research papers in order to graduate.  And when you do, this writing won’t get you through them.”  

2.  Talking to a National Audience

Last February, I had the occasion to speak at a national conference of teachers and administrators from Early College high schools.  I called my presentation, “Your Seniors Can’t Write.”  Parents, listen to what I said to see what you might do in your own kid’s high school to help us solve the problem.  It’s going to take all of us, and I believe that nobody’s voices should be heard any louder than yours. 

I started by asking the audience, “What’s in your junior year and senior year English curriculum?”  I am guessing, I told them, that it is literature heavy:  American, British, or world literature, especially if you have standard grade-level courses that all students take (even if you have some honors and AP levels of those courses).  If you have a variety of semester electives as your curriculum, I continued, you might offer a writing-focused course or two, most likely journalism. 

Then I asked this, “Is a curriculum focused on teaching literary works--novels and short stories and plays and poems and speeches and literary essays--as well as great nonfiction works the best way to improve students’ writing?”  I told them that, usually when I make a presentation at a national conference, I believe that I have “the answer” to a problem that people in the audience are trying to solve.  But this time, I said, “Today, I do not have the answer, and I am hoping that you do.  Today, I have just the problem.”  I warned the audience members that I intended to put them into small groups toward the end of the presentation so that they could work out some ways to solve the problem. 

Nonetheless, I said, I was willing to go first and offer an idea to get the conversation started.  I opened with an anecdote.  Last fall, I said, I asked two classes of juniors in an elite New York City high school what they would like to study in the upcoming spring semester.  The students were all in a standard year-long American literature course at the time.  In the interest of full disclosure, I had just had a long discussion with them about the quality of the writing of the seniors I had been working with and I had also analyzed the writing of a few of their own junior classmates impromptu--kids who thought they wrote quite well (but who soon realized and then stated bravely in front of their classmates that they didn’t). 

I said, “Would you prefer to keep doing American literature or would you prefer to focus on writing?”  Virtually every one of these college-bound students voted to switch the curriculum to writing.  Unfortunately, no school administrators were listening. 

3.  An Idea for Solving the Problem

So, here was my idea for improving high school English curricula. (By the way, for more than three decades, I have written high school English curricula that are used in states all over the U.S., and I never did what I am about to suggest.  Why?  Because, sadly, I had not seen the problem up close the way I have in recent years.) 

I suggested that all high school students take an intensive writing course in the spring semester of their junior year.  It would be best, of course, if all high schools in the U.S. would do this so that no student’s college admissions chances would be hurt by a course that colleges thought was odd, or not rigorous enough, or out of the mainstream.  If I could, I would wave my magic wand right now and make that happen in all U.S. high schools. 

My course would focus on expository writing, on academic writing.  It would not include any creative writing, like poetry or short stories or plays, which many high schools like to do and perhaps do very well.  It would not include any literary analysis, because most of us do not write like that once we get out of college. 

One thing it would include is the college application essay.  Students would write more than one main essay for more than one of The Common Application prompts (whatever the prompts are at the time). 

I had a high school English teacher many years ago who explained to us that the word “essay” comes from the Old French “essai”--meaning a trial, attempt, or effort.  So, it is perfectly reasonable to write several essays--that is, to make several attempts--before finding the one that actually works best.  I know that’s going to sound like more work to kids--and, in a way, it is--but all writers know that, all too often, many attempts have to be started and abandoned before a piece of good writing takes shape. 

In my course, students would also write several essays targeted to the most commonly used topics for supplemental essays in college applications--in fact, both a long and a short version, so the word count would always be appropriate, depending on the word limit of a particular college.  That is not a hard thing to do, and students will find that three or four essays well done can be used over and over again, with minor editing, in various college applications. 

But wait just a minute.  In my course, there won’t be writing of only 650 words or fewer.  (Parents, you should know by now that 650 words is the limit for The Common App main essay.)  No.  There will also be a research paper of many pages--maybe more than one.  Here’s why.  

Marc Tucker is president of the National Center on Education and the Economy, and, more importantly, he’s a really smart guy.  Marc wrote an article last January in the Top Performers Education Week blog entitled “Our Students Can’t Write Very Well--It’s No Mystery Why.” Let me read you the sobering opening paragraphs of Marc’s article: 

My organization decided a few weeks back that we needed to hire a new professional staff person.  We had close to 500 applicants.  Inasmuch as the task was to help us communicate information related to the work we do, we gave each of the candidates one of the reports we published last year and asked [each of them] to produce a one-page summary.  All were college graduates.  Only one could produce a satisfactory summary.  That person got the job.

We were lucky this time.  We are more often than not disappointed at the subpar writing ability of the applicants for openings at our organization.  Many applicants are from very good colleges.  Many have graduate degrees.  Many are very poor writers.

Their lack of writing ability does not auger well.  When we look at what they have written, the logic of the narrative is often very hard to find. It would appear that their lack of writing ability stands as mute testimony to their lack of thinking ability.

How, we ask, could this have happened? . . . [H]igh school students are hardly ever asked to write anything of significant length.  Why not?  Because in this age of accountability, they are not tested on their writing ability.  By which I mean that they are not asked to submit to the testing authorities 10- or 15- or 20-page papers . . . . 

This point is critically important.  There is only one way that we can find out whether [students] can write a substantial research paper--by asking them to write a substantial research paper and looking carefully at the result.  If we do not ask them to produce this product--over and over again, as they get better and better at it--then they will not be able to do it well.  If they have not done the work, then neither their teacher nor the engines of the accountability system can assess it.  If this sort of serious writing is not done and--in our accountability-oriented environment--is not assessed, then it will not be learned.  End of argument.

Well, in my new high school English course, I don’t need to have my course’s research papers submitted to and assessed by outside evaluators--although that is actually both an intriguing and a feasible idea--but I would like them to be assessed by the teacher.  Not really assessed, so much, as edited line by line, with the student sitting there and hanging on every word. 

By the way, I care almost nothing about grades in my course.  I don’t want the teacher to spend time “grading” things.  I have friends who are English teachers who constantly worry about having to grade things--a lot of things and quickly--so that they can substantiate a report card grade eventually.  In my course, I want the teacher to spend time working with each student individually on every sentence that student writes.  I could easily support every teacher’s giving every student an A in the course--as long as every student kept writing and working hard at it and improving.

I might just have one of those research papers that Marc is calling for be about individual colleges or, perhaps more generally, about issues in higher education.  I told the audience at the conference that Marie and I had just written a new workbook for high school students entitled How To Explore Your College Options.  I explained that the workbook was literally an explanation of an 11-page questionnaire that, we thought, every high school student should fill out about any college he or she might be interested in attending.  In my course, after each student does the research to get the answers to 52 key questions about a college, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to have the student write up the findings so that other students might benefit from them.  Students in a class could create their own guidebook of college profiles for a variety of colleges--and learn to research and write at the same time. 

But, let me not get ahead of myself.  I told the audience that my course would be called College Research and Expository Writing.  Of course, there would be an honors version, and I plan to put every student in it.  

4.  It’s Up to You, Parents

Parents, if you have a younger high school student at home, consider talking to your high school principal about the English curriculum now.  See whether you can get a writing course offered--or even required--so that your kid has a better chance at writing not only great college application essays, but also great term papers and research reports and whatever else they are going to have to write once they go to college.  I had a great high school history teacher who made us write five-page papers every week because he knew we were going to have to do that all the time in college.  I never thanked him enough for that great preparation.  Parents, fixing our national crisis in high school students’ writing is way more important than my telling you how to help your kid write a winning college application essay.  And I can’t fix it without you. 

By the way, not one Early College high school educator in the audience challenged the title of my presentation, “Your Seniors Can’t Write.”  So, what does that tell you?

Find our books on Amazon! How To Find the Right College: A Workbook for Parents of High School Students (available as a Kindle ebook and in paperback) How To Explore Your College Options: A Workbook for High School Students (available in paperback) Ask your questions or share your feedback by... Leaving a comment on the show notes for this episode at http://usacollegechat.org/episode143 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 Connect with us through... Subscribing to our podcast on Google Play Music, iTunes, Stitcher, or TuneIn Liking us on Facebook or following us on Twitter Reviewing parent materials we have available at www.policystudies.org Inquiring about our consulting services if you need individualized help Reading Regina's blog, Parent Chat with Regina

6. Episode 142: What’s Wrong with Your Kid’s College Application Essay?
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Well, it’s officially November.  Some Early Decision and Early Action deadlines have just passed, and many others are fast approaching on November 15.  There is very little time left for those of you interested in submitting early applications.  As we said at length in Episode 138 and as we have repeated in the past few episodes, we think that all of you should be applying Early Action to all of the schools on your list that have an Early Action option and that some of you should be applying to your first choice under the Early Decision option.  So, think about that one more time while there is still time!

I thought a long time about whether to do today’s episode on college application essays.  It seems like such a tired topic--one that everyone gives advice about--and we have done a number of episodes on this topic already, though not since last February (go back and listen to Episodes 98, 99, 106, and 110).  And yet, I continue to be surprised at how little many parents and teachers know about the common and supplementary essay requirements in college applications.  I am in the throes of reading and editing The Common Application main essay for about 60 high school seniors right now--that is, the main essay that is written to one of seven prompts supplied by The Common App people and that will be transmitted to any of its more than 700 colleges and universities if your kid applies to any of them (which he or she almost undoubtedly will).  Please re-listen right now to Episode 110 if you aren’t familiar with The Common App essay requirement.    

As I have done for the past couple of years, I have spent almost a week in the classrooms of one of New York City’s best high schools (indeed, one of the nation’s top 75 high schools, according to U.S. News & World Report).  As a result, I have a few things I would like to say--again--though I am not sure we can say it any better now than we did in those previous four episodes. 

1.  The Sad Truth

I am going to talk to you today--as I have done before and hope I never have to do again--about the sad truth that many, many, too many high school seniors cannot write.  I will not talk to you about the many, many, too many grammatical and punctuation and word choice mistakes that I see in 9 out of 10 essays I read.  For an elaborate discussion of those mistakes, go back to Episode 99.  But, trust me, the mistakes are there, and they are inexcusable for high school seniors as well as extremely distracting to any college admissions officer trying to get through hundreds or even thousands of similar essays.  I can’t imagine that some essays, written as they are, even get read all the way through.

Just to recap, I am not going to remind you again to tell your teenager . . .

To pay attention to grammar--To watch out for split infinitives, the correct placement of “only” in a sentence, the difference between “everyday” as an adjective and “every day” as an adverb, poorly placed participial phrases modifying the wrong word, incorrect and inconsistent verb tenses, and the lack of agreement between nouns and pronouns To check punctuation--To watch out for random commas inserted for no reason, commas that are left out before the “and” or “but” in a compound sentence, periods and commas inside quotation marks always, and the random use of semicolons To be careful about word choice--To watch out for sophisticated or “big” words that he or she would never use in everyday “formal” speech (as when talking in class or to a teacher) and that, therefore, he or she is highly likely to use slightly incorrectly To avoid wordiness and repetition--To watch out for sentences that have too many irrelevant and/or unnecessary words and to watch out for sentences that say the same thing as previous sentences (often in just as vague or unconvincing a way)

I will also not talk to you about the finer points of writing most essays--this college application essay or any other.  For an elaborate discussion of those finer points, go back to Episode 98.  Just to recap, I am not going to remind you again to tell your teenager . . .

To make a memorable first impression--To write a great first sentence, which makes the college admissions officer want to continue reading the essay, when he or she has way too many more to read (Back in Episode 80, we told you the most common and boring ways that students in the U.K. started their college application essays.  U.S. kids do that, too!)  To make a memorable last impression--To write an extraordinary final sentence, which is his or her last chance to make an impression on the college admissions officer (I learned again in this year’s batch of essays I am reading that almost no kid can write a great last sentence or really a great ending at all.  Many kids ended their essays on a ridiculously grand scale in an overly dramatic way that does not fit almost any teenager’s life story.) To remember what the point is--To include what he or she has learned from the story or experience or reflection that the essay is about or how that story or experience or reflection impacted his or her life (I learned again in this year’s batch of essays I am reading that many kids get bogged down in the details of a story they are trying to tell in the essay and forget what the point of that story is.)

 

2.  Another Sad Truth 

And let me talk to you about another sad truth--the fact that some kids don’t seem to have anything to write about.  Parents, let me make this very clear:  No amount of editing--including by your teenager’s English teacher or by the most expensive college admissions consultant you can find to work with your teenager--can save an essay that is not really about anything.

To be fair, some kids have a great idea for an essay right away; in fact, some kids, have more than one great idea, though not as many kids as you might think.  I have also found that some kids can come up with a decent topic after a long talk with me about their young lives--about their families, their hobbies, their school activities, their jobs, their career hopes, their volunteer work, their academic failures, and their personal successes. 

However, some kids actually can’t come up with anything to write about.  They can’t think of anything that makes them special or interesting or appealing as a candidate for college admission.  But that’s what this essay is:  a way to look desirable to a college, whether your appeal is your brains, your kindness, your insights, your perseverance, your thoughtfulness, your compassion, your generosity, your inventiveness, your quirky outlook on life, your triumph over adversity, or something else.  The college wants a glimpse of you, to be sure, but it had better be an appealing one. 

I was chatting recently about this last group of kids--the ones with no ideas for the essay--with one of their teachers.  I was asking why she thought these kids didn’t have anything to write about.  She said simply, “They don’t do anything.”  Of course, they come to school and do their schoolwork--most of them quite well.  Many also take part in the standard bunch of school activities, play on a sports team, and take music lessons.  But how many essays can a college admissions officer read about a kid who loves the piano and did really well in a statewide music competition?  Or learned about perseverance and hard work by playing on the football team?  And here’s my favorite:  learned how to be a more effective person from playing video games (I have read more of those than you might think).  So, what do these kids do outside the box?  What do they do or think or care about that makes them just a bit different and more memorable than a thousand other kids?  What makes them the kind of student a college would want?

Parents of younger high school kids, it is time to start thinking about what it will be like at your house when essay time comes--while there is still time to encourage your kid to engage in activities and causes and scholarly pursuits and cultural events and family life and community life worth writing about in a college application essay.  Here’s why this is so important:  I bet that many colleges would rather accept a kid whose essay is inspiring or enthusiastic or compelling or intriguing--even with a small grammar or punctuation mistake or two--than a kid whose essay is superficially picture perfect, but has no substance.  

Parents of younger high school kids, I can make your kid’s essay superficially picture perfect, but I cannot really give your kid an experience that he or she can write an essay about.  Only you can do that for your kid and with your kid, based on the experiences of your lives.  So, start thinking.

And let me remind you again, parents of younger high school students and parents of seniors, don’t forget to check out the seven prompts for The Common Application main essay (see Episode 110).  You will see that they are reasonable options for kids to write about and, hopefully, you might get an idea of how to help your kid--now or next year or the year after that.  By the way, this year’s prompts are very similar to last year’s (with a couple of additions), so there is no reason to believe that they will change totally for next year, either.

3.  Coming Soon in Our Next Episode

So, I feel as though this episode was more of a rant than anything else.  I apologize for that, but this is the third year I have had this college application essay experience.  I don’t want to have to talk to you about this again next year, parents of younger high school students! 

Last year, I told the kids I met with at the well-known New York City high school that I mentioned earlier, “You write like third graders.”  This year, I said something even scarier and more objectionable to them.  Join us next week to find out what I said to them and to consider with me how to fix the problem that our high school students can’t write--and that’s a problem much bigger and much more important than whether a kid gets into one college or another.  Unfortunately.

Find our books on Amazon! How To Find the Right College: A Workbook for Parents of High School Students (available as a Kindle ebook and in paperback) How To Explore Your College Options: A Workbook for High School Students (available in paperback) Ask your questions or share your feedback by... Leaving a comment on the show notes for this episode at http://usacollegechat.org/episode142 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 Connect with us through... Subscribing to our podcast on Google Play Music, iTunes, Stitcher, or TuneIn Liking us on Facebook or following us on Twitter Reviewing parent materials we have available at www.policystudies.org Inquiring about our consulting services if you need individualized help Reading Regina's blog, Parent Chat with Regina

 



7. Episode 141: The Role of Parents in College Applications
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We are in the last days of October, and Early Decision and Early Action deadlines are just a handful of days or a couple of weeks away. There is still time, but not much for those of you interested in early applications (and we think that should be almost all of you, for Early Action at least). So, what is the role of parents at this critical time? Today’s episode is short and sweet, and it will hopefully affirm what you are already doing, parents, if you have been listening to USACollegeChat. 

1. A New Survey

In this episode, we want to talk about a new survey by Kaplan Test Prep. According to its LinkedIn profile, “Kaplan Test Prep (www.kaptest.com) is a premier provider of educational and career services for individuals, schools and businesses. Our job is not just teaching test material, but also giving students confidence in themselves. Established in 1938, Kaplan is the world leader in the test prep industry, offering preparation for more than 100 standardized tests. . .” (quoted from LinkedIn). By the way, this episode is not an endorsement of Kaplan Test Prep, or any other test prep company, because we have not done a careful study of their services or products and their results.

Anyway, earlier this year, Kaplan Test Prep conducted a telephone survey of 354 admissions officers in high-ranked colleges. It seems to have focused on the admissions officers’ answer to a question something like this (I have not seen the actual survey questions, just the answers): “How involved should parents be in the college applications process?” These were the answers of the college admissions officers:

Not involved at all--less than 1 percent of college admissions officers Not very involved--6 percent of college admissions officers Somewhat involved--75 percent of college admissions officers Very involved--18 percent of college admissions officers Extremely involved--1 percent of college admissions officers

My personal view here is that parents need to be more than “somewhat involved”--the overwhelmingly favorite answer of those surveyed. Now, it is probably true that there were not definitions of these terms in the survey (at least, they weren’t reported if there were). So, perhaps my understanding of “somewhat involved” is not the same as the understanding of college admissions officers about that same term. Nonetheless, I would say that being in the middle point of any scale on how involved you should be about anything related to the next two or four or six years of your child’s life--and of something that could, in fact, affect your child’s entire future--is not my view. I get it: My view is quite different from the opinions of about 80 percent of college admissions officers, and I am not apologizing for it. It’s probably why we started USACollegeChat to begin with—that is, to help parents know what they need to know to be involved appropriately and effectively and to encourage parents to get involved in this life-changing decision for their kids.

To be fair, the Kaplan Test Prep website quotes some crazy things that college admissions officers say that parents have done--perhaps, what a few of the “extremely involved” parents have done. All of these things are obviously terrible, and I want to make sure that you never do them, USACollegeChat listeners. So, here they are quoted, from the Kaplan Test Prep website:

“I once had a parent call pretending to be the student, but I had met the student before so I knew how [her] voice sounds. I called the student’s cell phone after to suggest that her mom not pretend to be her and call other schools, because that’s fraud.” “We have plenty of ‘helicopter parents’ who are overly involved. We’ve had parents who wouldn’t let the student speak in meetings even when we tried to engage the student specifically.” “There have been parents who’ve called requesting to change their child’s major because they don’t want their child in that major.” “In some cases we’d get duplicate records due to parents and students both trying to complete parts of the application without talking to each other.” (quoted from the website)

Clearly, I am not defending any of those parents or those actions. But I do believe that those parents are a long way from what reasonable and effective--but more than “somewhat”--involvement looks like. 

To be fair, again, the Kaplan Test Prep website also listed some things that college admissions officers believe parents should do during the college admissions process. Here they are:

“Parents should be very involved in coaching and advising in the actual decision-making, but it’s also important for students to be the ones most engaged in the process and in contact with the admissions officers.” “Parents should be there for support, but the child should be driving. Like learning to drive, you can be a back seat driver, but let kids steer.” “Parents should guide the student in thinking about certain aspects of the application and provide a sounding board for the students as they are considering their choices.” (quoted from the website) “Parents need to be most involved . . . when it comes to the financial aid process. Students are not knowledgeable in this area and need the most guidance with this.”

Of course, I am good with all of those. But they are a bit vague, except for the absolutely necessary advice that kids cannot navigate financial aid by themselves. Parents can barely navigate financial aid, I believe. So, parents, don’t be afraid to get outside help, if at all possible.

According to the website, Kaplan Test Prep believes that parents could reasonably be “accompanying [their children] on campus visits, making sure they meet application deadlines, or helping them fill out financial aid paperwork” (quoted from the website). I think we all would agree with that. But what else?

Let’s talk about deciding where to apply. While Kaplan Test Prep would like kids to take the lead on that, we want to make sure that you do your part, parents. We would like kids to do the all-important research on the colleges on their LLCO (long list of college options) before narrowing that list down to their final “short list” of colleges. We talked about that a couple of weeks ago in Episode 139.

And, of course, we hope that they will use our new workbook How To Explore Your College Options: A Workbook for High School Students to do that. But--however they do it--parents have to make sure that kids get the answers to lots of crucial questions about the colleges they are considering. It’s a lot of work to find out what you need to know about a college before deciding whether to apply. We can’t stress this enough. In fact, as we have said many times, lots of kids and parents don’t know nearly enough when those application decisions are being made. My guess is that kids will need some strong encouragement from parents in order to do the work required to get all of the information you both are going to need. Remember, we believe that you are going to need answers to 52 questions covering these important aspects of a college (see the questionnaire in our new workbook for details):

History and Mission Location Enrollment Class Size Academics Schedule Housing Security Measures Activities and Sports Admission Practices Cost

Talking through the answers to questions on all of these topics and weighing the advantages and disadvantages of as many as 15 or so colleges on your list is something that your kid is going to need your help with. Teachers and counselors at school just do not have the time it takes to do that for every student, for obvious reasons. Even if they did, this is your own kid we are talking about, and you both need to be happy with the decision about where to apply and, eventually, about where to enroll. That is going to take more than being “somewhat” involved. 

And let’s talk about college application essays. We have talked so often about these in past episodes (Episode 98, Episode 99, Episode 106, and Episode 110) that I hate to do it again (though I probably will before the season is over). But I will say this now: You must read your kid’s college essays--all of them. Not just the main Common Application essay, but also all the supplemental ones. If you don’t feel confident in your own ability to read and suggest and edit and advise, then find an adult who can. Again, teachers and counselors at school just do not have the time it takes to do that for every student. Period. So, maybe it’s an older sibling or another relative or an internship mentor or someone at your house of worship or someone in a community program. But, whoever it is, kids need an adult to help with these essays. They just do. I am going to vote for “extremely” involved on this one. 

I guess I could go on, but I hope that I have made my point. Those of you who know me know that I am speaking as a parent who has sent three kids to college (first as undergraduates and then as graduate students). But I am also speaking as someone who believes that parents want the best for each and every one of their kids and that they want to do their best to help see that their kids get it. So, don’t be afraid to be more than “somewhat” involved, whatever college admissions officers think.

Find our books on Amazon! How To Find the Right College: A Workbook for Parents of High School Students (available as a Kindle ebook and in paperback) How To Explore Your College Options: A Workbook for High School Students (available in paperback) Ask your questions or share your feedback by... Leaving a comment on the show notes for this episode at http://usacollegechat.org/episode141 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 Connect with us through... Subscribing to our podcast on Google Play Music, iTunes, Stitcher, or TuneIn Liking us on Facebook or following us on Twitter Reviewing parent materials we have available at www.policystudies.org Inquiring about our consulting services if you need individualized help Reading Regina's blog, Parent Chat with Regina

8. Episode 140: The Scandal of Transferring College Credits
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In our last episode, we talked about narrowing down your teenager’s long list of college options (or LLCO, as we call it in our new book How To Explore Your College Options: A Workbook for High School Students), and we discussed several questions to ask yourselves about those colleges as you narrowed down the list. We recommended ending up with perhaps 15 colleges (give or take 5) on your teenager’s “short list.” 

One thing we did not talk about was whether you should put a public two-year community college on the list. We have talked about community colleges--the good and the bad about them--back in Episode 113 and more recently in Episode 135. Although we remain concerned about the seriously low graduation rate and the seriously low transfer rate at most community colleges, it is still possible that a community college is your teenager’s best or only choice or best safety school choice.

If you can be sure that your teenager will be admitted to a public four-year college in your state or in another state, personally I would go with that option instead of a public two-year community college option. However, if you cannot be sure that your teenager will be admitted to a public four-year college or if your family circumstances would be too strained (either financially or otherwise) by sending your teenager to a public four-year college, then put the local community college on the short list. If you are fortunate enough to live in an area that has more than one conveniently located community college option, then choosing among those options can be as important as choosing among four-year college options. All community colleges are not created equal--anymore than all four-year public or private colleges are. So do your homework or give us a call.

But today, we want to talk about another topic that relates to community colleges, but not only to community colleges. It is a very important topic if you believe that it might be a good idea to save some money on the first two years of college by sending your teenager to a community college or to a public four-year college before allowing him or her to transfer to a more prestigious or more academically selective public or private college. We have heard this sentiment from parents many times: “Let Susie start out at the local community college and save our money for a big finish at the great private university she always wanted to go to.”

Well, there is a new study out that might make you think twice about that strategy.

1. Losing Credits When Transferring

The study was brought to our attention by reporter Danielle Douglas-Gabriel in a wide-ranging article in The Washington Post in mid-September. Ms. Douglas-Gabriel referenced a new report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office (the GAO), entitled Students Need More Information to Help Reduce Challenges in Transferring College Credits. Here is the opening of the highlights from that government report:

Based on GAO’s analysis of the Department of Education’s (Education) most recently available data, an estimated 35 percent of college students transferred to a new school at least once from 2004 to 2009, and GAO found that students may face challenges getting information or advice about transferring course credits. An estimated 62 percent of these transfers were between public schools. According to stakeholders GAO spoke with, students can face challenges transferring credits between schools that do not have statewide polices or articulation agreements, which are transfer agreements or partnerships between schools designating how credits earned at one school will transfer to another. Stakeholders also said that advising and information may not be adequate to help students navigate the transfer process. (quoted from the report)

Let’s start there. First of all, about one-third of college students transfer (personally, I think that is a lot and I am a bit surprised the number is that high), and over half of those are between public colleges. I am going to guess that a significant number of those are from two-year public community colleges to four-year public universities. The report then decries the lack of clear articulation agreements--that is, spelled-out plans between pairs of colleges that show how the credits a student earns at one college will be counted or will be deemed acceptable by the other college. Never having studied the subject, I am guessing that articulation agreements are probably most plentiful between community colleges and four-year public or private colleges relatively nearby or between various colleges within a citywide or statewide public system of colleges. 

So, a little background: Articulation agreements protect students. Obviously, students do not want to lose credits they have earned at a college when they transfer to a new college. This is especially true of students who start out at a community college to save money and then transfer to a four-year college to get a bachelor’s degree. If credits are lost in that transfer and have to be made up at the new college, the whole idea of having started at the cheaper community college just goes out the window!

On the other hand, articulation agreements can also be good for colleges. This is especially true when four-year colleges can market themselves easily and cheaply to graduates from a particular community college as the next step in their college careers. Imagine how cost-effective it is for a four-year college to advertise and recruit students who are sitting in classes on one community college campus. Of course, community colleges also benefit because they can advertise a clear path for their graduates right into a four-year college; that fact might indeed help recruit students to the community college in the first place.

So, here’s the problem, according to the GAO report:

The possible financial implications of transferring depend in part on the extent of credits lost in the transfer. Using [the Department of] Education’s transfer data, GAO estimated that students who transferred from 2004 to 2009 lost, on average, an estimated 43 percent of their credits, and credit loss varied depending on the transfer path. For example, students who transferred between public schools--the majority of transfer students--lost an estimated 37 percent of their credits. . . . Transferring can have different effects on college affordability. Students seeking to obtain a bachelor’s degree at a more expensive school may save on tuition costs by transferring from a less expensive school. On the other hand, transfer students may incur additional costs to repeat credits that do not transfer or count toward their degree. Transfer students can receive federal financial aid. GAO’s analysis showed that almost half of the students who transferred from 2004 to 2009 received Pell Grants and close to two-thirds received Federal Direct Loans. Students who lose credits may use more financial aid to pay for repeated courses at additional cost to the federal government, or they may exhaust their financial aid eligibility, which can result in additional out-of-pocket costs. (quoted from the report)

Well, losing perhaps one-third of the credits you earned when you try to transfer them is frightening. Having to pay again to take courses for credits you thought you already earned or having your financial aid run out before you can retake those credits (either because you have been enrolled for too many years or too many semesters) is equally frightening. All this should make you, parents, want some kind of ironclad agreement signed in blood before your teenager starts down the transfer route. But, alas, I believe you aren’t going to get one. 

2. The GAO on Information Availability

Here is what the GAO report said about getting a hold of important information: 

While GAO estimated that the websites for almost all schools nationwide provided credit transfer policies, as required by [the Department of] Education, about 29 percent did not include a list of other schools with which the school had articulation agreements. Among those schools, GAO found that some did not have any articulation agreements, while others did but did not list partner schools on their websites. Schools must provide such listings, but they are not required to do so specifically on their website. As a result, students may not have ready access to this information to fully understand their transfer options. (quoted from the report) 

Interestingly, the GAO report recommended that the Department of Education require that colleges provide information about specific articulation agreements with other colleges on their websites. The Department of Education did not agree with that and agreed only that general transfer information should be provided to students (well, obviously). What all that means is that you as parents and your teenagers as prospective freshmen and as enrolled students must do your homework relentlessly to figure out exactly what will happen in a transfer scenario. And, we have to caution, don’t expect that homework to be easy!

3. Bright Spots

Ms. Douglas-Gabriel did point to a few bright spots in her article:

Several state higher education systems, including those in Tennessee, North Carolina and Texas, are using innovative strategies to streamline the transfer process. The University of California system, for instance, has “guided pathways” that chart the sequence of courses needed to transfer. Some schools, such as George Mason University and Northern Virginia Community College, offer dual enrollment for some majors. (quoted from the article)

And, of course, these are not the only collaborative arrangements out there. So, if your teenager is moving toward a community college with the idea of transferring to a four-year college later or if your teenager is moving toward a public four-year university with the idea of transferring to a different four-year university later, then hope for one of these streamlined processes. Better yet, look for one of these streamlined processes--because some careful planning now can save a lot of heartbreak later.

Find our books on Amazon! How To Find the Right College: A Workbook for Parents of High School Students (available as a Kindle ebook and in paperback) How To Explore Your College Options: A Workbook for High School Students (available in paperback) Ask your questions or share your feedback by... Leaving a comment on the show notes for this episode at http://usacollegechat.org/episode140 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 Connect with us through... Subscribing to our podcast on Google Play Music, iTunes, Stitcher, or TuneIn Liking us on Facebook or following us on Twitter Reviewing parent materials we have available at www.policystudies.org Inquiring about our consulting services if you need individualized help Reading Regina's blog, Parent Chat with Regina

9. Episode 139: Narrowing Your Teenager’s List of College Options
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Last year, we spent the month of September suggesting some steps to take in order to narrow down your teenager’s long list of college options (or LLCO, as we call it in our new book How To Explore Your College Options: A Workbook for High School Students). We talked about a number of filters you might use to narrow down that list, which we hope was really quite long at the beginning. Why do we hope that? Because a long list shows that you and your teenager thought about a wide variety of colleges that might be appealing, perhaps for various reasons. As we have said too many times, there are thousands of colleges out there (most of which you never heard of and don’t know nearly enough about), so don’t be too quick to come up with what we will call “the short list.”

You can go back and listen to Episodes 92 through 96 for a recap of reasonable filters you might apply now to narrow down your teenager’s LLCO. Or you and your teenager can force yourselves to think a bit harder and look at the 52-item questionnaire in our new book. That questionnaire is carefully designed to help you and your teenager judge all of the relevant pieces of information about a college before your teenager, with your help, decides whether to apply. To review, the 52 questions cover these important aspects of a college:

History and Mission Location Enrollment Class Size Academics Schedule Housing Security Measures Activities and Sports Admission Practices Cost

Our opinion is that you really shouldn’t have put colleges on the LLCO anymore than you should take them off now without knowing these basic facts and figures about them. Fortunately, it’s not too late to find out, but it will be soon! Even for those of you who are facing Early Decision and Early Action deadlines of November 1 or November 15 (or thereabouts), you still have enough time to find out what you need to know and to decide wisely. As we have said in many USACollegeChat episodes, deciding where to apply is the first domino in this long process and, for obvious reasons, it is at least as important as deciding where to enroll. These application decisions will limit your teenager’s future universe, so be careful.

And, let us remind you of something we hope you already know: Don’t forget to fill out and file the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, as soon as possible. There is absolutely no reason not to!

1. The Short List

So, let us be the first to say that we are okay if your teenager’s short list of colleges is still relatively long. Interestingly, the Common Application online system will allow a student to keep up to 20 colleges on the student’s list. Of course, you have a bit of leeway because some colleges do not take the Common Application, so those colleges wouldn’t need to be counted as part of the 20. We know that many “experts” will complain about a long list, including high school guidance counselors or college counselors, who understandably see long lists from seniors as a lot of extra work. But we don’t want your teenager to lose out on a good option next spring because of some extra work for the professionals--or for you and your teenager--this fall.

When push comes to shove, doing 20 applications will be a lot of work, mostly because of the supplementary essays that many colleges, especially selective colleges, require. But it’s doable. I just spent some time with a smart senior going through her LLCO, which had about 25 colleges on it when we started. I think we are down to a more reasonable 15, and I don’t see a reason to try to make her list any shorter. So, what’s the right number for the short list? There’s no right answer, but 15 is probably a sensible average, plus or minus 5. I believe that number is slightly up from the 8 to 12 we recommended in our first book, How To Find the Right College: A Workbook for Parents of High School Students. Well, live and learn!

It probably makes sense to look at your teenager’s short list now as a group of college options, rather than just as individual colleges. In other words, we believe that your teenager should have a number of bases covered. We looked at several bases to cover last year, but we would like to narrow that down to just three, in order of least important to most important.

First, we would like to see some variety in the size of the colleges on the short list--that is, size in terms of undergraduate student enrollment. As we said last year, we did not believe then and do not believe now that high school seniors are well equipped to know whether they would prefer a small or large college--or even whether size makes any difference at all to them. We can show you lots of seniors’ short lists that have huge public universities and small private colleges on them, and we are not sure that some of them even realize it. We would like kids to have some size options to consider next spring--after acceptances come in--when they can think more calmly about whether size really makes a difference to them. 

Second, it is no surprise to our regular USACollegeChat listeners that I think there should be variety of college locations on the list. Obviously, that means some out-of-state options and some in-state options. But it also means some options in your region of the U.S. and some options outside your region. And, it even means at least one option outside the U.S.

We have talked about studying full time outside the U.S. many times here at USACollegeChat, so go back and listen to a few of our episodes on that very intriguing topic (see, for example, Episode 123 about colleges in Canada or Episode 122 about Richmond, the American International University in London). Because colleges outside the U.S. offer an exciting alternative to studying in our own country, you might not be surprised to learn that these colleges are often popular choices among students at private schools and students from wealthy homes. You should know, however, that studying outside the U.S. does not have to be any more expensive than studying in the U.S., so don’t rule it out without doing your homework.

Third and most obviously (this is the one we won’t have to convince you about), there should be some variety in the selectivity of the colleges on your teenager’s short list. Every so-called expert has some formula for how to make up the list: how many “reach” schools, how many “target” schools, and how many “safety” schools--or whatever your favorite vocabulary is for these three types of college options. We think that this is a matter of common sense and that you don’t have to be an expert to figure it out. Your teenager’s short list should have perhaps two or three selective colleges that might be a reach (they might be highly selective or somewhat-less-selective, depending on how good a candidate your kid is); perhaps two or three not-so-selective colleges that could serve as safety schools (including, ideally, a reasonable and as good as possible public four-year school in your home state or maybe in another state), and maybe 10 or so colleges that seem just about right academically.

2. A Closer Look at Safety Schools

Let’s take a moment to look more closely at the notion of safety schools because we think that they are often chosen poorly.

When I work with a kid to put together his or her short list, I get these two types of colleges on the list as safeties: (1) a public university where I am sure the kid will be accepted; and (2) a private college where I am sure the kid will be accepted.

Now, true, some of this is a matter of experience. But, looking at the data on admitted or enrolled students that you can find on a college’s website or on the College Navigator website will give you one indication of the likelihood of a kid’s acceptance. (By the way, see Step 13 in our new workbook for further detail on this.) And, of course, some of this is a matter of how good a candidate your kid is. A college that serves as a safety school for some kids is a reach school for other kids, obviously.

But, the biggest mistake I see in kids’ short lists is the inclusion of a bunch of expensive less-selective private schools as safety schools when the kid really doesn’t want to go to them. Once you have one decent public university option and one decent less-selective private option on the short list, every other college on the list should be weighed against them.

For example, a young woman I was working with recently here in New York City is blessed with great high school grades and very good SAT and ACT scores. Her safety schools are a good public university in the West and a good private university abroad. I am confident that, given her high school record, she will be admitted to both. Other adults have suggested a variety of additional private colleges that might serve as safety schools for her. For each one, I simply asked her, “Would you rather go to this one than the two you already have, which you are going to be admitted to?” In every case, she said, “No.” Then why have them on the list and why spend time and money applying to them?

You don’t need a lot of safety schools. You need only one or two or maybe three that your kid is happy about and would look forward to going to. A young woman I worked with last year ended up at one of her two safety schools this fall. We chose them carefully to make sure she liked them, and she was, in fact, accepted to both. She ended up at the private one, and she loves it. I knew she would, and that’s why we chose it. 

3. Other Colleges on the Short List

By the way, a similar question should be asked of all of the colleges on the short list. Once you can establish that a college (whether it is selective or not selective) is not a place your kid would rather go than the safety school you are sure he or she will be admitted to, take that college off the list.

To be clear, as your teenager and you look over the short list, ask him or her one final question about each college: “Would you really want to go to this college if you got in?” If you and your teenager were diligent in putting together a LLCO this summer and then in narrowing it down, we know that you two know quite a bit about each college still on the short list. We would say that it is likely that you know more about each college still on the list than the majority of students applying to it. But knowing all about a college doesn’t make your teenager want to go there. 

I can usually hear it in the kid’s voice when I ask, “Why College X?” The kid is silent for a minute or says something vague. Can your teenager tell you several pros for each college on the short list--that is, several reasons why he or she personally would be happy going there? If not, it might be time to take it off the short list. “My mother suggested it” or “I’ve heard some good things about it” is not a reason to keep a college on the short list.

Now, of course, there are some colleges on the list that your teenager prefers. Maybe there is a first choice; maybe there are several top choices. But no college left on the list should make your teenager feel apathetic or disappointed. Take those colleges off and, if you need more colleges on the short list, then look at some new ones to add. There are plenty out there. 

Next week, we are going to talk about a serious problem with transferring colleges in case you are thinking about that as a long-term strategy for your kid as you two are making up the short list. Let me just say, “Buyer beware!”

Find our books on Amazon! How To Find the Right College: A Workbook for Parents of High School Students (available as a Kindle ebook and in paperback) How To Explore Your College Options: A Workbook for High School Students (available in paperback) Ask your questions or share your feedback by... Leaving a comment on the show notes for this episode at http://usacollegechat.org/episode139 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 Connect with us through... Subscribing to our podcast on Google Play Music, iTunes, Stitcher, or TuneIn Liking us on Facebook or following us on Twitter Reviewing parent materials we have available at www.policystudies.org Inquiring about our consulting services if you need individualized help Reading Regina's blog, Parent Chat with Regina

10. Episode 138: It’s Early Decision/Early Action Time Again
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Let’s open today with an acknowledgment of a reasonably impressive milestone. We have just passed the third anniversary of our podcast. That’s three whole years of trying to put the college applications and college admissions process into perspective and within the grasp of the all-too-many parents and teenagers who have been left out of the conversation. When we started the podcast, we thought that it would be most helpful to parents who had not been to college themselves and to their first-generation-to-college kids. But we have found that parents of all educational backgrounds have learned from the episodes, and we are, of course, happy about that. As Marie and I say almost every week, “Here’s something we didn’t know ourselves, and we do this for a living.” As with all things, there is always more to learn.

Speaking of learning, as we come to this episode in our series Researching College Options, I must admit that I would like to re-edit our new book How To Explore Your College Options: A Workbook for High School Students. Marie hates it when I say this; but, like all authors or maybe just all English majors, I know that I could make that book better (even though I have to admit that it is already pretty useful).

Today’s episode is about something we left out of the book, but should have put in. So, if you have the book (and, if you don’t have it, go get it right now at amazon.com!), you all should add one more question at the end of our 52-item questionnaire about things your teenager needs to find out about a college before applying.

Here is the question we missed and the topic of today’s episode: “Does the college offer an Early Decision and/or Early Action application round--or, perhaps, even more than one such round?” And we should have added: “Jot down all of the particulars of these early admissions plans, including how restrictive they are when it comes to whether you are allowed to apply to other colleges at the same time.” I am constantly surprised about how little parents know about Early Decision and Early Action plans, and they could make all the difference for a kid.

1. Why We Are Infuriated

So, for those of you who were listening to USACollegeChat about seven months ago, you will recall that we tackled this Early Decision/Early Action issue then. However, it is even more timely now here at the beginning of October, and we think that it is worth recapping for all of you who have kids just starting their senior year. As many of you know, November 1 or November 15 (or thereabouts) is the Early Decision and/or Early Action deadline for most colleges, if a college has either of those early admissions plans in place. So, that is just a few short weeks away, and decisions about whether to make those early applications need to be made ASAP.

As we said back in Episode 108 and Episode 109, I find this Early Decision/Early Action game infuriating. I continue to be infuriated on behalf of teenagers and their families who are in the midst of figuring out how to research and apply to a whole bunch of colleges, which is hard enough without having to calculate the advantages and disadvantages of Early Decision and Early Action options at some of those or all of those colleges and how those options interact, often poorly, with each other. I believe that lots of parents find this to be a daunting task. So, let us help.

2. Early Decision Cons

Let’s look first at Early Decision, the older of the two options and the one that started us all down this now-confusing and controversial path. Many years ago, it used to be that a student could apply to one college under an Early Decision plan (the only type of early application available)--meaning that the student would apply early, get an answer early, and agree to attend that college if accepted. For students, Early Decision was—and, in fact, still is--a binding decision. In other words, if you get in, you go.

Perhaps the most important reason that some educators and many parents grew to dislike the Early Decision option was--and likely still is--that a student accepted under this plan had to agree to attend the college before he or she had any other acceptances and before he or she had any idea what scholarships and other financial aid might be offered by any other colleges. For students who depended on financial aid to pay for college--and that’s more and more students these days--having to choose a college without being able to compare financial aid packages put those students and their families under unnecessary and, some would say, unfair financial pressure.

When we talked about this issue months ago, we quoted from Frank Bruni’s excellent New York Times column entitled “The Plague of ‘Early Decision.’” You should go back and read his piece again. Mr. Bruni wrote this about his view of the biggest problem with Early Decision at selective colleges:

[Early decision] significantly disadvantages students from low-income and middle-income families, who are already underrepresented at such schools. There’s plenty of evidence that applying early improves odds of admission and that the students who do so--largely to gain a competitive edge--come disproportionately from privileged backgrounds with parents and counselors who know how to game the system and can assemble the necessary test scores and references by the November deadline.

These students also aren’t concerned about weighing disparate financial-aid offers from different schools and can commit themselves to one through early decision. Less privileged students need to shop around, so early decision doesn’t really work for them. (quoted from the article)

Did we really need one more thing about college admissions that disadvantages low-income kids or kids from racial and ethnic minorities who are underrepresented in colleges? Clearly, as a nation, we did not. Regular listeners will recall that, recently in Episode 132, we spoke about a study of grade inflation in high schools that shows that the grade inflation trend disproportionately favors students from whiter, wealthier high schools. Is Early Decision just one more strike against kids who need a fairer shake?

Mr. Bruni also gave us one memorable statistic from a well-to-do Boston suburban high school, noting that “while 60 percent of the seniors there submitted early applications seven years ago, it’s above 86 percent now.” (quoted from the article) And that was last year, so who knows how much higher that number can go this year? The point is that lots of kids are applying to college early, and that is going to make it just that much harder for your kid this year.

Although we have talked recently about a steady decline in college enrollment in the U.S. in Episode 128 and a steady decline especially in male college enrollment in the U.S. in Episode 136, the nation’s very good and great colleges are still doing fine. They continue to have many, many more applicants than they need--both the private ones and the public ones. So, if any of our very selective private or public colleges are on your kid’s long list of college options (or shorter, refined list of college options), your kid is in for some stiff competition from a lot of kids who are ready to commit in November. Any kids who have to overcome any kind of barrier when making their college applications--whether that is financial constraints or English as a second language or lack of college counseling or parents who cannot help—are, sadly, going to be just that much further behind.

3. Early Decision Pros

On the other hand, if your kid is one of the lucky ones or if you can get whatever help you need to get your kid past whatever barriers exist for your family, it seems to us that Early Decision is a great option for you. The larger problem is, of course, that Early Decision could be a great option for your own kid, even if there are too many kids who cannot take advantage of it for one reason or another. With my nonprofit president’s hat on, I have to say that Early Decision worries me increasingly; but with my advocate-for-your-one-kid’s hat on, I am very likely to recommend it to you.

If your own teenager is absolutely clear about what his or her first-choice college is, then Early Decision is the way to go if that college has an Early Decision option. (We are going to talk about Early Action in a minute. Making one Early Decision application does not necessarily preclude also making one or more Early Action applications.)

Why might Early Decision be a good move for your kid? First, your family could get the entire college admissions process over with as efficiently as possible by December. As we have already mentioned, the application is usually due November 1 or November 15, with a decision usually coming in December. If your kid is accepted, you are done. No more worries about not getting into a college your kid loves and no more stress of completing numerous applications! Even though the Common Application cuts down on some of that stress, it means that no more supplemental essays would have to be written and no more application fees would have to be paid.

Second--and this is why we feel almost obligated to recommend Early Decision for kids who are ready to make a serious choice--your kid might actually have a much better chance of being accepted if he or she applies Early Decision. There continues to be a lot of press about this fact. Back in Episode 108, we quoted shocking statistics from an excellent article by Nick Anderson in The Washington Post, which offered acceptance statistics from 2015 from 64 “prominent colleges and universities.” His article was aptly entitled “A college-admissions edge for the wealthy: Early decision.” Go back and take a look at those many, many numbers. And here are a few more: same story, different verse.

These are some facts and figures from an article by Kaitlin Mulhere in Money magazine. Her article makes this important point:

Most selective colleges--specifically, the 100 or so four-year schools that admit a third or less of their applicants--publicize one overall acceptance rate. On its face, that makes sense, and it’s simple for families to grasp. The problem is that many students pin their hopes on that rate, even though it may conceal dramatic differences in the odds for different applicant pools.

Take, for example, Vanderbilt University, where the overall rate was 12% for the fall 2015 freshman class. Yet students either apply in an early pool or the regular pool, which have 24% and 8% acceptance rates, respectively. Nobody has a 12% chance, says Steve Frappier, director of college counseling at the Westminster Schools, a prep school in Atlanta. (quoted from the article)

There are two critical things to notice here. First, there is the simple fact that one averaged acceptance rate--the one that is published widely--actually might mean nothing. Second, there is the simple fact that your chances of getting into a college could be three times as good--or more--if you apply under an early application plan. While this is not true for every college in the U.S., it is true for many selective colleges in the U.S. Here are two more examples of great small private liberal arts colleges from the Money magazine article:

Swarthmore College: 35% early decision acceptance rate vs. 10.7% regular decision acceptance rate Colorado College: 31% and 17% in two early rounds vs. 6% in the regular round

The article makes the point that savvy consumers pay attention to the differences among the figures that colleges post on their websites: early acceptance rates, regular decision acceptance rates, and overall acceptance rates. The relationships among these figures change from college to college, so buyer beware!

Those figures have got to make you think twice before you as a family dismiss the notion of applying early. Here is another perhaps surprising statistic from The Washington Post article for a sample of great colleges--the estimated percentage of the freshman class that is made up of Early Decision acceptances:

University of Pennsylvania: 54% Middlebury College: 53% Emory University: 53% Kenyon College: 51% Barnard College: 51% Northwestern University: 50% Hamilton College: 50% Bowdoin College: 49%

To sum it up, about half of the seats in the freshman classes of these selective, academically first-rate colleges are filled before the applications of high school seniors applying on the regular schedule are even looked at. You really have to stop and think about these statistics. No kidding. What are your kid’s odds of getting into a place when one-half of the seats are already taken?

Some colleges are publicizing now that students who are accepted on an Early Decision schedule are getting nearly as much financial aid as those accepted on a regular decision schedule, so that’s a good thing for low-income kids who want to better their acceptance chances at a favorite college. And there is usually a disclaimer in college website information that a student may be released from a binding Early Decision acceptance if the financial aid package offered does not make it possible for that student to attend the college--though I have never personally tried to test that.

By the way, is it obvious why a college would want so many Early Decision students? It should be. A college wants good students who really want to be at that college. It doesn’t want to play the admissions game any more than the applicants do.

To sum it up, here is a brief quotation from the website of Boston University, a very good private university, about the reasons that students should consider Early Decision:

Competition is keen. Think about this--would you rather be considered for admission as 1 of more than 60,000 applicants or 1 of just over 4,000 applicants? Applying Early Decision is the ultimate way to demonstrate your interest in BU, which is an opportunity for you to differentiate yourself from the rest of the crowd. Early Decision applicants receive the same consideration for financial aid as regular decision applicants.Last year, BU awarded $55 million in aid to incoming freshmen. If you’re offered admission, your search process will be completed early. You could be one of the first among your classmates to wear your BU sweatshirt and show your Terrier Pride! 4. Early Action

Now, let’s look at the Early Action option, under which high school seniors still apply early--around November 1 or November 15--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. Early Action enables kids to apply to more than one college that offers an Early Action option and to 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. This plan, understandably, came into being as a result of concerns that the Early Decision option put too much pressure on kids to make final decisions too soon.

In counseling kids myself, I encourage them to apply under the Early Action option to as many of the colleges on their final short list as they can. I just don’t see a downside. Furthermore, I believe kids should apply Early Action to every one of their safety schools if those schools have an Early Action option. 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, for both Early Action and Early Decision. Students have to take the SAT and/or ACT no later than an October testing date to have the scores by early November, and a student has to believe that the scores he or she has by then are about as good as they are ever going to be.

Or here is an option: Apply Early Action to one or more of your safety schools, using your available test scores--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.

5. 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 later 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.

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. This option, we believe, is not nearly as widespread among colleges as either Early Decision or regular Early Action.

6. Other College Admissions Options

Parents: Don’t feel bad when you have to read a college’s website information more than once to figure out what all the application options mean. I have to do that, too. 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.

And here’s another option you might run into: two rounds of Early Decision, or Early Decision I and Early Decision II; and two rounds of Early Action, or Early Action I and II.

So, why Early Decision I and II, with Early Decision II having a later deadline? One reason is that some kids want the college to have access to later college admission test scores or to 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 second round of Early Decision. Both of these options are possibly great for the student, though complicated, to be sure.

Another reason for having two rounds of Early Decision is that it’s 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. This statistic might affect a college’s ranking on some list or other. So, that might be reason enough for how we got to this place.

Go back and listen to Episode 109 if you want to hear even more complicated plans, which mix every conceivable Early Action and Early Decision variation. But those are only examples. The only plans that matter are the ones your kid faces at the colleges on his or her list. And they might be crazy enough!

7. The Bottom Line

One last word, parents: Remember that your kid 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 kid 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.

I know that’s a lot to take in. What’s the bottom line? Apply Early Decision if your kid has a clear first-choice college that you can live with. Simultaneously, apply Early Action to all of the colleges on his or her list (including all of the safety schools) that have Early Action plans. There’s just no downside.

Find our books on Amazon! How To Find the Right College: A Workbook for Parents of High School Students (available as a Kindle ebook and in paperback) How To Explore Your College Options: A Workbook for High School Students (available in paperback) Ask your questions or share your feedback by... Leaving a comment on the show notes for this episode at http://usacollegechat.org/episode138 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 Connect with us through... Subscribing to our podcast on Google Play Music, iTunes, Stitcher, or TuneIn Liking us on Facebook or following us on Twitter Reviewing parent materials we have available at www.policystudies.org Inquiring about our consulting services if you need individualized help Reading Regina's blog, Parent Chat with Regina

11. Episode 137: College Support Services: More Important Than You Think
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This is an unusual episode in our series Researching College Options and for USACollegeChat as well. It looks at a critical issue today--one that can have terribly serious consequences for students and their families. The issue was raised in an insightful late August article by Alina Tugend in The Hechinger Report (the article also appeared in U.S. News & World Report). The issue is mental health support services on college campuses and the students--especially nonwhite students--who evidently all too often do not use them when they need to. This is going to be a relatively short episode for us, but I think you will see that it packs a big punch.

1. The Problem

Here are some facts you might not know, as reported in the article:

Nonwhite [college] students are often more stressed than their white classmates, but less likely to seek psychological help.

This further complicates efforts to increase the proportion of black and Hispanic students who succeed in earning college and university degrees, and who graduate at rates lower than whites.

As much as nonwhite students resist taking advantage of mental health services, there’s evidence they’re more in need of them. More than half of black students report feeling overwhelmed most or all of the time, compared with 40 percent of whites, a survey conducted by the Harris Poll, [The Jed] Foundation and other groups found. About half of black and Hispanic students, compared with 41 percent of whites, say it seems everyone has college figured out but them. (quoted from the article)

That’s a lot of college students who could use some support when feeling overwhelmed--not only the half or more of black and Hispanic students, according to these studies, but also the 40 percent of white students. I have to say that I had no idea about the size of this problem.

Let’s look a bit further into the particular stresses faced by black and Hispanic students, according to experts quoted in the article:

. . . “[I]n addition to the stressors most students face at college--being away from home, time management--there are race-related stressors or minority-status stressors,” said Kevin Cokley, a professor of educational psychology and African and African diaspora studies at the University of Texas, Austin.

These stressors include assumptions by some white students and faculty that a minority student wouldn’t be in the classroom but for affirmative action, said David Rivera, an associate professor of counselor education at Queens College of the City University of New York. That perception can make itself felt in seemingly innocuous comments such as, “ ‘I’m surprised you did well on that paper,’ ” Rivera said. “If you confront it, you’re dismissed but if you ignore it, you’re left holding on to that experience,” he added. (quoted from the article)

And this is not an issue only for black and Hispanic students. Asian college students face their own stresses, according to the article:

Asian students often feel burdened by a stereotype that casts them as the “model minority,” always quietly diligent and academically successful, said Doris Chang, director of clinical training and associate professor of psychology at the New School for Social Research. But she said Asian students often fear that speaking to outsiders about the burden of this stereotype will bring shame on them and their families. “By the time they come in [for counseling], they are so impaired, they are already asking for a medical leave of absence.” (quoted from the article)

Wow. Stress on college students clearly knows no racial or ethnic boundaries, and students of all backgrounds should know what to do when that stress becomes just too much for them to handle. But here is what happens too often, according to the article:

Seeking psychological help is “culturally unacceptable in the African-American and Latino communities,” said Terri Wright, executive director of [The] Steve Fund, a nonprofit established by the family of a black graduate student named [Steve] Rose who committed suicide. The organization advocates for mental and emotional well-being for black, Hispanic, Native American and Asian college students.

Within these groups, “the words ‘therapist’ or ‘counselor’ are loaded,” Wright said. “If you have problems, you don’t go outside your family, or maybe you talk to your faith leader.” (quoted from the article)

I think there is no better way to demonstrate the enormous price that students and their families pay when support isn’t found in time than to read to you most of a remarkable letter from Steve’s family (that is, his parents and two brothers), which appears on the website of The Steve Fund:

In 2014, we began a journey, one which no family should ever have to take. It began with the loss of Steve, our beloved son, family member and friend. After graduating from Harvard College and completing a Masters degree at City University, mental illness took Steve from us. We have established the Steve Fund with the aim of preventing other families having to take a journey like ours.

Our nation is not meeting the mental health needs of young people of color. While research shows that the differences in ethnic backgrounds of students necessitate culturally sensitive approaches to supporting their mental health, their needs are still significantly understudied, and insufficiently understood. With minorities forming the majority of Americans by 2044, and the majority of children by 2020, the future success of our nation will depend on the mental health and emotional well-being of these young people.

It is our firm belief that colleges and universities should play a vital role in meeting these needs by providing the best support possible for an increasingly diverse student population. Since we established the Fund, we have focused on developing knowledge and thought leadership, launched effective programs, such as the buildout of a text-based crisis hotline with our partner Crisis Text Line, and have built partnerships with renowned organizations in the field to leverage resources and to direct more effort towards our cause.

The Steve Fund is mobilized to learn about, implement with excellence, and measure the kind of best practices that will protect the mental health and emotional well-being of our nation’s college age students of color. (quoted from the website)

Kudos, of course, to Steve’s family and the work that the Fund is doing.

The article goes on to do a good job of explaining the difficulties that students of color have when faced with college support personnel who are white. According to a survey by the Association for University and College Counseling Center Directors, only 10 percent of college psychologists and therapists are black, only 8 percent are Asian, and only 7 percent are Hispanic. While some colleges are working to change staff make-up, most probably have a long way to go in order to serve the mental health needs of students of color on their campuses. And perhaps that is something to keep in mind, parents of students of color, when you are looking at colleges for your kids.

2. Get the Information

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. And now that we understand the scope of the mental health problem, I am glad that we included a question about support services 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:

While support services--like academic advising, personal counseling, and employment assistance--can be useful to any undergraduate student, these support services are often particularly important to groups of students who might find it more difficult to adjust to college life, either socially or academically, especially when they find themselves in the minority of students on a college campus.

If you identify with students of color, first-generation-to-college students, LGBTQ students, students with learning disabilities, or another group, you should take a look at whether each college on your long list of college options has support services targeted for you. For example, Georgia State University has an impressive Office of Black Student Achievement, which provides a wide variety of academic, support, leadership, and outreach activities, programs, and services. That says something about its commitment to serving its black student population.

When you are looking for support services like that on a college’s website, see whether you can find any evidence that the services provided are actually successful. Why? Because successful support services can make all the difference between dropping out and graduating.

And now that I have read The Hechinger Report article, I would add, “Because successful support services can make all the difference between life and death--literally.” And remember, you might want to look at the racial and ethnic make-up of the counseling staff that will be available to your kid, if it turns out he or she needs that help. Because, really, what could be more important than that.

Find our books on Amazon! How To Find the Right College: A Workbook for Parents of High School Students (available as a Kindle ebook and in paperback) How To Explore Your College Options: A Workbook for High School Students (available in paperback) Ask your questions or share your feedback by... Leaving a comment on the show notes for this episode at http://usacollegechat.org/episode137 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 Connect with us through... Subscribing to our podcast on Google Play Music, iTunes, Stitcher, or TuneIn Liking us on Facebook or following us on Twitter Reviewing parent materials we have available at www.policystudies.org Inquiring about our consulting services if you need individualized help Reading Regina's blog, Parent Chat with Regina

12. Episode 136: Too Few Male Students at College?
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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!). 

1. A Quick Historical Look at Men in College

Let’s look back for a moment at the history of male students in U.S. colleges. We wrote about this back in our first book, How To Find the Right College: A Workbook for Parents of High School Students, when we discussed the very real college option for your teenager of attending a single-sex institution vs. a coeducational institution. Here is what we said then: 

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.

The tradition of single-sex colleges is particularly strong in the Northeast, perhaps because that is where so many of our country’s oldest higher education institutions are located. In addition to Barnard, women’s colleges in the Northeast include Bryn Mawr College, Mount Holyoke College, Simmons College, Smith College, and Wellesley College. But there are well-known women’s colleges located in other regions of the U.S. as well—like Mills College and Scripps College in California, Stephens College in Missouri, Hollins University and Mary Baldwin College in Virginia, Saint Mary’s College (the sister school of the University of Notre Dame) in Indiana, and Agnes Scott College and Spelman College in Georgia. Spelman has the distinction of also being an excellent HBCU. Interestingly and for whatever reason (probably rooted in financial issues), some of these women’s colleges now allow men to enroll in their graduate programs only, thus maintaining the traditional women’s college atmosphere for their undergraduate residential students. Today, there are just over 40 women’s colleges in the U.S.

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.”

Find our books on Amazon! How To Find the Right College: A Workbook for Parents of High School Students (available as a Kindle ebook and in paperback) How To Explore Your College Options: A Workbook for High School Students (available in paperback) Ask your questions or share your feedback by... Leaving a comment on the show notes for this episode at http://usacollegechat.org/episode136 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 Connect with us through... Subscribing to our podcast on Google Play Music, iTunes, Stitcher, or TuneIn Liking us on Facebook or following us on Twitter Reviewing parent materials we have available at www.policystudies.org Inquiring about our consulting services if you need individualized help Reading Regina's blog, Parent Chat with Regina

13. USACC 135: Another Look at Community Colleges
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Today’s episode in our series Researching College Options looks at a big option--an option that we have talked about in quite a few USACollegeChat episodes and in our first book, How To Find the Right College: A Workbook for Parents of High School Students. Most recently, we took a careful look at this option about five months ago in Episode 113. However, I have to admit that I am considering it again, based on a new opinion piece by LaGuardia Community College President Gail O. Mellow in late August in The New York Times. The option is community college. As we said in Episode 113, the community college is a marvelous institution in theory, but a somewhat more disappointing institution in reality--or, at least, that has usually been our position.

If you are the parent of a high school senior, we know that some of you--perhaps many of you--are thinking about sending your kid to a community college next fall. Maybe that’s for financial reasons, maybe for academic reasons, maybe for maturity reasons, maybe for location reasons, maybe for some other reasons. Whatever your reasons, President Mellow has made us think again; so, let’s take another look.

1. The Pros of Community Colleges: A Review

Let’s quickly review some of the pros and cons about community colleges, also referred to as two-year colleges. Here’s an abbreviated list of pros we offered back in Episode 113 (these reasons are conveniently taken from our first book,How To Find the Right College: A Workbook for Parents of High School Students):

Two-year colleges offer associate’s degrees, which can be enough for some careers, including high-paying technical careers. Later, if the student wants to do so, the credits earned for an associate’s degree can be transferred to four-year colleges and applied toward credits needed for a four-year bachelor’s degree.   (In fact, some two-year colleges in some states are now authorized to offer bachelor’s degrees over four years, especially in technical fields where workers in the labor force are in short supply.) Two-year colleges offer students who have struggled in high school a chance to improve their academic record and gain the fundamental skills and study habits they will need to succeed in more advanced college study. After doing well at a two-year college, these students can likely get into a better four-year college than they could have gotten into right out of high school. Two-year colleges offer their students core liberal arts courses (which can often be transferred to four-year colleges later) and/or technical training in many different fields at a very low price. That’s critically important if paying for college is a major concern for your family.

That last point about very low cost is perhaps the main reason that kids head to a community college right out of high school. The fact that community college is so much cheaper than any four-year option--and the fact that kids can live at home and save even more money--is sometimes irresistible. We know that students can get financial aid of all kinds from four-year colleges, which could make their time there essentially free, but none of those deals is a sure thing. Paying the very low tuition at a community college, especially with whatever financial aid is available, is a sure thing.

2. The Cons of Community Colleges: A Review 

So, what’s the downside of going to a community college? As we have said before at USACollegeChat, the choice of a community college for students coming right out of high school is quite different from that same choice when it is being made by adults returning to college or starting college for the first time. My own nonprofit organization has done market studies for quite a few community colleges interested in increasing their adult enrollment (that is, students over the age of 25) and in serving those adult students better. And, to be fair, community colleges are a great institution for getting adults into college study or back into college study. But, we are focused today on your kid, who is going to college right out of high school, and some of the statistics about community college completion rates and transfer-to-four-year-college rates are just plain scary.

You have to deal with this statistic: Not even half of community college students complete any college degree in six years--not even a two-year associate’s degree. Admittedly, that statistic includes all kinds of students who attend community colleges--from bright kids right out of high school who just needed to save money to returning adults who have been out of school for a decade to kids who struggled in high school and couldn’t get into a more selective college. Nonetheless, we have quoted evidence in previous USACollegeChat episodes that shows that students are more likely to graduate if they go to a more selective college, for many reasons. That is clearly a reason against having your kid choose a community college for next year.

In addition to a seriously low completion rate, the transfer rate of students from community colleges to four-year colleges to earn bachelor’s degrees is also shockingly low, as we reported way back in Episode 64, based on an article in The Hechinger Report. Here is a statistic, which was taken from a report from Teachers College, Columbia University:

. . . 80 percent of entering community college students say they intend to earn a bachelor’s degree, but only about a quarter actually make the transfer and 17 percent eventually get the degree. (quoted from the article)

Parents, we said in Episode 113 that we thought you should think hard about whether your kid is different from the typical community college student--smarter, harder working, more motivated, more goal oriented. Just being younger might not help enough. The statistics are telling you that he or she is likely not to graduate with even an associate’s degree and is likely not to transfer to that great four-year college you say you are saving up your money for.

3. President Mellow’s Point of View

And now we come to President Mellow’s point of view. I have to admit that some of my attitude toward community colleges comes from my belief that kids who can get into a satisfactory four-year college and who can figure out how to pay for it (including through loans and other unpleasant devices) should go directly to that four-year college. I worry that kids who could go to a four-year college, but don’t, will get sidetracked into community college and never get out. But perhaps I have not given sufficient thought to kids who cannot go to a four-year college, especially for financial reasons.

Let’s look at some excerpts from President Mellow’s recent opinion piece:

You might think the typical college student lives in a state of bliss, spending each day moving among classes, parties and extracurricular activities. But the reality is that an increasingly small population of undergraduates enjoys that kind of life.

Of the country’s nearly 18 million undergraduates, more than 40 percent go to community college, and of those, only 62 percent can afford to go to college full time. By contrast, a mere 0.4 percent of students in the United States attend one of the Ivies.

The typical student is not the one burnishing a fancy résumé with numerous unpaid internships. It’s just the opposite: Over half of all undergraduates live at home to make their degrees more affordable, and a shocking 40 percent of students work at least 30 hours a week. About 25 percent work full time and go to school full time. (quoted from the article)

Of course, some of these students who work full time and go to school full time are adult students over the age of 25--but, not all of them. For example, a lot of students who graduate from urban high schools, like the one we co-founded in Brooklyn, head off to college with both the intention and the necessity of working while they are enrolled. Marie and I worried that our students wouldn’t be able to do both successfully. We worried that they were going to have a hard enough time in college without spending 10 or 15 or 20 hours a week--or more--at a job. But, given their family circumstances, many of them had no choice, just as President Mellow writes.

She continues: 

As open-access institutions, community colleges educate the majority of our country’s low-income, first-generation students. But public funding for community colleges is significantly less than for four-year colleges, sometimes because of explicit state policies. This means the amount that community colleges can spend on each student--to pay for faculty, support services, tutoring and facilities--is far less as well.

Tuition for low-income students can be covered by federal financial aid programs, but these students often have significant other costs--including housing, transportation, food and child care--that regularly pose obstacles to their education.

A recent Urban Institute study found that from 2011 to 2015, one in five students attending a two-year college lived in a food-insecure household. A study from the Wisconsin Hope Lab found that in 2016, 14 percent of community college students had been homeless at some point. At LaGuardia Community College in New York, where I am president, 77 percent of students live in households making less than $25,000 per year.

With financial pressures like these, studying full time is not an option. It is not uncommon for a student to take between three and six years to graduate from a two-year associate degree program. (quoted from the article)

And we can see why. Those statistics are sobering, and they do put community colleges’ lousy completion rates into perspective. Of course, you would still want your kid to come out of a community college on time so that he or she could move forward and transfer to a four-year college or enter the workforce and get a decent job. This is especially true if you, as a parent, can manage to pay the cost of attending a community college and keep distractions for your kid--like working a significant number of hours a week--down to a minimum.

Not surprisingly, President Mellow argues for a better financial deal for community colleges and their students, both in government funding and, interestingly, in philanthropy. She writes:

Community colleges need increased funding, and students need access to more flexible federal and state financial aid, enhanced paid internships and college work-study programs. Improved access to public supports, like food stamps and reduced public transportation fares, would also make a world of difference.

It’s not just that policy must change. Last year, more than $41 billion was given in charity to higher education, but about a quarter of that went to just 20 institutions. Community colleges, with almost half of all undergraduate students, received just a small fraction of this philanthropy. It is imperative that individuals, corporations and foundations spread their wealth and diversify where they donate their dollars. (quoted from the article)

I have to tell you that I was so embarrassed that my two alma maters might be on that list of 20 institutions that I didn’t even look at it--because obviously that is just the very definition of unfair advantage and privilege.

4. What’s Herb Alpert Got To Do with It?

Some months ago, I wrote a piece for my own blog, ParentChat with Regina, about the importance of music in a child’s education. But the really arresting part of the piece was about Herb Alpert, trumpeter extraordinaire and co-founder of A&M Records. (If you are too young to remember Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass, go listen to Alpert’s signature style on YouTube. Start with “Tijuana Taxi” and “This Guy’s In Love With You”--and stay for all the rest.) 

As it turns out, Alpert has done what President Mellow wishes more people would do. His foundation--co-founded with his wife, singer Lani Hall--has made a $10.1 million gift to Los Angeles City College (LACC), a two-year public community college. The money will create an endowment, which will be used to raise the number of music majors enrolled from 175 to 250 and to provide ALL of them with FREE tuition.

As reported by Carolina A. Miranda in the Los Angeles Times, Alpert said this about his gift: 

LACC is a gem of an institution. . . . [My] biggest motivation was helping kids who don’t have the financial energy to go to a major college. At LACC, they’ve nurtured thousands of dedicated students every year. My brother went there. My ex-partner [record producer] Lou Adler went there. I’ve visited the school. It’s alive. It’s kickin’. (quoted from the article)

Alpert noted that he was especially interested in supporting a public institution where students of all socioeconomic backgrounds could get a college education. It’s as if he were simply channeling President Mellow.

5. So, What About Community Colleges?

So, where does all that leave us--or rather, you? Well, we are probably going to continue to worry when seniors choose a community college as their first step into higher education. We are going to continue to worry that some of them are going to have difficulty graduating from a community college in anything close to two years and/or transferring to a four-year college ever. 

But we are also going to admit that financial constraints can cause families to choose a path that might not be as perfect as we would like for their own kids. If that is your situation, talk with your kid and think hard about the community college option. Think about how to keep working hours to a minimum so that study hours can be at a maximum. Talk about how important it is to stay on track and make progress toward graduation every semester. Help make the statistics better.

Find our books on Amazon! How To Find the Right College: A Workbook for Parents of High School Students (available as a Kindle ebook and in paperback) How To Explore Your College Options: A Workbook for High School Students (available in paperback) Ask your questions or share your feedback by... Leaving a comment on the show notes for this episode at http://usacollegechat.org/episode135 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 Connect with us through... Subscribing to our podcast on Google Play Music, iTunes, Stitcher, or TuneIn Liking us on Facebook or following us on Twitter Reviewing parent materials we have available at www.policystudies.org Inquiring about our consulting services if you need individualized help Reading Regina's blog, Parent Chat with Regina

 



14. Episode 134: The College/Career Value of Internships
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Welcome back from the Labor Day holiday and welcome back to school for those of you living in the Northeast, where the very last kids to start back reside. And welcome back to our series, Researching College Options, where we have spent the last three episodes talking about the academic hurdles that kids will meet in trying to get into a college. Those hurdles are, first, SAT and ACT scores of competing applicants; second, average high school grade point average (GPA) of competing applicants; and third, courses that all applicants are expected to have taken in high school, usually listed in terms of credits (or Carnegie units) in each subject area, but also sometimes including specific courses, especially in math and science. To repeat from our previous episodes, all three of these academic standards matter at most of the nation’s most selective four-year colleges, and high school GPAs and high school courses taken actually matter at virtually all of our nation’s four-year colleges.

When we talked about high school courses taken (in Episode 133), we said that this is something you could probably still fix if your kid is just starting back to school now for his or her senior year. Yes, your kid’s fall semester courses were likely chosen some time ago, but changes can be made in most high schools as classes start if there is an important enough reason--and, clearly, meeting college entrance requirements is an important enough reason. Parents of younger students, we told you that you still have time to have a major effect on the high school courses your kid will take in the next couple of years, and you should absolutely start looking at entrance requirements now--before it is too late. Go back and listen to Episode 133 to find out why and how.

In today’s episode, we want to talk to all of you parents about something else that you can still influence--something else that will improve your kid’s college application, to be sure, but that will also just simply improve your kid. It’s not a new topic for us, and we hope it will sound familiar to you, too.

As we turn to today’s topic, let us remind you, one more time, to give your kid our new book, How To Explore Your College Options: A Workbook for High School Students, designed to help students get the information that they need to make good choices about where to apply. We will talk more about the book in a few weeks--when you all are getting really nervous about those unfinished college applications.

1. What About Internships?

But now, we want to take you all the way back to Episodes 16 and 17, when we first talked to our audience about the topic of internships. I imagine that many of you listeners were not with us then since we had only just begun our podcast. Or, perhaps you had kids who were younger then and not yet in the throes of college applications. So, I think this bears repeating. Let us start with some internship basics and then talk about a new research study that offers some very interesting new evidence about the value of internships--especially for certain students. So, stay tuned.

Let us say first and foremost that students who have had internships in high school almost universally say that their internship was one of the most valuable learning experiences they ever had. And, from another perspective, their adult supervisors at the workplace almost universally say that having the student intern was a great experience for the organization as well. Undoubtedly, some students might be unprepared academically or socially for an internship, and some organizations might be unprepared to use an intern effectively. But, when a student is prepared and the organization is welcoming, an internship is a well-documented way of helping a student acquire some of the skills that he or she will need in real life, both in college and in a career.

Unlike many innovative programs brought into schools in the past century, there is simply no downside to student internships. About 40 years ago, my nonprofit organization started evaluating internship programs that were funded by government grants and operated by individual school districts, colleges, and nonprofit organizations. Every single program we studied offered great results for students and received high marks from the adults involved--both in the workplace and in the schools. We never evaluated any kind of innovative program that was more effective or more universally liked.

One of the best ones I ever saw was then called the Executive High School Internship Program, and it was used in many school districts. It placed students in executive internships--that is, students worked with executives in various professional fields. Back in the late 1970s, we did an evaluation of the Executive High School Internship Program in the Montgomery County Public Schools in suburban Maryland. At that time, the program placed students in, specifically, public administration internships--for example, working with County government officials. It was a really interesting idea, I always thought.

I searched for Executive High School Internships while I was preparing this episode and found a version of the program still offered in Montgomery County at the Walter Johnson High School in Bethesda. Since almost nothing innovative lasts in education for 40 years, I am thinking that those administrators and parents and students in Montgomery County agreed with our highly favorable evaluation all those years ago. Here is an excerpt from the Walter Johnson High School website today:

The Executive Internship Program is a rigorous, high-quality profession-focused academic program. This program allows students to explore and clarify career options in a chosen area of academic interest. Students are required to use verbal, analytical, questioning, and writing skills while participating in their internship. The general expectations of the workplace will be followed throughout the experience. All students enrolled in this program should gain personal and professional experience that will assist them in meeting their lifetime goals. An internship enables students to identify a field of interest, observe and participate in related professional activities, and understand a chosen profession’s requirements and culture. This will help a student determine if a profession is compatible with his interests, values, skills, and aptitudes. Students will integrate academic knowledge [into] a professional setting and apply that acquired knowledge to a variety of experiences. Students will develop interpersonal communication skills, advance their social skills, and mature in their personal habits as a function of working in a professional environment.

The internship is a semester-long elective course completed during the school day or after school. The student receives honors elective credit . . . . (quoted from the website)

So, kudos to the Executive High School Internship Program and its legacy.

Marie and I can tell you countless stories of high school students’ internship experiences and how effective they are--from working in a prestigious architecture firm in Manhattan to working in a small, full-service advertising agency to working in technology support at a City University of New York college campus to working in a neighborhood children’s clothing store to working in a large engineering company, where one of our students actually solved a problem that the engineers were having trouble with. These are all stories from the internships our students had at the high school we co-founded in Brooklyn. Our Early College engineering- and architecture-focused high school was started in conjunction with NAF (formerly known as the National Academy Foundation and now going just by its acronym), a nonprofit organization that supports the programming of 675 career academies in high schools in 36 states, serving over 96,000 students. A formal internship is a key part of the NAF academy model.

So, if your high school has a formal internship program, get your kid into it. It looks great on those college applications because it is evidence that your kid has shown commitment over time, dependability, responsibility, initiative, and appropriate social skills in a real workplace environment. While these skills are all great for some future career, they are also equally important for success in college. Just think about it. And don’t forget, an internship might be an excellent source of college application essay material and an excellent source of additional college recommendation letters, if needed.

If your high school does not have a formal internship program, you can help your kid seek out an internship on his or her own--after school or on weekends (by the way, parents of younger kids, you still have summer options available to you). Ideally, you would have your kid look for an internship in a career field of interest and/or in a prospective college major field of interest in an organization where a responsible adult would agree to supervise and mentor your kid. (By the way, college applications often have an essay about why the student is interested in the major he or she has declared. An internship in the field is a great thing to write about in those essays.)

We are not saying that getting an internship on your own is particularly easy to do or that your kid won’t have to compete with college students, who are also looking for internships and who might be more qualified and/or at least more mature. However, we are saying that an internship experience with personal adult mentoring is priceless and worth the headache of trying to find one. Using whatever personal connections you might have at work, through friends, at your place of worship, or elsewhere might be your best chance of helping your kid find an internship.

Just a note: Some internships are paid, and some are unpaid. For example, NAF strongly believes that internships should be paid. To be sure, paid internships are a better simulation of the actual world of work and increase the likelihood that the student will be taken seriously by the adults on the job. Nonetheless, internships are such a good experience for students that we would argue that an unpaid internship experience is still worth it, and being able to accept an unpaid internship will definitely make it easier to find one.

2. The New Case for Internships

Now, I didn’t need any more evidence to tell me how valuable internships are. But, I was happy to find some while reading an August 29 article by Sarah Sparks at the Inside School Research blog at Education Week. She refers to a research report by the Urban Institute, which evaluated a high school program that provided mentorships, six-week professional career skills training, and a senior-year internship. The report looked, about two years after high school, at just over 1,000 students who had applied to the program in Baltimore and Washington, D.C. Some of the applicants were put into the program (through random assignment), and some made up the control group. They were about average students (with an average high school junior year cumulative GPA of 2.7), and about 89 percent were African American and typically lived in “economically distressed” neighborhoods. 

The report is entitled Pathways After High School: Evaluation of the Urban Alliance High School Internship Program, and it is authored by Brett Theodos, Mike Pergamit, Devlin Hanson, Sara Edelstein, Rebecca Daniels, and Tanaya Srini. Here are some findings:

Students in the program self-reported that they were more comfortable filling out the FAFSA and applying for other scholarships than students in the control group. Male students in the program were more likely to graduate from high school than male students in the control group. Male students in the program were more likely to apply to college than male students in the control group. Male students who completed the program were 23 percentage points more likely to attend college than male students in the control group. Male students who completed the program were 21 percentage points more likely to earn a two-year degree or be in college in their third year after high school graduation than male students in the control group. Male students in the program were significantly more comfortable with their own “soft skills” (e.g., “speaking with adult coworkers, writing professional e-mails, making presentations, dressing professionally, completing work assignments on time and getting to work on time”) after one year out of high school and even more comfortable after two years out of high school. The program shifted students with middling high school GPAs from attending two-year colleges to attending four-year colleges.

So, if you are the parent of an African-American male high school student, the data say that you should get him into an internship program, especially if he is just an average student. Of course, we believe that the rest of you should also get your kids into internship programs, because, as we said earlier, there is just no downside. You will be glad you did when it comes time for your kid to fill out those college applications, but you will also be glad you did when it comes time for your kid to function at college during the academic year and in the workplace during the summers.

Find our books on Amazon! How To Find the Right College: A Workbook for Parents of High School Students (available as a Kindle ebook and in paperback) How To Explore Your College Options: A Workbook for High School Students (available in paperback) Ask your questions or share your feedback by... Leaving a comment on the show notes for this episode at http://usacollegechat.org/episode134 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 Connect with us through... Subscribing to our podcast on Google Play Music, iTunes, Stitcher, or TuneIn Liking us on Facebook or following us on Twitter Reviewing parent materials we have available at www.policystudies.org Inquiring about our consulting services if you need individualized help Reading Regina's blog, Parent Chat with Regina

 



15. Episode 133: What High School Courses Will Get You into College?
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We are in the fifth week of our new series, Researching College Options, and we have spent the last two episodes talking about the two most likely academic hurdles that kids will meet in trying to get into a college: that is, first, the SAT and ACT scores of newly admitted and/or enrolled freshmen at the college and, second, the average high school grade point average (GPA) of those students. I think we made it clear that both of these matter at most of the nation’s most selective four-year colleges and that high school GPAs matter, in fact, at virtually all of our nation’s four-year colleges.

So, let’s look one more time this week at what we call Step 13 in our new book, How To Explore Your College Options: A Workbook for High School Students--that is, Step 13 of getting the information that your kid needs to make good choices about where to apply. Step 13 is about researching the college’s admission practices; we’ve talked about some of this information, and more is in the book. Finding out all of the information we call for in Step 13 will give you an idea about how likely it is that your kid will be accepted by a college if he or she decides to apply. As we said in the last episode, no one can say for sure whether your kid’s grades or admission test scores or extracurricular and community service activities or letters of recommendation will be appealing enough to get him or her admitted to a particular college. But today’s episode is about one more academic hurdle that might stand between your kid and one or more colleges on his or her Long List of College Options (LLCO): that is, high school courses that your kid did or did not take.

1. What High School Courses Should Your Kid Have Taken?

We want to talk to you about this topic because it is something you still might be able to fix as your kid starts into his or her senior year in the next few weeks. Yes, your kid’s fall semester courses were probably chosen some time ago, but changes can be made in most high schools as classes start if it is important enough. So, let’s find out if it is important enough. Parents of younger students, you still have time to have a major effect on high school courses taken in the next couple of years, and you should absolutely weigh in. Here is what we wrote in our new book for kids like yours:

Let’s look at [another] admission standard--one that is less often considered and more often taken for granted--and that is the courses that applicants are expected to have taken in high school, usually listed in terms of credits (or Carnegie units) in each subject area, but also sometimes including specific courses, especially in math and science.

Part C5 of the common data set [by the way, you can search for the “common data set” on each college’s website, and you will often find it] displays both REQUIRED and RECOMMENDED high school units, by subject area, but you should check out each college’s website for more detailed information. College Navigator [the online resource provided by the National Center for Education Statistics] does not have any specific information on this topic.

On a college’s website, this information [on required and recommended high school courses] can virtually always be found by starting with the Admission home page. You will find that the high school course or credit expectations of colleges do, in fact, differ, usually according to how selective the college is. But there are always a few surprises (like colleges that require students to have earned career and technical education credits in high school, for example).

After you write down the required and the recommended courses or credits, you can compare them from college to college, and you can see how well they match up with what you have taken so far and with what you will be taking as you finish up high school. Particularly if you are just a freshman or sophomore, this information can be invaluable as you plan your remaining semesters in high school. For example, what if a college on your LLCO requires--or, more likely, recommends--four credits of foreign language? Foreign language is something that lots of high school students drop out of before taking a fourth year. Perhaps that’s because they don’t know how many selective colleges recommend it.

The courses that you take in high school matter, including the courses that you take in your senior year. Colleges will tell you that slacking off in the senior year is never a good move. So, for example, a fourth year of math and a fourth year of science would be the best scenario for most applicants--and might be a mandatory scenario for entrance to top colleges and to some college programs, like engineering. If you don’t have a rigorous senior year planned, think again.

In the long, but crucial, College Profile Worksheet that we ask your kid to fill out for every college on his or her LLCO, we ask for the number of credits or courses required for admission to the college or to the college/school that he or she is interested in within the university as well as any specific courses required (like Biology or Algebra II). We ask for the information by subject field--meaning in English, math, science, social studies, foreign languages, arts, and other fields (which could include career and technical education or physical education or health or something else). And then we ask for the same information for recommended courses, including recommended courses like Calculus, for example.

Interestingly, many public state flagship universities have quite detailed lists of required and recommended courses that applicants should have taken, and my guess is that these lists are well known to high schools in those states so that high school counselors can make sure that students take them. At least, I hope they are. For those students applying to flagship universities in states other than their own state--as we have recommended that many students do--those students should be particularly careful about finding out what those requirements are and then meeting them. Why? Because the kids in those states are more than likely meeting all of them because their high schools know about those requirements and are well positioned to provide the courses that are needed.

Let’s look at one example. I took the University of Georgia, a very good flagship university--not the most selective in the nation, but a very competitive one. Here is what the website says about the College Preparatory Curriculum the university expects its applicants to have taken (remember that one unit is equal to one year of study):

At a minimum, by policy of the University System of Georgia, all first-year applicants must complete the College Preparatory Curriculum (CPC), which consists of 17 academic units in English (4), Mathematics (4), Science (4), Social Studies (3), and Foreign Language (2). The Georgia Board of Regents has a detailed high school curriculum guide to assist students in understanding what courses need to be completed for college. (quoted from the website)

Here are a few more details for University of Georgia applicants:

4 units of math must include Algebra I, Algebra II, Geometry, and one math course beyond Algebra II 4 units of science must include 1 unit of biological sciences; 1 unit of physical sciences or Physics; 1 unit of Chemistry, Environmental Science, or Earth Science; and a 4th unit of science, which could include AP Computer Science (with two of the four units being lab sciences) 2 units of foreign languages, with the two units being sequential units in one language

Those are serious requirements. I bet there are a lot of Georgia high school students and a lot of high school students in most states that cannot meet those standards even if the necessary courses were offered in their high schools. Parents, is your kid one of them?

The Georgia example is the reason we are telling you about this now. There is still time to add a fourth year of math or science to your kid’s senior year schedule--even if it is not the hardest math or science that you can imagine. I would a lot rather have four units of math and four units of science on my kid’s transcript and let the college figure out how hard those fourth-year courses actually were than not have the fourth-year courses there at all. In other words, the fourth-year courses do not have to be Calculus and Physics in order to count.

But every college is different. Really. That is exactly why we put these questions on the College Profile Worksheet. You have to know what each college expects or your kid cannot possibly jump that hurdle.

2. A Quick Look at Foreign Languages

Let’s look at my favorite part of this topic, and that is the importance of studying a foreign language in high school (and in college, by the way). It is one of those things that anyone who knows me might guess I am going to bring up--along with the importance of studying outside the U.S., the importance of the liberal arts, and the importance of historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs), to name a few of my favorite soapboxes.

Here are a few startling statistics from an Education Week article in June by Corey Mitchell:

The American Councils for International Education estimates that 10.6 million K-12 U.S. students study a world language or American Sign Language. That sounds like a lot of students, but it is actually just 20 percent of American students. Fewer than 10 percent of students in at least two states study a language other than English. Arabic is the fastest-growing second language among U.S. residents, but only 0.25 percent of American students who study a foreign language study Arabic in school. Eight times as many study Latin. I am all for more Arabic, but all my friends know that I would hate to give up Latin. Less than 1 percent of American students who study a foreign language are studying either Russian or Japanese, though both of these languages were popular some decades ago for obvious political or economic reasons. The study of Mandarin, the most commonly spoken language in the world, is increasing among American students. That’s probably an important trend. Eleven states require credits in foreign languages in order to graduate from high school. Does 11 sound like a lot or a little to you? Because it sounds like way too little to me. The District of Columbia and 44 states are in the market for certified foreign language teachers. We are certainly going to need more teachers if we are going to convince more kids to study more foreign languages or foreign languages for more years.

And here is a quotation from Marty Abbott, the executive director of the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages, also from the Education Week article:

“We’re such a long way in this country from having it be normal to grow up learning other languages. . . . Our future depends on our ability to engage with the rest of the world, and right now Americans have a very tough time doing that.”

We do indeed. So, parents, help your kid stand out when it comes to the college admissions game. Convince your kid to take four years of a foreign language in high school (assuming that your high school makes four years available and, if not, encourage your kid to take two years of one language and two years of another language). Do this not just to get your kid into college; do it for a lot of other great reasons, too. And now I—with my four years of high school Latin and my three years of high school French--will get off my soapbox.

3. It’s Labor Day!

So, we hear that it’s almost Labor Day. We will be taking next week off to catch our breaths and celebrate. You should do the same, because September will require you to hit the ground running. Parents of seniors, the time is here. We will be back with a new episode on September 7. We can’t wait!

Find our books on Amazon! How To Find the Right College: A Workbook for Parents of High School Students (available as a Kindle ebook and in paperback) How To Explore Your College Options: A Workbook for High School Students (available in paperback) Ask your questions or share your feedback by... Leaving a comment on the show notes for this episode at http://usacollegechat.org/episode133 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 Connect with us through... Subscribing to our podcast on Google Play Music, iTunes, Stitcher, or TuneIn Liking us on Facebook or following us on Twitter Reviewing parent materials we have available at www.policystudies.org Inquiring about our consulting services if you need individualized help Reading Regina's blog, Parent Chat with Regina

16. Episode 132: High School Grade Inflation and College Admissions
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We are in the fourth week of our new series, Researching College Options, and we spent time in our last episode talking about the SAT and ACT and their almost-unavoidable continuing role in college applications and admissions. Yes, we said that there are plenty of test-optional and test-flexible colleges, but the SAT and ACT are not dead and buried yet and won’t be any time soon, if ever. That topic was just about as inevitable as college applications season gets into full swing as this week’s topic, which is the super-important high school grade point average (GPA).

Unfortunately, if your kid is about to be a senior, that high school GPA is pretty well locked in place at this point. A great fall semester might help a bit, but it won’t do much to change a GPA that is already based on six semesters of high school work and it won’t help at all if your kid is applying to a college under an Early Decision option and/or if your kid is applying to one or more colleges under an Early Action option by around November 1. Your kid’s current cumulative GPA is what it is, and now we have to help you and your kid think about how to deal with it.

So, here are a few paragraphs of background from our first book, How To Find the Right College: A Workbook for Parents of High School Students:

Unfortunately, there are no “high school grades optional” colleges that we know about. Certainly, most colleges will claim to look at the whole picture--a complete profile--of a student during the admissions process; nonetheless, that whole picture always includes high school grades. While there can be reasons that high school grades are lower than the student is capable of earning--such as difficult family situations or personal problems or trauma--those reasons would have to be explained compellingly in an essay or an additional letter of some sort to the college. In short, it is really very difficult to explain away mediocre or low high school grades.

When a student has mediocre or low high school grades, it is ideal if that student happens to have high SAT or ACT scores. Then, the college can imagine that the student is bright, but perhaps had some reason for not performing as expected in high school classes. None of those reasons would be a great excuse, but some colleges will make an exception for such a student.

However, most students who have mediocre or low high school grades do not have high SAT or ACT scores. For those students who have both mediocre or low high school grades and mediocre or low college admission test scores, the college choice with the highest cost-benefit ratio is probably a public two-year college--or maybe a public four-year college. By the way, great public four-year colleges can be just as difficult to get into as good private four-year colleges, so many of them are probably out of the running, too. If you look at the average high school GPAs of entering freshmen at many public state flagship universities, they are extraordinarily high--a 3.7 or 3.8 is not unheard of. Why again? Because many, many of the brightest students in a state want to attend--and do attend--the public state flagship university, for all the reasons we [have discussed before at USACollegeChat].

Understanding how important high school grades are in the college admission game is the first step, but it is one you should have taken with your senior several years ago. Parents of younger high school students, heed this early warning: Help your kid understand that there is really no way to make up for crummy--or even lackluster--high school grades when it comes time to apply to colleges. There just isn’t.

So, let’s look again this week at what we call Step 13 in our new book, How To Explore Your College Options: A Workbook for High School Students--that is, Step 13 of getting the information that your kid needs to make good choices about where to apply. Finding out all of the information we call for in Step 13 will give you an idea about how likely it is that your kid will be accepted by a college if he or she decides to apply. Of course, no one can say for sure whether your kid’s grades or admission test scores or extracurricular and community service activities or letters of recommendation will be appealing enough to get him or her admitted to a particular college. But several academic hurdles stand between your kid and one or more colleges on his or her Long List of College Options (LLCO), and high school GPA is one of those hurdles.

1. High School GPAs of College Candidates

So, we believe that your kid should find out the average high school GPA of admitted or enrolled freshmen in order to get a somewhat better grasp on whether he or she is likely to be admitted to that college. Here is what we wrote in our new book for kids like yours:

For many, but not all, colleges, you will be able to find the full distribution of high school GPAs and the average high school GPA of the students enrolled in the freshman class by looking under C11 and C12 of the common data set on the college’s website. [You will probably need to search for “common data set” on the college’s website, and you might find that the data sets are available for several years.] You also might find [high school grades] on a Class Profile sheet on the website, but you will not find this information on College Navigator [the online resource provided by the National Center for Education Statistics].

[The] average high school GPA will be on a 4-point scale. For example, a great college might show an average high school GPA of 3.8, meaning that its enrolled freshmen did extremely well in their high school courses.

As Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate courses have become increasingly popular and as more high schools have started to “weight” students’ grades in those courses (and sometimes in their own honors courses as well), there has been a rise in high school GPAs. In other words, when a student in a high school with weighted grades gets an A in a regular course, that A is worth a 4.0, or 4 points. But if a student in a high school with weighted grades gets an A in an Advanced Placement course, that A is worth a 5.0, or 5 points—that is, the grade has more “weight.”

Whether your high school does or does not weight course grades is something that should be part of the high school narrative profile that your school’s counselor will send off to colleges with your high school transcript. That profile is helpful to colleges in judging your GPA.

Nonetheless, one effect of all of this weighting of high school course grades appears to be that average high school GPAs of incoming freshmen are on the rise. We can tell this anecdotally by the fact that many colleges we profiled in our virtual college tour [back in Episodes 27 through 53 of USACollegeChat], including some not super-selective ones, post surprisingly high average GPAs well over a 3.5 for the incoming freshman class.

So, look carefully at the average high school GPAs that colleges are putting out there and see how yours compares. And, remember, some colleges will not provide one.

Well, that is a rather straightforward explanation of the high school GPA as one determinant in college admissions. As parents, it shouldn’t surprise you at all. But now let’s look at a newer explanation of that high school grade inflation, which we referred to, and its consequences.

2. The New Research on High School Grade Inflation

This explanation comes to you from a July article in Inside Higher Ed, which is, in its own words, “the leading digital media company serving the higher education space. Born digital in the 21st Century at the height of the Internet revolution, our publication has become the trusted, go-to source of online news, thought leadership, and opinion over the last decade.” This article, by Scott Jaschik, is appropriately titled “High School Grades: Higher and Higher." Here is what Jaschik said about a new study, which was just released:

The study . . . will be a chapter in Measuring Success: Testing, Grades and the Future of College Admissions, to be published next year by Johns Hopkins University Press. The two authors of the study are Michael Hurwitz, senior director at the College Board, and Jason Lee, a doctoral student at the Institute of Higher Education at the University of Georgia. . . .

The research is on students who take the SAT, and the study argues that these are representative of high school students who enroll in four-year colleges. The data come both from the Education Department and from surveys the College Board conducts of students who take the SAT.

A key finding is that, looking at cohorts of high school graduates who finished from 1998 to 2016, the average high school GPA went up from 3.27 to 3.38.

Notably, the gains were unequal among high schools, and the differences appear to favor students from wealthier (and whiter) high schools than average.

The study groups high schools by the magnitude of grade inflation. In the top decile of growth in average GPAs [meaning that the GPAs rose the most], black and Latino students made up only 22 percent of students on average, and only 32 percent of students were eligible for free lunch. But in the bottom decile of GPA growth [meaning that the GPAs rose the least], black and Latino enrollments were an average of 61 percent, and more than half of students were eligible for free lunch. The study finds that the average GPA at the high schools with the most grade inflation (top decile) has hit 3.56, while the average at places that haven’t seen much grade inflation (bottom decile, largely minority) is 3.14.

. . . [T]he study finds similar grade inflation in . . . weighted and unweighted grades. . . . (quoted from the article, emphasis added)

Well, that is quite a lot to process. It’s bad enough that grade inflation is taking place and skewing the way that everyone has to think about high school achievement. But it’s much worse to know that whiter and richer kids are disproportionately benefiting from what is already a lousy trend. You can draw your own conclusions about why that is happening. And here is one further surprising finding from the study:

. . . [T]he authors find that the proportion of students with A averages (including A-minus and A-plus) increased from 38.9 percent of the graduating class of 1998 to 47 percent of the graduating class of 2016. . . . (quoted from the article)

What? I was surprised--more like flabbergasted--to learn that almost 40 percent of students in the graduating class of 1998 had A averages (even considering that this was perhaps a somewhat select sample of that graduating class, like kids who took the SAT). Nonetheless, almost 40 percent seems high to me--or, more precisely, inflated already. The fact that the figure is now 47 percent is more arresting still. Do we really believe that almost half of the 2016 high school graduates--even half of the graduates who took the SAT--deserved A averages? That seems like a lot of kids to me.

But hold on a minute. Here is something that you might be thinking, something that would make these fantastic grades happy news, according to the article:

. . . [T]he authors acknowledge in their study [that] there could be a reason for the grade inflation that would make educators celebrate. What if students are smarter or are being better educated, and so are earning their better grades? The authors reject these possibilities, and cite SAT scores to do so. If students were learning more, their SATs should be going up, or at the very least remaining stable. But during the period studied, SAT averages (math and verbal, 1,600-point scale) fell from 1,026 to 1,002. . . . (quoted from the article)

Oh, so it’s just grade inflation after all. Here is the wrap-up and bottom line from the article:

While the authors said they didn’t think many educators would be surprised that grade inflation is present in high schools, they said it was important to look at the variation among high schools, a circumstance that has received less attention.

High schools “most prone to grade inflation are the resourced schools,” Lee said, “the ones with the highest level of affluence.” For those at high schools without resources, generally with lower GPAs, grade inflation elsewhere “puts them at a disadvantage in the college admissions process.” (quoted from the article)

So, this is one more instance of students from poorer communities--who are, as a matter of fact, disproportionately students of color--facing a tougher path to college. And this is one more instance of students from wealthier communities--who are, as a matter of fact, disproportionately white students--getting an undeserved break.

3. What Does It Mean for You

What does all this mean for your kid, regardless of how well-to-do or not-well-to-do your high school community is? It means that the race for good grades has gotten harder to win. Average high school GPAs of admitted freshmen are impressive--sometimes literally unbelievably impressive--even at colleges that are not in the top tier. If you have a senior at home and it is too late to improve his or her GPA, then you need to be sensible in looking at how your kid stacks up against the students who are being admitted to colleges on your kid’s Long List of College Options. If you have a younger kid at home, remind him or her every day just how important high school grades are--no matter what four-year college he or she is aiming for.

Find our books on Amazon! How To Find the Right College: A Workbook for Parents of High School Students (available as a Kindle ebook and in paperback) How To Explore Your College Options: A Workbook for High School Students (available in paperback) Ask your questions or share your feedback by... Leaving a comment on the show notes for this episode at http://usacollegechat.org/episode132 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 Connect with us through... Subscribing to our podcast on Google Play Music, iTunes, Stitcher, or TuneIn Liking us on Facebook or following us on Twitter Reviewing parent materials we have available at www.policystudies.org Inquiring about our consulting services if you need individualized help Reading Regina's blog, Parent Chat with Regina

17. Episode 131: College Admission Testing, One More Time
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We are in the third week of our new series, Researching College Options, and we are going to talk today about a topic that is unavoidable. It is a topic that we have talked about on several episodes of USACollegeChat and one that we have written about in both of our books for high school students and their parents. The topic is college admission testing--that is, the SAT and the ACT.

Parents, if you have a smart kid who is applying to top-tier colleges, then this episode is especially important for you. But, as it turns out, this episode is also important if you have a great kid with just average high school grades or even not-quite-average high school grades, who might end up in a college that requires some sort of remedial English or math courses for students with borderline or sub-par academic records. Why? Because satisfactory college admission test scores can be the way around those remedial courses, which have a generally bad reputation in higher education. And the statistics show that skipping past those remedial courses could ultimately mean the difference between a student’s graduating and not graduating ever.

In this episode, we are going to read you some excerpts from what we call Step 13 in our new book, How To Explore Your College Options: A Workbook for High School Students. Step 13 of what again? Well, it’s Step 13 of getting the information that your kid needs in order to make good choices about where to apply to college. If your kid needs more help, go get the book at amazon.com.

1. Is It Time To Register?

So, why are we skipping all the way to Step 13 when we are just beginning this new series? That’s quite simple. It’s because Step 13 is about a college’s admission practices. And it’s because registration deadlines for the SAT and ACT are looming on the horizon, and we didn’t want you all to run out of time. According to our information, the registration deadline for the October 7 SAT test administration is September 8 (with late registration until September 27), and the deadline for the September 9 ACT test administration is already past, but late registration goes until August 18 (so you might need to hurry).

The chances are good that many of you have brand new high school seniors who have already taken the SAT or ACT at least once, probably last spring. Should your kid take one or both tests again? We would say “yes,” if your kid has done anything at all since the last test that might improve his or her scores--like take practice tests, take a test preparation course, pay more attention in classes in school, or something else. It is unlikely that your kid will do significantly better on the tests if he or she has not done anything to get better prepared since the last testing time.

If your kid has not taken either test yet, it is a good idea to take the SAT on October 7 and/or the ACT on September 9. Why? Because that still gives your kid a chance to take either or both tests a second time this fall, before regular decision applications are due around the first week of January of 2018. The SAT will be administered again on November 4 and the ACT on October 28. To repeat, however, if your kid does nothing to prepare in the intervening weeks between the two SAT or ACT testings this fall, then it is not likely that his or her scores will be much better the second time around.

Another reason that it is a good idea to have your kid take the SAT on October 7 or the ACT on September 9 is to get those scores back in time to submit Early Decision and/or Early Action applications around November 1. Early Decision and Early Action were the focus of Episode 108 and 109, and we would strongly encourage you to go back and listen or re-listen to them now. Understanding these two college admission programs--as annoying and as complicated as they are--could truly make the difference between acceptance and rejection for your kid and between enormous anxiety and mild anxiety from January through March. We can’t stress that enough. While there is some serious calculation that goes into an Early Decision application, as we discuss, there is no downside at all to submitting as many Early Action applications as possible. Really, none.

So, it is time for you to have a serious discussion with your kid about whether he or she should be taking or retaking the SAT and/or ACT on that first fall testing date: again, October 7 for the SAT and September 9 for the ACT. Every kid’s situation is different—how good any earlier scores are, how selective the colleges being considered are, how diligently test preparations are being undertaken, how confident and/or willing your kid is to sit through the test. For kids who are not confident and/or not willing and who have not yet taken either test, there is still November 4 for the SAT and October 28 for the ACT.

2. But Who Needs Test Scores These Days?

You might be thinking about now, “Who needs test scores these days? I thought they were becoming less and less necessary as more and more colleges stopped asking for them.” Well, we address this topic in both of our books and in other episodes of USACollegeChat, but the bottom line is this: Having good test scores to submit is always preferable to not having them. That’s just common sense, and you didn’t need us to tell you that.

Now with that said, are there very-selective and not-very-selective colleges that do not require the submission of SAT or ACT scores? Yes, absolutely, but we hesitate to publish a list because those colleges change every year. Here is what we wrote about that in our new workbook for high school seniors:

The college website is usually quite clear about whether a college is a test-optional college (meaning that students do not have to submit college admission test scores) or a test-flexible college (meaning that students are given a choice of various types of test scores to submit).

However, we have noticed that many colleges that do not require the submission of SAT or ACT scores receive them, nonetheless, from many applicants. Because those scores are usually quite good, it is evident that students with good scores do, in fact, supply them to test-optional colleges. How those scores figure into admissions decisions is anybody’s guess. Here is our advice: If you have good SAT or ACT scores, you should probably submit them to test-optional colleges, even though they are not required.

There are perhaps only a handful of colleges that say that they absolutely do NOT want any test scores sent to them and that they will NOT use them at all for any reason, including well-regarded Hampshire College, which makes a crystal clear statement on its website about this subject.

And, yes, it is true that many colleges, according to their websites, downplay the role of test scores in the admission process, even when those scores are required. You can believe those disclaimers if you wish. However, I will tell you that we continue to see very good candidates with great grades and great activities and great service to others and only-okay test scores get rejected from colleges that made those claims. So, be sure to have your kid prepare for the tests and get the best SAT and/or ACT scores he or she can.

3. How Good Do the Scores Need To Be?

Once you and your kid have chosen colleges to apply to, you need to get information about the test scores of students who have been admitted to those colleges or who actually have enrolled there. Here is how to get that information for each college on your list, as we explained to students in our new workbook:

To get started, you need to figure out whether the data you are examining are for “admitted” students or for “enrolled freshmen.” These two groups are obviously not the same because many students who are admitted to a college do not actually enroll. Since you are trying to figure out whether you will be admitted, using “admitted” student data, when available, is probably the better choice; however, either set of data will give you an idea of the caliber of the applicants a college accepts.

Start by looking up the colleges on your LLCO [Long List of College Options] on College Navigator [the online service provided by the National Center for Education Statistics] and going to the Admissions section of the college profile. These data will be for “enrolled first-time students.” Helpful data are presented clearly in this section.

Then check each college’s website. Some colleges do a great job of presenting data on admitted students or enrolled freshmen, and others simply do not. Some colleges make it easy by providing a page of facts and figures about the new freshman class--sometimes called a Class Profile (of students who enrolled) or an Admitted Student Profile (of students who were admitted, but did not necessarily enroll). However, it is not always easy to locate this page (though it is often in the Admission section of the website). If you can find the common data set on the website, you will want to look under the third part: C. First-Time, First-Year (Freshman) Admission.

We have talked about and written about the common data set before. And, to repeat, it is not always easy to find on a college website; in fact, there are some colleges that I could never find it for. Nonetheless, it is an excellent source of all kinds of useful (and not-so-useful) data about any college you can name. Here are some specifics on this topic of test scores:

In part C9, the common data set does a good job of providing the following testing data:

The percent of students who submitted SAT and ACT scores The SAT and ACT scores, by subtest, at the 25th percentile of students and at the 75th percentile of students (in other words, 25 percent of students scored at or below the score at the 25th percentile, and 25 percent of students scored at or above the score at the 75th percentile)   The full distribution of SAT and ACT scores, by subtest

College Navigator also provides most of this information, if that is easier for you to get to than the common data set.   Some college websites also provide the actual average, or “mean,” admission test score, and that can be handy, too.

If your scores fall above the 75th percentile of scores for a college’s students, that is good. If your scores fall right in the middle between the 25th percentile and the 75th percentile, that would be just about average for a college’s students. But if your scores fall close to or below the 25th percentile, that would not be nearly so promising in terms of your chances of being admitted.

Remember, even if the college you are researching has declared itself to be a test-optional college, it might provide SAT and ACT information for those students who chose to submit test scores, and that information will be helpful to you.

4. And What About Those SAT Subject Tests?

Just when you thought the testing discussion was done, we have one more topic: the SAT Subject Tests (these are the tests that are in specific high school subjects and are generally thought to be harder than the SAT or ACT). To be clear, many colleges do not require any Subject Tests, but many highly selective colleges still do. So, don’t be surprised! You will need to go to a college’s website to find out how many Subject Tests are required and/or what specific Subject Tests (if any) are required for each college your kid is applying to.

If you are the parent of a high school senior right now, the Subject Test issue is particularly troublesome. Why? Because your kid might need to submit scores from--let’s say--two Subject Tests, your kid was great at biology when she took it two years ago, and now it seems like a long shot for her to go back and take a Subject Test in biology without a lot of studying and review of information learned quite a while ago. The opposite situation is not great, either--that is, your kid took biology as a freshman and took the Subject Test then, when she was in competition with older, more mature, more experienced kids taking the test. Of course, your kid might have taken an AP Biology or Advanced Biology course more recently and, if so, that would be helpful indeed. But let’s remember that every high school kid doesn’t have access to these upper-level courses taken in their later high school years and, for those kids, Subject Tests might prove to be a more difficult problem to solve.

Our point is this: Parents of all high school students, you need to do some advance thinking about Subject Tests during the high school years in order to give your kid the best chance at having a couple of good scores on his or her record. Taking Subject Tests in the spring of the junior year or in the fall of the senior year might be optimal in terms of a student’s maturity and school experience, but that might be too late for some subjects that were right up your kid’s alley. Whatever the case, thinking about Subject Tests for the first time in September of your kid’s senior year is too late.

5. Testing Nationwide

Now, let’s get a bit of a national perspective, because SAT and ACT testing is a much bigger issue than your kid’s personal testing choices. It might be useful, as a concerned resident of the U.S., to understand that issue these days. In The New York Times in July, University of Michigan professor Susan Dynarski wrote this in a thought-provoking and comprehensive article:

In Connecticut, Illinois and more than 20 other states, the ACT or SAT is given, without charge, during school hours. As of 2017, 25 states require that students take the ACT or SAT. In some districts, including New York City, the test is given free during school hours but is not required.

Michigan began requiring public school juniors to take the ACT in 2007, and the share of high school graduates taking a college entrance exam rose immediately to nearly 99 percent from 54 percent. That growth was even sharper among low-income students; only 35 percent had been taking the test.

Joshua M. Hyman, an assistant professor of public policy at the University of Connecticut, studied the effects of this initiative while he was my student at the University of Michigan. Professor Hyman analyzed the test scores and college attendance of all public high school students in Michigan, before and after the ACT requirement.

The results were surprising. It was not just low-achieving students who had been skipping the ACT (or the SAT, which Professor Hyman also tracked). For every 1,000 students who took a college exam when it was optional, and scored high enough to attend a selective college, another 230 high scorers appeared once the test was mandatory. For low-income students, the effect was larger: For every 1,000 students who scored well on the optional test, an additional 480 did so on the mandatory test. . . .

Universal exams cannot, by themselves, close gaps between poor and rich students in college attendance. But in Michigan, it has produced small increases, especially at four-year colleges and particularly among disadvantaged students. The story is similar in Maine, Illinois and Connecticut.

Professor Hyman calculates that at a cost of less than $50 per student, a universal testing program is one of the least expensive ways to increase college attendance. Further, if the SAT or ACT replaces the standardized test that states require in public schools, it need not take up any additional instructional time, a key concern of testing opponents.

Many people worry that college admissions tests are biased against low-income and nonwhite students. But disadvantaged students who do not take the tests are out of the running for selective colleges. While we may wish for a better approach, these tests are a gateway to selective schools. (quoted from the article)

So, whether your kid is socioeconomically advantaged in every possible way or the first generation in your family to go to college, the SAT or ACT should be in your kid’s future--just as it should be for so many kids in the U.S. Let’s all admit it and figure out the best ways to help all kids get access to the tests and to that pathway into college.

Find our books on Amazon! How To Find the Right College: A Workbook for Parents of High School Students (available as a Kindle ebook and in paperback) How To Explore Your College Options: A Workbook for High School Students (available in paperback) Ask your questions or share your feedback by... Leaving a comment on the show notes for this episode at http://usacollegechat.org/episode131 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 Connect with us through... Subscribing to our podcast on Google Play Music, iTunes, Stitcher, or TuneIn Liking us on Facebook or following us on Twitter Reviewing parent materials we have available at www.policystudies.org Inquiring about our consulting services if you need individualized help Reading Regina's blog, Parent Chat with Regina

18. Episode 130: Opening Your Eyes About College Options
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We are in the second week of our new series, Researching College Options. Now that it’s August and high school students in some parts of the country will actually be returning to school this month for their senior year, it’s time to get to work. So, for this new series, we are going to be talking directly to you, parents of high school seniors. Hang on because it can be a bumpy ride.

In this episode, we are going to read you some excerpts from what we call Step 1 in our new book, How To Explore Your College Options: A Workbook for High School Students. Step 1 of what you might ask? Well, it’s Step 1 of making a good decision about where to apply to college. Like all first steps, it is important--maybe the most important--and a little scary. But like all first steps, if your senior skips it, things are not likely to go as smoothly as you and he or she might have hoped. If you need more help, more examples, or more fun stories, go get the book at amazon.com.

1. Just Expand the College List

So, the second chapter of our book opens in a very unpleasant way. Here is what we wrote to your senior:

This chapter focuses on something that you are just about to do totally wrong. Really, totally wrong. In fact, our advice in this chapter is probably the opposite of what many school counselors and college consultants are telling you as you start a serious consideration of where to apply . . . . We bet they are telling you to start by narrowing your list of colleges, but we would like you to start by expanding your list of colleges.

There is plenty of time later to narrow down your options--once you get to . . . October or November . . . . While expanding your list might seem unnecessary, time consuming, or even wasteful, we believe that expanding your options now could mean the difference between an okay college choice and a great college choice for you later.

In other words, taking off from what we talked about last week, having your senior expand his or her options now could mean the difference eventually between just an okay college “fit” and a great college “fit.” And that could be the difference between graduating on time and not graduating on time--or even graduating at all. (Regular listeners: You know what we think about graduating from college on time--that is, in the traditional four years. It’s one of the best ways around to save money, and it might just let your kid go to his or her first choice, even if the annual sticker price on that choice is a bit higher than you all had hoped.)

2. That Dreaded Geographic Comfort Zone

So, what stands between your senior and that great college fit? It might well be the dreaded geographic comfort zone. As we said to your senior in our book, there is nothing we dislike more than your “geographic comfort zone.” Here is what we wrote:

The great majority of high school graduates who go to college choose a college in their home state—perhaps as many as 70 percent of them. Undoubtedly, you have one or more colleges in your home state on your list of college options right now. That’s okay with us. However, what’s NOT okay is to have nothing BUT colleges in your home state on your list.

Here’s why: It’s a big world out there. There are so many intriguing colleges in it that we hate for you to limit yourself to those nearby. We hate for you to limit yourself to those that are likely to have a majority of students a lot like you from the same part of the country as you. Your first step in making a list of college options should NOT be to narrow down the choices and to close off opportunities. You should NOT be settling either for colleges that are nearby or for colleges that you and your parents and your school counselor already know a lot about.

We know that there are some good reasons for kids to stay close to home for college. We understand that some families want to keep their kids close to home for cultural reasons, perhaps in order to participate in family events or religious activities. We understand that some families need to have their kids stay at home in order to help with family responsibilities. Those reasons are hard to argue against.

We know that staying close to home might make going to college more affordable for some families, especially if living at home saves on housing expenses. But we also know that it is hard to know in advance how generous a financial aid package might be from an out-of-state college. [Just look back at Episode 127 if you don’t believe us on that one!] Did you know that some states offer an attractive discount at their public colleges to students who come from nearby states? We bet you didn’t. Check out, for example, the Midwest Student Exchange Program or the Western Undergraduate Exchange or the New England Regional Student Program, if you live in those regions of the country, [or the University of Maine’s new tuition program for nonresidents].

We also know that you can sometimes get into a better college when it is far from home. Why? Because almost every college likes the idea of geographic diversity in its student body. Colleges like to claim that they draw students “from all 50 states and from 100 foreign countries.” You will see this kind of statement on many college websites. Pay attention, because you might be far more attractive to a college halfway across the country than to one in your own back yard. That’s because you will give that faraway college bragging rights. This is especially true for private colleges that do not have the same mission to serve students in their own state as public colleges do.

We also know that some parents just can’t imagine sending their kids away from home for the first time. In fact, you might not be able to imagine leaving home for the first time. But, we encourage you and your parents to think hard about that. Isn’t college the perfect time to make that break--a time when you can live somewhere else under the supervision of college staff in relatively secure surroundings, a time when you can learn to function as an adult in a safe environment (that is, learn to manage your money, do your work, plan your time, and make new friends)?

We urge you (and your parents) to get outside your family’s geographic comfort zone. You have nothing to lose at this stage in the process. Researching colleges outside your hometown, outside your state, and outside your region doesn’t mean you have to attend one of them--or even apply to one of them. But it does mean that you will have the information that you need to make a better decision when the time comes.

I really can’t make any better case for getting outside your geographic comfort zone than that. Here is what we wrote to your senior about how to do it:

Conveniently, the Bureau of Economic Analysis has divided the U.S. into eight regions:

Far West--California, Nevada, Oregon, Washington, Hawaiʻi, Alaska Rocky Mountains--Colorado, Wyoming, Idaho, Montana, Utah Southwest--Arizona, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas Plains--Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, Iowa, Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota Southeast--Louisiana, Arkansas, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Florida, South Carolina, North Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky, Virginia, West Virginia Great Lakes--Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio Mideast--Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, District of Columbia New England--Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine

However, we thought that the Bureau stuffed too many states into the Southeast; so, we divided the Southeast into two regions (southern and northern), and you should, too. That will give you nine regions to investigate.

We used these nine regions when we did our virtual college tour [at USACollegeChat]. You should listen to the tour in Episodes 27 through 53 of our podcast or simply read the show notes at usacollegechat.org. . . .

We thought hard about how you should create what we will call your Long List of College Options—your LLCO, for short. We decided to start with this advice:

Make sure that you have at least two four-year colleges in each of the nine geographic regions of the U.S. on your LLCO.

So, that would give you at least 18 four-year colleges. But, our guess is that your list already had some regions covered with more than two colleges--especially the region you live in. That’s fine. Have as many colleges on your LLCO as you like from each region. But don’t ignore any region! That’s what it means to get outside your geographic comfort zone.

3. How To Find College Options

We hope that we have convinced you. If we have, we don’t ever have to bring it up again. Here is what we wrote to your senior about what to do next:

How should you choose the colleges for your LLCO? Well, you probably know about some colleges already--from family, friends, school counselors, and teachers. You should discover some more from our virtual college tour, in which we talk about several hundred four-year colleges. You might find some more through a variety of online searches and quick looks at those college websites. Remember, you don’t need too much information about each one just to put it on your LLCO.

You will soon see that you can learn a lot from reading a college website. Furthermore, you can learn not only about that one college, but also about colleges in general and about what to look for on the next website you go to. It’s an education in itself. You really need an education ABOUT higher education.

By the way, don’t start looking at two-year colleges, or community colleges, yet. Two-year colleges can easily be added to your LLCO closer to application time, partly because their applications are typically less demanding to complete. We are also assuming that you are most likely to attend a two-year college in or near your hometown and, therefore, you will not need to do much investigating before applying.

We do have some reservations about two-year colleges, especially for students who have just graduated from high school and are moving directly into college full time. We know that two-year colleges are a great choice for saving money and for helping kids who need a bit more maturity or a bit more academic preparation before heading into college. . . . However, we worry because student graduation rates and student transfer rates from two-year colleges to four-year colleges are scandalously low, and we worry about what opportunities end up being closed off for too many kids.

But back to your LLCO. Those of you who have listened to our podcast or read the show notes know that this suggestion is coming:

Make sure that you have at least one college that is not in the U.S. on your LLCO.

This is a favorite topic of ours, and we can’t say enough about it. There are truly great options outside the U.S. We hope that every one of you will take advantage of studying abroad for at least a semester, no matter where you end up in college. Studying abroad is for everyone these days--not just for rich kids, not just for kids studying foreign languages, not just for kids at private liberal arts colleges. But you can actually study outside the U.S. for more than a semester or even for more than one year; you can simply go to a college outside the U.S. full time for four years.

So, you must be up to at least 19 colleges on your LLCO--likely more. But we can’t resist one last piece of advice:

Make sure that you have at least two public flagship universities on your LLCO--probably one from your home state plus one more.

We say this to ensure that you have some great public options to consider. Maybe you already had them when your chose two colleges from every region, but add them if you didn’t. To be clear, we mean public “flagships,” not just any public universities--though you are also free to put other public universities on your LLCO. If you are an excellent student, the public flagship in your home state is likely to be your very best choice for a “safety school” (with some exceptions, like California, which can’t accommodate all of the excellent students in their own state). If you can’t identify the public flagship in your own state or in most other states, you aren’t ready to be choosing colleges yet. Go learn about all 50 of them on our virtual college tour.

As we have said numerous times in our podcast episodes, public flagship universities might be the hidden jewels in the college landscape. They are often the very best place high school kids in those states can imagine going. Why? Because they are relatively inexpensive for state residents (because they are public), academically respectable (even outstanding), well regarded across the state and across the country, competitive in sports arenas, chocked full of student clubs and activities, within driving distance of home, and a social hub for lots of their high school classmates. They are often truly the place to be, if you live in that state.

As with everything, some states have better public flagship universities than others, and some public flagship universities are better funded by their states than others. Nonetheless, we are convinced that you can find at least two that you think might be great for you.

Well, that is a lot of colleges: colleges from nine geographic regions, one or more colleges from outside the U.S., and a couple of public flagships from your state and/or someone else’s. Of course, don’t forget to ask your parents and other important family members and teachers and school counselors for input about colleges to put on your LLCO. For right now, the more, the better--at least within reason. But our “within reason” is probably a lot bigger than your “within reason.” Remember that your senior is not necessarily applying to all of the colleges on his or her LLCO. Your senior is just going to start gathering the information he or she and you would need in order to decide whether it is worth applying. We will start talking about that information gathering next week--that is, what information to gather and how to gather it. So, stay tuned.

Find our books on Amazon! How To Find the Right College: A Workbook for Parents of High School Students (available as a Kindle ebook and in paperback) How To Explore Your College Options: A Workbook for High School Students (available in paperback) Ask your questions or share your feedback by... Leaving a comment on the show notes for this episode at http://usacollegechat.org/episode130 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 Connect with us through... Subscribing to our podcast on Google Play Music, iTunes, Stitcher, or TuneIn Liking us on Facebook or following us on Twitter Reviewing parent materials we have available at www.policystudies.org Inquiring about our consulting services if you need individualized help Reading Regina's blog, Parent Chat with Regina

19. Episode 129: What You Don’t Know About Colleges
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It’s getting serious now. It’s almost August, and kids who are headed off to their senior year in high school are realizing that it is time to get moving on investigating college options more thoroughly. There are a hundred things we would like to tell you and your senior about that and just as many pieces of advice we would like to give you two. In fact, we will do a lot of that in this new series that we are starting today and that we like to call Researching College Options. But in this episode we are going to focus on one really simple fact that is true for almost all high school seniors and their parents--just one fact. (Wait for it.)

We have been reminding you this summer to go to amazon.com and get a copy of our new book, How To Explore Your College Options: A Workbook for High School Students. We think that it is an easy-to-use workbook for a high school senior to fill out as he or she starts--and finishes--the great college search. However, I have given up on telling you to go get the workbook and will, instead, try to hit at least some of its high points over the next weeks. If you find you need more help, then get the workbook. It’s the best under-$10 purchase you will make this month. We promise.

1. College Fit Revisited

A couple of weeks ago, we talked about an Education Week article by Liana Loewus entitled “Pitching Rural, Low-Income Students on Private Colleges.” If you missed Episode 127, go back and listen because it might offer a new perspective on private colleges that would be useful to your family. One thing that the article did (though this was not the article’s main point) was to highlight the notion of “fit”--that is, how good a fit is a college for your senior. We quoted the following passage from the Education Week article about the importance of the academic and social and cultural fit of a college for a student:

In the 2016 book Matching Students to Opportunity: Expanding College Choice, Access, and Quality, Jessica Howell and her co-authors explain that college fit, and in particular going to a school that matches a student’s academic credentials, is positively associated with earning a degree.

“By and large, we know that when students enroll in a college that isn’t a good fit for them, that’s usually because they didn’t consider colleges that would have been a better fit,” Howell said in an interview. “We need to open up students’ eyes early in the process so they know their options.” (quoted from the article)

We might argue for a long time about all of the aspects of a college that help determine its fit for a particular student, and we might never agree on which are the most important ones. We would undoubtedly start with the degree of academic rigor (and some people might stop right there), and we might continue with things like the size of the institution, the demographic make-up of the student body, cost, and maybe even the type of setting and the geographic location. We will talk about all of that some time--perhaps even in the next few weeks (and, by the way, all of those aspects of college fit are discussed at length in both of our books).

But today, we want to focus on the last part of that Education Week quotation from Howell, not the first part: the fact that students can end up in the wrong college for them simply because they did not consider the right colleges. In other words, they are in a college that is a bad fit as a result of not investigating and applying to colleges that would have been a better fit. As Howell said, “We need to open up students’ eyes early in the process so they know their options.”

We could not agree more. In the upcoming summer weeks, we would like to help you help your senior open his or her eyes--early enough so that there is still plenty of time to act on what he or she finds out. And just as important, parents, we would like to help you open your eyes as well, and that might mean opening your eyes to consider colleges you have never even heard of. As we are fond of saying, there are thousands of colleges in the U.S. (and even more when you add in all of the colleges in other countries, which we love to talk about here at USACollegeChat), and the chances that you know all of the right ones for your senior are slim to none.

Now, I am not trying to be mean about this. Marie and I are the first to say that, even though this is our business and has been our area of expertise for quite some time, we learn something new from almost every episode we do. We learn about new academic programs, new recruiting strategies, new admissions requirements, new funding sources, new grading policies, new housing configurations, and on and on and on. And, by the way, we also learn about new colleges--well, not new colleges, but rather good colleges that we just didn’t know anything about. That’s what happens when there are thousands of colleges out there. No one can know about all of the good ones. Not you and not us. So, don’t take it personally.

Just agree to come along for the ride and make every effort to get your senior to come along for the ride, too. Try to give up your preconceived notions of the right college fit for him or her and make every effort to get your senior to give up his or her preconceived notions, too. As Howell said, it’s all about opening your eyes and seeing your options.

2. How To Open Your Senior’s Eyes--and Yours

In the opening chapter of our book, which was written as a user-friendly workbook for teenagers, we talked about how to open your senior’s eyes. In the book, we write this for any teenagers who will listen about how to solve their lack-of-information-about-almost-all-colleges problem:

The simple answer is just to ask a guidance counselor at your high school. You would think that guidance counselors would know quite a bit about lots of colleges and that they could pass that information on to you. Here’s why that usually doesn’t work.

Let’s start with public high schools. As you probably already know, most public high schools don’t have guidance counselors who are dedicated to working only on college counseling. That means that your guidance counselors, with caseloads in the hundreds, have to help students with college applications while dealing simultaneously with students who might be in serious personal or academic trouble. That’s an overwhelming job, and that is exactly why most high school guidance counselors cannot help you enough when it comes to exploring many college options, narrowing them down, and finally choosing the perfect colleges to put on your list.

Some public high schools--and even more private schools--have designated one of the school’s guidance counselors as a college counselor, specializing in college placement and perhaps financial aid and devoting all of his or her time to helping students undertake and complete their college searches. If your school has a college counselor like that, you are lucky indeed. Of course, searching through hundreds of colleges to find the right ones for you and then working through those college applications (including all of the essays) is the work of a lot of hours--at least 20 hours and really closer to 40 hours, we would say. Does your counselor have that much time to spend with you? Unfortunately, probably not, even if you attend a private school.

What if you are homeschooled? Without the help of a school guidance counselor or college counselor--even for a very limited amount of time--you might feel more at a loss than your friends who attend public or private schools. Should you expect your parents to know everything you need to know about a wide array of college choices? No, you shouldn’t. Respecting your parents’ opinions about colleges is certainly important, even crucial. But it is not likely that they are experts on the many, many colleges here in the U.S. (and abroad).

All high school students need to get help from somewhere or someone. We believe that this workbook is a good way to get some. That’s why we are talking to you now. We want you to have a way to find out the information you need about many colleges so that you will be in the best possible position to compare those colleges and then to make the right decision about where to apply and, eventually, about where to attend. While you will undoubtedly want and need some adult advice in thinking through the many options, what you need first is information--and a lot of it.

If you already have a list of colleges you are interested in, you will need information about each one of those. But, just as important, you will need information about colleges that are not yet on your list--including colleges that you have never considered because you didn’t know they existed. That’s not your fault now, but it will be if you don’t take steps to correct it. So, let’s get started. (quoted from the book)

Whether you use our workbook as a way to learn how to get the information you need about a broad enough selection of colleges is not the issue here. Believing that you need way more information than you have right now is the issue. We talk to so many parents and kids who come to us with their minds made up and hearts set on a college or a type of college or a location of a college. We think that they are rarely right.

By the way, that goes for parents who have never been to college themselves either in the U.S. or in their home countries; parents who started, but didn’t finish college; parents who have an associate’s degree; parents who have a bachelor’s degree; parents who have a master’s degree; and parents who have even more graduate and professional education than that. In other words, thinking you know the right college for your kids--and not really knowing it--knows no education, socioeconomic, or demographic boundaries.

And that goes for high school students, too. Marie and I have told story after story here at USACollegeChat about the students in the Early College high school we co-founded in New York City. We would like to think that these were kids who should have known more--after all, they were already taking real college courses on a real college campus with real college professors across the street from our high school. And yet, they didn’t. We would like to think that some of the workshops we ran for them and for their parents would have done the trick. And yet, they didn’t. What it took was individual counseling sessions with each student and often with the parents. Some of these stretched out over days and weeks and months.

One of our favorite stories, which gave rise to a rule that we like to follow, is of a young man we’ll call Ryan. Ryan sat down with Marie and me in our office at our high school and told us that he would like to apply to one of the State University of New York campuses in upstate New York. And let me say that it was in the middle-of-nowhere part of New York. Now, that was okay with us, but we suspected Ryan had no idea where that college was or what that rural setting was like. So we asked him to tell us where he thought the college was located. He admitted that he had no idea, and that didn’t seem to be a problem to him.

Those of you who listen regularly to USACollegeChat know that Marie and I love kids and parents who can get outside their geographic comfort zone. We will talk more about that next week. But we do believe that a kid should know where a college is if he or she intends to apply. And so the Ryan Rule was born: You can’t apply to a college if you can’t find it on a map. Parents: That turns out to be harder for a lot of your kids than you might think.

3. What’s the Point?

So what’s the point of today’s episode? It’s this simple fact that I told you this episode would focus on: Parents and seniors, you don’t know anything about most colleges. Simply put, both of you need more information about a lot of colleges. As Howell said, “We need to open up students’ eyes early in the process so they know their options.” She should have said, “We need to open up students’ and parents’ eyes early in the process so they know their options.”

If I have made you a believer, we will start the eye-opening next week. If you think you already have enough information about colleges, give me a call and let me prove to you how wrong you are.

Find our books on Amazon! How To Find the Right College: A Workbook for Parents of High School Students (available as a Kindle ebook and in paperback) How To Explore Your College Options: A Workbook for High School Students (available in paperback) Ask your questions or share your feedback by... Leaving a comment on the show notes for this episode at http://usacollegechat.org/episode129 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 Connect with us through... Subscribing to our podcast on Google Play Music, iTunes, Stitcher, or TuneIn Liking us on Facebook or following us on Twitter Reviewing parent materials we have available at www.policystudies.org Inquiring about our consulting services if you need individualized help Reading Regina's blog, Parent Chat with Regina

20. Episode 128: College Enrollment in Decline?
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Today’s episode is going to be the final one of our Colleges in the Spotlight series because next week we are really getting down to the serious work of getting our rising high school seniors ready to apply to colleges. So, as we leave Colleges in the Spotlight, we want to take a look at a news story that might just be bringing good news to some of you. The story, which ran in The Hechinger Report and in The Washington Post at the end of June, was entitled “Universities and colleges struggle to stem big drops in enrollment.” Really, I said to myself. That could be great news for kids applying to colleges this fall.

Today’s episode will look at the national facts and figures of this new trend. Plus we will look at Ohio Wesleyan University--in today’s spotlight--a good small liberal arts college in Delaware, Ohio. Ohio Wesleyan enrolls about 1,700 undergraduate students and boasts an attractive 10-to-1 student-to-faculty ratio. In the interest of full disclosure, my sister-in-law graduated from Ohio Wesleyan “some years ago” (that means more than 40 years ago) and, by all accounts, thoroughly enjoyed her time there.

And one final reminder: Don’t forget to get a copy of our new book, How To Explore Your College Options: A Workbook for High School Students--available at amazon.com. Quick and cheap! Your teenager is going to need it this summer when he or she might have some time to kill. We will tell you more when we get serious next week, so stay tuned.

1. The Facts and Figures on Enrollment Decline

Here are some of the facts and figures presented by Jon Marcus in The Hechinger Report article:

According to the National Student Clearinghouse, college enrollment has declined for five years in a row. This year, there are 81,000 fewer U.S. high school graduates going off to college, which is a direct result of a decline in birth rate (particularly in the Northeast and Midwest). Just over 18 million students were enrolled in colleges nationwide last spring--2.4 million fewer students than were enrolled in the fall of 2011, which was the most recent high point for college enrollment. I am going to say that over 2 million students is a lot of students to lose. According to a survey by the National Association of College and University Business Officers, 58 percent of chief business officers said their institutions had seen a drop in undergraduate enrollment since 2013. (Although 58 percent is certainly the majority of colleges, it doesn’t mean that the statement is true for the most selective colleges--where it is likely not true, just to keep things in perspective.) According to the National Association for College Admissions Counseling, over 400 colleges still had fall semester spots for freshmen and transfer students as of May 1. (Again, that doesn’t mean those 400 included the most selective colleges, but 400 is still a lot of colleges and every U.S. high school graduate does not, of course, attend a most selective college.)

What does the future hold? When will it all change? Not until 2023, according to the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education (WICHE). Here is what The Hechinger Report article says about what will then be a “slow recovery”:

When it comes, [the recovery] will be [composed] largely of low-income, first-generation-in-college racial and ethnic minorities. These are the kinds of students institutions have generally proven poor at enrolling, and who will arrive with a far greater need for financial aid and expensive support. (quoted from the website)

So, colleges might not have an easy time of it as they work to stem the decline and turn enrollment around--not that many high school seniors and their families are going to be overly sympathetic about that.

Can this information work in favor of kids applying to colleges in the next few years? Before we consider what it all means, let’s look at the Ohio Wesleyan case study, presented in The Hechinger Report article.

2. The Story of Ohio Wesleyan

Hit with a decline in Ohio high school graduates, a prime recruiting ground for Ohio Wesleyan, the University took and is taking a number of steps to boost its enrollment, based on data that it looked at both from admitted students who decided to enroll and admitted students who decided not to enroll. Here are some of those steps:

Because the drop in male students was greater than the drop in female students, Ohio Wesleyan is adding two sports (and a marching band) to try to attract more male students. Because students said they wanted more internship and more study abroad opportunities, both internships and short-term study abroad programs are being expanded. Because new sources of students needed to be found, Ohio Wesleyan admissions staff members have been recruiting locally (in Cleveland), regionally (in Chicago), and much farther afield (in China, India, and Pakistan). In addition, the transfer process has been simplified so that students wanting to transfer into Ohio Wesleyan can do so more easily. Because some undergraduates are concerned about where they will be going next for graduate study (Ohio Wesleyan enrolls undergrads only), articulation agreements with Carnegie-Mellon University and with a medical school have just been drawn up to make the transition from undergraduate to graduate study more straightforward--in at least those cases. Because money is always an issue for students and their families, Ohio Wesleyan has budgeted more money for financial aid. In addition, “the University is considering freezing, lowering or slowing the rate of increase of its tuition and fees, which are now $44,690” (quoted from the article). Because students are concerned about their futures, Ohio Wesleyan has been studying labor data and creating new majors in fields of high demand, including majors in data analytics and computational neuroscience. Ohio Wesleyan president Rock Jones was quoted in The Hechinger Report article as saying this: “We live in a really consumer-driven society, and to be honest a college is an investment. Families are much more discerning, and they approach it as consumers. That’s a cultural shift to which the campus has to respond.”

One of my favorite anecdotes from The Hechinger Report article is this one (and I think this will be particularly enjoyable for anyone who has friends who teach in colleges and who hear about the politics of higher education from those friends):

One of the greatest challenges, as at other places, has been to get buy-in from the faculty, who have to approve new academic offerings. Ohio Wesleyan invited faculty on the curriculum committee to meet with the financial-aid committee, giving them a sense of how serious the problems were and asking them for help in coming up with majors that might attract more students.

This doesn’t always work. One faculty member suggested a new major in sacred music, for example. “Some faculty have a very clear understanding of the issues,” [President] Jones said wryly. “Others, less so.” (quoted from the article)

3. More About Money

For those of you particularly concerned about financing a college education for your teenager (and who isn’t), consider this new statistic:

Small private, nonprofit colleges and universities this year gave back, in the form of financial aid, an average of 51 cents of every dollar they collected from tuition. That’s up from an average of 38 cents a decade ago. . . . (quoted from the article)

I guess that is good news for students and their families, but perhaps bad news for colleges that continue to try to make ends meet. Of course, there also has to be a point here when most colleges cannot give back almost everything they take in and still remain viable.

And while we could tell you stories of small private colleges cutting their tuition and, as a result, gaining additional students, here is one public flagship university story that could also prove valuable to some of you:

The University of Maine, in a state whose number of high school grads has fallen 9 percent since 2011, offered admission to students from elsewhere at the same in-state price they would have paid to attend their home flagships; that has attracted more than 1,000 new students for the semester that begins this fall, from all of the other New England states plus California, Illinois, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. (quoted from the article)

We have talked about these kinds of arrangements with public universities in previous USACollegeChat episodes and in our most recent book, where we mention that some public universities provide generous discounts to students from contiguous states or to students in the region. The University of Maine seems to have found a way to expand that idea nationwide and win more students as a result.

4. What’s It All Mean for You?

So, what does all this mean for you and your own teenager? Well, let’s start with what it doesn’t mean. It doesn’t mean that your kid’s chances of getting into an Ivy League school or any other top-tier college are any better now than they were before you listened to this episode. Whatever happens to the number of high school students in the U.S. and no matter what the decline is in the number of high school graduates statewide in your state or nationwide, our nation’s most selective colleges are not going to feel the pinch. That is just our opinion, but it is probably right.

It is also likely true that the top public flagship universities are not going to feel the pinch, either--like the University of Virginia, the University of Michigan, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the University of California, Berkeley, and another five or 10 more. Why? Because those top flagships attract students from across the nation, and there will always be enough students with good enough grades to fill the best public universities.

But here is the good news. Your teenager might have a better chance now of getting into a good small private college--and there are plenty of those. If you have a super-smart kid, such a college could serve as a great safety school. If you have a kid with good, but not outstanding, grades and test scores, such a college could become a likely match rather than a reach school.

We have said for some time at USACollegeChat that our public flagship universities are the hidden jewels of our higher education system. And we are not taking that back. But now maybe we should add that good small private colleges might be the hidden jewels of our higher education system precisely because they will give you a better bang for your buck than you originally thought. Let’s keep that in mind next week as we move to the serious search for colleges for your teenager.

Find our books on Amazon! How To Find the Right College: A Workbook for Parents of High School Students (available as a Kindle ebook and in paperback) How To Explore Your College Options: A Workbook for High School Students (available in paperback) Ask your questions or share your feedback by... Leaving a comment on the show notes for this episode at http://usacollegechat.org/episode128 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 Connect with us through... Subscribing to our podcast on Google Play Music, iTunes, Stitcher, or TuneIn Liking us on Facebook or following us on Twitter Reviewing parent materials we have available at www.policystudies.org Inquiring about our consulting services if you need individualized help Reading Regina's blog, Parent Chat with Regina

21. Episode 127: Private Colleges for Low-Income Students?
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Welcome back from the Fourth of July break! This episode is going to be the next-to-last one in our Colleges in the Spotlight series because very soon we have to get down to the serious work of where our new crop of high school seniors should be applying to college. So, today we want to take a look at a population that we don’t focus on as much as we might--that is, low-income students who live in rural areas. Although we are based in New York City, we do try hard to look at colleges and students across the U.S. But I am guessing that students in rural areas do not get as much attention from us as they perhaps should. And, in today’s case study of a great program, we are going to talk about low-income rural students in the state of Oregon.

While you are waiting for the real work to begin in a couple of weeks, don’t forget to head on over to amazon.com and get a copy of our new book, How To Explore Your College Options: A Workbook for High School Students. Your teenager should be poring over it summer. You should go back and listen to Episodes 119 and 120 to find out why. By the way, I got an email this week from a smart and talented colleague to ask whether I might have time to help his rising senior with her personal statement for her college applications. So, friends, a new application season is indeed beginning.

1. What Is GEAR UP?

Before we get to today’s Oregon case study, let us say a word about a federally funded Department of Education initiative known as GEAR UP (that is, Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs). Here is what the U.S. Department of Education website says about GEAR UP:

This discretionary grant program is designed to increase the number of low-income students who are prepared to enter and succeed in postsecondary education. GEAR UP provides six-year grants to states and partnerships to provide services at high-poverty middle and high schools. GEAR UP grantees serve an entire cohort of students beginning no later than the seventh grade and follow the cohort through high school. GEAR UP funds are also used to provide college scholarships to low-income students.

. . . State grants are competitive six-year matching grants that must include both an early intervention component designed to increase college attendance and success and raise the expectations of low-income students and a scholarship component. (quoted from the website)

So, here is some federal money being earmarked to improve higher education opportunities for low-income students by working with these students early in their secondary school years (that is, starting no later than seventh grade) and sticking with them through high school. That long-term assistance sounds excellent to me, and I hope that the services being provided with GEAR UP funds are indeed substantial enough to make a difference.

By the way, if you are worried about your federal tax dollars, perhaps you will be relieved to learn that the agencies receiving the federal grants are required to match them dollar-for-dollar. So, in the case of state grants, that’s half federal monies and half state monies. You can check on whether your state has any GEAR UP funds, and you can check on how those funds are being used, if you think they might be helpful to your own kids.

2. What Is GEAR UP in Oregon?

Education Week turned the spotlight on Oregon in its May article by Liana Loewus entitled “Pitching Rural, Low-Income Students on Private Colleges.” The article focuses on the way that Oregon uses its GEAR UP grant funds--which is, interestingly, to expose low-income, first-generation-to-college students from the rural areas of Oregon to Oregon’s private liberal arts colleges so that these students can consider private colleges as real and affordable options.

This strategy is particularly intriguing in a state that has two well-known and admired public universities--the University of Oregon in Eugene and Oregon State University in Corvallis, which together serve about 50,000 students. According to the Education Week article, Adrienne Enriquez, a program manager for Oregon GEAR UP, noted that both students and staff in Oregon’s rural schools “didn’t necessarily have as much knowledge and information about the private colleges in the state as they might have [had] about the four-year public universities” (quoted from the article). I think that is not surprising in a state where there are high-visibility public universities, including a much-loved flagship university, along with the fact that many of the teachers and school counselors in those rural Oregon secondary schools are very likely graduates of the two public state universities.

Oregon GEAR UP has joined forces with The Alliance, a group of 18 small private colleges in Oregon--colleges that are anxious to attract some of these low-income rural students, who probably never heard of them. The Education Week article quoted Brent Wilder, the vice president of The Alliance, as saying this:

“There are a lot of myths out there about private education that just aren’t true. . . That it’s only for affluent individuals, that our campuses aren’t diverse. . .  We have the highest graduation rate in Oregon [for] students of color.” (quoted from the article)

Wow. That statistic was so impressive that I looked up The Alliance and found out these additional facts about it and its members:

There are 12 college members and six college affiliates, currently enrolling about 35,000 students. Many of the colleges, I am embarrassed to say, I knew nothing about. But the members list did include Lewis & Clark College, Willamette University, the University of Portland, and Reed College, which we have talked about at USACollegeChat on our virtual nationwide tour and which is one of the best private liberal arts colleges anywhere. Collectively, these colleges award one in five bachelor’s degrees in Oregon and one in two master’s degrees and doctoral degrees in Oregon. 61 percent of their students graduate in four years (compared to about 50 percent at the flagship University of Oregon and about 32 percent at Oregon State University). 93 percent of students starting as full-time students receive grants, averaging over $20,000 per year. 28 percent of students graduate with no college debt. One in three of their U.S. degree-seeking students is a student of color.

So, with these favorable statistics, it’s understandable that colleges in The Alliance feel that they have something to offer low-income, first-generation-to-college rural students in Oregon.

3. What Activities Does GEAR UP Offer Oregon?

According to the Education Week article, GEAR UP offers activities both for Oregon educators and for Oregon high school students. Here are some of them:

Through the GEAR UP program, small groups of teachers, administrators, and counselors come together from different parts of the state to visit private college campuses over a few days. GEAR UP--which was slated for a slight funding increase under a budget agreement expected to be approved by Congress last week, but is among the education programs President Donald Trump would like to cut in a 2018 budget--pays for their travel and lodging and reimburses districts for substitute teachers. (quoted from the article)

And the information goes both ways, according to the article. Oregon GEAR UP also tries to inform the professors and college admissions officers at these private colleges about the small, rural high schools that GEAR UP students attend. Having more information about these high schools and about the challenges that some of these students face can, in fact, help admissions officers make better, fairer, more aware decisions about admitting GEAR UP students.

Turning to students, here is a valuable service provided for high school kids:

For the third straight summer, Oregon GEAR UP is also running [an all-expenses-paid] Private College Week camp, during which high school students visit several colleges, staying on campus at one of them, and learn about admissions processes and financial aid. (quoted from the article)

That sounds great, but why are these visits particularly important for these rural students? Let’s look at what Ms. Enriquez said in the article:

In describing the need for this kind of program, which is unique to the Oregon version of GEAR UP, Enriquez said that visits to the larger universities were scaring off some students from rural communities.

“They’re visiting classrooms that hold more people than live in their town. They go through the lunch line and they have to go through turnstiles, and they’ve never seen those,” she said.

A few years ago, a group of students from the tiny logging community of Powers came off a tour of the 20,000-student University of Oregon not wanting to go to college at all. In a post-visit survey, they indicated, “College is not for me. It’s too big and too scary,” Enriquez said.

The colleges that students see during the weeklong summer camp generally have between 1,000 and 4,000 students. (quoted from the article)

We talked about the size of the college as a deal breaker for some kids and for some parents in our first book, How To Find the Right College: A Workbook for Parents of High School Students. (It’s still available, by the way, at Amazon.com.) But I don’t believe that I have ever heard a more persuasive anecdote about how much size can matter to a kid and about how overwhelming a large university might actually be to a kid from a tiny rural town.

4. Show Me the Money

It would be hard to have a discussion of sending a bunch of low-income kids to private colleges without tackling the very real issue of how much that is going to cost those families. The private colleges in The Alliance do actually cost about twice as much for tuition and housing as Oregon’s public universities.

But here are some useful facts and figures that take into consideration the generous financial aid offered by many of the private college Alliance members: “The average net price for low-income students at the Oregon state universities is about $13,000. At private schools . . . , it’s closer to $20,000. However, at Reed College, among the nation’s most academically prestigious private colleges, low-income students [tend to pay only] about $9,000” (quoted from the article).

So, the bottom line is that private colleges should not be ruled out in favor of only public universities because of cost. Some might be somewhat more expensive than public universities, though perhaps not out-of-sight more expensive; others might actually be less expensive than public universities. You don’t know what kind of financial aid package you can get until you try.

5. What About College “Fit”?

We hear so much these days about “fit”--that is, how good a fit is a college for your kid. Here is what the Education Week article had to say about the importance of the academic and social and cultural fit of a college for a student:

In the 2016 book Matching Students to Opportunity: Expanding College Choice, Access, and Quality, Jessica Howell and her co-authors explain that college fit, and in particular going to a school that matches a student’s academic credentials, is positively associated with earning a degree.

“By and large, we know that when students enroll in a college that isn’t a good fit for them, that’s usually because they didn’t consider colleges that would have been a better fit,” Howell said in an interview. “We need to open up students’ eyes early in the process so they know their options.” (quoted from the article)

Well, that is a perfect segue to our upcoming series, which will focus exactly on that: opening up students’ eyes so that they know their options. That could have been the title of our new book (instead we called it How To Explore Your College Options). In the coming summer weeks, we would like to help you help your teenager open his or her eyes--early enough so that there is still plenty of time to act on what he or she finds out.

Find our books on Amazon! How To Find the Right College: A Workbook for Parents of High School Students (available as a Kindle ebook and in paperback) How To Explore Your College Options: A Workbook for High School Students (available in paperback) Ask your questions or share your feedback by... Leaving a comment on the show notes for this episode at http://usacollegechat.org/episode127 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 Connect with us through... Subscribing to our podcast on Google Play Music, iTunes, Stitcher, or TuneIn Liking us on Facebook or following us on Twitter Reviewing parent materials we have available at www.policystudies.org Inquiring about our consulting services if you need individualized help Reading Regina's blog, Parent Chat with Regina

22. USACC 126: Colleges That Are Successful at Delivering Needed Career Skills
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Today’s episode of our Colleges in the Spotlight series takes what our regular listeners will recognize as a surprising turn. You all may recall the many times we have championed the liberal arts as a great way for undergraduates to spend at least two--if not four--years. We have quoted many dignitaries from college presidents to elected Congressional leaders about the merits of liberal arts study. Let me be the first to say that I am not backing down on that. On the other hand, let me also offer a somewhat alternative view and to let you know what some colleges are doing about it.

And, of course, remember to go to amazon.com and get a copy of our new book, How To Explore Your College Options: A Workbook for High School Students. It’s a book for your teenager to use this summer. You can go back and listen to Episodes 119 and 120 to find out what the book is all about.

1. The Problem

We would like to thank John Hanc for his June 7 New York Times article, which profiled a number of colleges doing interesting work on the problem of college graduates who do not have the job skills that employers need, perhaps because their colleges did not have programs that focused sufficiently on those skills. The article quotes Gary Burtless, an economist with the Brookings Institution, as saying, on the other hand, that some higher education institutions “have their ear to the ground, they’re listening to local employers and paying attention to what they need.” Mr. Hanc’s article puts the spotlight on seven institutions and their innovative programs for closing the “skill gap,” and you should take a look at all seven. By the way, some programs are part of four-year undergraduate programs, some are part of two-year community college programs, and some are certificate programs that are not part of a two-year or four-year degree--something for everyone. But, for now, let’s put our spotlight on a handful of those institutions and programs.

2. The Innovative Programs

Case Western Reserve University. Let’s start with Case Western Reserve University, a well-respected private research university in Cleveland, Ohio. Case Western enrolls almost 12,000 students, with slightly more graduate and professional students than undergraduate students. According to the article, Case Western offers 15-credit and 18-credit minors that are “responsive to changing industries and emerging technologies” and that could be “one of the more effective strategies for preparing students to enter high-demand fields” (quoted from the article).

One of these minors is in applied data science. For those of you who don’t know what that is, applied data science includes skills in data management, distributed computing, informatics, and statistical analytics. (I hope that helped!) But here is some more information about the applied data science minor: 

[This] Case minor has attracted students from majors like arts and sciences, engineering, business and health care. Graduates enter the market with an important and salable credential. A 2016 poll conducted by Gallup for the Business-Higher Education Forum found that 69 percent of employers expected that, by 2021, candidates with data science skills would get preference for jobs in their organizations.

While that 69 percent figure might be frightening to some of us, it wasn’t frightening to Case Western, which appears to have responded effectively in order to close that skill gap for at least some of its graduates. My guess is that other minors Case Western offers close other skill gaps with equal success. You might want to go find out if your teenager is interested in a good private university in the Midwest.

California Institute of Technology. Let’s turn to a program operated by the highly respected California Institute of Technology (Caltech) in cooperation with Base 11, a nonprofit that describes itself this way on its own website: “We connect employers, academic institutions, and entrepreneurial opportunities with high-potential, low-resource students who have shown interest and talent but lack the access and resources needed to realize their greatest potential.” (quoted from the website)

In this joint program, community college students from across California “are mentored by Caltech graduate students through on-campus summer internships and semester-long programs.” (quoted from the article) As you might guess from the fact that the program is at Caltech, the focus of the program is on STEM fields and especially on aerospace engineering, which is a major field of employment in California. The results have been good.

Interestingly, Base 11 runs similar programs in cooperation with the University of Southern California’s School of Engineering and with the University of California, Irvine (loyal listeners will remember that we spoke at length about UC Irvine and its Hispanic Serving Institution designation back in Episode 124). So kudos to you, Base 11, and to you again, UC Irvine.

Lake Area Technical Institute. Awarded the Aspen Institute’s 2017 Prize for Community College Excellence, Lake Area Technical Institute (Watertown, SD) has gotten some pretty impressive results: a graduation rate that is twice the community college national average and a 99 percent job placement rate. How did that happen?

Michael Cartney, president of Lake Area Technical Institute, is quoted as saying this in testimony to the U.S. Senate Commerce Committee: “Tightly knit student cohorts in clearly defined graduation paths with close connections to their industry-trained instructors has been a formula for success.” (quoted in the article) 

The article goes on to say that the Lake Area Technical Institute “holds its 2,400 students accountable, as if they were in a job setting” (quoted from the article). I would actually like to know more specifics about how that is done. It strikes me as a great idea, but I would be interested in the details.

And finally, there are “close ties with local and regional industry (every major, for example, has an advisory board of industry professionals).” (quoted from the article) Having industry-based advisory boards is a proud tradition typical of many high school career and technical programs as well as community college technical programs. When it works well, it makes a lot of sense. It evidently is working well at Lake Area Technical Institute.

If you believe that the purpose of college is to get a job--as many people do believe these days--then this college profile has to be judged as impressive.

Miami Dade College. Now let me say a word about Miami Dade College (MDC), which is an enormous public community college with seven campuses in and near Miami, Florida. MDC enrolls more than 92,000 credit students, who study for certificates, for associate’s degrees in more than 150 majors, and even for bachelor’s degrees in more than 20 majors. About 70 percent of its students are Hispanic.

According to the article, MDC has an innovative new degree in data analytics, which is described this way:

The program begins with a certificate in business intelligence, progresses to an associate in science in business intelligence, and culminates in a bachelor of science in data analytics.

The Labor Department defines this “stackable” approach as a sequence of credentials that can be accumulated to build up students’ qualifications and help them move along a career path.

“This provides flexibility for those students who might need to be in the work force while in school,” said Karen Elzey, vice president of the Business-Higher Education Forum, which was a partner in starting the program. (quoted from the article)

In my own experience working with community colleges, this is the kind of program that community colleges do really well. It is also the kind of program that understands that the average age of MDC credit students is 25, with about one-third of MDC credit students 26 or older. Adult students might understandably “need to be in the work force while in school,” just as Ms. Elzey said.

Nevertheless, about one-third of MDC credit students are traditional-aged college students from 18 to 20. So, students do go directly from high school. And so could your teenager, especially if you live in southern Florida.

Benjamin Franklin Institute of Technology. Though I am a big fan of Ben Franklin, here is an institution that I had never heard of. Its beginnings are actually in Franklin’s 1790 will, in which he left Boston an endowment for the training of apprentices (that is, in those times, young men under 25). “I believe good apprentices are likely to make good citizens,” Franklin is quoted as writing in his will.

Located in Boston’s South End, Benjamin Franklin Institute of Technology “offers two- and four-year degrees in high-demand fields like health information technology, computer technology and automotive technology (in the planning stages: a program in driverless-car technology).” (quoted from the article) Its graduates seem to be getting jobs. I guess Franklin would say today that college graduates who can get good jobs quickly are likely to make good citizens. Maybe this is one more good idea that Ben Franklin had more than 225 years ago.

3. What Does This Mean for You?

What does all this mean for you? It means that the degree to which a college can claim to bridge the career-related skills gap that employers are finding in college graduates is one more thing to consider when looking at colleges for your teenager. This is especially true if you are looking at community colleges and associate’s degrees as the best choice for your teenager immediately after high school.

If you are a regular listener, you know that we have long been concerned about the low graduation rates and low transfer rates that many community colleges post. That worry doesn’t end here. But, a community college that can show you programs that lead to good careers--along with a high percentage of students who graduate and get jobs in those fields--could be worth a serious look.

4. Happy Fourth of July!

So, in honor of the Fourth of July holiday, we are going to take a break next Thursday. We hope you have a wonderful celebration over the next five or so days. And we hope that you and your high schooler at home come back ready to work because senior year is fast approaching.

 

Find our books on Amazon! How To Find the Right College: A Workbook for Parents of High School Students (available as a Kindle ebook and in paperback) How To Explore Your College Options: A Workbook for High School Students (available in paperback) Ask your questions or share your feedback by... Leaving a comment on the show notes for this episode at http://usacollegechat.org/episode126 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 Connect with us through... Subscribing to our podcast on Google Play Music, iTunes, Stitcher, or TuneIn Liking us on Facebook or following us on Twitter Reviewing parent materials we have available at www.policystudies.org Inquiring about our consulting services if you need individualized help Reading Regina's blog, Parent Chat with Regina

23. Episode 125: Colleges Serving First-Generation-to-College Students
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Welcome back to our Colleges in the Spotlight series. Last week, we focused on Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSIs)--where the campus student population must be at least 25 percent Latino, with more than half financially needy--and the good work that they have been doing to smooth the way for Latino/Latina students, many of whom are the first generation in their families to attend college. Kudos again to UC Irvine for its excellent programs and services for Latino/Latina students!

 

Today’s episode picks up from where last week’s left off. This episode will look at a couple of colleges that do a good job of providing services for first-generation-to-college students. And let us remind you to take a glance back at Episode 103, where we describe the truly outstanding work that Georgia State University has been doing to serve its black students, many of whom are first-generation-to-college students. We couldn’t have been more impressed.

Before we turn to the colleges in the spotlight today, please remember to go to amazon.com and get a copy of our new book, How To Explore Your College Options: A Workbook for High School Students. It’s a user-friendly way to help your teenager investigate colleges of interest to him or her--perfect for current or recent high school juniors who are getting ready to apply to college next year. What a way to spend the summer: reading our book and doing the homework we assign! As we said last week, we are offering a money-back guarantee if the book doesn’t help your teenager. 

1. The Context for First-Generation-to College Students 

Let’s look at the context in which first-generation-to-college students go to college, thanks to a comprehensive article written by Eilene Zimmerman on June 7 in The New York Times

First-generation students mostly come from low- to middle-income families, are disproportionally Hispanic and African-American and have little, if any, information about their higher education options. As a result, they often have misconceptions and anxiety about attending college. 

College counselors can help these students deal with the complexity of the college preparation and application process. Yet few public high schools serving significant numbers of low-income and first-generation students have anywhere near enough counselors. 

According to the 2015 State of College Admissions report from the National Association for College Admission Counseling, counselors at public high schools are, on average, each responsible for 436 students, and those counselors spend only 22 percent of their time on pre-college counseling. (quoted from the article) 

Well, this is a refrain that our listeners have heard many times here at USACollegeChat and that our readers have read in our books. Public high school counselors--even those public high schools with dedicated college counselors--cannot begin to do what they need to do for each student, especially for first-generation-to-college students who are likely to need additional help and advice. Public high school counselors absolutely do not have the time necessary to do this work, and too many of them do not have the background knowledge and up-to-date information necessary to do this work. It is no wonder that these kids come to college with the “misconceptions and anxiety” that Ms. Zimmerman refers to in her article.

And here are some more facts, according to Ms. Zimmerman’s article:

About one-third of undergraduates in colleges in the United States are first-generation students, according [to] the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce and the United States Department of Education. (quoted from the article)

Let us stop right there for a minute. One-third of college undergraduates are first-generation-to-college students! We think that number is actually quite extraordinary. It means that colleges are indeed bringing in new students from many backgrounds (although we know that any number of experts believe that colleges should do even more to reach out to such students). Frankly, I would have guessed that the number would have been lower. But here is the more troubling news: 

Only 27 percent [of first-generation students] earn a college degree in four years, compared with 42 percent of students with parents who went to college, according to a report from the Higher Education Research Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles.

Without a college degree, children of low-income parents are likely to be low-income adults, and their earning potential will only get worse over time. An analysis by the Georgetown center predicted that by 2020, 65 percent of all jobs in the United States would require postsecondary education and training. (quoted from the article)

Let’s look right past the sad fact that only 42 percent of students with parents who went to college manage to earn a college degree in four years. That’s bad enough, and we have talked about unsatisfactory graduation rates several times here at USACollegeChat. We have even talked about the idea that actually graduating in four years is one of the best ways to cut college costs for every student at every type of college.

The fact that only 27 percent of first-generation-to-college students manage to earn a college degree in four years is indeed concerning. And, for these kids, it likely means that some additional counseling or support of other kinds might help raise that figure to at least the lackluster 42 percent scored by other kids.

2. Spotlight on Services for First-Generation Students

You should read Ms. Zimmerman’s article to get the full anecdotes about the colleges we will mention now as well as their success statistics. The stories are worth reading in their entirety. But let’s look at a few briefly:

. . . Aspire [is] a program [Dennis] Di Lorenzo created two years ago [at New York University]. It was influenced by a study of 20 public schools in New York City’s lower-income neighborhoods that found graduation rates suffering and a huge variance in college-readiness programs. Aspire aims to give students information about higher education, the application process and financial aid, and prepare them academically for the transition to college.

The free, two-year program serves 40 high school juniors, who attend a weeklong program each summer at N.Y.U. There are also classes and workshops throughout the school year that offer leadership training, advanced math instruction, assistance with college essay preparation, and discussions about careers, scholarships and college majors. In addition, students are connected to a group of college student mentors. (quoted from the article)

Ms. Zimmerman tells the story of one senior who stayed in a room on the 22nd floor of an NYU campus dorm for the weeklong program. It was the young man’s first time in a college dorm and, more significantly, the first time sleeping away from home and the first time having a roommate from outside his family. Imagine how eye-opening that experience must have been for that young man and how much it must have helped him to see what attending a great private university--or really any university--might be like.

Let’s move the spotlight slightly west and take a look at Rutgers University, New Jersey’s public flagship university. The Rutgers Future Scholars program identifies “promising” first-generation, low-income students in the seventh grade in four urban school districts--Newark, New Brunswick, Piscataway, and Camden. Students are selected for their academic performance as well as for their participation in their communities and schools. “We look for the ‘if only’ students, those who are on the cusp of doing remarkable things but need that additional support system in their life,” said program director Aramis Gutierrez.

Once identified, these students “receive academic support and enrichment, and mentoring from Future Scholars participants who are now in college. They attend classes after school, on weekends and during the summer. No student is ever expelled from the program for poor grades or lagging attendance.” (quoted from the article) Rather, they are given a second chance, after appropriate intervention by faculty members. And, by the way, those Future Scholars who go on the attend Rutgers, get free tuition on top of everything else. The undocumented students in the program have their tuition paid by private donors. Special kudos to those donors!

NYU has another interesting program that picks students up a bit later in their school careers. Let’s look finally at that program, called Access:

First-generation students who graduate from high school but haven’t prepared for (or enrolled in) college can attend an N.Y.U. bridge program known as Access, which prepares them for college by providing academic remediation, tutoring and help with career development and job search skills. Students also earn 24 college credits that will transfer to a four-year institution.

The Access program began in the fall of 2016 with eight students; half will be attending college this fall. Unlike Aspire, Access is not free, Mr. Di Lorenzo said, but costs $15,000 for the year. (Aid and scholarships are available.) (quoted from the article)

While $15,000 is indeed not free, it is, nonetheless, a bargain if a student can earn 24 college credits plus get whatever remedial help he or she needs to bridge the gap into college.

3. What Next?

While NYU and Rutgers deserve credit for these programs aimed at improving the odds of success for first-generation-to-college students, it is clear that many more such programs are needed. If you have a teenager at home who will be the first to attend college in your family, looking for a college with services for kids like yours is important.

I am guessing that information about those services might not always be as easy to find on a college website as you might wish. So, look hard. Talk to a staff member in the admissions office of each college your teenager is considering and ask specifically about academic and personal support and other counseling services for first-generation-to-college students. Why? Because we would like your teenager to be one of the 27 percent of first-generation-to-college students to get a college degree in four years. And, by the way, we also would like that 27 percent figure to get much higher very fast.

Find our books on Amazon! How To Find the Right College: A Workbook for Parents of High School Students (available as a Kindle ebook and in paperback) How To Explore Your College Options: A Workbook for High School Students (available in paperback) Ask your questions or share your feedback by... Leaving a comment on the show notes for this episode at http://usacollegechat.org/episode125 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 Connect with us through... Subscribing to our podcast on Google Play Music, iTunes, Stitcher, or TuneIn Liking us on Facebook or following us on Twitter Reviewing parent materials we have available at www.policystudies.org Inquiring about our consulting services if you need individualized help Reading Regina's blog, Parent Chat with Regina

24. Episode 124: An Exemplary Hispanic Serving Institution for New College Students
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For the past two weeks in our Colleges in the Spotlight series, we have looked at colleges outside the U.S. and at the pluses (and almost no minuses) of attending college full time outside the U.S. In Episode 122, we spotlighted Richmond, the American International University in London, a unique and appealing university dually accredited in the U.S. and the U.K. In Episode 123, we stayed just a little closer to home and looked at an array of outstanding universities in Canada—specifically, the University of Toronto, the University of British Columbia, McGill University, the French-speaking University of Montreal, the University of Alberta, and McMaster University.

Well, for those of you who can’t get even that far outside your geographic comfort zone, let us bring you back to the U.S. In this episode, we are going to focus on the University of California, Irvine (UC Irvine), located in coastal southern California in Orange County, south of Los Angeles and north of San Diego. You would be hard pressed to find a nicer spot. However, let us be the first to say that, for many of you, UC Irvine might be a lot farther away from home than many a university in Canada is. So, maybe it’s time to re-think your own definition of geographic comfort zone!

This episode also goes beyond UC Irvine to talk about Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSIs) generally--a subject that we have addressed here at USACollegeChat several times in the past two years. We are thinking that, for some of you, HSIs might turn out to be a more significant subject than you originally might have thought.

And, let us remind you once again, as summer vacation arrives, that you should go to amazon.com and get a copy of our new book, How To Explore Your College Options: A Workbook for High School Students. We promise that it will help your teenager ask and answer important questions about colleges of interest to him or her. We are offering, of course, a money-back guarantee if the book doesn’t help your teenager! 

1. The Facts About UC Irvine

Let us start by telling you a bit about UC Irvine (UCI), one of the University of California public campuses in the most prestigious of the three California state systems of higher education. Here are some of the awards and rankings of note, taken from UCI’s website: 

UCI is ranked ninth among the nation’s best public universities and 39th among all national public and private universities, according to the annual S. News & World Report ranking of undergraduate programs. The New York Times ranked UCI first among U.S. universities in doing the most for low-income students in 2017 and 2015 (according to its College Access Index). The ranking is based on a variety of factors, including the percentage of students receiving Pell Grants (which typically go to families earning less than $70,000 a year); the graduation rate of those students; and the net cost, after financial aid, that a college charges low- and middle-income students. UCI is one of just 62 U.S. and Canadian universities elected to the respected Association of American Universities. Sierra, the magazine of the well-known environmentally active Sierra Club, recognized UCI for its innovative sustainable practices by ranking it third on its “Coolest Schools” list--that is, the list of “colleges working hardest to protect the planet.” And perhaps most important: Money magazine named UCI as the 1 university for beach lovers. Here is what Money magazine wrote:

Irvine sometimes gets a bad rap for lacking a “college town” feel. But if you’d rather spend your time on the sand than on Main Street, it’s a tough spot to beat. There's surfing at Huntington Beach, the boardwalk and pier at Newport Beach, peace and quiet at Corona del Mar, and the glamor of Laguna Beach. All of those locales, with iconic California beach vistas, are within 20 minutes of campus, and upperclassmen often live off campus, just a couple-minute walk to the sand. (quoted from the website)

Here are some fast facts about UCI, which was founded in 1965:

It enrolls about 33,500 students, about 27,500 of which are undergraduates. It received almost 78,000 applicants for its 2016 freshman class; about 6,500 enrolled. Its retention rate from freshman to sophomore year is 93 percent. Its four-year graduation rate is 70 percent; its six-year graduation rate is 88 percent. California residents pay just about $15,000 a year in tuition and fees, while out-of-staters pay about $42,000 a year. So, it’s not cheap for nonresidents, but it’s not as expensive as many good private universities. It offers 87 undergraduate degree programs, 59 master’s degree programs, and 47 doctoral programs, plus a medical degree and a law degree. It boasts 28 national titles in nine sports.

And let me say this: If your teenager takes the virtual tour online at UCI’s website, he or she will want to go there. You might want to go there as well.

2. UC Irvine Designated an HSI

But none of the facts and figures we have just presented is the reason we are looking at UCI in today’s episode. Rather, it is because of an excellent article written last week by Teresa Watanabe in the Los Angeles Times, entitled “UC Irvine’s rare distinction: It’s an elite university that’s a haven for Latinos.”

Ms. Watanabe sets the scene this way, amid a variety of personal student anecdotes that are well worth reading:

UC Irvine may seem an unlikely haven for Latino students. The campus is located in what used to be a largely white Republican community . . . . But the Irvine campus is now the most popular UC choice for Latino [freshman] applicants, topping longtime leader UCLA for the first time last fall. And last month the campus won federal recognition for serving Latinos--a still-rare distinction among elite research universities.

In all, 492 campuses in 19 states and Puerto Rico have been designated Hispanic Serving Institutions, which allows them to apply for about $100 million annually in federal research grants. To qualify, the campus student population must be 25% Latino, with more than half financially needy.

In California, nearly all Cal State campuses, at least half of California Community Colleges, and half of UC campuses have received the recognition. But UC Irvine and UC Santa Barbara are the only HSI campuses among the 62 members of the Assn. of American Universities--an elite network of public and private research universities that includes the Ivy League [and others] . . . . (quoted from the article)

In our new book for high school students, How To Explore Your College Options, we talk about HSIs (as we did in our first book and in several USACollegeChat episodes). We wrote this in the chapter on researching a college’s history and mission: 

HSIs have been designated as such in just the past 50 years. By definition, HSIs have a student enrollment that is at least 25 percent Hispanic. For example, The University of New Mexico in Albuquerque, a federally designated HSI, was one of the first minority-majority universities, with a student body that was approximately 45 percent Hispanic and 35 percent Anglo.

[HSIs] are located in states across the U.S. from California to Massachusetts and from Washington to Florida. Some HSIs are large public universities, some are large public community colleges, and some are small private liberal arts colleges. Many HSIs receive federal funds to support programs and scholarships that are designed to help low-income Hispanic students succeed in college.

Although HSIs do not have the same kind of historical traditions that HBCUs (Historically Black Colleges and Universities) have--perhaps because they were not originally founded with a mission to serve Hispanic students--they do offer a supportive environment, especially for first-generation-to-college Hispanic students. (quoted from the book)

It is this last point about the supportive environment that makes UCI so appealing, according to what we can learn from Ms. Watanabe’s article. 

3. UC Irvine’s Supportive Environment

Here is what UCI’s leadership had to say, as quoted from the article:

UC Irvine Chancellor Howard Gillman said the campus has pushed to diversify its campus as part of its public mission and urged other top institutions to do the same.

“We think it’s important to show that great higher education can be there for all of the people,” he said. “The demographics of the state are changing, and great institutions that were there for generations past should also be there for generations of the future.” 

For the first time ever, more than half of UC Irvine’s graduating class this year are first-generation college students.

UC Irvine, Gillman said, is not only admitting more Latino students but also helping them succeed. Eight of 10 freshmen who entered in 2010-11 graduated within six years, about equal to whites and blacks and just below Asians. Graduation rates for transfer students are even higher. (quoted from the article)

Well, all that is impressive. But here is how UCI got there, according to the article:

The campus began laying the groundwork in 1983, when it created the Santa Ana Partnership with local schools, Santa Ana College and Cal State Fullerton to improve college-going rates in the area. . . .

[The Center for Educational Partnerships, with its executive director Stephanie Reyes-Tuccio] serves 12,000 largely low-income students a year, three-fourths of them Latino, with programs to prepare them for college and help them succeed. It supports those interested in science, technology, engineering and math and helped develop a college-going plan for every high school student in the Santa Ana Unified School District. Affiliated faculty also conduct research and offer teacher training.

About 85% of high school students who work with the center complete the college prep coursework required for UC and Cal State, compared with the statewide average of 43% . . . . (quoted from the article)

Well, all that is impressive, too. And here’s something we haven’t heard about elsewhere: “UC Irvine’s performance reviews reward faculty who contribute to ‘inclusive excellence.’ The campus has created a database to connect faculty to opportunities to advance diversity and equity and has set a goal for at least half of them to be involved by 2020–21.” (quoted from the article) That clearly shows a university administration that is walking the walk and not just talking the talk.

Latino/Latina students quoted by Ms. Watanabe in the article describe the support that they have found at UCI, including supportive staff (like counselors who serve as mentors), engaged faculty (who offer many research opportunities to students), 25-plus Latino student organizations, and a Cross-Cultural Center (which supports the personal, academic, social, and cultural needs of students and is the first multicultural center in the University of California system). One particular student told Ms. Watanabe about discovering her “family” at “the Student Outreach and Retention Center, where she was able to find friends, leadership opportunities and food--peanut butter and jelly sandwiches that eased hunger pains since she could not afford a campus meal plan. She was hired by the center to develop mentorship programs and trained peer advisers to help students through such hardships as homesickness, breakups and academic struggles.” (quoted from the article)

So, our hats are off to UCI—and, of course, to other HSIs, which are working to serve previously underserved Hispanic students, who might need a bit of extra attention in order to make the leap into higher education as a first-generation-to-college student. If you have such a student in your home, there is no downside to taking a serious look at colleges that are HSIs. You might not find one to your liking, of course; but, if you do, it could be a game changer.

Find our books on Amazon! How To Find the Right College: A Workbook for Parents of High School Students (available as a Kindle ebook and in paperback) How To Explore Your College Options: A Workbook for High School Students (available in paperback) Ask your questions or share your feedback by... Leaving a comment on the show notes for this episode at http://usacollegechat.org/episode124 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 Connect with us through... Subscribing to our podcast on Google Play Music, iTunes, Stitcher, or TuneIn Liking us on Facebook or following us on Twitter Reviewing parent materials we have available at www.policystudies.org Inquiring about our consulting services if you need individualized help Reading Regina's blog, Parent Chat with Regina

25. Episode 123: A New Look at Colleges North of the Border
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Last week in our Colleges in the Spotlight series, we took you to the U.K. to consider what it might be like to attend college full time outside the U.S. We looked specifically at Richmond, the American International University in London, a unique university dually accredited in the U.S. and the U.K. We hoped that taking a close look at Richmond--and, more generally, at the value of full-time study at universities abroad--might persuade some of you to leave your geographic comfort zone. 

But, in case a trip across the Atlantic (or the Pacific) seems too big a geographic leap for you, today’s episode lets you stay a little closer to home. We are going to look at colleges in Canada, our close ally and important trading partner to the north. Let me say that I have known about colleges in Canada for decades, first because of a childhood Canadian friend and later because McGill University in Montreal has been an increasingly popular college choice for students in the Northeast for many years now. Then, six years ago, my nephew, who was raised in Seattle, decided to attend the University of British Columbia in Vancouver and had a great four years there. So, it has been with some interest that I have read a variety of articles in the news in the past six months about the new appeal of Canadian colleges for U.S. students.

And, let us remind you, that you should go to amazon.com and get a copy of our new book, How To Explore Your College Options: A Workbook for High School Students. The workbook will help your teenager know what questions to ask about colleges of interest to him or her and will help your teenager research the answers. Let me say, by the way, that one of our favorite sources of college information, the National Center for Education Statistics’ College Navigator, does not provide data about colleges outside the U.S. So, if your teenager likes our notion of studying full time outside the U.S., he or she will have to dig a little harder to answer all of the questions we pose in our book.

1. The New Statistics

So, what’s all this about Canada? Well, in an article about two months ago in The Washington Post, Susan Svrluga wrote about the increased interest of U.S. students in Canadian universities and the possible reasons for it. Here are some of the statistics she provides in the article: 

Applications to Canadian universities from students outside of Canada are on the upswing, and the number of international students studying at Canadian universities has doubled in the past 10 years. Twice as many students as usual have been looking for information on the Universities Canada website since last November. The website “offers profiles of Canadian universities, a large study programs database and helps you plan your university education. The information on [the] site is provided by Universities Canada and its 97 member universities.” (quoted from the website) Some of the best Canadian universities have seen dramatic increases in U.S. applications: a 25 percent increase at McGill; a 35 percent increase at McMaster University, a public research university in Hamilton, Ontario; and an 80 percent increase at the University of Toronto. And the price is attractive, too. According to The Washington Post article, “At the current exchange rate, tuition and fees are about $13,000 less for an international student’s first year at the University of Toronto than they would be at Harvard, and $11,000 less than out-of-state rates at the University of Virginia.” So, as we said about Richmond last week, the cost of attending some excellent universities outside the U.S. is surprisingly reasonable, though not necessarily cheap.

The Universities Canada website offers eight reasons for attending college in Canada. All of them are good, but I can see how the following four might resonate with some U.S. students and with other foreign students who are looking for a safe college environment and secure future:

Affordability: While Canada’s quality of education and standard of living are among the highest in the world, the cost of living and tuition fees are generally lower than in other countries, such as the United States and the United Kingdom.

Support services: International students benefit from services to help them transition to living and studying in Canada: orientation activities, student advisors, language support, academic associations, social clubs and other programs at their educational institutions.

Cultural diversity: Canada ranks among the most multicultural nations in the world. Regardless of ethnic origin, international students feel at home in our diverse and welcoming communities and campuses.

Opportunity to stay in Canada after graduation: International students have the opportunity to work during their studies and after they graduate. University graduates may also be eligible to transition to permanent residence in Canada. Visit the Citizenship and Immigration Canada website for more information. (quoted from the Universities Canada website)

The Washington Post article quoted Ted Sargent, a vice president at the University of Toronto, which recruits outside Canada, including in the U.S. Sargent said, “Canada is having a moment. It is a time of opportunity. . . . A lot of people know that half of the people in Toronto were not born in Canada. Canada is a place that is focused on attracting talent from around the world. . . . That messaging about diversity and inclusivity is very resonant today.” One can see how Canada’s open arms are appealing to the students and their families who are concerned about the ramifications of the Brexit vote in the U.K. and who are concerned about some of the new proposed immigration policies in the U.S. The Washington Post article offers several insightful anecdotes about individual students, including a long story about one Syrian graduate student’s difficulties in getting back into the U.S. after a trip to check on the humanitarian medical work he had been doing in Turkey.

Interestingly, Universities Canada published a statement after our president’s first executive order about immigration. Here it is:

“Universities Canada does not typically comment on executive action being taken by another country, but we do so today because of the real impediment this new executive order poses to the free flow of people and ideas and to the values of diversity, inclusion and openness that are hallmarks of a strong and healthy society.” (quoted from the article)

2. Check Out Universities Canada!

I think it is worth it for you and your teenager to check out the Universities Canada website and read some of the profiles of the universities that you will find there. As Americans unfortunately are with many things about Canada (including its history and government), I think we are quite ignorant of its higher education system. That seems ridiculous when many top Canadian universities are a lot closer to where some of us live than universities in a distant part of our own country. We likely know more about Canada’s ice hockey and baseball teams, its actors and singers who have big careers in our country, and our television industry’s use of Vancouver to film some of our favorite shows than we know about its universities. I think once you see some of its universities’ reasonable tuition rates, you will be sorry you didn’t think of Canada sooner (this is also true for graduate programs, by the way).

So, what are the best universities in Canada? I thought a decent source might be the Times Higher Education World University Rankings for 2016–2017, which lists the top 980 universities in the world. If you don’t know it, Times Higher Education is a weekly publication based in London. Its website explains its rankings this way:

[Ours] is the only global university performance table to judge world class universities across all of their core missions--teaching, research, knowledge transfer and international outlook. The top universities rankings use 13 carefully calibrated performance indicators to provide the most comprehensive and balanced comparisons available, which are trusted by students, academics, university leaders, industry and governments.

For the [World University Rankings], [our] in-house data team now ranks 2,150 institutions worldwide, with 1 million data points analysed across 2,600 institutions in 93 countries. In 2016, the global media reach of the rankings was almost 700 million. (quoted from the website)

That’s a lot of institutions and a lot of data. Just so you know, the five top-ranked institutions worldwide, according to this list, are the University of Oxford, California Institute of Technology (Caltech), Stanford University, the University of Cambridge, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

Here are the top six Canadian universities, along with their world ranking, according to this list. So, if you have a smart teenager, you might want to start with the profiles of these, available on the Times Higher Education website:

University of Toronto--22 University of British Columbia (with a student body that is 25 percent international)--36 McGill University--42 University of Montreal (the only French-speaking one in the top five)--103 University of Alberta (in Edmonton)--107 McMaster University--113

Of course, just as there are in the U.S., there are many other great universities in Canada. Your teenager doesn’t have to go to one of the top six anymore than he or she has to go to one of the top six in the U.S. or one of the top six in the world. The Universities Canada website can give you all the information you need about many universities to start your search.

3. A Personal Reflection

Maybe if we had written our new book this week instead of a couple of months ago, we would have added another requirement for building your teenager’s long list of college options (or LLCO, as we called it). If you don’t already have the book, we ask that your teenager put together an LLCO that includes two four-year colleges in each of the nine geographic regions of the U.S., at least two public flagship universities, and one college outside of the U.S. All of this is, of course, designed to get you all outside your geographic comfort zone--where, undoubtedly, some of the best higher education is happening.

So, if we had written the book today, we might have said that your teenager’s LLCO should also include one Canadian university. Given everything we have just read, it wouldn’t have been a bad idea.

Find our books on Amazon! How To Find the Right College: A Workbook for Parents of High School Students (available as a Kindle ebook and in paperback) How To Explore Your College Options: A Workbook for High School Students (available in paperback) Ask your questions or share your feedback by... Leaving a comment on the show notes for this episode at http://usacollegechat.org/episode123 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 Connect with us through... Subscribing to our podcast on Google Play Music, iTunes, Stitcher, or TuneIn Liking us on Facebook or following us on Twitter Reviewing parent materials we have available at www.policystudies.org Inquiring about our consulting services if you need individualized help Reading Regina's blog, Parent Chat with Regina

26. Episode 122: A Truly American International University
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Before we start today’s episode, which will take us abroad, let us remind you to rush out right now and get our new book if you have a junior at home (and even if you have a freshman or sophomore). That’s “rush out right now” figuratively speaking, because the book is available at amazon.com, so there is no need to leave home to get it. But why now? Because using the book is a perfect way for your teenager to spend some time this summer--that is, researching colleges of interest to him or her and/or colleges of interest to you for him or her!

In case you missed our recent episodes, the book is How To Explore Your College Options: A Workbook for High School Students. And, as we have said before, it is a WORKbook. It makes the point that many of us learned the hard way: that is, it takes a lot of work to figure out the best colleges for your teenager to apply to. And, as some parents we have worked with recently can tell you, deciding where to apply is probably more important than deciding where to enroll. If your teenager (with your help) chooses colleges to apply to wisely and with enthusiasm, then the choice of where to enroll ends up being a lot happier and easier to make.

But back to our current series, Colleges in the Spotlight. As many of our regular listeners know, I spent last week in London attending my daughter’s graduation from her master’s degree program. My son had previously attended the same university for his bachelor’s degree, and I was looking forward to doing the graduation ceremony a second time. It is not surprising, I guess, that the alma mater of two of my kids would become today’s episode. That’s not because, by the way, it is the alma mater of two of my kids, but rather because it is a university--or one of a group of similar universities--that just might persuade some of you to leave your geographic comfort zone.

1. Spotlight on Richmond

At the beginning of our new book, we ask students to expand their college options by investigating all geographic regions of the U.S. and putting together their own personal long list of college options (or LLCO). Then, we go one step further and ask students to make sure that they have at least one college that is not in the U.S. on their LLCO. In the book, we talk to students about studying outside the U.S.:

This is a favorite topic of ours, and we can’t say enough about it. There are truly great options outside the U.S. We hope that every one of you will take advantage of studying abroad for at least a semester, no matter where you end up in college. Studying abroad is for everyone these days--not just for rich kids, not just for kids studying foreign languages, not just for kids at private liberal arts colleges. But you can actually study outside the U.S. for more than a semester or even for more than one year; you can simply go to a college outside the U.S. full time for four years.

You might want to check out one of our favorite options: Richmond, The American International University in London. Jointly accredited in the U.S. and the U.K., it is a one-of-a-kind institution. It offers students four-year bachelor’s degrees--first, on an idyllic campus in Richmond-upon-Thames (just outside London) for freshmen and sophomores and, then, on an ideal Kensington campus in the heart of London for juniors and seniors. We have seen Richmond up close for a decade and still love it. (P.S. Richmond offers master’s degrees, too, if you’d rather wait for your study abroad experience.) The global future is here, kids. Join it.

Well, that could not be more true. There are plenty of universities to choose from outside the U.S., but let me talk to you a bit today about Richmond, the American International University in London because it is the one that I know the best. I have known its students; I have known its professors (with whom I have been very impressed); I have known its staff members. I have seen it as the parent of an undergraduate student for four years and as the parent of a graduate student for a little over a year.

I have seen what being an international university is all about. At the graduation ceremony last week, after the Master of Arts and Master of Business Administration students were presented with diplomas, we had the roll call of undergraduate students. There were about 180 undergraduate candidates for Bachelor of Arts degrees--and they represented 42 countries.

Now, when we did our virtual nationwide tour of colleges (way back in Episodes 27 through 53), we often commented on the number of foreign countries that U.S. colleges claimed they drew students from. Some colleges--especially large universities--were fond of saying that they drew students from 100 foreign countries, and we always thought that was great. But those colleges typically had thousands of students, so I am not sure how international each class students sat in actually seemed to the students.

At Richmond, 42 countries were represented in just 180 college seniors. Every class students sat in was international--just like every dorm hallway and every group of students just hanging out and chatting. I remember well how international my son’s group of friends really was. This year, about 63 graduating seniors at Richmond came from the U.S., about 41 from the U.K., and the remaining 78 from the following countries: 9 from Spain, 7 from Italy, 7 from Bulgaria, 6 from France, 5 from Germany, 4 from Sweden, 4 from Lebanon, 4 from Belgium, 3 from Nigeria, 2 each from Brazil and Norway, and 1 each from Kuwait, Cameroon, Estonia, Guam, the Dominican Republic, Hungary, the Netherlands, Romania, Libya, Bahrain, Greece, Albania, Jordan, Portugal, India, Zambia, Pakistan, Kenya, Cyprus, Finland, Montenegro, the Republic of Kosovo, Egypt, Malaysia, the Czech Republic, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Canada, and Australia.

Wow. It was amazing to see all the kids and to see the very obvious cross-cultural bonds that had been forged, but it was also amazing to see all of the families and to hear all of the languages being spoken by the proud families of the graduates. It left no doubt in my mind about the value of the truly international experience that these kids had enjoyed.

For the record, Richmond is dually accredited in both the U.S. and the U.K. Richmond describes itself as a liberal arts university, and we have talked about the merits of liberal arts study frequently here at USACollegeChat. In fact, one of the speakers at graduation last week spoke about the liberal arts tradition at Richmond and its significance. Richmond prizes what it believes to be the result of a liberal arts education: namely, students who can think critically and creatively and who can make connections among a broad range of subjects they have studied.

In our new book, one of the topics we call on high school students to investigate when exploring their college options is the presence of a core curriculum. As we have said before, some colleges have quite an extensive required core curriculum, including specific required courses; some colleges have a less specific required core curriculum, including a choice of courses in specified, but broad, fields of study (like the humanities); and some colleges have no required core curriculum at all. Depending on what you or your teenager wants, having a core curriculum can be either a positive or a negative in a college you are considering.

Richmond, in fact, has a sort of mixed core curriculum consisting of 10 three-credit courses taken in the freshman year. Its core curriculum includes some specific courses like Research and Writing I and II, Creative Expression, Scientific Reasoning, and Transitions: London Calling I and II (which focuses on service learning and answers the question, “How can you use London, with all its attractions and all its problems, to help others whilst helping yourself?”) But, less restrictively, the core curriculum also includes a Quantitative Reasoning course (which depends on the student’s major), the student’s choice of any one of 17 Humanities and Social Science course options, and two additional courses of the student’s own choosing outside the major. So, the core is there--with a little wiggle room. Frankly, I am glad as a parent that it was there because I am quite sure that my son would have otherwise avoided quantitative reasoning at all costs.

And let me mention one more very attractive feature of Richmond’s undergraduate program, and this is something else we suggest that students look for when exploring their college options. It is Richmond’s far-reaching study abroad programs, which are available through partnerships in Europe, North and South America, the South Pacific, Asia, South East Asia and the Middle East, but also through Richmond’s own mini-campuses in Rome and Florence. My son did a summer at the Rome campus as a high school student, and both my son and daughter did a semester at the Florence campus during their undergraduate study. (By the way, your college student can study at Richmond’s Florence campus through the American Institute for Foreign Study from whatever college he or she chooses in the U.S. My daughter Polly went there for a semester from Fordham University.)

Richmond’s Florence program is outstanding in many ways, including for the variety of art and art history courses that are offered and for the Italian language classes that are offered. Students can earn a full year of language credit in just one semester because of the required one-week full-time Italian course that students take prior to the beginning of the actual semester, followed by a second Italian course at the appropriate level during the semester.

Finally, I just learned that Richmond now offers a full freshman year at the Florence campus. I am sorry I don’t have any children left to send! What could be better than a year in Florence, a year in Richmond-upon-Thames, and two years in London? That’s a truly international university, as I might have mentioned already.

2. What’s the Downside?

At graduation, I happened to be seated next to the mother of one of the American graduating seniors. The family had lived in London for 14 years before moving back to the U.S. We marveled at the great opportunity that Richmond was for our kids. We wondered why everyone didn’t do it.

But surely there is a downside? Frankly, I am not sure that there is. Perhaps surprisingly, the cost is actually not the downside. Tuition this coming year for U.S. students is $38,000—not as cheap as your state’s public university for sure, but not as expensive as many private colleges in the U.S. And, yes, the kids do have to travel back and forth to London, which isn’t cheap. However, the kids tend to leave only at the semester break because they enjoy visiting the homes of their classmates in Europe for shorter breaks. So, it really amounts to two round trips per year.

I understand that, for some parents, the real downside is having their children so far away from home that they really can’t see them more than during the month-long semester breaks and summer vacations. There really is no argument to make if that is your concern, parents. However, I will tell you that you are likely to miss your children a lot more than they will miss you. I am sure that some have a bit of homesickness at the beginning, but there is so much new to see and do that I don’t believe it lasts very long. And at smaller colleges, like Richmond, there is a bit of a family atmosphere anyway, with small classes and many opportunities to build close relationships both with the other students and with the professors.

3. The Master’s Degrees

The real “deal” at Richmond, by the way, is the M.A. program, which costs about $15,500 (the M.B.A. is a little bit pricier) and is completed in just one full calendar year (that is, two academic semesters and a summer). That’s compared to the two years (or four academic semesters) you would have to pay for at a far higher annual price at many private U.S. colleges.

As I mentioned in a Facebook Live chat I did with my daughter when she was home in New York City doing her internship last summer, I thought that her M.A. program in Visual Arts Management and Curating was excellent. She worked hard and graduated “with Distinction,” but that is thanks to the outstanding professors she had and how committed they were to the students. My daughter and her classmates traveled to many museums and galleries for classes, they met with working professionals in London in and outside of classes, and they had easy access to their professors.

So, if you have an older child graduating from college next year, consider whether a good and reasonably priced graduate program in London--or somewhere else outside the U.S--might be the way to go.

4. Next Week

Next week, we will turn our college spotlight on colleges north of the border--that is, colleges in Canada, which are becoming more attractive to U.S. students. We’ll tell you why, so stay tuned.

Find our books on Amazon! How To Find the Right College: A Workbook for Parents of High School Students (available as a Kindle ebook and in paperback) How To Explore Your College Options: A Workbook for High School Students (available in paperback) Ask your questions or share your feedback by... Leaving a comment on the show notes for this episode at http://usacollegechat.org/episode122 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 Connect with us through... Subscribing to our podcast on Google Play Music, iTunes, Stitcher, or TuneIn Liking us on Facebook or following us on Twitter Reviewing parent materials we have available at www.policystudies.org Inquiring about our consulting services if you need individualized help Reading Regina's blog, Parent Chat with Regina

27. USACC 121: No Harvard for You!
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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!

Find our books on Amazon! How To Find the Right College: A Workbook for Parents of High School Students (available as a Kindle ebook and in paperback) How To Explore Your College Options: A Workbook for High School Students (available in paperback) Ask your questions or share your feedback by... Leaving a comment on the show notes for this episode at http://usacollegechat.org/episode121 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 Connect with us through... Subscribing to our podcast on Google Play Music, iTunes, Stitcher, or TuneIn Liking us on Facebook or following us on Twitter Reviewing parent materials we have available at www.policystudies.org Inquiring about our consulting services if you need individualized help Reading Regina's blog, Parent Chat with Regina

28. 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):

Fordham University (joint program with the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater) Richmond, The American International University in London University of Colorado Boulder The University of Rhode Island Tuskegee University University of Iowa University of Vermont University of Delaware University of Wyoming City University of New York (and its Hunter College campus) College of William & Mary University of Pennsylvania Fisk University Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey Penn State University of California campuses California State University campuses Cornell University Soka University of America The University of New Mexico Columbia University Brown University Harvard University Barnard College Morehouse College Spelman College Hampden-Sydney College Wabash College Kenyon College Kent State University New York University Carleton College University of Minnesota Milwaukee School of Engineering University of Alaska Fairbanks University of Washington University of New Hampshire Georgia State University Amherst College Vassar College Reed College Hamilton College Colorado College Rice University Duke University California Institute of Technology St. John’s College Massachusetts Institute of Technology University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa The Evergreen State College Pitzer College (one of the five undergraduate colleges of The Claremont Colleges) Centre College Goucher College Hampshire College Bennington College Sterling College Drexel University Northeastern University St. Michael’s College University of Rochester University of Massachusetts Boston

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.

Find our books on Amazon! How To Find the Right College: A Workbook for Parents of High School Students (available as a Kindle ebook and in paperback) How To Explore Your College Options: A Workbook for High School Students (available in paperback) Ask your questions or share your feedback by... Leaving a comment on the show notes for this episode at http://usacollegechat.org/episode120 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 Connect with us through... Subscribing to our podcast on Google Play Music, iTunes, Stitcher, or TuneIn Liking us on Facebook or following us on Twitter Reviewing parent materials we have available at www.policystudies.org Inquiring about our consulting services if you need individualized help Reading Regina's blog, Parent Chat with Regina

29. Episode 119: Explore College Options with a New Workbook
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We are going to take a tiny detour from our new series, Colleges in the Spotlight, to talk a bit about our brand new book, which we have called How To Explore Your College Options: A Workbook for High School Students. First, let us give a shout-out to high school students at Brooklyn Tech for their help in choosing the title for the book. We tried out a few titles on them, and they chose one quite close to the one we are using. For those of you who don’t know Brooklyn Tech, it’s a selective high school full of smart public school kids of all backgrounds, and it is also home to three really great teachers from the Early College high school that we co-founded in 2009. So there’s a shout-out to you, Wandy Chang, Doug Shuman, and Lev (that’s just Lev, like Cher).

1. What’s in the New Workbook?

Let’s start by saying that this book is for high school students. Our last book, How To Find the Right College: A Workbook for Parents of High School Students, was—obviously—for you, parents. It was really a discussion guide that we hoped you would use to talk with your teenagers about the deal breakers each of you had when thinking about colleges to apply to and then to attend.

This book is a bit different. It is a workbook--and we mean WORKbook--for high school students. It makes the point that many of us already know: It takes a lot of work to figure out the best colleges for your teenager to apply to. And, furthermore, figuring out where to apply is likely more important than choosing where to attend, as we have said many times. I can’t emphasize enough how strongly we believe that. If your teenager chooses colleges to apply to wisely and with enthusiasm and if those colleges meet with your approval as well, then the choice of where to attend is a lot easier to make.

Here is what we said to your teenager in our new book’s introduction, entitled “Why Are We Talking to You Now?”:

If you are a high school freshman or sophomore, you are in the perfect spot to get a head start in the college admission game. You can use this workbook over the next couple of years to put together the best personalized research guide about colleges—ever.

If you are a high school junior, this workbook is ideally suited for your immediate use. You should be able to use it productively at any time during your junior year and up until your college applications are finally submitted.

If you are a high school senior, you should find this workbook helpful, too, if you still have some time before your college applications are due. But you have to hurry up! (And remember that all colleges do NOT have a January 1 deadline.)

Since 2014, we have been talking to your parents in our weekly podcast, USACollegeChat. The truth is that we have given them more information about colleges than anyone could probably use.

We took them on a virtual tour of colleges nationwide and profiled many public and private colleges in every region of the country to try to get them—and, of course, you—to look outside your family’s geographic comfort zone when considering where you should apply.

When we put together that virtual college tour, we realized something very important: There are a lot of colleges out there, and it is impossible to keep up with what is going on at most of them.

We also realized what your biggest problem is (well, yours and theirs, actually): You don’t know anything about most colleges. We have been doing this for a couple of decades, and there was a lot of stuff we didn’t know either, as it turned out. So, how do you solve that problem?

The simple answer is just to ask a guidance counselor at your high school. You would think that guidance counselors would know quite a bit about lots of colleges and that they could pass that information on to you. Here’s why that usually doesn’t work.      

Let’s start with public high schools. As you probably already know, most public high schools don’t have guidance counselors who are dedicated to working only on college counseling. That means that your guidance counselors, with caseloads in the hundreds, have to help students with college applications while dealing simultaneously with students who might be in serious personal or academic trouble. That’s an overwhelming job, and that is exactly why most high school guidance counselors cannot help you enough when it comes to exploring many college options, narrowing them down, and finally choosing the perfect colleges to put on your list.

Some public high schools—and even more private schools—have designated one of the school’s guidance counselors as a college counselor, specializing in college placement and perhaps financial aid and devoting all of his or her time to helping students undertake and complete their college searches. If your school has a college counselor like that, you are lucky indeed. Of course, searching through hundreds of colleges to find the right ones for you and then working through those college applications (including all of the essays) is the work of a lot of hours—at least 20 hours and really closer to 40 hours, we would say. Does your counselor have that much time to spend with you? Unfortunately, probably not, even if you attend a private school.

What if you are homeschooled? Without the help of a school guidance counselor or college counselor—even for a very limited amount of time—you might feel more at a loss than your friends who attend public or private schools. Should you expect your parents to know everything you need to know about a wide array of college choices? No, you shouldn’t. Respecting your parents’ opinions about colleges is certainly important, even crucial. But it is not likely that they are experts on the many, many colleges here in the U.S. (and abroad).

All high school students need to get help from somewhere or someone. We believe that this workbook is a good way to get some. That’s why we are talking to you now. We want you to have a way to find out the information you need about many colleges so that you will be in the best possible position to compare those colleges and then to make the right decision about where to apply and, eventually, about where to attend. While you will undoubtedly want and need some adult advice in thinking through the many options, what you need first is information—and a lot of it.

If you already have a list of colleges you are interested in, you will need information about each one of those. But, just as important, you will need information about colleges that are not yet on your list—including colleges that you have never considered because you didn’t know they existed. That’s not your fault now, but it will be if you don’t take steps to correct it. So, let’s get started.

We couldn’t be more serious about this. Most kids and most parents just don’t know enough to choose colleges. The only solution to that is to get information. And the only way I know to get information is to do some work.

2. But First…

Before your teenager actually starts getting detailed information about colleges, it is important to expand your teenager’s list of options, as we have said before. We call this the LLCO in the book--that is, your teenager’s “long list of college options.”

We give your teenager several instructions for how to expand the LLCO so that your teenager can increase his or her chances of choosing the right colleges to apply to. Those of you who are loyal listeners of USACollegeChat won’t be surprised at some of those instructions, like this one:

Make sure that you have at least two four-year colleges in each of the nine geographic regions of the U.S. on your LLCO.

Once your teenager’s LLCO is set, the real work begins.

3. Here’s the Work

So, here’s the work. We created what we are calling the College Profile Worksheet in order to help your teenager gather the information you both need to move forward in the college search and application process. This is what we said in the book:

Before you begin your research into the colleges on your LLCO, let’s take a few minutes to preview the College Profile Worksheet at the back of this workbook. It outlines the critical information you should find out about each college on your LLCO before making a decision about whether to apply to that college. It’s actually 11 pages long--but those pages include lots of space for you to write in!

The worksheet is going to look long to you. But this is an important decision you are about to make. In fact, we would argue that deciding where to APPLY is just as important as deciding where to ENROLL--maybe more important. After all, if you don’t apply to a college, you can’t possibly enroll there. This is the decision that sets all of the others in motion.

The College Profile Worksheet calls for you to make a lot of notes about colleges you are interested in. Why write all of this information down, you might be asking? Because you can’t remember it. Believe us, after you research about four colleges, you will not be able to remember which college had the great bike paths and which college had the required math courses. You need a convenient way to recall each college--without having to go back to the website and look up the information again.

We learned this the hard way. When we were profiling colleges for our virtual college tour, we went back and forth to the same college website far too many times before realizing that we should have just jotted everything down the first time. We actually made a crude version of the worksheet for ourselves, and we have now improved it and put it into this workbook for you. The College Profile Worksheet will save you lots of time in the long run.

Here are the categories of information you will be researching about each college on your LLCO:

History and Mission

Location

Enrollment

Class Size

Academics

Schedule

Housing

Security Measures

Activities and Sports

Admission Practices

Cost

You will see that the College Profile Worksheet asks you several questions in each category. Answering those questions will give you a good understanding of many important features of each college on your LLCO. As a result, you should be able to decide more efficiently and more accurately whether each college is a good match for you.

This might sound like a lot of work to you--and to your teenager. But we insist that your teenager should not be making a decision about attending a college--or even applying to a college--if he or she knows any less about it. We guarantee that the 52 questions we provide and the 52 answers your teenager will discover will give you both a better picture of colleges in the U.S. than most educated adults have. By the way, we tell your teenager almost exactly where to look to find the answers--for example, on a college’s website or in College Navigator, our favorite online source of college information, which we have talked about many times.

Parents: Listen up. You are about to spend tens of thousands of dollars--and many of you will spend hundreds of thousands of dollars--on your upcoming college purchase. So isn’t it worth it to do a little research up front?

Summer is a perfect time to get your teenager to use our new book to do the work that is necessary before making any important college decisions. Get it now, and let your teenager get used to the idea of his or her new summer job!

Find our books on Amazon! How To Find the Right College: A Workbook for Parents of High School Students (available as a Kindle ebook and in paperback) How To Explore Your College Options: A Workbook for High School Students (available in paperback) Ask your questions or share your feedback by... Leaving a comment on the show notes for this episode at http://usacollegechat.org/episode119 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 Connect with us through... Subscribing to our podcast on Google Play Music, iTunes, Stitcher, or TuneIn Liking us on Facebook or following us on Twitter Reviewing parent materials we have available at www.policystudies.org Inquiring about our consulting services if you need individualized help Reading Regina's blog, Parent Chat with Regina

30. Episode 118: It’s the Colleges’ Turn To Beg!
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Since Decision Day is almost upon us, we are going to refrain from giving any more general advice. If you want specific advice for your teenager, call us. That’s free advice available to parents with seniors until April 30 at 11:59 p.m. New York City time

So, we are in our new series, which we are calling Colleges in the Spotlight. Last week, we shone our spotlight on Spelman College and its fellow HBCUs (historically black colleges and universities). Today, we are headed to the West Coast to take a look at the University of California, Los Angeles, which we talked at length about way back in Episode 39 of our virtual nationwide college tour.

As we said then, UCLA was started in 1919 as the University of California’s Southern Branch and its star has been rising ever since. By many accounts, it now ranks academically with well-known and highly regarded UC Berkeley, the university that UCLA was the Southern Branch of. When we recorded Episode 39, UCLA’s incoming freshman class average GPA was 4.25, with comparably high SAT scores. UCLA serves about 28,000 undergraduates and a total of about 42,000 undergraduate, graduate, and professional students. About one-third of its undergraduates are Asian, and about one-quarter are white. About 80 percent are California residents. UCLA’s undergraduates study in 125 majors across five schools and colleges: College of Letters and Science and the Schools of the Arts and Architecture; Engineering and Applied Science; Theater, Film and Television; and Nursing. And the Bruins play some great basketball, have won more NCAA titles than any other university, and have produced 250 Olympic medalists. It looks as though any candidate would need to be exceptional to get into UCLA these days.

Given those remarkable statistics, it is even more intriguing to listen to today’s episode in which the tables have now been turned: The college is trying to convince the students to come (rather than having the students try to convince the college to accept them). You might have noticed your friends who have seniors of their own travelling the country in this last week or two to take their kids to “admitted students’ days” so that everyone can get one last look before making the big decision. Well, I believe that a lot of those visits include a hard sell by college administrators, who have crafted the perfect sales pitch to convert admitted students into enrolled students. Why? Because, as we have said before, colleges are looking for a high “yield rate”--that is, the percentage of students who actually enroll from those who have been admitted. This yield rate affects the way some people judge a college and its attractiveness and its prestige--and it undoubtedly affects some of the many independent college-ranking systems as well.

1. “UCLA Works To Seal the Deal”

So, let us take you to an article written recently by Teresa Watanabe in the Los Angeles Times, entitled “UCLA works to seal the deal with thousands of freshmen admitted for fall 2017.” You should read it, if only for its great human interest angle and the personal stories of real seniors faced with real decisions. We will give you just some highlights here.

Let us start by saying that the article focuses on the work being done by UCLA’s vice provost of enrollment management, Youlonda Copeland-Morgan, to convert admitted students into enrolled students. The article tells the story of Ms. Copeland-Morgan’s hard sell to a group of 11 Los Angeles high school seniors. Really? The vice provost of enrollment management is meeting with 11 students? At some colleges, 11 might be almost a noticeable number of a small freshman class, but the UCLA freshman class is bigger than a lot of colleges’ total enrollment. That sounds like a lot of meetings for Ms. Copeland-Morgan.

The article notes these statistics:

[UCLA] sent out letters of acceptance to about 16,000 high school seniors last month and is now working to seal the deal with enough students to fill 4,350 freshman seats.

Last year, 37% of those offered admission accepted, a yield rate topped only by UC Berkeley among the University of California’s nine undergraduate campuses.

Copeland-Morgan told the [11 students she was talking to that] they were elite scholars who were selected from a record 102,000 applications from all 50 states and 80 countries. (quoted from the article)

Let’s look at these brand new numbers. First, UCLA was clearly quite selective in choosing to admit just about 15 percent of its applicants. It is a public university, after all. Second, as I do the math, UCLA needs only about a 27 percent yield rate to fill those 4,350 freshman seats. Last year, it got a 37 percent yield rate. Consequently, it looks to me as though UCLA is probably in fine shape--maybe too fine, if it gets the same yield rate and has to find room for an extra 1,500 freshmen!

The article continues as Ms. Copeland-Morgan talks to the 11 high school students:

She told them they deserved to attend UCLA, [which] she described as one of the world’s top 15 universities. She also tried to ease their worries that they might not fit in and feel comfortable. The campus is richly diverse, she told them and their parents, with more than a third of its students low-income, underrepresented minorities and the first in their families to attend college. (quoted from the article)

While those words might have been encouraging, especially since Ms. Copeland-Morgan was herself an alumna of the very high school some of the 11 kids were attending, she also noted that “UCLA’s top-notch faculty and staff included people who would help them find classmates to connect with--and keep them on the right path. ‘If we see any of them acting crazy, we’re going to talk to them like our own children,’ Copeland-Morgan said, prompting one dad in the audience to give her a smile and thumbs up” (quoted from the article).

By the way, it wasn’t just Ms. Copeland-Morgan at the sales pitch on behalf of UCLA. According to the article, “[o]ther staff members talked up UCLA’s food, three years of guaranteed student housing, 1,000-plus student organizations and elite athletics, with its teams boasting 113 NCAA championships.” I have to admit that I am surprised that UCLA would send more than one staff member to do this recruiting—or, in fact, that UCLA would send even one. But the article explains that this personal touch has improved UCLA’s yield rate, “especially among minority, low-income and first-generation college students” (quoted from the article). The article quotes one of the newly accepted students attending the sales pitch as saying this:

“I was nervous about UCLA because it’s so prestigious and because of my status as a minority,” he said. “But the staff seemed so friendly and caring. I can see myself walking onto the campus as a Bruin.”

And so the face-to-face hard sells seem to be working. And according to the article, Ms. Copeland-Morgan “said she jumps at the chance to make a personal pitch to students who can help UCLA fulfill its mission to reflect the diversity of Californians.” To that we say, good for her, good for the kids, and good for UCLA.

The article continues on this theme:

[Ms. Copeland-Morgan] and her staff also have . . . enlisted faculty members to help with what she called “culturally relevant” programs to give admitted students and their families a chance to get a feel for the campus. Recently, they sponsored an event, “Your Future is Bruin,” for Latino students, offering Spanish for monolingual parents and play spaces for siblings.

“UCLA has an obligation as an anchor institution in the city to give back in different ways to the community,” Copeland-Morgan said. “This is my passion. This is my ministry.” (quoted from the article)

So, what are the results of this considerable personal investment by UCLA staff, which has to come at a substantial price? According to the statistics quoted in the article, the results are impressive, especially when it comes to underrepresented minority students:

The yield rate for African American freshmen rose to 50% last fall from 44% in 2014, by far the highest among UC campuses.

At UC Berkeley, by comparison, the rate fell to 37% last year from 47% in 2014. UC Santa Barbara’s rate was 23%; UC Santa Cruz, 17%.

UCLA also increased its Latino yield rate to 52% last year from 49% in 2014 and its first-generation rate to 54% from 49% over that same period. (quoted from the article)

Enough said.

2. So What?

So what does this have to do with your senior? First, you should think about whether any administrators and faculty members showed up to make the big sales pitch at any meetings for admitted students you have attended recently. If they did, I believe that means that the college actually cares a lot about whether its admitted students come--and probably for more reasons than just to improve its yield rate. It likely bodes well for the attention that those professionals will give your kid in the future. Furthermore, if the college is reaching out to your teenager because he or she is African American or Latino or the first generation in your family to go to college, then you should be pleased and relieved that the college cares enough to make that effort.

Second, I hope that your teenager got a kick out of being on the other side of the bargaining table--especially if he or she had a grueling applications season and a difficult round of acceptances.

For those of you who have freshmen, sophomores, or juniors at home, you should think hard about going to any admitted students’ days when the time comes, especially if your teenager is trying to choose among several good options. You both should sit back at the sale pitches and let the colleges work hard to get your business. Ask important questions. Demand good answers. Enjoy your time in the spotlight.

Ask your questions or share your feedback by... Leaving a comment on the show notes for this episode at http://usacollegechat.org/episode118 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 Connect with us through... Subscribing to our podcast on Google Play Music, iTunes, Stitcher, or TuneIn Liking us on Facebook or following us on Twitter Reviewing parent materials we have available at www.policystudies.org Inquiring about our consulting services if you need individualized help Reading Regina's blog, Parent Chat with Regina

31. Episode 117: The Best Case for Historically Black Colleges and Universities?
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We know that some of you are still discussing which college your teenager should attend next fall, and we are sure that, by now, you are tired of re-listening to Episodes 69, 70, 71, and 114 of USACollegeChat—all of which we hoped would guide you through these difficult days. So, we thought we would let someone else do the talking today. Not us, but rather a college student--one we found to be remarkably insightful.

This episode will also start a new series, which we are calling Colleges in the Spotlight. Now, to be honest, I am not sure that we can sustain this series for very long, but we do have a few colleges or types of colleges we find ourselves wanting to put the spotlight on because of what they are doing. You will recall that we took a close look at Georgia State University back in Episode 103, and now I wished that we had saved it for this series. If you can’t remember the impressive stuff we said about Georgia State, you should go back and listen again. Really.

Today’s spotlight is on Spelman College and indeed on HBCUs (historically black colleges and universities) generally; therefore, the episode is especially relevant for students of color, but not just for black students. You might recall that we talked about the enrollment of HBCUs back in Episode 100. We noted then that HBCU enrollment seemed to be on the rise and that HBCUs were also becoming more attractive to Latino students for a variety of reasons, which were well described in our episode.

And, if you were with us way back in Episode 30, you might recall that we highlighted Spelman, a well-respected all-female liberal arts college, founded by Baptist leaders, which offers 27 majors to just over 2,000 undergraduate women, drawn from most states across the country (with our home state of New York as one of the top five states sending students to Spelman). Spelman has an enviable student-to-faculty ratio of 10-to-1, meaning that students should typically be in small classes and get close attention from faculty members.

For those of you with seniors and with a letter from an HBCU in your stack of college acceptances (maybe even from Spelman!), this episode is for you. And for those of you with freshmen, sophomores, or juniors at home, this episode should make you think twice.

1. Ms. Mitchell’s Piece

As our regular listeners can probably recite by now because we frequently find ourselves talking on this topic, HBCUs were founded to serve students who had previously been excluded from many other higher education institutions because of their race. The three earliest HBCUs were founded in Pennsylvania and Ohio before the Civil War, but many were founded in the South shortly after the Civil War. Those Southern HBCUs share a proud tradition of becoming the first colleges to provide higher education to the family members of freed slaves. Over the years, HBCUs have produced extraordinary leaders in every field of endeavor and thousands and thousands of well-educated American citizens.

Today’s focus is on an opinion piece published in The New York Times by Skylar Mitchell earlier this month. It is part of the On Campus series in the Times—“dispatches from college students, professors and administrators on higher education and university life” (quoted from the website). That makes two weeks in a row we have used the On Campus series to bring you an insight that we thought was extraordinary. Last week, the piece was written by a college admissions office staffer, but this week it is written by an actual college student. And now we are going to stop giving the Times free advertising unless it wants to start sponsoring the podcast.

Because Ms. Mitchell wrote her piece in her own voice, with a rare combination of thinking and feeling for a college sophomore, I would like to read it to you in its entirety. It is not long, but you won’t forget it anytime soon. Her voice is, quite obviously, not our voice, so here are Ms. Mitchell’s own words from “Why I Chose a Historically Black College.” Listen on the podcast or follow this link to read her essay.

For once in my life, I have absolutely nothing to add. She speaks eloquently for herself.

2. Think Again

Ms. Mitchell obviously did a great job in choosing colleges to apply to, and we have tried again and again to emphasize how important that step is. Choosing colleges to apply to is every bit as important as choosing which college to attend--probably more so.

And I believe that Ms. Mitchell did get into some great ones, if Swarthmore and Spelman are any indications. What she had, obviously, were options. And regardless of whether your teenager is as smart as Ms. Mitchell must be, what you need are options. Remember that, parents of freshmen and sophomores and juniors.

And, finally, we will say this one more time at USACollegeChat: Think hard about putting an HBCU on your teenager’s list of possibilities. If we couldn’t convince you before, surely Ms. Mitchell has.

Ask your questions or share your feedback by... Leaving a comment on the show notes for this episode at http://usacollegechat.org/episode117 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 Connect with us through... Subscribing to our podcast on Google Play Music, iTunes, Stitcher, or TuneIn Liking us on Facebook or following us on Twitter Reviewing parent materials we have available at www.policystudies.org Inquiring about our consulting services if you need individualized help Reading Regina's blog, Parent Chat with Regina

32. Episode 116: Getting a Remarkable College Recommendation Letter
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For those of you still debating which college your teenager should attend next fall, let us remind you, one more time, to take a look at Episodes 69, 70, 71, and 114—all of which aim to help you sort through some of the issues you might be facing in choosing the best college for your teenager. We wish you the best during this often stressful time--and, if you need an outside perspective, don’t hesitate to give us a call. Seriously.

Well, we thought about taking this week off to enjoy everyone else’s spring break. But last week, I read a great opinion piece in The New York Times entitled “Check This Box If You’re a Good Person," and I thought we should share it with you in case you missed it. The author is Rebecca Sabky, who works in admissions at Dartmouth College. Located in Hanover, New Hampshire, Dartmouth is the smallest of the Ivy League institutions. I think that “Check This Box If You’re a Good Person” can fairly be called “a feel-good piece,” and I believe that we could all use that right now.

For those of you with freshmen, sophomores, or juniors at home, this piece will definitely give you an idea you never had before--and that’s saying something when it comes to the subject of college recommendations. So, sit back and think outside the box with us.

1. Ms. Sabky’s Piece

Because Ms. Sabky did such a good job of writing her short personal piece, I am simply going to read it to you. I don’t want to mess it up, and it doesn’t need any further explanation from us. By the way, this piece is part of the On Campus series in the Times—“dispatches from college students, professors and administrators on higher education and university life” (quoted from the website). So, listen to the podcast or follow this link to read the article.

As a parent, I feel exactly the way Ms. Sabky does. Raising a kind and generous child is every bit as important as raising a super-smart one. In the case of this Dartmouth applicant, his parents clearly got both!

2. Think Outside the Box!

So, think outside the box when it comes to your teenager’s college recommendations. We are not saying that an unusual off-the-beaten-track recommendation takes the place of recommendations from teachers, who can judge your teenager’s academic abilities--probably especially when applying to highly selective colleges. But an additional recommendation--when one is allowed by the college--that can shed light on your teenager’s personal traits and values could, evidently, end up being priceless.

Ask your questions or share your feedback by... Leaving a comment on the show notes for this episode at http://usacollegechat.org/episode116 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 Connect with us through... Subscribing to our podcast on Google Play Music, iTunes, Stitcher, or TuneIn Liking us on Facebook or following us on Twitter Reviewing parent materials we have available at www.policystudies.org Inquiring about our consulting services if you need individualized help Reading Regina's blog, Parent Chat with Regina

33. Episode 115: What About a Gap Year Before College?
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While today’s topic might not be an issue in higher education generally, it could well be an issue in your own teenager’s higher education--and it’s an issue that you might want to think about quickly right now if you have a high school senior. It is the notion of having your teenager take a gap year between finishing high school this spring and starting college this fall. For those of you who have high school juniors at home, it’s not too early for you to be thinking about this option, too.

For those of you wrestling with which college your teenager should attend when he or she has some options, let us remind you that, last year in April, we did a series of three episodes on how to think about that college decision--one for above-average students, one for average students, and one for below-average students--because we felt that their options and their reasons for choosing one college over another might be very different. You should go back and re-read the show notes or re-listen to Episodes 69, 70, and 71--or, at least, the one that best describes the academic standing of your own teenager. As we said last week when we highlighted some key points from those three episodes, we just can’t do any better now than we did then in pointing out the serious questions you should consider in making this all-important choice with your teenager.

With all that said, we are guessing that there are some families that are not thrilled with the college options they have at the moment, and today’s episode might give those families something else to consider. Like everything, the notion of a gap year has pros and cons, though I have to say that there are a lot of fervent supporters--far more than I thought before I did this episode. Let’s get some background.

1. The Background

Let me start by saying that I happened on an article from The Conversation from way back last May. The Conversation is, in its own words, “an independent source of news and views from the academic and research community.” The Conversation explains that its “team of professional editors work with university and research institute experts to unlock their knowledge for use by the wider public. Access to independent, high quality, authenticated, explanatory journalism underpins a functioning democracy. Our aim is to promote better understanding of current affairs and complex issues. And hopefully allow for a better quality of public discourse and conversation.” (quoted from the website) The Conversation, which was founded in Australia and now operates in the U.K. and U.S. as well, is a free resource, which addresses issues in arts, business, politics, the environment, health, technology, education, and more--so check it out.

The discussion today comes from an article by Joe O’Shea, the Director of Undergraduate Research and Academic Engagement at Florida State University, and Nina Hoe, the Study Director at the Institute for Survey Research at Temple University. In the interest of full disclosure, Mr. O’Shea is the president of the board of the American Gap Association, and Ms. Hoe is the Association’s Director of Research. My guess is that they might not be the most impartial chroniclers of the benefits of a gap year; nonetheless, they offer a lot of information on the topic in their article.

Although gap years have been discussed--and taken--in the U.S. for many years, the notion of a gap year landed squarely on our collective radar when Malia Obama decided to take 2016–2017 as a gap year before attending Harvard this coming fall. Now, that probably had to do with the fact that her father was finishing up his presidency more than anything else, but perhaps she put gap years on the map for a lot of families that had never thought about them.

The data show that about 11 percent of Australian students more than 10 years ago were taking gap years compared to no more than 3 percent of U.S. students today. What is a common topic of discussion and real alternative for educated families in the U.K. is rarely discussed here in the U.S., especially among middle-income and lower-income families.

And yet, Mr. O’Shea and Ms. Hoe assert, in their article, that gap years are getting more popular in the U.S. So, let’s look at what the research shows.

2. The Research

The authors present evidence that an alarmingly sizable percentage of students on college campuses are stressed severely enough--including to the point of being medically diagnosed with anxiety or depression--to cause them to seek counseling from on-campus health services. The authors also note that “faculty and staff are reporting that today’s students lack coping skills such as resilience and the ability to succeed independently despite adversity” (quoted from the article). It is a picture of too many college students who are burned out from intense high school years, over-anxious, and unable to handle the many demands of college academic and social life.

Well, if that’s the problem, what does research say about the solution? Here is what the authors say:

Research shows that a gap year . . . can provide students the opportunity to gain personal skills such as independence, resilience, confidence and focus. A combination of activities during this year that involve volunteering, interning or working, either domestically or internationally, can provide meaningful experiences that challenge students outside their comfort zones. These experience[s] can help students reevaluate how they understand themselves and the world.

Several peer-reviewed studies focusing on students in the U.K. and Australia have shown that students who took a gap year experienced a host of personal benefits, such as higher levels of motivation and higher academic performance in college.

A 2015 survey of over 700 former gap year participants found overwhelming personal, academic, career and civic engagement benefits associated with taking a gap year.

Over 90 percent of all respondents indicated that their gap year provided important time for personal reflection, aided in personal development, increased maturity and self-confidence, and fostered the development of interpersonal communication skills.

Specifically related to college, 73 percent of respondents reported that their gap year helped them increase their readiness for college, 59 percent said it increased their interest in attending college and 57 percent said it helped them figure out what they wanted to study in college. (quoted from the article)

As loyal listeners of USACollegeChat know, we are all about getting kids outside their comfort zone, so that is an appealing aspect of a gap year. And I do think that what the research finds is entirely believable. I imagine that most adults would agree that a one-year dose of the real world—whether that is in a volunteer or paid setting, whether that is at home or far away, whether that is working with people like you or people not at all like you—is likely to help teenagers grow up and give them more life-coping skills than they had when they started.

But what about their future academic life? What if they like the path they are on in their gap year so much that they decide not to go to college at all? Is that a good thing or a bad thing? And what happens when they do go to college after a gap year?

Here is some research cited, with obvious approval, on the American Gap Association website:

From Joe O’Shea’s book, Gap Year: How Delaying College Changes People in Ways the World Needs: “. . . In Australia and the United Kingdom, economic researchers found that high school students who deferred their admission to college to take a Gap Year went to college (after their Gap Year) at the same rate as those who accepted an offer and intended to go straight there (Birch and Miller 2007; Crawford and Cribb 2012). They also found that taking a Gap Year had a significant positive impact on students’ academic performance in college, with the strongest impact for students who had applied to college with grades on the lower end of the distribution (Birch and Miller 2007; Crawford and Cribb 2012).” In fact, in the United Kingdom and in the United States, students who had taken a Gap Year were more likely to graduate with higher grade point averages than observationally identical individuals who went straight to college, and this effect was seen even for Gap Year students with lower academic achievement in high school (Crawford and Cribb 2012, Clagett 2013). (quoted from the website)

Well, now I am really interested--because I feared that kids who took a gap year might end up opting out of college (which would obviously not be my preference for them). It is also persuasive that gap-year kids with lower grades in high school graduated with higher college grades than similar students who went straight to college. Whether that finding is the result of academic knowledge actually gained during the gap year or of enhanced personal traits (like motivation and self-confidence) doesn’t really matter, I guess. So, there does not seem to be a personal or academic downside to a gap year--at least according to this research, these authors, and the American Gap Association.

3. The Design (and Expense) of a Worthwhile Gap Year

How then do Mr. O’Shea and Ms. Hoe characterize an appropriate gap year experience? This is what they say:

Gap years need to be properly designed so they can challenge students with new roles and perspectives that accelerate their growth as thinkers and citizens. Experiences that push students out of their comfort zones and allow them to explore new cultures and people from different backgrounds can create an impactful experience. They provide students an opportunity to reflect on a number of challenges and also allow for critical self-reflection that can root part of their identity in contributions to others.

In an ideal gap year experience, students get to develop actual relationships with people who are different from them. And when that happens, students can begin to see the world from different perspectives and learn about the complexity of social challenges. (quoted from the article)

Of course, that all sounds great. And if that can be done in the context of an internship near home or a volunteer slot in a nearby community, then I can get past one fear I have, which is that that gap years are just one more thing that benefit rich kids who can afford to fly off to some exotic locale or who can get a fascinating internship because of their parents’ connections.   Do you know, by the way, that there are companies that plan gap years for kids, including booking all of the travel? That can’t be cheap. Just like college admissions coaching, the notion of gap year experiences has spawned a whole industry. And that does worry me a bit.

Perhaps the title of a New York Times article last May by Mike McPhate says it all: “Malia Obama’s ‘Gap Year’ Is Part of a Growing (and Expensive) Trend." His article notes that the price tag on an international gap year program could run as high as $35,000.

But here are a couple of other ways to do it:

[U]niversity administrators . . . note that gap-year plans come in a variety of forms, some of them at no cost. AmeriCorpsCity Year, for example, pays students stipends to teach. Another popular program, Global Citizen Year, provides financial support--more than $6 million since 2010--for students to pursue experiential learning.

But those programs can be highly competitive. City Year, for example, says it selects only about one in four applicants. (quoted from the article)

So, although these programs sound promising, it’s like trying to get into college all over again. I am not sure how that helps kids cope with burnout and stress. And, as we might have expected, colleges themselves are getting into the game, according to Mr. McPhate’s article:

More universities have begun formal gap-year programs that take varying approaches to enrollment and the providing of aid, including Princeton, Tufts, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Elon University.

At Princeton and North Carolina, for example, freshman-year enrollment is deferred and at least some financial help is provided, while Elon considers participants enrolled and charges its regular tuition. Another program offered by the New School in New York City also treats students as enrolled and offers up to a full year of academic credit.

Florida State University is among the latest campuses to start offering scholarships to gap-year students. Late last year, the public institution said applicants could get up to $5,000, and sent an email to the entire incoming [freshman] class urging them to consider deferring their freshman year. (quoted from the article)

Clearly, I am not understanding how a gap year turns into a year where tuition is charged and a full year of academic credit is given. That really makes it sound more like a study abroad program. And, in fact, there are already colleges (NYU is one) where freshmen can take their freshman year in another country--a real study abroad experience before you ever study at home.

4. So What?

So, what is the purpose of a gap year and who should think about taking one? Well, I think that the vocal proponents of gap years think everyone should take one, given the positive results that the research seems to show. I am probably a bit more restrained in my enthusiasm, but I am willing to be persuaded. Parents, I am afraid that you are going to have to do some research of your own if you think your senior would benefit from a year of experiences--paid or unpaid, nearby or far away--before starting into his or her college career.

Here are a few quotations from another New York Times article, written last year by Abigail Falik, who is the founder and CEO of Global Citizen Year (which we mentioned earlier) and who is, I am assuming, a bit partial to the notion of gap years.

 

What if college freshmen arrived on campus not burnt out from having been “excellent sheep” in high school, but instead refreshed, focused and prepared to take full advantage of the rich resources and opportunities colleges have to offer?

The “gap year,” a common practice across Europe and Australia, has yet to take root in the United States. A primary barrier is the stigma we associate with the term--it conveys privilege and frivolity and is often viewed either as a luxury for a select few, or remediation for kids who didn’t get into the college of their choice.

And yet, the research shows undeniable, positive impacts in terms of increased maturity, confidence and achievement. A recent Middlebury study showed that students who take a year off before arriving outperform their peers in their academic and extracurricular engagement on campus. . . .

Given its known benefits, it’s time to rebrand the “gap year” as anything but a “gap.” When used intentionally, the year before college can be a bridge, a launch pad and a new rite of passage. It’s the students who find the courage to step off the treadmill--replacing textbooks with experience and achievement with exploration--who are best prepared for life after high school. And a growing number of colleges are taking notice.

Bill Fitzsimmons, Harvard’s undergraduate admissions dean, wrote a manifesto about the need for students to take time off before college. Rick Shaw, Stanford’s undergraduate admissions dean, now speaks about the value of non-linear paths and the learning and growth that come from risk taking and failure, as opposed to perfect records. (quoted from the article)

Well, if I had not been sure that the notion of a gap year was an issue in higher education when I started this episode, I am pretty sure now. Parents, start your research!

Ask your questions or share your feedback by... Leaving a comment on the show notes for this episode at http://usacollegechat.org/episode115 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 Connect with us through... Subscribing to our podcast on Google Play Music, iTunes, Stitcher, or TuneIn Liking us on Facebook or following us on Twitter Reviewing parent materials we have available at www.policystudies.org Inquiring about our consulting services if you need individualized help Reading Regina's blog, Parent Chat with Regina

34. Episode 114: It’s College Decision Time!
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Well, it is almost April 1, the date by which a lot of colleges will make high school seniors happy or sad. In fact, many colleges have already done that in the past two weeks, with some doing so today and tomorrow. We are sure it is a tense time for lots of families--whether it leads to great joy or considerable disappointment. There is hardly a bigger issue in higher education, of course, than the admissions game, its fairness and unfairness, and its results for thousands and thousands of kids. Whatever the case may be, many of you are now in the position of making a final decision about where your teenager is going to go to college next fall.

Last year in April, we did a series of three episodes on making that college decision--one for above-average students, one for average students, one for below-average students--because we felt that their options and their reasons for choosing one college over another might be very different. You should go back and re-read the show notes or re-listen to Episodes 69, 70, and 71--or, at least, the one that best describes the academic standing of your own teenager. We just can’t do any better now than we did then in pointing out the serious questions you should consider in making that all-important choice with your teenager.

Of course, we know that many of you are too busy, especially right now, to review all three episodes, so we thought we would highlight some of the key points we tried to make in them. We chose points that apply to all seniors, regardless of their academic standing. We will assume for these discussions that seniors have a choice of colleges to attend, though that might mean as few as two colleges or as many as eight or 10 colleges. A small number of options, however, doesn’t necessarily make the choosing process any easier.

1. Rejection by the First-Choice College

Let’s start with what some families will consider the worst-case scenario, even though it likely is not really that: What if your teenager has just been rejected by his or her first choice? In Episode 69, we quoted from some remarkably insightful comments from a young woman named Julia Schemmer, who was rejected by her “dream” school--UCLA. She accepted a spot in the Class of 2019 at the University of California, Riverside. Here are some of the reflections that she offered other teenagers (originally published in High School Insider and re-published by the Los Angeles Times on March 31, 2016, as “Rejected from your dream school? Remember these three things”):

It isn’t your fault. When a college rejection letter comes in the mail, it is easy to immediately invalidate everything you have ever done and view your experiences as a high school student as incomplete or inadequate. It’s not true. Many universities have rigorous application requirements with expectations that are often left unknown to anyone but the admissions board. You could have the perfect SAT, the most extracurricular activities, or the best GPA, but it could be true that the college wasn’t looking for things like that. . . . It’s not the end of the world. There are so many colleges and universities that would absolutely love to have you walk through their door. Whether it’s expanding your knowledge of other universities that may be better suited to your goals or working hard to transfer to your dream school, there are still opportunities to attend a great learning institution. When I decided to commit to attending a school different from my dream school, of course I was disappointed. However, I currently love the university that I attend and the major I am pursuing. If anything, UCLA will always be an option for my graduate school education. (quoted from the article)

Thank you, again, Julia! These are both excellent and important points. Neither is easy for kids to accept, however. No matter how many times any adult or older teenager says these two things, it is likely that kids will simply need to come to terms with this rejection over time. Parents, it’s not going to happen in a day or two--no matter how good you think the college options still on the table are. So, bear with your teenager while he or she goes through the stages of profound disappointment, whatever they are

2. Selectivity of the College

Let’s look at the selectivity of the college options that your teenager now has. We are going to assume that those colleges are not necessarily equivalent in terms of their selectivity. In other words, your child might have been accepted at a couple of selective private colleges (though not necessarily at a highly selective college), at a couple of less-selective private colleges, at your public flagship university or another public university in your state, and/or at a public flagship university or another public university in another state. You might also have a local community college on that list. But even if your child has just two options of colleges with differing degrees of selectivity, the decision-making process is still quite serious.

Let’s put the financial aspects of this decision aside for a minute and look first at the selectivity of the colleges. Let me start with our conclusion, which remains the same as last year’s conclusion, since no new research has indicated anything that would make us change our minds: Your teenager should go to the most selective school that accepted him or her. Are there any arguments on the other side of that decision? Yes, but they are not persuasive.

Apart from the undeniable prestige of attending a college that is more selective, we have said previously--based on a lot of data from various colleges--that graduation rates are higher at more-selective colleges. In other words, your teenager is more likely to graduate with a degree if he or she attends a more-selective college. Furthermore--and this is almost as important--your teenager is more likely to finish that degree in a reasonable amount of time, ideally four years (rather than the longer timelines many college students now operate on, where six years is not surprising). By the way, in the long run, getting out on time saves you money—sometimes tens of thousands of dollars.

Practically speaking, what does our advice mean? It means that you should talk with your teenager about going to the toughest, most academically prestigious college possible. Not just because of the prestige factor, but because it will affect his or her future--both four years from now as graduation approaches and likely a whole lot longer in terms of the classmates your teenager will have and where they will all end up working many years from now.

Now, we know that many advisors would start talking to you about “fit” right now. We have even talked about “fit”—that is, how well your teenager will “fit” into the college community, based on brains or athletic ability or race or religion or socioeconomic status or any number of other things. We, too, want your teenager to fit into the college community that he or she chooses; we are just hoping that it will be an academically strong and well-resourced college community, with great professors and with students who progress through it and graduate on time.

Here are a few questions we asked last year: What if that most selective college is far away from home and you and your teenager wanted a close-to-home option? What if that most selective college is private and you and your teenager wanted a public option? What if that most selective college is located in an urban setting and you and your teenager wanted a rural or suburban option? What if that most selective college is not faith based and you and your teenager wanted a faith-based option?

Well, you are going to have to weigh all of these factors. But we are suggesting here that the selectivity of the college be moved to the top of your list of factors to consider when making this important decision.

By the way, the most selective college your teenager was accepted to might well be a public university—especially if it is your state’s or another state’s flagship university. As we have said many times, there is no prestige in attending a private college that is not as good as a great public college. For a list of great public colleges, go back and listen or re-listen to the nationwide virtual college tour we took you all on in Episodes 27–53. You will see the same names come up over and over again, including these: the University of California, Berkeley; the University of Michigan; the University of Virginia; the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; the College of William and Mary; the University of Iowa; the University of Washington; and the University of Texas at Austin. And there are quite a few more. If your teenager got into one of them, that is worth thinking really hard about.

And let us add one note about community colleges for those of you who did not listen in last week when we devoted Episode 113 to community colleges. If your child is at least an average student in high school, we don’t think that a community college is likely to be his or her best choice, although we understand that there might be financial reasons or family reasons to keep a child close to home and within commuting distance and that a community college might fit those circumstances very nicely.

Nonetheless, the difficulty that many students seem to have in graduating from a community college or in transferring from a community college to a four-year college really worries us. Listen to last week’s episode to find out about the scandalously low graduation and transfer statistics. Last week, we concluded that, unless you think your teenager is smarter, harder working, more motivated, and more goal oriented than the typical community college student, your teenager is likely to have some difficulty graduating from a community college and/or transferring to a four-year college. So, talk with your teenager and think hard about that choice.

3. Your Choice for Your Teenager

What if your teenager has just been accepted by the college that you really want him or her to attend, but that college is not your teenager’s first or second or even third choice? Who wins? That is one of the worst problems we can imagine.

As a parent and as an adult, I would like to say that you should win because you have been around longer and seen more and perhaps you even know more and are likely paying the bill. But I don’t think you can win in this situation without convincing your teenager that you are right. In previous episodes (like Episode 69), we have told many anecdotes that prove this point.

Here is the bottom line for us: College is hard, and it is almost impossible when the student is not reasonably happy there. So, parents, we believe that you will eventually have to give in to what your teenager wants because, in fact, he or she is the one who is going to have to do the work.

By the way, for all of you parents who have younger children coming up through high school and just starting the college process, here is your lesson today: Don’t let your teenager apply to colleges that you don’t want them to attend. It’s as simple as that. If you are satisfied, even if you are not necessarily thrilled, with every college on your teenager’s application list, that ensures that you will be satisfied with whichever one is your teenager’s final choice.

4. What About the Cost?

So, now let’s talk about money. What if your teenager got a great financial aid package--even a full ride--at a college that is not nearly as good as a more selective college that he or she was accepted by? Clearly, that is a hard choice. And I am not going to say to go out and find a bunch of obscure scholarships that go begging every year (though I know that happens). I am going to say that the best possible college education is something worth investing in--even if that means loans that your teenager gets and/or loans that you as parents get. I know that is not a popular position, and I know that many advisors and parents alike believe that having a student graduate with little or no debt is the most important thing. I simply don’t agree. By the way, as we have already said, attending a better college will likely ensure an on-time graduation--which, in the long run, can save you a lot of money on extra years of schooling.

Paying for college is hard--especially paying for private selective colleges. That’s just one more reason we love those great public flagship universities.

5. Next Steps

If your teenager has not already visited all of the colleges that have accepted him or her and that are still under serious consideration, you probably should do that now, if it is logistically and financially feasible. As we have said before at USACollegeChat, this is the best time to visit: when the list of colleges is short enough that the college tour can be reasonably cost-effective and efficient. The visits can be helpful both for your teenager in making his or her decision and for you as a parent in accepting that decision. Speaking as a parent, I think it would be difficult to send a child off to college without ever having seen it; and, yet, my husband and I did that when we sent our middle child off to Richmond, The American International University in London. Well, at least we had been to London, I told myself at the time. And it all worked out. We hope it will all work out for you and your teenager, too.

Here is an offer that we made last year at this time. Call me and tell me what your teenager’s choices are and what your circumstances are. I will be happy to give you some free advice, for what it’s worth. I do this all the time, and I would love to do it for you. Nothing is more important than making the right decision now. The next four years are critical.

Ask your questions or share your feedback by... Leaving a comment on the show notes for this episode at http://usacollegechat.org/episode114 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 Connect with us through... Subscribing to our podcast on Google Play Music, iTunes, Stitcher, or TuneIn Liking us on Facebook or following us on Twitter Reviewing parent materials we have available at www.policystudies.org Inquiring about our consulting services if you need individualized help Reading Regina's blog, Parent Chat with Regina

 

 



35. Episode 113: The Community College Challenge
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Today’s episode focuses on a higher education issue that we have talked about before at USACollegeChat, though not recently--that is, the pros and cons of attending a community college, which is a marvelous institution in theory, but a somewhat more disappointing institution in reality. At least, that has been our position in the past.

When I read a recent article about where community colleges find themselves these days, I thought we might look at them one more time. If you are the parent of a senior, we will offer some recent facts that might affect your decision to send your own teenager to a community college next fall. If you are the parent of a junior, these same facts might affect your wanting to use a community college as your teenager’s safety school option or as your teenager’s only option during the application process next year.

1. The Funding Picture

The article I read was written by Jeffrey R. Young and disseminated online by EdSurge. EdSurge is an organization that, in its own words, “report[s] on [the] latest news and trends in the edtech industry to help . . . entrepreneurs who build new products and businesses; educators who use these tools; [and] investors and others who support companies and schools” (quoted from the EdSurge website). So, here is some background for our discussion, thanks to Mr. Young and EdSurge:

Nationwide, enrollments in community colleges have been declining for several years, in part because the job market as a whole has been improving, so fewer people have felt the need to . . . [head] back to school. And even as some states and cities propose efforts to make two-year colleges free to students, the broader trend is that many state governments have scaled back public support for community colleges in recent years. In Arizona, for instance, the state funding for two major community college districts [Maricopa Community College District and Pima Community College District] is down to zero.

“Like all public higher education support, the funding is going down,” says Sandy Baum, a senior fellow at the Urban Institute. “It’s worse in some ways at community colleges,” she adds, because the total amount that community colleges spend per student has been decreasing, according to The College Board’s Trends in College Pricing. “They just don’t have the money to serve students the way they did,” she adds. “That’s a reason to be very concerned.” (quoted from the article)

Yes, that is a reason to be concerned--for sure, if you live in the Phoenix-Tempe-Tucson area, where funding is “down to zero,” and presumably if you live in other community college districts in similar financial trouble. We have read plenty in the news over the past year about public four-year universities that are living in a world of declining state funding and, often, that are raising tuition to make up for that loss, much to the anger of the state residents.

But, if you thought that public community colleges could be your fallback position, perhaps it is time for you to think again. Because what happens when state and local governments cut back on their funding of their community colleges? Clearly, the community colleges are going to have to raise their tuition--which, to be fair, is typically very low--or they are going to have to reduce educational and support services to their students. Unfortunately, there’s no free lunch, even at community colleges. For some students, whose only viable option is their local community college, either choice that a community college is forced to make will be a serious blow.

2. The Pros of Community Colleges: A Review

Let’s review quickly some of the pros and cons about community colleges, also referred to as two-year colleges. Here’s a list of reasons to put two-year colleges on your teenager’s list of colleges to apply to (these reasons are conveniently taken from our first book, How To Find the Right College: A Workbook for Parents of High School Students):

Two-year colleges offer associate’s degrees, which can be enough for some careers, including high-paying technical careers. Later, if the student wants to do so, the credits earned for an associate’s degree can be transferred to four-year colleges and applied toward credits needed for a four-year bachelor’s degree.   (In fact, some two-year colleges in some states are now authorized to offer bachelor’s degrees, especially in technical fields where workers in the labor force are in short supply. Students pursuing those bachelor’s degrees would need to stay at the two-year college longer, of course.) Two-year colleges offer students who have struggled in high school a chance to improve their academic record and gain the fundamental skills and study habits they will need to succeed in more advanced college study. After doing well at a two-year college, such students can get into a better four-year college than they could have gotten into right out of high school. Two-year colleges can be a good choice if a student is undecided about an academic field of study in college and/or about a future career. Trying out different academic majors and different programs leading to different career paths is cheaper and likely easier to do at a two-year college than at a four-year college. Two-year colleges offer their students core liberal arts courses (which can often be transferred to four-year colleges later) and/or technical training in many different fields at a very low price. Putting two-year colleges on your teenager’s list of college options is a reasonable decision if paying for college—either right away for a two-year degree or eventually for a four-year degree—is a critical concern for your family.

Let’s underline that last point, which, I think, is the primary point for the kids who head to a community college right out of high school. The fact that it is so much cheaper than any four-year option is sometimes irresistible. We know that students can get financial aid of all kinds from four-year colleges, which could make their time there essentially free, but none of those deals is a sure thing. Paying the very low tuition at a community college, especially with whatever financial aid is available, is a sure thing.

Let’s also acknowledge that we understand that there might be family reasons to keep a child close to home and within commuting distance and that a community college might fit those circumstances very nicely. Sometimes it is hard to argue against family reasons like that.

3. The Cons of Community Colleges: A Review

So, what’s the downside of going to a community college? As we have said before at USACollegeChat, the choice of a community college for students coming right out of high school is quite different from that same choice being made by adults returning to college or starting college for the first time. But, we are focused here on students coming right out of high school, just like your own teenager. Here is what Mr. Young’s article says about one very important college statistic:

… [T]he truth is that community colleges don’t always pay off for students. Completion rates are notoriously low--only about 38 percent of students who started at a community college in 2009 completed a two- or four-year degree within six years. And students who take out even small loans to attend can end up with crippling debt if they end up with no degree to show for their efforts. As [Sandy Baum, senior fellow at the Urban Institute] puts it: “You really can’t pay back anything if you’re working at the minimum wage.” (quoted from the article)

That is a sobering statistic: Not even half of community college students complete any college degree in six years--not even a two-year associate’s degree. Admittedly, that statistic includes all kinds of students who attend community colleges--from bright kids right out of high school who need to save money to returning adults who have been out of school for a decade to kids who struggled in high school and couldn’t get into a more selective college. Nonetheless, we quoted evidence many episodes back that said that students are more likely to graduate if they go to a more selective college, for many reasons. You have to put that in the scale as you weigh college options for your teenager.

In addition to that seriously low completion rate, the transfer rate of students from community colleges to four-year colleges to earn bachelor’s degrees is also shockingly low, as we reported back in Episode 64, based on an article in The Hechinger Report. Here is that statistic, which was taken from a report from Teachers College, Columbia University:

. . . 80 percent of entering community college students say they intend to earn a bachelor’s degree, but only about a quarter actually make the transfer and 17 percent eventually get the degree. (quoted from the article)

So, as parents, you need to think hard about whether your teenager is different from the typical community college student--smarter, harder working, more motivated, more goal oriented, or something. Because, otherwise, the statistics are telling you that he or she is likely not to graduate with even an associate’s degree and is likely not to transfer to that more expensive four-year college you say you are saving up your money for. We all think our own kids are different and, maybe, better. But how much are you willing to gamble on that?

4. What Is the Answer?

Mr. Young’s article also noted that community colleges are trying out a few ideas in the hope of improving those statistics, and that’s a good thing. Let’s look at two of them. The first idea is something that community colleges are calling “guided pathways,” and the idea really couldn’t be simpler. Here it is:

The metaphor for the traditional community college is a “cafeteria” of course offerings, says Melinda Karp, assistant director of the Community College Research Center at Columbia University’s Teachers College. “We’ve since realized that too much choice is actually overwhelming,” she adds, “and too many students are unable to put together a program of study that gets them where they want to go.”

John Hamman, a dean at Montgomery College, agrees. “What we need to do is help and talk to students about, what do you want to do?” Many community college students who struggle with subjects like mathematics, for instance, might prefer a different track that requires less math—but may not know the option exists. . . . And we don’t do a good enough job helping students [take] those smart pathways.” (quoted from the article)

Well, this problem exists at all levels of schooling and can be solved, at least partly, by intelligent and experienced advisors. Certainly, we had to serve in that capacity at the high school we co-founded in NYC. It was clear that we had to be vigilant to make sure that students were taking what they needed to take in order to graduate--and, in our case, to graduate early in three years. But, it is also true that four-year college advisors need to pay attention to course selection and graduation counseling--especially, as we just said in our last episode (Episode 112), if students are trying to do four years of college in three years.

In this case of community colleges, given their low graduation rate, they absolutely need “guided pathways” to make sure that students get onto a track as soon as possible and stay on track to finish the courses needed to earn a degree. If you are looking at a community college for your teenager, it would be wise to check out whether it has these pathways spelled out and this kind of academic advising available.

The second idea aimed at improving community college statistics is making online coursework more available. Here is what the article said:

Community colleges are . . . starting to do more to offer online courses, says Rufus Glasper, president of the League for Innovation in the Community College. But they are more likely to offer blended programs and require at least some in-person attendance, rather than set up all-online programs, he adds.

“Community colleges need to do more with online so that we can have lower price-point options for our students as well,” he says. That can be especially tough for two-year colleges, though, since they often don’t have the resources to invest in new online infrastructure that it takes to start fully online programs. (quoted from the article)

On the other hand, I am wondering whether the fact that community colleges often offer blended courses instead of fully online courses is actually a plus. Quite recently, in Episode 107, we discussed the pros and cons of online courses for various groups of students. We remained concerned at the end of that episode about the ability of most freshmen to take important introductory or foundational courses online (like Calculus I or Composition 101 or Introduction to Sociology or Spanish I or Biology 101) and get everything out of them that they would get if they were in a classroom with a professor two or three times a week. Offering courses fully online to save the student money may backfire if the student cannot complete the course with a satisfactory grade or with a satisfactory amount of knowledge. We are going to remain concerned that fully online courses might not, in the long run, improve a community college’s graduation rate or successful transfer rate.

5. Where Does That Leave Us?

Toward the end of Mr. Young’s article, he again quotes Ms. Karp, of the Community College Research Center at Columbia University’s Teachers College:

“This is their moment because [community colleges] are the access and equity engines of higher education,” argues Karp. . . . “In this age when we’re talking about how do we open up access to higher education but also make sure our labor force is prepared for . . . jobs of the future, they’re in an ideal position.” (quoted from the article)

Community colleges might indeed be in an ideal position in theory, but they are going to have to improve their results in practice. Those results are what continue to worry us as seniors choose their first step into higher education. Let me simply repeat what I said a few minutes ago: Unless you think your teenager is smarter, harder working, more motivated, and more goal oriented than the typical community college student, your teenager is likely to have some difficulty graduating from a community college and/or transferring to a four-year college. So, talk with your teenager and think hard about your choice.

Ask your questions or share your feedback by... Leaving a comment on the show notes for this episode at http://usacollegechat.org/episode113 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 Connect with us through... Subscribing to our podcast on Google Play Music, iTunes, Stitcher, or TuneIn Liking us on Facebook or following us on Twitter Reviewing parent materials we have available at www.policystudies.org Inquiring about our consulting services if you need individualized help Reading Regina's blog, Parent Chat with Regina

 



36. Episode 112: Speeding Up College Graduation
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One of the biggest practical issues in higher education today is the rising and insanely high cost of a college education--obviously. The cost of going to college is not something we talk about a lot here at USACollegeChat, partly because there are so many other people talking about it all the time. But sky-high cost is the reason behind the topic we are going to discuss in this episode: speeding up college graduation--that is, graduating in fewer than the traditional four years.

Of course, given that so many students these days are taking longer than the traditional four years to graduate--so many, in fact, that six-year graduation rates are a standard part of college data reporting--graduating in fewer than four years takes on a new meaning. When I was in college some decades ago, everyone knew one or two kids who finished in fewer than four years, and we all thought those kids were incredibly smart. But there was no institutionalized plan for speeding up graduation--at least not at my university.

1. The Early College Movement

Speeding up graduation is something that Marie and I know a bit about.   Back in 2009, Marie and I and principal Chris Aguirre co-founded an Early College high school in Brooklyn. While many Early College high schools were concentrating on getting high school students into college courses earlier while still in high school, our high school concentrated on getting high school students out of high school quicker and into college full time.

We adopted Chris’s crazy idea that all of our public school students--most of whom posted just average or below-average middle school grades--could be put on a three-year high school completion schedule by using trimesters instead of semesters during the school year. To be clear, that meant that our students could graduate in three years instead of the traditional four. Well, it was hard work, but it worked. At the end of our first three years, about 65 percent of our first class of students graduated--a full year early--and went on to college. We actually beat New York City’s four-year graduation rate. By the way, virtually all of the rest graduated the following year, on time.

2. The NYU Story

So, Marie and I know that more education can be accomplished in less time, if someone is trying hard to make that happen and if those in charge have set up the framework to make it possible. It was with those fond memories of our accelerated three-year high school schedule that I recently read about a new plan at New York University (NYU), where a year of undergraduate residential study is now about $66,000. The article by Elizabeth A. Harris in The New York Times gives us some background:

[In February], [NYU] announced a series of measures that [makes] it easier to graduate in under four years, part of an initiative aimed at diminishing the university’s enormous affordability problem.

In some ways, the school is just catching up with its students. Ellen Schall, a senior presidential fellow and the head of the university’s affordability steering committee, which is tackling college cost on a number of fronts, said that about 20 percent of N.Y.U. students already graduated ahead of schedule.

“We were surprised,” Professor Schall said. “That’s part of what convinced us we needed to make this more transparent and more available to more students.”

Students have long found ways to make it through school more quickly to save money. But there is increasing momentum to formalize the process in the face of ballooning outrage over college costs and student debt — while N.Y.U. is expensive, many other private universities [also] cost $60,000 or more a year. (quoted from the article)

I was also surprised that 20 percent of NYU students graduated in fewer than four years. Perhaps that is really a sign of the times--a confluence of high college costs, an increase in options for earning actual college credits while in high school through Early College and dual enrollment programs, and the fact that more and more students are taking Advanced Placement high school courses and exams to try to get high enough scores to earn some college credits.

According to the article, here are some ways that NYU is going to help its students graduate quicker:

. . . [W]hile students pay for 18 credits per semester, many actually take only 16, officials said, so the university will increase the number of two-credit courses it offers.

It will also allow many students to transfer in up to eight credits from other schools, like local community colleges where they can take inexpensive classes over the summer--in the past, this has been allowed on a case-by-case basis. In addition, the university has trained advisers to help students create schedules that will get them to their three-year goal. (quoted from the article)

Okay, so I guess if students took an extra two-credit course each semester, or 18 credits instead of the typical 16, that would give them 108 credits in six semesters, or three years, leaving students perhaps another 20 credits shy of graduation. Allowing students to transfer in a certain number of credits from cheaper summer courses or from college courses taken while in high school puts these students closer to the goal line. At that point, they would need to take several heavier-than-18-credit semesters or additional courses during the summer at NYU itself--both of which would cost money. No one said it would be easy, but a substantial portion of $66,000 is a lot of money to save.

Furthermore, there is no doubt that students would need trained advisers to make this work. I imagine that there are confusing regulations galore that no student could ever figure out on his or her own at every college in the U.S. I recall how hard it was to get our kids out of high school in three years. Marie and I spent countless hours scheduling kids and checking to make sure that all of the State’s and City’s graduation requirements were being met as we went through those three years.

3. Stories from Other States

In the article, Ms. Harris widens her lens and tells these stories about public universities:

Gov. John Kasich, Republican of Ohio, pushed to make it easier for students in his state to graduate from public colleges early by allowing more credits from high school or technical programs. Gov. Scott Walker, Republican of Wisconsin, included in his budget proposal this month that schools in the University of Wisconsin system should create a three-year degree for 60 percent of its programs by the summer of 2020. Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind., which is a state school, has also been experimenting with three-year degree options. (quoted from the article)

I think it is significant that colleges in the University of Wisconsin system--which would hopefully include the flagship campus at Madison--might create three-year degrees for 60 percent of its programs over the next few years. Of course, we will see what happens to that proposal. But whatever happens, it seems likely that other such proposals in other states might not be far behind. It is also important to notice that public universities are making these moves. As you know, public universities are often the default college solution for many students who cannot afford private colleges. And, for many such students, the cost of four years at their state’s best public institutions is, unfortunately, not affordable, either.

Here is what Ms. Harris says about private colleges:

Among elite private institutions, official [accelerated]programs remain rare, though Wesleyan University, the Connecticut liberal arts school, announced a formalized three-year track about five years ago. (quoted from the article)

Let’s take a look at the Wesleyan plan, as explained on its website:

Students who graduate in six semesters (three years of normal course loads plus summer courses) may expect to save about 20 percent of the total cost of a Wesleyan education. The three-year option is not for everyone, but for those students who are able to declare their majors early, earn credit during Wesleyan summer sessions, and take advantage of the wealth of opportunities on campus, this more economical path to graduation can be of genuine interest. . . .

For most students, the greatest challenge lies in figuring out a way to earn . . . [enough] credits and complete the particular course requirements for the major in six semesters instead of eight.  Understanding the ways of earning additional credit and accelerating the pace of one’s semester standing is crucial for developing a feasible three-year academic plan. (quoted from the website)

Okay, saving 20 percent isn’t bad--not quite a full year’s savings, but enough to make it worth pursuing.

Interested Wesleyan students will have to earn credits faster and will also have to declare their majors early, presumably in order to ensure that they can get all of the major’s requirements met. So, no waiting around till junior year and no changes once a student is headed down a given track. Clearly, accelerated graduation is not for the student who is taking his or her time exploring subject fields and majors and even trying out more than one major.

Let’s look at the ways Wesleyan says that students can earn additional credits on an accelerated three-year schedule:

Most students who graduate early use a combination of pre-matriculant credit, summer credit, and in-semester course overload. . . .

Pre-matriculant credit.  Up to 2.00 pre-matriculant credits [that is, actually credits for two courses] may be applied towards graduation. 

Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate test credit.  In most cases (exceptions include Biology, English, Computer Science, and Physics), it is necessary to first complete a course in an appropriate Wesleyan department to convert an AP or IB exam into Wesleyan credit. College courses taken in high school.  To be eligible for Wesleyan credit, the course must have been taken with college students and taught by a college professor on a college campus.  If the course is listed for credit on the high school transcript, it may not be used for Wesleyan credit. (quoted from the website)

Of course, we all understand taking courses in the summer and taking additional courses during a regular semester. But the ways to earn credit before a student gets to Wesleyan are especially interesting and specific. Wesleyan places clear and academically rigorous restrictions on using AP or IB test credit as well as on using credits for college courses taken in high school. For example, it will not take dual enrollment course credit, and it will not take credits from the type of college courses that many Early College high schools now run. I actually couldn’t agree more with Wesleyan’s position on both of those; in fact, our Early College high school put our third-year students into courses that Wesleyan would have loved: on a college campus, with other college students, and taught by a college professor.

So, given all of these regulations, how many Wesleyan students actually graduate early? According to the article, the Wesleyan president “estimated that about 20 Wesleyan students annually graduate in three years, up from roughly three a year before [we] made the option official” (quoted from the article). That’s a big increase, of course, though not a substantial portion of the approximately 750 freshmen Wesleyan admits in a year.

4. What’s the Downside?

So, what’s the downside to an accelerated college experience other than the intense and likely difficult academic experience that we have already mentioned? People seem to believe that the biggest downside of all is that students will simply miss out on what it means to have the full college experience—including making friends (and future connections) of all kinds, exploring extracurricular activities, taking advantage of internships and study abroad programs, and the like. In fact, students on accelerated schedules do engage in all of these, but it is probable that some things will be missed in the face of the considerable academic pressure caused by taking additional credits each semester and each summer.

Is the hard academic work and some missed opportunities worth it? Is going to a more expensive college that a kid loves for three years better than going to a cheaper college that a kid is less excited about for four years? Here’s just one more thing for you to think about, parents, as you get your own teenager ready to make a college decision next month.

Ask your questions or share your feedback by... Leaving a comment on the show notes for this episode at http://usacollegechat.org/episode112 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 Connect with us through... Subscribing to our podcast on Google Play Music, iTunes, Stitcher, or TuneIn Liking us on Facebook or following us on Twitter Reviewing parent materials we have available at www.policystudies.org Inquiring about our consulting services if you need individualized help Reading Regina's blog, Parent Chat with Regina

 



37. Episode 111: The College Major Dilemma
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We believe that today’s topic is an issue in higher education not only because the ins and outs of it are talked about often by professors and college administrators, but also because it is something that you as parents will undoubtedly be talking about to your kids once they get to college--if you haven’t started already. It is an issue that comes up in college applications—far too often, from my own point of view. It is the issue of what kids should major in when they go to college.

“Why is that even an issue for parents?” asked no parent ever. Here’s why. Let me read a letter written recently by a father to Philip Galanes, the “Social Q’s” columnist who gives “lighthearted advice about awkward social situations” in the words of The New York Times:

 

My wife and I are spending a fortune to send our son to an Ivy League college. Over the holidays, he came home and told us that he loves his agricultural science class and wants to volunteer at a sustainable farm over the summer. Excuse me, but I am not paying $60,000 a year (after taxes) for him to become a farmer. My wife tells me to relax; his interests will probably change. He is only a freshman. But what if they don’t? How should I handle this?

I love Burt Bacharach and Hal David. (What right-thinking child of the ’70s doesn’t?) But I have a bone to pick with some lyrics in “What the World Needs Now Is Love,” namely: “Lord, we don’t need another meadow. There are cornfields and wheat fields enough to grow.” Not true! If your son wants to be part of the revolution in sustainable farming and end world hunger, more power to him. (Or your wife may be right: He could trade in his overalls by Labor Day. He’s just starting out. What better time to explore?)

Still, you have a point. He who pays the piper calls the tune, as the proverb goes. But did you tell your son, before school began, that it was Goldman Sachs or bust? Probably not. (I also suspect that your parameters for acceptable study are broader than that.) You and your wife should discuss the education you are willing to underwrite and share the news with your son. He may accept your decision. . . . But here’s hoping he won’t. There are surely less controlling ways to teach him the consequences of his professional choices. (quoted from the article)

And there you have it. Parents are often concerned about the marketability in the job market and the earning potential of whatever their kids are studying. Of course, kids are concerned about this, too, but perhaps not quite so much. So, let’s talk about it.

1. Some Thoughts from Cornell University

Let me start with some thoughts from my own alma mater, Cornell University, which won’t surprise anyone in our listening audience. I do so because I have an inkling that the young man whose father wrote the letter might very well be studying at Cornell’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. I think that for obvious reasons.

In my Cornell Alumni Magazine (January/February, 2017), the then-interim president and past president of the University, Hunter Rawlings, was quoted as telling undergraduates in an economics lecture to “major in what you love” and that “[t]he major you choose isn’t as important as parents think” (page 12). That’s kind of a double whammy for some parents, President Rawlings. I am wondering how the father who wrote the letter would feel about those remarks. While I was truly pleased by the President’s remarks, I doubt that father shared my point of view.

What was driving President Rawlings? Perhaps it was a story by Susan Kelley that I read back in September, 2016, as reported in the Cornell Chronicle. The story informs our discussion in this episode:

Interim President Hunter Rawlings is prompting the Cornell faculty to review undergraduate curriculum this year with an emphasis on the value of a liberal education.

“Cornell has rarely, if ever, talked about undergraduate education across the campus. We talk about it within the colleges, but we almost never consider the education all Cornell undergraduates receive from a unified perspective,” Rawlings said before discussing the initiative at the Sept. 14 faculty Senate meeting. “I would like to stimulate a conversation this year across the colleges.”

Rawlings defines “liberal education” as one faithful to its original meaning in Latin: “education for free citizens” who are capable of participating in civic affairs and government. Liberal education, he noted, “is distinguished from purely vocational education and emphasizes critical thinking, moral reasoning, close reading, clear speaking and writing, and the capacity to conduct independent and collaborative research.”

“The faculty owns the curriculum. It is their business,” he emphasized. But the time is right for a comprehensive review, he said. . . .

As president of the Association of American Universities for the past five years, he has seen a nationwide loss of faith in liberal education. That loss is tied to a strong emphasis on vocational education--a degree as a ticket to get a job. “Research universities have not done much to define and defend liberal education,” Rawlings said.

In Rawlings’ view, the College of Arts and Sciences is central to the discussion: it has Cornell’s core departments such that the other colleges rely on it for many of their students’ requirements and electives. (quoted from the article)

What does it take to educate free citizens? Is it arts and humanities or history or the social sciences or mathematics or the natural sciences? Isn’t it all of those things that colleges often refer to as general education or the core curriculum or distribution requirements? Is President Rawlings concerned that some students in the pursuit of a career-related degree in college in mechanical engineering or accounting or agricultural science, for example, will overlook those other fields that make up a liberal education--an education for future citizens? That is precisely what he doesn’t want to happen at Cornell. (And, by the way, father who wrote that letter, a degree in agricultural science will probably get your son into a career a lot quicker than a lot of other degrees I could name, so you might want to calm down.)

Some listeners will recall our long explanation of what a core curriculum is back in Episode 87, where we discussed the value of a core curriculum and whether the presence of a strong core curriculum with many requirements and/or with strict requirements should be a deciding factor in what colleges a kid might want to apply to. In fact, the details of such a core curriculum gets its own question in our College Profile Worksheet, which can be found in our new book How To Explore Your College Options: A Workbook for High School Seniors (out next month).

2. Some Thoughts from Pomona College

But President Rawlings and I are not the only ones who are concerned about “a nationwide loss of faith in liberal education.” I stumbled across an excellent talk given to Pomona College students last June by the U.S. Senator from Hawai‘i Brian Schatz, a 1994 graduate of Pomona College. Feel free to go all the way back to our virtual nationwide college tour and listen to Episode 40, where we discuss Pomona College. Pomona is the oldest and founding college in the highly respected California consortium of five colleges, known as The Claremont Colleges. Pomona offers its 1,600 academically bright students a liberal arts curriculum, with 47 majors and a focus on the humanities, natural sciences, and social sciences.

Here are some of the Senator’s remarks, quoted from a YouTube video of his talk (to learn more about Pomona College, you should watch the whole video):

Liberal arts education is the best preparation for whatever you want to do next. And I believe that strongly, personally, because here I am in the U.S. Senate with a degree in philosophy from Pomona College. I didn’t get the law degree, and I didn’t get the economics degree. I got the degree in philosophy. And I remember my academic advisor saying . . . “[S]tudy what you want to study and it will all work out.” A liberal arts education provides that foundation. I think you want well-rounded thinkers in all sectors of society--in the public sector, in the private sector, in the not-for-profit sector. Whatever you want to do, I think it’s important to get that liberal arts education. As I meet students, I just encourage them to find that motivation internally and stick with it. . . . (quoted from the YouTube video)

And, parents, as we often say here at USACollegeChat, it is hard for students to find that motivation unless they have a liberal education or, at least, unless they have the benefit of taking a variety of college courses through core requirements in fields that they did not have access to before they got to college, including the Senator’s choice of the field of philosophy.

3. Some Thoughts from the Future Job Market

Well, I know this is a hard sell, so let me reflect with you on some interesting information I picked up at the Early College conference I attended and spoke at last week. A great conference in sunny Orlando sponsored by KnowledgeWorks, it offered a keynote address by the same professor who keynoted last year, Dr. James Johnson, Jr. (Director, Urban Investments Strategy Center, Frank Hawkins Kenan Institute of Private Enterprise, University of North Carolina). Dr. Johnson, who has been a professor for 37 years, spoke brilliantly last year about changing demographics in the U.S.

This year, he turned his attention to “Jobs on the Move” and, again, spoke brilliantly. While it would be impossible to repeat his presentation here, let me give you just a few interesting facts he presented to support his view that the world of work is changing dramatically, that we are now living in a state of “certain uncertainty,” and that education is necessary, but insufficient:

In the 1980s, blue-collar jobs shifted off shore, resulting in a loss of 7.2 million jobs between 1979 and 2015 (a drop of 37 percent). In the 1990s, white-collar jobs shifted off shore--for example, in the IT sector. By 2000, business processing was moving off shore, like operations, administration, sales, and customer services. By the way, workers in call centers in India are graduates of India’s equivalent of our M.I.T. Now, knowledge processing is being outsourced, like R & D activities. Perhaps 13 percent of white-collar jobs are vulnerable--in business, computer, legal, and medical fields. For example, medical scans are already being read halfway around the world in 15 minutes for $80 compared to our $800 and three weeks before you get the results. In the new world of medical tourism, an operation can be had in India for 10 percent of the cost here. Good talent is simply cheaper off shore. In the new world of robotics outsourcing, problem-solving robots will put more white-collar jobs at risk. Accountants have a 94 percent chance of being replaced, and pilots have a 55 percent chance of being replaced. Self-driving vehicles will cost millions their jobs. As we leave the Information Age, we are entering the Human Age. Many of us will become freelancers in a global online marketplace. Any work you want done, you will post on a site and get a quick reply from someone who can do it. Already $1 billion a year is earned by freelancers (with 9 million freelancers registered).

Dr. Johnson concluded by saying that we educators in the audience should quit trying to train people for a particular job; we are too busy preparing our nation’s kids to work for someone else, who will be outsourcing their jobs sooner or later. We should be giving our nation’s kids the tools to make and navigate their own paths and to let their own creativity thrive.

What are those tools? Dr. Johnson suggested these for a “competitive tool kit” (quoted from his keynote speech):

“Analytical reasoning” “Entrepreneurial acumen” (that is, expertise)--We will come back to entrepreneurship in a minute. “Contextual intelligence” (that is, staying on top of information and change in your own field) “Soft skills and cultural elasticity” (that is, moving from situation to situation in different settings with different people, which call for different responses) “Agility and flexibility” (in a lifelong-learning mindset)

Dr. Johnson noted that the University of North Carolina, where he teaches, offers a minor in entrepreneurship in the College of Arts and Sciences. Entrepreneurship is not just for business majors! Here is some information about the minor in entrepreneurship, quoted from the College’s website:

This interdisciplinary minor in UNC’s College of Arts and Sciences encourages students to think and act entrepreneurially. Students will gain knowledge and skills to start successful ventures of all kinds: artistic, commercial, media, social, scientific, sports, [design, computer science,] and public health. (quoted from the website)

Here is an example of one of those tracks, quoted from the College’s website:

. . . The [Artistic] track examines the concepts and tools needed to pursue artistic ventures, including the formation of business plans for student created ventures, and includes the legal aspects and challenges of Intellectual Property, i.e. copyright, trademarks, logos and patents. The instructors cover the music industry with emphasis on music publishing rights, the recording business, and booking and promotion for the live performance industry.  It also includes discussions of the television, motion picture and theatre businesses.  Guests who feature prominently in these industries are brought in to share their careers and interact with students.  Such guests can include musicians, singers, theatrical producers, film and television actors, talent agents, dancers, record industry executives, et al. The course takes students through the process of creating formal business plans for proposed artistic ventures, plans that are built and revised throughout the semester. (quoted from the website)

After the presentation, I chatted with Dr. Johnson. I told him that one of my musician sons had gotten a master’s degree in Creative Entrepreneurship from the University of East Anglia in the U.K. At the time, I thought that was the dumbest thing I had ever heard, though I knew deep down that it was a made-to-order master’s degree for him. I told Dr. Johnson that I was feeling much better about his degree now, thanks to Dr. Johnson’s explanation of the rise of entrepreneurship and the Human Age.

I went on to ask Dr. Johnson what he thought about the role of liberal arts in a college education, given his concern that our schools and colleges should not be preparing students for a specific job. He said that he believed that the liberal arts definitely had a place in a college education. I am imagining that means at least in those early core requirements when students are learning to analyze and to think across a variety of disciplines and to be agile and flexible in their learning. He said that, after all, you can’t always put engineers in front of people. By the way, you can and should find Dr. Johnson on YouTube so you can hear from him yourself.

Ask your questions or share your feedback by... Leaving a comment on the show notes for this episode at http://usacollegechat.org/episode111 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 Connect with us through... Subscribing to our podcast on Google Play Music, iTunes, Stitcher, or TuneIn Liking us on Facebook or following us on Twitter Reviewing parent materials we have available at www.policystudies.org Inquiring about our consulting services if you need individualized help Reading Regina's blog, Parent Chat with Regina

 



38. Episode 110: The New Common App College Essay Prompts
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We are not sure that the topic of today’s episode qualifies as an “issue” in higher education, which is the name of our current series, but it is certainly something that will soak up a lot of the time of high school students who will be applying to college next fall and likely of their parents as well. The topic is The Common Application essay prompts. 

Now, I feel as though we just finished discussing college application essays a few weeks ago back in Episode 106, “The Nightmare of the Supplemental College Application Essays.” And today we are back to everyone’s favorite application essay discussion: The Common App prompts for the main essay, or personal statement. I couldn’t have predicted that we would return to this topic so soon, but news is news. The Common App people have recently released the updated prompts for use in 2017-2018, and we wanted to bring this news to your attention as soon as we could.

1. The Process

As it turns out, the Common App people asked for feedback about this year’s essay prompts from member colleges and individual users as they considered any changes for next fall’s/winter’s applications. The Common App website states that feedback was received from 108 member colleges (out of the “nearly 700 colleges” that accept the Common App, according to the website). Personally, I don’t think that is a great response rate, as we say in the evaluation business. Nonetheless, just over 100 colleges did let the Common App people know what they thought of the essay prompts, and my guess is that feedback came from someone in the admissions office that had a lot of experience looking at the essays written in response to those prompts. According to the website, 91 percent of those 108 member colleges agreed or strongly agreed that this year’s prompts were effective.

In addition, feedback was received from over 5,000 individual users—59 percent were students (the largest category of respondents), followed by 23 percent school counselors and 11 percent teachers. According to the website, 90 percent of those individual users of all types agreed or strongly agreed that this year’s prompts were effective.

Well, with that kind of endorsement, it hardly seems that changes needed to be made for next year. Nonetheless, some comments from those colleges and individual users did cause the Common App people to make a few changes--some quite minor, but actually some quite major. Let’s take a look now at how this year’s five essay prompts have become next year’s seven essay prompts.

And, by the way, the word limit for next year’s essays will remain at this year’s 650 words.

2. The Two Unchanged Prompts

Two of this year’s prompts--#1 and #4--will remain exactly the same for next year:

Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story. Describe a problem you’ve solved or a problem you’d like to solve. It can be an intellectual challenge, a research query, an ethical dilemma--anything that is of personal importance, no matter the scale. Explain its significance to you and what steps you took or could be taken to identify a solution.

This decision makes good sense to me as I think back over the many essays I read and edited with kids last fall. I think that both of these prompts produced relevant and interesting essays and that kids seemed to have a relatively easy time understanding what each of these prompts was asking for and writing to it in a straightforward fashion.

For example, many students who came to the U.S. from another country or whose parents came to the U.S. from another country wrote reflective essays for prompt #1 about their background or their national or ethnic identity. For prompt #4, I read essays ranging from solving personal or family problems to solving widespread religious or political discrimination problems here and abroad, and I found many of these essays to be powerful and persuasive.

So, I guess that, if any of the Common App people had asked me my opinion, I would have concurred that these two prompts had worked well for students.

3. The Three Edited Prompts

The remaining three prompts from this year will be used again for next year--#2, #3, and #5--but in a slightly edited form (the italics show the editing):

The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success. Recount a time when you faced a challenge, setback, or failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience? Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome? Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others. 

These edited versions seem perfectly fine and might perhaps help students focus their thoughts better. The editing also broadens each prompt a bit, thus making it easier for students to find something in it to react to. For example, prompt #2 had previously discussed only “failure” and has now been broadened to include obstacles, challenges, and setbacks. I applaud that change because I found that too many kids thought they had “failed” when no adult with any perspective on life would have ever looked at those situations the kids were in and called them “failures.” So, I think that the editing makes this prompt broader and less negative sounding (even though I am sure that the original prompt was not meant to be as negative as many kids took it).

Again, if any of the Common App people had asked me my opinion, I would have agreed that these three prompts could benefit--though probably only slightly--from some broadening.

4. The Two New Prompts

That brings us to the first of the two new prompts for next year’s essays:

Describe a topic, idea, or concept you find so engaging that it makes you lose all track of time. Why does it captivate you? What or who do you turn to when you want to learn more?

I think this is a fine prompt, and I can imagine a number of students who essentially wrote to this prompt last year, though in the guise of a different prompt. I think kids will find this one to be engaging and a natural fit. This prompt lends itself to the kid who gets lost in science research, in violin practice, in writing poems, in building LEGO models, and a hundred other things I can think of--and kids can, too.

And that brings us to the final new prompt for next year’s essays:

Share an essay on any topic of your choice. It can be one you’ve already written, one that responds to a different prompt, or one of your own design. 

What? Are you kidding, I said as I read it for the first time. I asked myself why the Common App people thought they had to go here: Essentially, write anything you want or turn in something you’ve already written for some other reason. While freeing, I wondered if it might be just too freeing.

5. Some Final Thoughts

Then, I read a piece online in The Huffington Post by Scott Anderson, Senior Director for Access and Education at The Common Application, entitled “The Common App Essay Prompts Are Changing. Here’s Why It Doesn’t Matter.” Here are some of Mr. Anderson’s remarks:

The Common App essay prompts have one purpose: to help you introduce yourself to your colleges. (Yes, showcasing your writing ability is part of the equation, but that’s the role of the essay itself, not the prompts.) That’s why the instructions are at least as important as the prompts themselves. Here’s what they say:

“What do you want the readers of your application to know about you apart from courses, grades, and test scores? Choose the option that best helps you answer that question and write an essay of no more than 650 words, using the prompt to inspire and structure your response.”

In a sense, the entire essay exercise boils down to that one leading question: What do you want the readers of your application to know about you? This is not a trick question. The ball is fully in your court and always has been. What you write is entirely up to you. So write about yourself–about what you love, where you come from, what you aspire to, how you spend your time, what bugs you, what inspires you, who is important in your life.

In other words: Write an essay on a topic of your choice. (quoted from the article)

Interesting, I thought. Mr. Anderson goes on to say this:

. . . If the prompts afford so much flexibility, what’s the point in resurrecting Topic of your choice?

Simply put: you’re busy. Applying to college is no small undertaking, and for most of you, the essay--or essays, depending on where you apply--will be the most time consuming task. So use Topic of your choice to reduce your stress, not add to it. If you’ve already written something that you’re especially proud of, then share it. If a specific college uses an essay prompt that sings to you, then use it here. . . . But Topic of your choice doesn’t mean default choice. If the unfocused charge to simply “write anything” seems overwhelming, then let the prompts guide you when you’re ready to start writing.

I guess it would be great for a student to be able to use a short essay he or she had written in an English class or a history class or a biology class--something that reflected his or her values, beliefs, or original ideas; something that spoke to what the student is and said it in an interesting or revealing way. I am not sure how many such essays exist; but, if they do, all the better for the student.

Mr. Anderson concludes his article by suggesting that it is too early for high school juniors to start writing their essays. He believes that what they will likely write about “hasn’t even happened yet.” He thinks that kids should, however, start “thinking–about yourself, about what is important to you, about the interests and experiences and talents and relationships that reveal who you are” and about “what … you want the readers of your application to know about you,” just as the instructions say.

With apologies to Mr. Anderson, my guess is that it is not too early to start writing and that anything so important to a high school student, anything that has so shaped his or her values and beliefs and interests and talents has likely already happened. Sure, something more could happen this spring or this summer, something that a student might rather write about, but my guess is that lots has already happened, especially when it comes to a student’s background or national, ethnic, racial, or gender identity. Families have already struggled or succeeded. Family members have already been lost or added. Talents and passions and values have already been born and nurtured. Academic interests have already been developed and encouraged.

What we know for sure is that high school juniors these days have a lot to think about. And college essays are now one more thing.

Ask your questions or share your feedback by... Leaving a comment on the show notes for this episode at http://usacollegechat.org/episode110 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 Connect with us through... Subscribing to our podcast on Google Play Music, iTunes, Stitcher, or TuneIn Liking us on Facebook or following us on Twitter Reviewing parent materials we have available at www.policystudies.org Inquiring about our consulting services if you need individualized help Reading Regina's blog, Parent Chat with Regina

 



39. Episode 109: Early Decision and Early Action Anxiety in College Admissions--Part II
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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 on the show notes for this episode at http://usacollegechat.org/episode109 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 Connect with us through... Subscribing to our podcast on Google Play Music, iTunes, Stitcher, or TuneIn Liking us on Facebook or following us on Twitter Reviewing parent materials we have available at www.policystudies.org Inquiring about our consulting services if you need individualized help Reading Regina's blog, Parent Chat with Regina

 



40. Episode 108: Early Decision and Early Action Anxiety in College Admissions--Part I
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Welcome back to Series 10, Issues in Higher Education. This is the second in our series of episodes discussing a variety of issues in higher education, and it’s a two-parter. Today’s and next week’s issue is one that, to put it bluntly, I find infuriating. This infuriation has likely been felt by anyone who has tried to navigate the world of Early Decision and Early Action admission to colleges in these past five or six months. So, let’s get started sorting it all out.

We will talk about Early Decision today; next week, we will look at Early Action and then talk about some colleges that offer both Early Decision and Early Action--and indeed some that offer more than one round of one and/or the other. It’s close to insane.

More than a decade and a half ago in September of 2001, The Atlantic published a long and fascinating article by James Fallows, entitled “The Early-Decision Racket.” We believe that title really says it all--now more than ever. For those of you interested in how we got here, read the article and get a brief history.

1. Early Decision Cons

In the olden days, it used to be that a student could apply to one college and one college only under an Early Decision plan--meaning that the student would apply early, get an answer early, and agree to attend that college if accepted. For students, it was--and still is--a binding decision. Furthermore, Early Decision was also the only “early” game in town.

Perhaps the most important reason that lots of folks grew to dislike the Early Decision option was--and likely still is--that a student accepted under this plan had to agree to attend the college before he or she had any other acceptances and before he or she had any idea what scholarships and other financial aid might be offered by any other colleges. For students who depended on financial aid to pay for college--and that’s more and more students these days, for sure--having to choose a college without being able to compare financial aid packages put those students and their families under undue financial pressure.

Many critics of Early Decision today express a legitimate concern that Early Decision favors the children of the wealthy, who do not need to worry about paying for college and comparing financial aid packages. Frank Bruni, a New York Times writer whose work we have read from twice before at USACollegeChat, wrote a column entitled “The Plague of ‘Early Decision’” last December. Talking about his view of the biggest problem with Early Decision at selective colleges, Mr. Bruni wrote this:

[Early decision] significantly disadvantages students from low-income and middle-income families, who are already underrepresented at such schools. There’s plenty of evidence that applying early improves odds of admission and that the students who do so--largely to gain a competitive edge--come disproportionately from privileged backgrounds with parents and counselors who know how to game the system and can assemble the necessary test scores and references by the November deadline.

These students also aren’t concerned about weighing disparate financial-aid offers from different schools and can commit themselves to one through early decision. Less privileged students need to shop around, so early decision doesn’t really work for them. (quoted from the article)

Mr. Bruni went on to quote one of our favorite experts here at USACollegeChat: Harold O. Levy, the executive director of the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation. (You can listen to our interview with Harold here.) According to Mr. Bruni, Harold said, “That’s just unfair in a profound way.” We know from our own earlier interview with Harold and from the Foundation’s excellent work that they are all about trying to ensure that our nation’s selective colleges open their doors to more low-income bright kids, who are often under-recruited and overlooked by these colleges.

Mr. Bruni goes on to register his own concern about a still different aspect of the Early Decision landscape:

[W]hat worries me . . . is how the early-application process intensifies much of what’s perverse about college admissions today: the anxiety-fueling, disappointment-seeding sense that one school above all others glimmers in the distance as the perfect prize; the assessment of the most exclusive environments as . . . the superior ones.

To follow up on Mr. Bruni’s notion, let me point to a story reported last December in The New York Times by Anemona Hartocollis and Richard Pérez-Peña. The title says it all: “Agony as Tulane Applicants Learn Acceptance Emails Are in Error.”

In a nutshell, 130 kids who had applied under an Early Decision option to Tulane University, a very good private university in New Orleans, received acceptance emails as a result of a glitch in new computer software even though they had not been accepted (in fact, some had been accepted for the following spring term, while others had been deferred to the regular decision pool of applicants). Admittedly, this is an awful and embarrassing situation for Tulane. But here is the “anxiety-fueling, disappointment-seeding” part that Mr. Bruni spoke of: The student being interviewed for The New York Times article “asked not to be fully identified because she was humiliated and did not want to be associated with what she called a scandal.” Humiliated? Really? Because she was not accepted Early Decision to Tulane (even though she was, in fact, accepted for the following spring term)? Maybe things have just gone too far.

The article about Tulane continues this way:

Students and parents, already full of anxiety over the high-stakes admissions process, expressed their disbelief and agony online.

“These kids are already so anxious, and the whole process has become so crazy, so this is really a horrible, horrible thing to put them through,” said Phillip Trout, a college counselor at Minnetonka High School in Minnetonka, Minn., and past president of the National Association for College Admission Counseling. (quoted from the article)

Yes, Mr. Trout. The process looks pretty crazy to many of us watching it, too.

So, Mr. Bruni offers us yet another perspective on the Early Decision issue, and it is this:

Early decision moves the admissions process forward on the calendar, so that high school students start obsessing sooner. They press themselves to single out a college at the start of senior year, when they may not understand themselves as well as they will toward the end of it. (quoted from the article)

Well, yes, high school seniors mature a bit and can think through complex problems better as the year goes on. I am not sure that there is much difference between applying to a college on November 1 under an Early Decision option and on January 1 under a regular deadline. However, there might indeed be a difference between a student’s making a final decision about a college to attend on November 1 (because the student’s decision would be binding if he or she were accepted in December) and making that final decision the following April from among, hopefully, several choices. So, I’ll give Mr. Bruni that point.

And here’s one last note from Mr. Bruni’s article:

Marla Schay, the head of guidance at Weston High School, in an affluent suburb outside Boston, told me that while 60 percent of the seniors there submitted early applications seven years ago, it’s above 86 percent now. (quoted from the article)

Wow, 86 percent of those likely well-off suburban kids applying early. Times have changed, and the race is clearly escalating. Any high school seniors who have to overcome any kind of barrier when making their college applications--whether that is financial worries or English as a second language or lack of college counseling or parents who cannot help—are going to be just that much further behind. 

2. Early Decision Pros

On the other hand, if you can put those very substantial negatives aside, it seems to us that Early Decision is still a great option for some kids. I guess the problem is that Early Decision could be a great option for your own teenager, even if it might be a bad option for teenagers in general. With my education leader’s hat on, I have to say that Early Decision worries me increasingly; but with my advocate-for-one-particular-kid’s hat on, I still might recommend it for that one kid.

If your own teenager is absolutely clear about what his or her first-choice college is, then Early Decision is the way to go if that college has an Early Decision option. Many colleges have the option, but not all colleges have it.

Why might Early Decision be a good move for your teenager? There are two primary reasons. First, your family could get this whole college admissions process over with as efficiently as possible at some point in December. As we have already mentioned, the application is usually due around November 1, with a decision usually coming in December. And that would occasion a huge sigh of relief from everyone concerned! In fact, it also would save all of the stress of completing numerous applications. Even with the Common Application’s cutting down on some of that stress, it means that no more supplemental essays would have to be written and no more application fees would have to be paid.

The second reason might be even more important, and it is why we are hard-pressed not to recommend Early Decision for kids who are ready. It is that your child might actually have a better chance--even a much better chance--of being accepted if he or she applies Early Decision. There has been a lot of press about that recently, but I am going to go back to an excellent article by Nick Anderson in The Washington Post from last March, which offered some really rather astonishing statistics on 2015 numbers from 64 “prominent colleges and universities” (my guess is that this year’s numbers won’t be very different and, if anything, could well be more favorable toward Early Decision applicants). His article was aptly entitled “A college-admissions edge for the wealthy: Early decision.” Unfortunately, it’s just what critics fear. 

Here are the acceptance rates for Early Decision applicants (listed first) compared to the overall acceptance rates (that includes both early and regular admissions) for all applicants (listed second) from a selection of great colleges:

University of Pennsylvania: 24% vs. 10% Tufts University: 39% vs. 16% Kenyon College: 58% vs. 24% Barnard College: 43% vs. 20% Northwestern University: 38% vs. 13% Duke University: 27% vs. 12% Williams College: 41% vs. 18% Haverford College: 46% vs. 25% Johns Hopkins University: 29% vs. 13% Smith College: 57% vs. 38% Oberlin College: 54% vs. 29%

By the way, inasmuch as the overall acceptance rate includes both early and regular acceptance rates, the regular acceptance rate by itself would actually be even lower than the second numbers we just read.

Those percentages have got to make you think twice before you as a family dismiss the notion of applying on an Early Decision schedule. But if those numbers weren’t convincing enough, here is another eye-opening statistic from a sample of great colleges--the estimated percentage of the freshman class that is made up of Early Decision acceptances:

University of Pennsylvania:       54% Middlebury College:       53% Emory University: 53% Vanderbilt University:       51% Kenyon College: 51% Barnard College: 51% Northwestern University:       50% Hamilton College: 50% Swarthmore College:       50% Bowdoin College: 49% Duke University: 47% Colorado College: 45% Dartmouth College: 43%

Do you get the picture? Just about half of the seats in the freshman classes of these selective, academically first-rate colleges are filled before the applications of high school seniors applying on the regular schedule are even looked at. In fact, The Washington Post article declared that, of the top-60 national liberal arts universities and colleges, as ranked by U.S. News & World Report, 48 filled one-third or more of their seats with Early Decision applicants (including two more Ivy League schools, Brown University and Cornell University, with 38 percent shares each) and 16 filled one-half or more of their seats with Early Decision applicants.

You really have to stop and think about these statistics. No kidding. What are your teenager’s odds of getting into a place when one-third or one-half of the seats are already taken?

Some colleges are publicizing now that students who are accepted on an Early Decision schedule are getting nearly as much financial aid as those accepted on a regular decision schedule, so that’s a good thing for low-income kids who want to better their acceptance chances at a favorite college. And there is usually a disclaimer in college website information that a student may be released from a binding Early Decision acceptance if the financial aid package offered does not make it possible for that student to attend the college--though I have never tried to test that and, therefore, don’t know how sticky a college would make that withdrawal.

By the way, is it obvious why a college would want so many Early Decision students? It should be. A college wants good students who really want to be at that college. It doesn’t want to play the admissions game any more than the applicants do. It doesn’t want to be worried about the incoming class in April, either.

But somehow, my concern is still on the side of the students. And the number of Early Decision applications is going up, as more and more families hear the numbers you have just heard. Where will it all end?

Ask your questions or share your feedback by... Leaving a comment on the show notes for this episode at http://usacollegechat.org/episode108 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 Connect with us through... Subscribing to our podcast on Google Play Music, iTunes, Stitcher, or TuneIn Liking us on Facebook or following us on Twitter Reviewing parent materials we have available at www.policystudies.org Inquiring about our consulting services if you need individualized help Reading Regina's blog, Parent Chat with Regina

41. Episode 107: What’s All This I Hear About Online College Courses?
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Welcome to Series 10, Issues in Higher Education. We want to spend at least the next handful of episodes discussing a variety of what we believe are issues in higher education--not necessarily about college access or college applications or college admissions, which is where we spend most of our time with you. Yet, we believe that these issues could have long-term implications that are important for your family.

When casting about for a good definition of what we mean by an issue, we came across the Cambridge Academic Content Dictionary and its definition of issue: “a subject or problem that people are thinking and talking about.” We think that definition will give us plenty of room to take up a number of issues we have been thinking about lately.

By the way, in case you aren’t familiar with the Cambridge Academic Content Dictionary, it is a compilation of American English vocabulary that students will use in high school and college. Interestingly, the Dictionary, published by the Cambridge University Press, contains, according to its website, “more than 2,000 key vocabulary items from the content areas of math, the arts, chemistry, earth science, physics, American and world history, social studies, language arts, and other disciplines, as well as the more general vocabulary used in academic writing and speech, such as ‘analyze,’ ‘derive,’ and ‘subsequent.’ That might be a handy dictionary to have.

So, let’s get started. Our first issue is online college courses. Now, this is an interesting issue for us because I am not much in favor of online courses as a way for college students to get the most out of their college experience (even though I once wrote a college online business course, which I thought was pretty good). Marie, on the other hand, has both written and taught quite a few online courses for several colleges at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. Marie has also written and taught blended college courses--that is, courses that are partly online and partly in class. She is something of an expert on this issue of online higher education. And, as always, we might not entirely agree.

We want to take a look at fully online courses today, though some of what we say will undoubtedly apply to blended courses as well. We are going to look at a variety of student populations and talk about each one separately.

1. Online College Courses for Freshmen

Let’s start with college freshmen. When they arrive on campus, it is likely that some of them already took online courses in their high schools--either on their own at home or while sitting in high school classrooms or computer lab facilities.

We are going to suggest, for openers, that high school students who take an online course while sitting in a high school building under the supervision--even the loose supervision--of high school staff members are not really getting the full online experience. Those students are not doing classwork on their own schedules, studying and meeting assignment deadlines on their own, or sinking or swimming without the benefit of any live over-the-shoulder professional adult guidance.

Parents, you cannot judge such experiences to be indicative of what a college online course might be like for your freshman. In fact, when we were working at the high school we co-founded in New York City, almost all of our students took at least two online high school courses in our classrooms, and we were still very reluctant to see them enroll in any online courses when we sent them off to college for the first time.

On the other hand, if your teenager has taken an online course entirely at home--including as a fully homeschooled student--then your teenager has had an experience closer to a college online course. His or her success with such courses might be better predictors of his or her success in college online courses.

With that said, there are many, many students who come to college without having had any experience with online courses. These are the students who worry us most. Why?

Taking online courses at the college level requires that students have better-than-average self-discipline and self-motivation. It is easy to get behind in an online course when you don’t have to show up physically at a building for class two or three times a week. There is no camaraderie of walking to class and sitting in class with other new freshmen. It is easy to imagine that you will do that online assignment on your computer at midnight and then accidentally fall asleep or go out with friends.

Taking online courses at the college level also requires that students have better-than-average reading and writing skills. This is something that a lot of students don’t think about nearly as hard as they should. Most online courses have a lot of reading associated with them, even if a professor gives video lectures as part of the course (and they all don’t do that). And most online courses require a lot of writing, both of a formal nature and of a more informal nature, such as when responding to posts of classmates typically each week. Unfortunately, many college freshmen simply do not have the reading and writing skills they should, as we have said here at USACollegeChat too many times to count.

And now I will offer an opinion. I think that it is unlikely that most freshmen can take an important introductory or foundational course (like Calculus I or Composition 101 or Introduction to Sociology or Spanish I or Biology 101) and get everything out of it online that they would get if they were in a classroom with a professor two or three times a week. I could be wrong, but I don’t think I am.

2. Online College Courses for Sophomores, Juniors, and Seniors

I feel slightly better about sophomores and juniors and seniors taking online courses, but only slightly. I still think that live instruction in a classroom or lab or even lecture hall is likely to give students more food for thought and likely to engage them better with the content of the course.

To the degree that the online course is an elective in a field that is not the student’s major, I feel less concerned. But that is only because I am admitting that it is not as important for the student to learn the content as well.

To be fair, I do think it is probably true that upperclassmen have more self-discipline than freshmen and, therefore, stand a better chance of getting through an online course as the professor intended. So, that’s a plus for upperclassmen. It is also probably true that, if an upperclassman is super-interested in the content of the course, there is a better chance that the he or she will do whatever is required to learn the material.

3. Online College Courses for Undergraduate Students in the Summer

Let’s talk about summer school, and I will give you a real example of a student I had worked with during his application process. Let’s call him Victor. Victor had won a handsome scholarship to the prestigious state university he chose to attend. The scholarship required that he keep a 3.0 GPA--not an unreasonable requirement, I believe.

Well, Victor did what lots of freshmen do. He got busy with friends and activities and let his GPA plummet closer to a 2.0 than a 3.0. He was notified that he would lose his scholarship for his sophomore year, though he might appeal to get it back if his grades rebounded.

We knew that he had to get his grades up ASAP. So, during the summer after his freshman year, Victor and I chose four online courses that the university offered--two courses in each of two summer sessions. Victor was able to take the online courses at home, which was critically important since he could not afford to live on campus and take regular summer school courses. We chose courses that I thought leant themselves to online study (that is, not advanced mathematics or sciences, even though Victor is a biology major)--courses like music history and contemporary literature.

Partly because there was a lot riding on the successful completion of these courses (and partly because I talked to him every day about what was due and whether he had done it), he finished the four courses with four A’s. Were the courses somehow easier than the courses would have been if he had taken them in class? To tell you the truth, I am not sure, though I have my suspicions that they were. Nonetheless, those A’s and a good fall semester of his sophomore year dug him out of the academic hole he had found himself in, and he got his scholarship back.

So, in Victor’s case, online courses were a great option. They would also be a great option for other college students in his situation. Or for college students who want to get a bit ahead before the next academic year, for whatever reason. Summer courses online--like summer courses in classrooms--can be a very attractive way to catch up or move ahead, depending on your college academic situation. Parents, that is an idea that might be useful to your own kids who are in college now or will be soon.

4. Online College Courses for Graduate Students

Let’s turn our attention to online courses for graduate students (you might have one of those at home now, parents, or you might have one in the future). At the end of September, I read a piece in The New York Times by Kevin Carey. It had this intriguing title: “An Online Education Breakthrough? A Master’s Degree for a Mere $7,000.” Here is what the article said:

The master’s degree business is booming. College graduates looking for a leg up in the job market are flocking to one- and two-year programs that promise entry to lucrative careers. Top colleges are more than willing to provide them--for a price. Tuition for a 30-credit master’s in computer science from the University of Southern California runs $57,000. Syracuse, Johns Hopkins and Carnegie Mellon charge over $43,000 for the same degree.

But one highly ranked program, at Georgia Tech, has taken a very different approach. Its master’s in computer science costs less than one-eighth as much as its most expensive rival--if you learn online. And a new study by Harvard economists found that in creating the program, Georgia Tech may have discovered a whole new market for higher education, one that could change the way we think about the problem of college costs.

Georgia Tech rolled out its online master’s in computer science in 2014. It already had a highly selective residential master’s program that cost about the same as those of competitor colleges. Some may see online learning as experimental or inferior, something associated with downmarket for-profit colleges. But the nation’s best universities have fully embraced it. Syracuse, Johns Hopkins, U.S.C. and others have also developed online master’s degrees, for which they charge the same tuition as their residential programs.

Georgia Tech decided to do something different. It charges online students the smallest amount necessary to cover its costs. That turned out to be $510 for a three-credit class. U.S.C. charges online students $5,535 for a three-credit class. (Both programs also charge small per-semester fees.)

With one of the top 10 computer science departments in the nation, according to U.S. News & World Report, Georgia Tech had a reputation to uphold. So it made the online program as much like the residential program as possible. (quoted from the article)

Wow, that is powerful. I have to think twice about something like this that Georgia Tech would do, because Georgia Tech is as good as it gets. And what’s more, here is some information from the article about the student-professor relationships in the online degree program:

Charles Isbell, a senior associate dean at the College of Computing, helped lead the effort. Mr. Isbell has a Ph.D. in artificial intelligence and machine learning from M.I.T., and he teaches those subjects at Georgia Tech. He translated his lectures into well-produced online videos while administering the same homework assignments, midterms and final exams. Tests are proctored by a company that locks down a student’s computer remotely and uses its camera to check for cheating.

In theory, on-campus programs offer direct access to professors and peers. Mr. Isbell began noticing differences in that respect between his residential and online students. He was interacting much more with students who had never set foot on the Atlanta campus.

“I never see students at my office hours,” he said. A few linger after class to ask scheduling questions, but that’s about it.

Many of the thousands of online students, by contrast, are constantly interacting on a website set up for that purpose, where Isbell can log on and help. “I can jump in and say: ‘No, you should be thinking about this,’ ” he said. “I spend more time helping them with assignments online than I ever do on campus. The experience for the students and for me is much richer online.” (quoted from the article)

Well, there’s something I wasn’t expecting. But perhaps here is the reason, as explained later in the article: “The traditional on-campus students in the Georgia Tech master’s program tend be young and just out college, with an average age of 24. The average age of the online students was 35. A sizable number were 45, 50 and older. Ninety percent were currently employed.” (quoted from the article) It seems, then, that online courses might work better for older students, for students who are likely more serious than traditional undergraduates, and for adult students who might need that master’s degree in order to keep a current job or get a better one.

5. Online College Courses for Adult Students

That brings us to the final population, and that is adult students--not just older graduate students, but older undergraduate students. For a couple of decades, adult students have been the only growing population of college students.

Adult students usually return to college--or start college for the first time--because they need some sort of credential in order to earn a living or a better living. Therefore, they are serious students. They are highly motivated. They are disciplined. They have what it takes to succeed in online courses.

But--and it’s a big but--they are not like your high school seniors will be next year when they are college freshmen. And that’s precisely why we have been reluctant to recommend online courses for first-time college freshmen coming right out of high school.

Ask your questions or share your feedback by... Leaving a comment on the show notes for this episode at http://usacollegechat.org/episode107 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 Connect with us through... Subscribing to our podcast on Google Play Music, iTunes, Stitcher, or TuneIn Liking us on Facebook or following us on Twitter Reviewing parent materials we have available at www.policystudies.org Inquiring about our consulting services if you need individualized help Reading Regina's blog, Parent Chat with Regina

42. Episode 106: The Nightmare of the Supplemental College Application Essays
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We are still in Series 9, The Last Minute. That’s because we told you in our last episode that many colleges, including some top-ranked public and private ones, were still accepting applications--and will be doing so right through January and February, with some into March and April, and a few even beyond that. So, if you have a high school senior at home and he or she intends to take advantage of that fact, this episode is for you. And perhaps equally important, but less urgent: If you have a high school junior at home, this episode is for your family big time.

We have talked on numerous occasions (most recently in Episode 98) about the dreaded college application main essay or personal statement. This is the place in The Common Application where your teenager is asked to write about 650 words on his or her choice of one of five prescribed topics. Everybody talks about this essay (including us), and everybody has lots of advice about how to produce a memorable piece of work (including us).

But we are going to talk today about a slightly different topic, which we also addressed briefly back in Episode 98. This is one that I have been painfully focused on for the past couple of weeks, and it is the college application supplemental essay. 

My personal story goes something like this: I had worked with a number of students here in New York City on their Common App main essays over the course of the fall months. I probably read and edited (that is, edited back and forth with the students) more than 50 of them. Suddenly, just before Christmas, some of these students started emailing me their supplemental essays and asking whether I might give them some guidance and some help in editing them. I made the “mistake” of helping the first few students, and I guess word got around. As January 1 deadlines approached, more and more students sent me more and more supplemental essays. Some kids sent as many as a dozen across six or seven different colleges! Having read and edited with students perhaps 100 supplemental essays in the past several weeks, I now feel like something of an expert on the topic. So, let me pass on what I learned in the trenches. 

1. Supplemental Essays: The Word Count

As you probably know, supplemental essays are required by lots of colleges, especially by the highly selective ones. Some colleges require one, some require two, and some require even more (at last count, I put one Ivy League institution at seven open-ended questions calling for answers of various lengths, though not all actual essays). Typically, supplemental essays are not as long as the main personal statement, fortunately--although we all know that higher word counts allow us to be a bit sloppy and it is sometimes easier to write more rambling words than to write fewer better-chosen words.

Many of these supplemental essays seem to call for about 350 to 400 words, or about four meaty paragraphs, which is not really too long when you think about it. Many of them seem to run quite a bit shorter, at about 100 to 150 words, which can be downright restricting if you actually have something to say. Some of them--which are not really essays at all, but more like short-answer questions--ask for just 200 characters (or about 35 words), as one Ivy put it.

Here is the point: These word limits are very different, but they are all way lower than the 650-word personal statement. These lower word limits imply a different style of writing. While an applicant might relax into a narrative personal story in the main 650-word essay, using lots of descriptive detail and many examples to elaborate the main idea, the shorter essays do not really permit that. They need a much more focused, straightforward, get-to-the-point style if the question is to be answered effectively in far fewer words. Now, I am sure that there are some creative writers among our current crop of college applicants who could write a brilliant poetic response to one of these shorter essay prompts. But, I am going to state, for the record, that I have not found too many of them. Most high school kids are going to have enough trouble writing a coherent, logical response, which gets in some important facts and pertinent background information and perhaps an insightful opinion or two.

So, if you are a parent who is reading supplemental essays in the next few weeks, look for essays that make sense and that are clearly written. They need to make a point (or two or maybe three) both effectively and efficiently. Help your teenager edit out the extra sentences and superfluous words--including all of those that don’t contribute to the point(s). Because we all know that getting down to 100 words can be brutal.

One final note on word limits: As you might already know or could have guessed, one college’s 400-word essay topic is another college’s 150-word essay topic. Obviously, as we will talk about in a minute, there are some topics that come up over and over again across many, many colleges. You will quickly learn that it is truly helpful for your teenager to have a drafted long response to these topics and--just as important--a drafted short response for the same topics. That takes some thoughtful and careful editing. Believe me, having a long version and a short version of popular essay topics can help you speed through the supplemental answer nightmare.

2. Supplemental Essays: The Tone

So, let’s talk about tone. I am going to use “tone” here to mean both the attitude the writer has toward the subject (or content) of the essay and the attitude the writer has toward the audience (and by “audience,” we mean, of course, the college admissions staff). I have already said that I think that most supplemental essays call for a straightforward, academic, somewhat formal tone. Yes, the applicant will be writing about his or her personal background, ideas, and even opinions, but not in the words he or she would use if writing to a friend or a relative or perhaps even to his or her own teacher. 

This doesn’t mean the essays have to be stuffy or dry or boring. An applicant’s personality can shine through even though the writing is not chatty. Maybe that’s the style applicants should strive for: personality, with decorum and appropriateness.

Let me say that one of the worst problems I found with tone was my high school seniors’ gushing over how wonderful the college is or what great students go there or what fantastic and potentially helpful alumni it has. To take one example, the kids often wrote about a college’s “Nobel Prize-winning professors” or “world-famous professors who are doing brilliant research” or “dedicated professors.” Parents, explain to your teenagers that colleges know how great their professors are and they don’t need a high school senior to tell them. It is fine to be admiring and polite, of course; but, gushing just sounds naïve and unsophisticated. I would settle for “well-known” or “highly respected professors” instead, if you really want to talk about them. So, let’s shoot for admiring and polite, but not over-the-top.

3. Supplemental Essays: The Likely Topics

Some of the topics for the supplemental essays, especially the shorter ones, are a bit odd, chosen perhaps to allow an applicant to show his or her creative side. If given a choice among essay topics, I rarely recommend that a kid choose one of the odder ones--unless that kid is particularly creative or perhaps naturally funny or witty.

However, there are several often-used and often not-optional topics that your teenager should have a longer (about 350 words) answer and shorter (about 100 words) answer for:

“Why our college” or “Why is our college a good fit for you” or “How will our college contribute to your goals and interests” or some version of that--As we said in Episode 98, this topic virtually requires your teenager to read up about the college and refer, in the essay, to what he or she has learned from that research. For example, an applicant could reference the college’s diversity or academic strengths or curriculum or research opportunities for students or community outreach efforts or faith-based mission or something else. If this is one of the longer-length essays, then the applicant will need to reference several things about the college.

Remember: This is an essay that is not easily used from college to college because of the specifics about the college, so tell your teenager to be careful about trying to get double duty out of it. This is precisely the kind of essay that can cause some teenagers to become a bit gushy and overly complimentary, so watch out for that, too. By the way, if this is the only supplementary essay required by a college, then your teenager can write about his or her interest in a field of study that the college offers; but, if there are more supplementary essays for the college, your teenager probably is going to need to save that content for a different essay. 

“How can you contribute to our college” or “What can you bring to our college” or “Our students live in suites, so what would you bring to your suitemates” or some version of that--This is the reverse of the previous topic, like “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” This essay has to be about what traits and skills and talents your teenager has--like commitment to community service or love of research or musical talent or athletic prowess--and how those will be a plus for the college if your teenager is admitted. Again, if this is one of the longer-length essays, then your teenager will likely need to write about several of his or her traits or skills or talents in order to make his or her best case.

It’s hard to write this essay without sounding boastful, so watch the tone. Again, if this is the only supplementary essay, then your teenager can write about his or her interest in a field of study that the college offers and how he or she might contribute to classes or projects in that field; but, if there are more supplementary essays for the college, your teenager is probably going to need to save that for a different essay. 

“Why are you interested in the field of study you are proposing to major in” or some version of that--We frequently see applicants write a version of this essay for the main Common App essay or personal statement. That is a serious mistake. Tell your teenager to save any talk about his or her field of academic interest for this supplemental essay if this is one that a college requires. For example, whatever led to his or her interest in art or French or electrical engineering or something else--all of that goes into this essay.

This is also the place to look carefully on the college’s website at the academic degrees and majors listed (and concentrations, if available, within those majors) and to cite the exact name of the degree, major, and concentration, if available, that the college uses. For example, there are many variations of “biology” within some colleges and indeed from college to college; it is important to write each college’s essay on this topic as specifically as possible, using the words that each college uses to describe its own majors, concentrations, and so on. Know, for example, that some colleges offer both a B.A. and a B.S. in Biology. So, what is the difference and which one is your teenager headed for?

It is likely that your teenager already had to declare a major in another question on the Common App, so this should not come as a surprise. If your teenager has no idea what he or she wants to major in, we totally understand that, but it will probably make for a less appealing essay. Tell your teenager to keep in mind that the major and/or concentration written about here is not cast in stone, so it is likely better to write about something specific with as much passion as possible.

As we said in Episode 98, this is the supplemental essay where pre-med majors write about why they are drawn to the field of medicine; if you are going to do that, the story should be a good one. Everyone wants to be a pre-med major, but if an applicant has a compelling reason (and that doesn’t mean “to help people”), then the pre-med choice is more believable. I recently read an interesting essay by a high school senior of Asian background, who wrote that her immigrant parents had always had difficulty when it came time to file income taxes—both because they did not speak English very well and because they did not understand the array of documents they needed to provide in order to complete the forms. The student said that she hoped to become an accountant to help families like hers. I thought that was actually interesting, and definitely not the same thing as every other kid who wants to be a business major will write.

“Describe an activity that is important to you” or “Write about something that is important to you” or, more specifically,“Talk about the role of sports in your life” or some version of that--We often see applicants write a version of this topic for the main Common App essay or personal statement. Again, that is a serious mistake. Tell your teenager to save any talk about an activity or sport that is especially meaningful or significant to him or her for this supplemental essay topic. This is the place for the story about conquering a fear of water and then competing on the swimming team or serving as the treasurer of your school’s cancer fundraising organization or writing for the school newspaper or playing in the orchestra that toured in China or working at a summer camp for kids or picking up a younger brother or sister or niece or nephew after school every day and watching that child until a parent comes home. Remember: “Activity” can mean something a teenager does for the family. “Describe a community that you are part of” or some version of that--This essay allows for a bit of creativity in defining the “community” that the applicant chooses to discuss. It also, happily, allows for the applicant to take one of the basic essays he or she has written and to bend it cleverly to fit this topic. For example, it could be a school community or church community or community of athletes or community of volunteers or theatrical community or musical community or you name it.       “Write about a time when you had to work with someone whose background (e.g., race, ethnicity, religion, politics, income, gender identity, or sexual orientation) was different from yours” or some version of that--Many colleges are committed to promoting student diversity on their campuses and are, understandably, interested in how new students will react to that diversity. Specific examples drawn from an applicant’s school or community would probably work best to show whether and how that applicant values diversity. For students who go to school or live in a community that is not racially, ethnically, socioeconomically, or otherwise diverse, this topic might be harder to write about, but could turn out to be very insightful—if, in fact, diversity is one of the main reasons the applicant chose to apply to that college.

Clearly, you and your teenager must look at the totality of the supplementary essays each college asks for and mix and match the ones you have with the ones that are needed. What is one college’s “activity that is significant to you” is another college’s “community that you are part of.” You see how that works?

I recently worked with one high school senior on 11 college applications. We managed to do almost all of her supplementary essays with longer or shorter versions of three basic essays that we established at the beginning: one about her interest in medicine and medical research (and it was a compelling story, which included the biology research she did in high school competitions); one about her brother, who has a life-threatening disease, and the work she does with a community of volunteers to raise awareness and money to fight that disease (and, incidentally, how she plans to continue that work in college); and one about playing and traveling for several years on championship softball teams at school and in the community. You can already see how these work with the topics we just discussed and how they can be shaped to fit various purposes.

By the way, parents of juniors, just to give you the heads up, here are some of the super-short questions your teen might see in the future (you can start getting ready now):

Who or what is an inspiration to you? If you could live for a day/have lunch with/ spend some time with someone past or present, fictional or real, who would that be and why? If you had to invent a course to teach at our college, what would it be? What books have you read recently outside of school? What museums, concerts, exhibitions, films, and theatrical performances have you attended recently?

Those should get you thinking. As always, call us, if you could use some free advice!

Ask your questions or share your feedback by... Leaving a comment on the show notes for this episode at http://usacollegechat.org/episode106 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 Connect with us through... Subscribing to our podcast on Google Play Music, iTunes, Stitcher, or TuneIn Liking us on Facebook or following us on Twitter Reviewing parent materials we have available at www.policystudies.org Inquiring about our consulting services if you need individualized help Reading Regina's blog, Parent Chat with Regina

43. Episode 105: Colleges Still Accepting Applications!
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Well, we thought we would be starting a new series for the new year, but it turns out there are one or two things we would like to say to the seniors who are looking at their college prospects now--albeit a bit late--with newly serious eyes.  I was talking to one of my best friends recently.  He has twin girls, who were just finishing up their applications when we chatted on December 27.  He said that one of the girls was feeling a bit blue as she looked over the list of colleges she had applied to and worried that none of them seemed to be the perfect choice.  

I found myself giving him two messages for his daughter. 

1.  There’s Not One Perfect College Choice.

The first is the message that any concerned parent would send, and it went something like this:  Don’t worry.  There are many colleges out there that would be a fine choice for you.  There isn’t just one perfect college.  You could be happy at any number of colleges, including the ones on your list, and you likely will be.  

Her father added that he thought there was really no way to know how good a fit a college might be until you were actually enrolled and living on the campus and taking classes and making friends and involving yourself in activities, etc.  Her dad is a smart guy and, in this case, exactly right.  

However much you think you know about a college from reading the website and visiting the campus and attending a few sample classes and talking to kids who go there will be nothing compared to that first month as a student there.  And really that first semester as a student there, because that first month can be atypically difficult, especially if the college is far from home.  So, yes, applicants should do their homework about a college before applying (our new book is designed to help high school students do exactly that), but applicants also have to accept that fact that they can’t know everything in advance.

Parents, if you attended college and had a choice of colleges yourself, after the acceptances came in, do you ever think about how your life might have been different if you had chosen a different college?  I really don’t, but did so on the occasion of preparing this episode.  

This will surprise you, Marie (well-known Barnard alumna), but I very nearly chose to go to Smith College or Pembroke College (now fully merged into Brown University).  Yes, two women’s colleges!  I liked the idea of women’s colleges as a high school senior more than I do now.  So, was I right then?  Perhaps I was.

I also thought hard about going to two great Southern universities--Vanderbilt and Southern Methodist (my mother’s alma mater).  Although I grew up in the suburbs of Philadelphia, I spent all my summers in Texas at my grandmother’s.  I loved the idea of going to college in the South and believe, to this day, that I would have thoroughly enjoyed either of those universities.  

But, as our listeners know, I chose Cornell.  In fairness, my father, an Ivy Leaguer himself, chose Cornell for me.  I could tell that he wanted me to go to Cornell, though he never said it, so I did.  I don’t regret my choice for a minute.  Was it a perfect choice?  Well, a near-perfect choice, except for the weather.  But I have to believe that any other choice would have made me quite happy, too.  They might have been just as perfect.

Maybe the key here is to get great colleges onto your list of college options so that you apply only to places that you would really like to attend.  It is comforting to go into the waiting period of the next few months knowing that you could be happy at any of the colleges on your list.  That’s one reason we spend a lot of time talking to you about options, taking you on our virtual nationwide college tour (Episodes 27 through 53), going through the deal breakers in your decision making (see our first book), and doing the research you need on each college option (see our upcoming book). 

2.  Lots of Colleges Are Still Accepting Applications.

So, that brings me to my second message to my friend’s daughter:  If you are really concerned (and not just fretting over nothing, as kids sometimes do), there are still a lot of great colleges accepting applications.  I have to admit that when I Googled “colleges still accepting applications,” I couldn’t believe the number that came up.  Sure, some have deadlines of January 10 or 15 or 31, but some have deadlines in February, March, April, May, and beyond.  Yes, for the fall of 2017.  And you still have some time to submit applications even to those with January deadlines.  One note of caution:  I double checked the deadlines of all the colleges that were supplied by my Google search and found many of them to be wrong.  So please check out the actual website of any college that you might be interested in!

There is no way to generalize about the colleges with later deadlines, but I have noticed that quite a few of them are the branch campuses of large public universities, though some great flagships also have relatively late application deadlines.  Other than that, you can find small liberal arts colleges, larger liberal arts universities, faith-based colleges, HBCUs (historically black colleges and universities), single-sex colleges--really, just about anything.  They are large and small.  They are urban, suburban, small town, and rural.  They include some highly selective colleges, some selective colleges, and some not-so-selective colleges.  They include colleges in the North, South, East, and West (including as west as it gets).

Let me read you a sample of colleges with late application deadlines to prove our point.  Here are just some of the colleges--including truly great colleges--you can apply to by January 15 (and really 10 days should be plenty of time to pull some of these off):

Bryn Mawr College Bucknell University Carleton College Case Western Reserve University Centre College Colgate University College of the Holy Cross Colorado College Denison University Drexel University Florida State University (January 18) Franklin and Marshall College George Mason University Grinnell College Haverford College Kenyon College Lafayette College Loyola Marymount University Macalester College Mills College Mount Holyoke College Oberlin College Occidental College Providence College Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute Skidmore College Smith College Soka University of America Southern Methodist University Stony Brook University Tulane University University of Colorado Boulder University of Connecticut University of Delaware University of Denver University of Georgia University of Massachusetts Amherst University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill University of Oregon University of Puget Sound University of Southern California University of Vermont Villanova University Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University Washington University in St Louis Wellesley College


Need more time?  Well, here are colleges with February deadlines (albeit many are on February 1, but some are on February 15):

Baylor University Clemson University Colorado State University Fort Collins DePauw University Dickinson College Fisk University Hunter College (CUNY) Ithaca College Juniata College Miami University (Oxford, Ohio) Ohio State University (main campus) Quinnipiac University Rhode Island School of Design Saint Michael's College Simmons College Spelman College St. Lawrence University Stevens Institute of Technology Transylvania University University of Maryland (Baltimore County) University of Michigan (Ann Arbor) University of New Hampshire (main campus) University of North Carolina Wilmington University of Rhode Island University of Wisconsin–Madison Earlham College Morehouse College Rollins College Texas Christian University The College of Wooster University of Kentucky Yeshiva University

I was going to stop there, but there are some that I would like to mention with deadlines in March (yes, March!).  You really have no excuse not to apply to one of these if you are interested:

Georgia State University Hampden–Sydney College Hampton University Randolph–Macon College SUNY at Albany University of Dallas University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa East Carolina University

Okay, you get the point.  But, believe us that we could name colleges with deadlines in April, May, and even June, including some that we have recommended in our virtual nationwide college tour--colleges like SUNY New Paltz, Old Dominion University, the University of Iowa, Louisiana State University, and the University of Central Florida.

So, parents of high school seniors, don’t despair.  If your teenager is truly questioning his or her choices now, it’s not too late.  Again, the options that we have just read are a sample of colleges still accepting applications (and there are many options that we have not read).  Lots of these options would be great for any student.  So, if you and your teenager are so inclined, take an hour or two now and have a last look.  It might not change any final decision your teenager will eventually make about where to go to college, but it might let you all sleep better for the next few months.

As always, call us, if you could use some free advice!

Ask your questions or share your feedback by... Leaving a comment on the show notes for this episode at http://usacollegechat.org/episode105 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 Connect with us through... Subscribing to our podcast on Google Play Music, iTunes, Stitcher, or TuneIn Liking us on Facebook or following us on Twitter Reviewing parent materials we have available at www.policystudies.org Inquiring about our consulting services if you need individualized help Reading Regina's blog, Parent Chat with Regina

44. Episode 104: Public Universities--One More Time
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This is our final episode before the holiday break and before those of you with seniors are facing what is likely D-Day--Deadline-for-college-applications Day--at least, for many, many colleges anyway. We struggled to think of something hopeful to say, and we settled on one last look at a group of colleges your teenager and you might not have considered sufficiently, and that is public universities. They have long been a favorite topic of ours, as evidenced by our detailed coverage of them during our virtual nationwide college tour (Episodes 27 through 53) and our oft-repeated description of public flagship universities as the hidden jewels of our higher education system in the U.S.

But recently, I read some new information that might make them even more attractive to you, and that information is about money. Our regular listeners know that I care relatively little about the cost of a college compared to the education and college life it provides and the quality of its match to a particular student. But even I was pleased to find out this information. Perhaps it is just in time for adding one or two more colleges to your teenager’s list (especially if the applications are relatively easy or the deadlines are a bit later than January 1, both of which can be true for large public universities).

1. Out-of-State Tuition Prices Dropping

A few weeks ago, I read an Associated Press article, by Jeff Amy, which had a catchy headline: “Seeking students, public colleges reduce out-of-state prices.” It starts with an interesting story from the University of Southern Mississippi (USM) in Hattiesburg, but doesn’t stop there. Here is the USM story:

The 14,500-student school has cut annual out-of-state tuition and fees from $16,529 this year to $9,964 next fall, even as it increases the cost for Mississippi residents by 4 percent, to $7,963.

The idea is to reverse a 2,000-student enrollment dip by pricing a USM education below some public universities in nearby states, and attract enough high-schoolers from Houston, Dallas and San Antonio to raise overall revenue. (quoted from the article)

Of course, as our regular listeners might say, those high school seniors could also come from New York City, Philadelphia, and Chicago. Why? Because kids need to get outside their geographic comfort zone! And now, USM and other public universities are making it even more attractive and cheaper to do just that.

According to Mr. Amy’s article, “The Associated Press counted at least 50 public colleges and universities nationwide that have lowered nonresident tuition by more than 10 percent in recent years without making similar reductions for in-state students.” Is there any particular reason for that trend? Mr. Amy’s article offers this statistic:

Many [colleges] are squeezed by falling numbers of traditional college-age students. High school graduates have fallen nationwide since 2011 and won't peak again until 2023, according to the Western Interstate Commission on Higher Education. (quoted from the article)

Well, that was something I didn’t know. So now, let’s head way north from Hattiesburg and take a look at the University of Maine’s flagship campus. Mr. Amy tells this story:

One widely noticed move was made by the University of Maine in Orono, which charges high-achievers from nine other states the same tuition they’d pay at their home state’s flagship. This saves them $12,000 to $17,000 from Maine's out-of-state tuition of $29,498; applicants with lower grades and test scores get $9,000 off.

"The state of Maine needs young people, and we're not producing enough of them," said University of Maine Provost Jeffrey Hecker….

It's working: Applications jumped, freshman enrollment rose 9 percent to 2,260 students this fall…. (quoted from the article)

This arrangement at the University of Maine echoes some arrangements we talked about during our virtual nationwide college tour (Episodes 27 through 53) where groups of neighboring states in various parts of the country offered good financial deals to students to cross state lines and attend public universities. And, parents, don’t forget to check out about any regional exchanges your state belongs to (e.g., Western Undergraduate Exchange, Midwest Student Exchange Program), which offer tuition discounts to residents of member states.

Of course, as we have said before, some public universities take some heat from state taxpayers for recruiting students from outside the state, especially when they believe that out-of-state students who can pay more are admitted instead of in-state students who deserve those places. But, as some states cut back on their funding of their own public universities, it is no surprise that those universities have to seek revenue elsewhere. Thus, at least in some states, out-of-state students are going to get a good deal.

2. Public Universities Recruiting Out-of-State Students

Last month, The New York Times published an article by Laura Pappano entitled “How the University of Alabama Became a National Player.” The whole article is well worth reading and tells about many more universities than we are going to talk about in this episode. But here is the Alabama story in a nutshell:

With state funding now just 12.5 percent of the university’s budget, campus leaders have mapped an offensive strategy to grow in size, prestige and, most important, revenue. The endgame is to become a national player known for more than championship football….

The university is spending $100.6 million in merit aid, up from $8.3 million a decade ago and more than twice what it allocates to students with financial need. It also has hired an army of recruiters to put Bama on college lists of full-paying students who, a few years ago, might not have looked its way.

The University of Alabama is the fastest-growing flagship in the country. Enrollment hit 37,665 this fall, nearly a 58 percent increase over 2006. As critical as the student body jump: the kind of student the university is attracting. The average G.P.A. of entering freshmen is 3.66, up from 3.4 a decade ago, and the top quarter scored at least a 31 on the ACT, up from 27. (quoted from the article)

While it is clear that there are Alabama taxpayers who are annoyed that its well-known and much-loved flagship university is spending its money on out-of-state recruiters and merit aid to bright kids, it is also clear that these strategies seem to be working for the University. And that is why the University of Alabama now has 45 recruiters, with 36 of them in out-of-state locations.

According to Ms. Pappano’s article, Alabama is just one example of this trend. To take another example, the University of South Carolina (USC) has 20 recruiters, and now USC receives twice as many applications from out-of-state students as from state residents. Ms. Pappano sums it up this way:

It is no accident that states with among the largest drops in state allocations since 2008--Arizona (down 56 percent), South Carolina (down 37 percent) and Alabama (down 36 percent), according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities--have entrepreneurial public campuses trained on growth. Those same states also had the greatest net gain in students: More entered the state to attend their four-year public institutions than left to study elsewhere, according to fall 2014 data, the most recent available. (quoted from the article)

3. What Does It All Mean?

So, what does it all mean? First, giving great tuition breaks to out-of-state students likely means that some in-state kids will lose out on places at those public universities. Second, recruiting out-of-state kids who can afford to pay more likely means that some in-state kids will lose out on places at those public universities.   Third, giving merit scholarships to out-of-state bright kids likely means that some in-state kids will lose out on places at those public universities. All of these scenarios are understandably of concern to state taxpayers. These scenarios are also a concern to those of us who believe that public universities have a mission to make a college education accessible to a wide range of students, not just the best and the brightest and the most able to pay.

On the other hand, if you are the parent of a teenager who is looking for another college to add to the list as we get down to the wire, we can say that this could be the time to look both to public flagship universities and to other public universities that are actively recruiting out-of-state students. Check out the articles we have been discussing for more information. Depending on your teenager’s grades and test scores, there might even be a substantial financial break for you.

4. Good Luck!

We will be taking a short holiday break next week, and we will be back with you on January 5. At that point, those of you who have a senior with applications due in the first few days of January should be breathing a huge sigh of relief. Of course, some of you will still have deadlines to face in February and March and even later. And if you have a junior at home, your life is about to change.

But, parents of seniors, let us say again what we have said before: There is not just one perfect college for each kid. There are many colleges that would make each kid happy and many colleges that would give each kid a great education. Your kid will find one or more than one. Until then, we are keeping our fingers crossed for you. Happy 2017!

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.

Ask your questions or share your feedback by... Leaving a comment on the show notes for this episode at http://usacollegechat.org/episode104 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 Connect with us through... Subscribing to our podcast on Google Play Music, iTunes, Stitcher, or TuneIn Liking us on Facebook or following us on Twitter Reviewing parent materials we have available at www.policystudies.org Inquiring about our consulting services if you need individualized help Reading Regina's blog, Parent Chat with Regina

45. Episode 103: Can You Find a College Like Georgia State?
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We are going to Georgia--well, not literally--in today’s episode to talk about a college that we did not include in our virtual nationwide college tour (Episodes 27 through 53), but I now wish we had. I have to admit that I did not know virtually anything about the college we are going to talk about, and that’s why Marie and I say all the time that we learn something every day while navigating the ever-changing world of college. I think this episode will be eye-opening to many of you.

1. What’s in a Headline?

It all started when I read the following headline in a recent issue of The Hechinger Report: “At Georgia State, more black students graduate each year than at any U.S. college.” This excellent article, which was written by Nick Chiles and which also appeared in The Atlanta Journal Constitution, takes a close look at how one college has changed the game for many students (and not just black students) who might have found it difficult--and perhaps unfairly difficult--to get into and succeed at other colleges. You all should really go read the whole article, because I can’t do it justice without reading it aloud to you in its entirety.

Mr. Chiles offers these statistics to make his case:

With its jumble of slate-gray concrete buildings mixed in with the skyscrapers of downtown Atlanta, Georgia State now graduates more black students with bachelor’s degrees every year than any other nonprofit school in the United States (1,777 in 2015). That stat includes the nation’s historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) like Spelman, Howard and Florida A&M.

From 2003 to 2015, according to GSU, its graduation rate (finishing a bachelor’s degree within six years of starting) for African-American students rose from 29 to 57 percent. For Hispanic students, it went from 22 to 54 percent. By 2014, for lower-income students (those eligible for a federal Pell grant), it reached 51 percent--nearly the same as for non-Pell students. Its graduation rate for first-generation students went up 32 percent between 2010 and 2014.

And GSU increased those percentages while also increasing its number of black, Hispanic and low-income students by 10 percent. (quoted from the article)

Any way you look at it, those are some impressive statistics. This is not a new topic for USACollegeChat. We have talked in previous episodes about the shockingly low graduation rates in too many colleges, and we have talked about the scandalously low number of students of color in too many public universities. Both issues concern us. So, we are especially pleased to spotlight the work that Georgia State has been doing on both of these fronts.

2. How Georgia State Won

To what does Georgia State credit its success when so many other colleges have failed? Here is what Mr. Chiles said about that:

The centerpiece of GSU’s turnaround is the system it created and calls "GPS Advising." Using computer algorithms, it closely tracks student performance, and GSU’s army of advisors monitors every student’s academic output on a daily basis. If a student’s performance veers off course just a bit, counselors receive an alert. They reach out to the student to find the source of the problem. According to GSU calculations, in 2014-15 the system generated more than 43,000 individual meetings between advisors and students.

In addition, knowing how frequently students drop out because they find themselves unable to cover tuition, GSU instituted a program that provides modest "retention grants" to students who are short of money. Last year it offered nearly 2,000.

Another program, called "Keep HOPE Alive," helps students who have lost Georgia’s HOPE scholarship--which covers tuition costs at state institutions--re-qualify for the money by working to lift their GPAs back to the required 3.0. And for incoming [freshmen] it considers “at risk,” GSU offers an intensive seven-week summer prep program. (quoted from the article)

We are sure that these ideas cost Georgia State both administrative time and money. But look at the results. And haven’t we all known kids who had a scholarship and lost it when they underperformed during that important freshman year; Marie and I certainly have. Look at the support that Georgia State provides to its students who might otherwise have dropped out and suboptimized their entire futures: black kids, Hispanic kids, low-income kids, first-generation-to-college kids, and plenty of other kids who needed just a bit of help to win.

But, as Mr. Chiles goes on to say, it’s not just about these supports. It’s about the whole culture of Georgia State. Mr. Chiles continues his explanation:

In interviews at Georgia State, many black students said they feel they have the best of both worlds: the black peers, support staff and cultural environment they might find at an HBCU, but the resources and the diversity of a large state school.

On the weekends, GSU students said the campus feels even more like an HBCU. That’s because the number of black students who live on the downtown Atlanta campus is more than double the number of white students--2,794 black students this fall compared to 1,209 white students. Most of its 25,000 [undergraduate] students commute from nearby homes or apartments. (quoted from the article)

Well, there are lots of things to comment on here. First, we have talked in previous episodes about the nurturing and supportive environment of many HBCUs and how that sometimes makes all the difference to a student, especially to a student far from home. Georgia State seems to have that environment, even though it is not an HBCU. By the way, according to College Navigator (our favorite research tool for finding out important stuff about colleges), the undergraduate student body at Georgia State is 42 percent black/African American, 27 percent white, 12 percent Asian, 9 percent Hispanic/Latino, and 10 percent everything else (Fall, 2015). Incidentally, Mr. Chiles notes that Georgia State has also recruited a large number of black administrators, advisors, and professors. According to a Georgia State administrator, 10 percent of Georgia State instructors are black--compared to only about 4 percent at other colleges that are not HBCUs.

Second, we want to point out the number of black students who live on Georgia State’s campus, which is largely a commuter campus. Being able to house those students gives them all of the advantages of college life that they otherwise would not get by living at home. We should note here that, according to College Navigator, 94 percent of Georgia State students are from Georgia (Fall, 2015). If you are not from Georgia, but you are impressed by what Georgia State has done, you might think about becoming part of the out-of-staters who make the trip to Atlanta (a group that might get bigger as more and more parents around the country look at what Georgia State has accomplished). We should also say that out-of-state tuition and fees will run more than $25,000 per year, so it’s not the cheapest option you are going to find, but we do believe that you might actually get what you pay for. We should also say that the deadline for applications for next fall is not until March 1, so you still have plenty of time to take a longer look.

And third, for those of you who don’t know it, Atlanta is a great city. In addition to the popular culture that is so evident there, it is home to great civic institutions, like the truly memorable National Center for Civil and Human Rights and The Carter Center (“Waging Peace. Fighting Disease. Building Hope.”). By the way, you can go to Georgia State’s website and take the virtual campus tour, which will give you a good idea of what its piece of Atlanta looks like.

Let’s take one last look at Mr. Chiles’s well-researched article (again, please go read the whole piece, really):

Bernard McCrary, director of Georgia State’s Black Student Achievement office, said it helps that many of GSU’s black staff members were the first in their families to attend college, just as he was.

"I think when you have a lot of first-generation folk, these are people who understand what that struggle is like for students because they’ve gone through it or had family members go through it," McCrary said. "They get it, they understand and will do everything in their power to make sure the students they service are successful.” (quoted from the article)

First, Georgia State has an Office of Black Student Achievement, which provides a wide variety of academic, support, leadership, and outreach activities, programs, and services. So, that says something about its commitment to serving its African and African-American student population. Second, the staffing of the university says something about its commitment to serving first-generation-to-college students. Giving these students role models--just like giving black students role models on its staff and faculty--is obviously intentional and should make parents of first-generation-to-college students rest a bit easier when sending their kids off to this university.

Although we were not necessarily trying to champion Georgia State in this episode, but rather the kinds of successful programs and services that Georgia State has put in place for students of color and first-generation-to-college students, I guess we have ended up championing Georgia State. So, while we are at it, let’s talk about one interesting thing we noticed on its website, and that is its methods for reviewing applications. Here is what the website says:

At Georgia State, we recognize that everyone is different. We give you options on how we evaluate your application because we know that every student is unique. Selecting how you would like to be reviewed as a freshman applicant is as simple as choosing which information to supply when you complete the application--skip the optional essay and letter of recommendation sections for the merit-based evaluation, or include an essay and letter(s) of recommendation to be evaluated holistically. It’s your choice; either way, we hope you choose Georgia State University.

The Merit Review is based purely on your academic merits as they align with Georgia State’s admissions requirements, including your high school transcript(s) and test scores. Choosing this method of review means that you have elected not to complete the optional essay and letter of recommendation sections of the admissions application, and that you will be assessed solely on your previous academic performance and scores. If you choose this review method, Georgia State will reach out to you if any other information is necessary to make our admissions decision.

The Holistic Review gives the Office of Undergraduate Admissions an enhanced picture of your abilities through the admissions application. For this option, please complete the essay and letter of recommendation sections of the Common Application, in addition to providing your transcript(s) and test scores. We strongly encourage the holistic review option if you would like to be considered for merit scholarships, if you are an international applicant, or if you’d simply like to share more about yourself as we make our admissions decisions.

Our decisions are based primarily on academic merit. The optional essay and letters of recommendation provide additional insight about you as an applicant as Georgia State selects its freshman class. (quoted from the website)

So, it’s your choice, kids. If you have the grades and test scores, you don’t have to bother with everything else. Interesting. By the way, according to College Navigator’s figures from Fall, 2015, about 57 percent of Georgia State applicants were admitted. Those admitted had SAT average scores in the low to mid-500s across all three subtests.

3. What Does This Mean for You?

So, let us say again that we were not necessarily trying to put the spotlight just on Georgia State University in this episode, but rather on the kinds of successful programs and services that Georgia State has put together to meet the needs of many of its own students of color and first-generation-to-college students.

With that in mind, parents, consider whether the colleges on your teenager’s list have similar academic and support services, programs, and even offices, especially if your teenager is a student of color or first-generation-to-college student. You should be able to find that information on a college’s website, but you can always call and ask. Finding a college that can nurture a teenager who needs a bit more support can make all the difference, as Georgia State has indeed proved.

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.

Ask your questions or share your feedback by... Leaving a comment on the show notes for this episode at http://usacollegechat.org/episode103 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 Connect with us through... Subscribing to our podcast on Google Play Music, iTunes, Stitcher, or TuneIn Liking us on Facebook or following us on Twitter Reviewing parent materials we have available at www.policystudies.org Inquiring about our consulting services if you need individualized help Reading Regina's blog, Parent Chat with Regina  

46. 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.

Ask your questions or share your feedback by... Leaving a comment on the show notes for this episode at http://usacollegechat.org/episode102 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 Connect with us through... Subscribing to our podcast on Google Play Music, iTunes, Stitcher, or TuneIn Liking us on Facebook or following us on Twitter Reviewing parent materials we have available at www.policystudies.org Inquiring about our consulting services if you need individualized help Reading Regina's blog, Parent Chat with Regina

47. Episode 101: College Application Fees--Oh, My!
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Welcome back after our Thanksgiving break. We hope your holiday was not ruined by college application hysteria. With about a month to go until many application deadlines hit, we would like to take up a practical topic that might affect how many applications your teenager is thinking about submitting in a few weeks. That topic is application fees.

1. The Cost

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

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

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

2. The Process

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

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

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

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

3. Interesting Cases

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

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

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

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

Baylor University Bryn Mawr College Carleton College Case Western Reserve University Centre College Colby College Grinnell College Hampshire College Hood College Kenyon College Mount Holyoke College Oberlin College Saint Louis University Smith College St. John’s College Tulane University Union College Wellesley College

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4. A Final Thought

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

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

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

Ask your questions or share your feedback by... Leaving a comment on the show notes for this episode at http://usacollegechat.org/episode101 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 Connect with us through... Subscribing to our podcast on Google Play Music, iTunes, Stitcher, or TuneIn Liking us on Facebook or following us on Twitter Reviewing parent materials we have available at www.policystudies.org Inquiring about our consulting services if you need individualized help Reading Regina's blog, Parent Chat with Regina

48. Episode 100: Historically Black College and University Freshman Enrollment on the Rise
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Well, it is the 100th episode of our podcast, which started out as NYCollegeChat and then rapidly became USACollegeChat when we realized that everything we had to say was useful to families all over the USA and not just in our home state of New York. In the television business, having 100 episodes is a big deal because it means that the show lasted long enough and with sufficient quality to be syndicated (actually, it’s really only 88 episodes, or what used to be four full 22-episode seasons--not that anyone can figure out how many episodes are in television seasons anymore or even when the seasons begin and end). In our case, 100 episodes is about two years at our weekly pace. It’s as though we are now Law & Order--rest in peace, song-and-dance man extraordinare Jerry Orbach. And while we won’t be reaping the financial benefits of all those residuals that Law & Order stars get, we are still happy about the work we have done on these first 100 episodes.

Today also brings to mind one of my own favorite podcasts: Sodajerker On Songwriting, brought to you by the U.K. songwriting team of Simon Barber and Brian O’Connor, who do fascinating interviews with great songwriters. They are fond of saying that they have the #1 songwriting podcast in the world. Even though they have no credible evidence to back up that claim, they thought that, if they said it enough, it would be true. In the spirit of Simon and Brian, let me say that Marie and I are proud to have the #1 podcast on college issues and college access in the world. Evidence to come.

In light of our recent presidential election and the understandable response to it by many, many Americans, including many Americans of color, we thought we would use today’s episode to pay tribute to our nation’s historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs). This is something we do relatively often, I think, and for good reason. It’s no secret to our regular listeners that I think Fisk University (an HBCU in Nashville, TN) is one of our national treasures, and I won’t bore you here with all of the reasons I think that. Just trust me that it is (or go back and listen to Episode 32, among others).

As recently as Episode 90, we spotlighted HBCUs. We said then that there are just over 100 HBCUs, and that they are public and private, large and small (even very small), faith-based and not, two-year and four-year colleges and universities; some also have graduate schools. 

As our regular listeners know by now, HBCUs were founded to serve students who had been excluded from many other higher education institutions because of their race. The three earliest HBCUs were founded in Pennsylvania and Ohio before the Civil War, but many were founded in the South shortly after the Civil War. Those Southern HBCUs share a proud tradition of becoming the first colleges to provide higher education to the family members of freed slaves. Over the years, HBCUs have produced extraordinary leaders in every field of endeavor and thousands and thousands of well-educated American citizens.

1. Enrollment Is Up

Today, HBCUs enroll students who are not black--just as predominantly white institutions (PWIs) now enroll students who are not white. Some observers have said that it had become harder for HBCUs to recruit African-American students now that they are welcome at all kinds of colleges all across the U.S. Well, perhaps we are seeing a change in that trend.

According to a late September article by Timothy Pratt in The Hechinger Report (“Why more black students are enrolling in historically black colleges”), Spelman College, an excellent women’s HBCU in Atlanta, had a record number of applications for spots in this fall’s freshman class. Pratt explains in his article that many other HBCUs have also enjoyed enrollment increases:

Although many schools are still crunching the numbers, about a third of all HBCUs have seen spikes in freshmen enrollment this year, said Marybeth Gasman, higher education professor at the University of Pennsylvania and director of the Penn Center for Minority Serving Institutions. Some are reversing declines that date to the economic downturn of 2008. (quoted from the article)

Some of the freshman enrollment statistics that Pratt provides in his article are rather amazing:

Virginia State University--up 30 percent Central State University in Ohio--up 21 percent Shaw University in North Carolina--up 49 percent (albeit from 402 to 600 freshmen) Dillard University in Louisiana—up 17 percent 2. Why Is Enrollment Up?

So, why the increase? Pratt offers some explanations in his article:

Several observers, including Gasman, primarily attribute the surge in interest to racial tensions on and off college campuses. . . . But others say the schools themselves deserve at least some of the credit, for making changes in everything from recruiting practices to out-of-state tuition prices. . . .

Gasman said she is hearing more than ever before from parents who ‘don’t want [their children] to deal with what they’re seeing in other places.’ Black students, she said, ‘are feeling they need a place to go that has them in mind.’ Such calls and emails from parents usually increase after police shootings, she said. (quoted from the article)

And we have to wonder whether calls and emails from parents will increase in light of the results of our presidential election--an event that has clearly worried many black families. Perhaps the subtitle of Pratt’s article says it all:

In the era of Black Lives Matter, some students feel safer on majority-black campuses

But the results of our presidential election also understandably worried many Latino families. Interestingly, there was an article a year ago in The Atlantic that focused on an increase of Latino students at HBCUs. Here is one quotation from that article:

Deborah Santiago, chief operating officer and vice president for policy at Excelencia in Education, a Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group that promotes the interests of Latinos in higher education, says that HBCUs generally tend to be more student focused and have faculty who are culturally competent, making them attractive to emerging populations such as Latinos. (quoted from the article)

Gasman was also quoted in The Atlantic article, saying that Latino students often felt more comfortable in the family-like environment of many HBCUs and that low tuition rates at HBCUs were an added plus. Will the election results drive even more Latino students to HBCUs, where they, too, will perhaps feel safer and more valued? Or will the election results drive up enrollment numbers at Hispanic-serving institutions (HSIs), which we have also talked about at USACollegeChat in several episodes? That’s just a thought.

But let’s look further at both the favorable tuition rates and the caring environment at many HBCUs. Pratt wrote about both in his article:

Cost has long been seen as a plus for HBCUs. Penn’s Gasman estimates that HBCU tuition rates are 50 percent lower than those of their historically white counterparts; about a third of HBCUs have tuition and fees under $15,000. As more attention is drawn to rising tuition and student debt, these schools may become more appealing, said Melissa Wooten, sociology professor at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and author of ‘In the Face of Inequality: How Black Colleges Adapt.’

A Gallup poll released last year of black graduates of HBCUs and other colleges also sparked conversation, noted Robert Palmer, a professor in the department of educational leadership and policy studies at Howard University. The poll results showed that HBCU graduates were about twice as likely as graduates of other colleges to strongly agree with such statements as, ‘my professors … cared about me as a person.’ (quoted from the article)

Now that we have given you all of these arguments, what might you do with them before college applications are due in just about six weeks? Well, we believe that you should think hard about putting an HBCU on your teenager’s list of colleges, especially if your family is black or Latino. It is not too late. HBCUs come in all shapes and sizes. Some are well known (like Fisk, Spelman, Morehouse, Howard, Tuskegee, Hampton, and Lincoln), and others are not--just like PWIs. Some are very selective, and others are not--just like PWIs. Is there an HBCU for you? There probably is. We hope you find it.

3. It’s Thanksgiving!

So, in case you hadn’t heard, next Thursday is Thanksgiving. We are going to take the day off. Instead of listening to our podcast, why don’t you just listen to what your kids are saying about school these days? We have been seriously troubled--even enraged--by some of the stories we have heard about how kids have reacted to the results of our presidential election. One of the saddest of those stories comes from Queens, right here in New York City, where a group of white seventh grade students in a class built a wall out of textbooks to separate their Latino classmates from them.

Now, Queens is the most diverse county in the U.S. Our kids here have classmates of every conceivable cultural, racial, and ethnic background from the time they are kindergartners--and now pre-kindergartners, given Mayor Bill de Blasio’s recent push for pre-K public education. So, how did the seventh graders in my story end up like that? It is something I am going to ponder this Thanksgiving, and I hope you will, too.

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.

Ask your questions or share your feedback by... Leaving a comment on the show notes for this episode at http://usacollegechat.org/episode100 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 Connect with us through... Subscribing to our podcast on Google Play Music, iTunes, Stitcher, or TuneIn Liking us on Facebook or following us on Twitter Reviewing parent materials we have available at www.policystudies.org Inquiring about our consulting services if you need individualized help Reading Regina's blog, Parent Chat with Regina

49. Episode 99: College Application Essays—One More Time (Part II)
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As I said last week, I am still mired in the swamp of college application essays, which I am reviewing and editing for 50-plus kids. As you might recall, my comments last week and this week are based on the essays of kids who attend top-ranked public high schools. Let me just say that all of the kids are smart and that all of them take honors and Advanced Placement courses.

Last week, we talked about the content of their application essays, and this week we are going to talk about the mechanics of those essays--that is, the grammar, the punctuation, the word choice, etc. Having great content is not enough--not for selective colleges anyway. Those essays should also be well written, following standard grammatical, punctuation, and other mechanics rules.

As I said to a class of students at an elite high school a week ago, “You write like third graders.” What I meant was that they were making mechanics mistakes that they should have learned to correct in third grade. Well, I might have exaggerated a bit for effect. But, seriously, they were making some mechanics mistakes that they should have learned to correct before they went to middle school.

1. The Mistakes

After reading the essays from two classes of seniors at a well-known, highly respected New York City high school (the kind you have to take a special admissions test to get into), I made these points (among others) to the classes. You should make them now with your own teenager:

Pay attention to your grammar--Tell your teenager to watch out for basic grammar errors, including split infinitives, the correct placement of “only” in a sentence, the difference between “everyday” as an adjective and “every day” as an adverb, no use of the subjunctive, poorly placed participial phrases, and incorrect or inconsistent verb tenses (like inexplicable shifts from present to past tense or vice versa and the total misuse of the past perfect tense). Check your punctuation--Tell your teenager to watch out for basic punctuation mistakes, and by “basic” I mean the punctuation mistakes that kids should have stopped making years earlier. Kids must remember to put a comma before the “and” or “but” in a compound sentence, to put periods and commas inside quotation marks always, to use semicolons and dashes correctly, and to hyphenate compound adjectives before nouns. Of course, there are more. As I said to the seniors I was talking to last week, “Punctuation rules are not nearly as hard to learn as the physics and calculus most of you are taking right now. Just learn them.” Be careful about your word choice--Tell your teenager not to use a sophisticated or “big” word that he or she would never use naturally in everyday “formal” speech (as when talking in class or to a teacher). I have found that kids typically use big words just slightly incorrectly and in a way that no educated adult would ever do. The result is that the essay just doesn’t read well; the reader is interrupted by an odd choice of a word that stops the reader in his or her tracks. Avoid wordiness--Tell your teenager not to wander around in his or her sentences. I have often read a sentence of 20 words when 10 words would have said it better. Evidently, someone along the way taught the seniors in the two classes I have been visiting that short sentences are a no-no. That is ridiculous. Sometimes a short sentence makes the point best. It is arresting and causes the reader to stop short with a bit of surprise. A short sentence can be especially effective when it is found among longer sentences. That is great writing. 2. The Big Problem

So, here is the big problem: You can’t really fix a kid’s writing in the middle of trying to get his or her college application essays created, reviewed, and submitted on time. The situation is too pressured, and there is too little time. Those of you who have seniors at home are going to need to do the best you can in a hurry. But, those of you who have a freshman or sophomore or junior at home can do a bit better. You can start working to improve your teenager’s writing in a serious way right now so that next fall’s application season will be a lot easier for both of you.

Of all the essays I have read and edited in the past two weeks, I found one essay that was surprisingly well written, especially from a mechanics point of view. I called the young man aside and said, “How did you learn to write like this when none of your classmates seems able to do it?” His answer was immediate and seemed exactly right to me.

He said that he had worked regularly with a writing tutor since he had been in ninth grade. She went over his written work and showed him how to improve it. She worked shoulder to shoulder with him in many, many sessions. I got the feeling that she was relentless and demanding. He said that he did not enjoy writing. But he sure could do it.

In my experience, both with students and with my own three children, this is what it takes to improve someone’s writing. It is not lessons taught from the front of a classroom. It is painstaking discussion and editing of the student’s own work, with the student watching and learning and absorbing and understanding the reason for every change that is being made. It sounds slow and laborious, and it is. But it works, and I am not sure that anything else does.

Here is the rest of the problem. Today’s high school English teachers cannot do that for their students. Imagine trying to correct the written work of 150 students on a line by line basis--or even of 100 students or even of 50 students--day after day and week after week while talking through those corrections with each student one by one. And that’s not all English teachers have to do.

So, parents, I believe this is on you. If you can help your own teenager learn to write well, then do so, by all means. If you cannot, for whatever reason, then consider getting the kind of over-the-shoulder tutoring help that is much more likely to ensure your teenager’s success than hoping for the best from school. Ideally, of course, you would have started this a lot earlier--back in elementary school or perhaps middle school. But better late than never.

3. Help from Johns Hopkins University

You all probably know of Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland. We spoke about it in Episode 47 of our virtual nationwide college tour. It’s an excellent, highly selective university--really as good as any university we have in the U.S. Of particular interest to all of you in the throes of application essay writing, however, is two helpful pieces on the JHU website. First, you can find nine great tips in a section called Tackling the College Essay. You will not be sorry you checked it out.

Second, you can find Essays That Worked, a section that is exactly what it sounds like. There are essays, nominated by JHU admissions officers, from the past four classes of admitted JHU students. The website explains the winning essays this way: 

These entries are distinct and unique to the individual writer; however, each of them assisted the admissions reader in learning more about the student beyond the transcripts and lists of activities provided in their applications. We hope these essays inspire you as you prepare to compose your own personal statements. The most important thing to remember is to be original and creative as you share your own story, thoughts, and ideas with us. (quoted from the website)

While JHU is not the only college that puts winning essays on its website, we will say that it does an especially good job of it. So, hats off to you, JHU.

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.

Ask your questions or share your feedback by... Leaving a comment on the show notes for this episode at http://usacollegechat.org/episode99 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 Connect with us through... Subscribing to our podcast on Google Play Music, iTunes, Stitcher, or TuneIn Liking us on Facebook or following us on Twitter Reviewing parent materials we have available at www.policystudies.org Inquiring about our consulting services if you need individualized help Reading Regina's blog, Parent Chat with Regina

50. Episode 98: College Application Essays—One More Time (Part I)
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In November and December, we will be doing a mercifully short series entitled “The Last Minute.” Because that’s what it is--the last minute for finishing up most college applications and getting them submitted. Of course, some colleges have Regular Decision deadlines beyond the first of the year (especially some large public universities), and some colleges have rolling admissions (meaning that they take in and decide about applications virtually year-round). And some teenagers have just brushed off their hands and submitted Early Action or Early Decision applications--but that doesn’t mean they don’t need to be ready with some back-up applications just in case they are not admitted to the college that they (and perhaps their parents) hoped for.

In any case, I think we can say that November and December qualify as “the last minute” for many teenagers. That’s especially true for those who have put off doing the hard and sometimes tedious work of applying until now.

Personally, I have been knee deep in college applications lately. I have been helping some kids work on the entirety of their applications (and there are some glitches I would like to talk to you about, Common App staffers). But, in addition, I have been reviewing, advising on, and editing the application essays of about 50 more kids. Man, what I could tell you.

In fact, I am going to tell you about those essays in today’s episode and in our next episode. Think of it as a wake-up call to many of you parents and your seniors. My remarks are based on working with the essays of these 50-plus kids, who attend excellent top-ranked high schools, almost all public high schools.

This week, we are going to talk about the content of the college application essays I have been reading, and next week we are going to talk about the mechanics--that is, the grammar, the punctuation, the word choice, etc. By the way, an essay must be great both in terms of content and in terms of mechanics in order to be noticed approvingly by the college admissions officers, who are swamped with thousands of them. Just think about what that would be like.

Now, we have talked about college application essays before at USACollegeChat. We chatted way back in Episode 22, and again in Episode 49, and most recently in Episode 80 at the beginning of the summer. I wish we could stop talking about this topic, but we can’t do that until your teenagers learn to write. As I said to a class of students at an elite high school a week ago, “You write like third graders.” Soon, I will explain to you why I said that.

1. The Common Application Main Essay

Though not all colleges require essays, most applicants will find themselves writing the Common App’s 650-word main essay or “personal statement” inasmuch as over 600 colleges take the Common App.

The Common App’s five essay prompts are the same as last year’s and, therefore, as we said back in June, we can tell you what percentage of last year’s applicants chose each prompt. So let’s look at those figures and at the prompts themselves again (quoted from The Common Application website):

 

1. "Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.” This prompt is the most general and most adaptable to any kid’s circumstances. Perhaps that is why it was also the most popular prompt, chosen by 47 percent of applicants last year. I feel as though your teenager might be at a disadvantage in choosing it, precisely because it was the most popular one (and, I am going to guess, will be again); thus, college admissions officers have to read it over and over again. How many times can they read an essay about scoring the winning point in the big game because a teenager thinks his or her super-meaningful talent is soccer?

Now, I am not saying not to write on this prompt if your teenager’s background, identity, interest, or talent is truly meaningful and hopefully a bit different, but I am saying to think twice and take a look at the other prompts first. One of the most legitimate uses of this prompt, I think, is by kids who have come to the U.S. from another country or by kids whose parents had previously come from another country and still speak their native language at home. Those kids probably do have a background that defines them, at least in part. But one of the best essays I ever read on this prompt was written by a kid who has a form of autism spectrum disorder that makes it very difficult for him to speak easily to others and who now has conquered most of its effects through an amazing amount of therapy and hard work. His essay made me want to cheer at the end.

2. "The lessons we take from failure can be fundamental to later success. Recount an incident or time when you experienced failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?” Even though only 17 percent of applicants wrote on this last year, I have read a few essays on this prompt lately, perhaps because I have been suggesting to kids that they try one of the less popular prompts. Here is what I then had to explain to quite a few kids: If you are robbed on the street or if you are bullied in school, that is not a time when “you experienced failure.” You didn’t fail at anything; society failed you. When something miserable is done to you, you didn’t fail. Yes, you might have learned a lesson of some kind that helped you be a success later. But, still, you did not fail. My heart just about broke for kids who wrote that.

3. "Reflect on a time when you challenged a belief or idea. What prompted you to act? Would you make the same decision again?” This is likely the hardest of the five prompts to write about when you are 17 years old. My view is supported by the fact that only 4 percent of applicants last year chose it. Part of the problem is that it is hard to figure out the scale of the belief or idea that should be challenged. Is it capitalism or is it the dress code at the kid’s high school? It’s hard to challenge a big idea when you are 17, but the small ones can seem inconsequential. Recently, I spoke to an intelligent young man from a different cultural background; he was considering writing about the time he challenged his culture’s tradition of arranged marriages. In the end, he didn’t write on that, but I thought it would have been a great choice.

4. "Describe a problem you’ve solved or a problem you’d like to solve. It can be an intellectual challenge, a research query, an ethical dilemma--anything that is of personal importance, no matter the scale. Explain its significance to you and what steps you took or could be taken to identify a solution.” Oddly, only 10 percent of applicants wrote to this prompt last year, but I believe it is a relatively easy choice. The prompt is helped by the fact that it includes the words “anything of personal importance, no matter the scale”; so the problem can truly be something in the writer’s personal or family life. The writer does not have to solve social injustice, and it would be naïve to expect that a 17-year-old could say something unique or unusual about a problem of epic proportions, especially in just 650 words. I recently read the essay topics of several girls who attend a prestigious high-tech high school and who wrote about speaking up for women entering STEM fields. I explained to them that they were not the first females to be working on that problem, though they naïvely sounded as though they thought they might be. A smaller version of that problem--like some bias the female student had to cope with at her STEM-oriented high school--might have worked. So, choosing a problem that is closer to home--something a kid actually has a chance of solving, at least for himself or herself--could make this unpopular prompt a good way to help an essay stand out to the readers.

5. "Discuss an accomplishment or event, formal or informal, that marked your transition from childhood to adulthood within your culture, community, or family.” Interestingly, this is the second-most-popular prompt, chosen by 22 percent of applicants last year. I have noticed that quite a few responses to this prompt have been about the illness or death of a parent, which caused the writer to have to take on more adult responsibilities at home. Of course, I found some of these quite moving, and I imagine that the college admissions officers will, too.

 

After reading the essays from two classes of seniors at a well-known, top-ranked New York City high school, I made these points (among others) to the classes, and you should make them now with your own teenager:

Make a memorable first impression--Tell your teenager to write a great first sentence, which makes the admissions officer want to continue reading the essay (when he or she has hundreds more to read). Many kids write the most boring opening sentence you can imagine. Back in Episode 80, we told you the most common (and boring) ways that students in the U.K. started their college application essays. We begged your teenagers not to do that. Some kids, however, do a great job of that opening sentence (tell your teenagers that they are, in fact, the competition). Here are some: “In the beginning, it was unidentified.” “ ‘En los primer diez años de mi vida, yo no sabia como hablar.’ That was Spanish for ‘In the first ten years of my life, I didn’t know how to speak.’ ” “For a typical Bengali Muslim girl, it is a given to learn how to read the Quran.” “They look so comfortable, floating motionless with their eyes closed.” Make a memorable last impression--Tell your teenager to write an extraordinary final sentence, which is his or her last chance to make an impression. I found that, while some kids had a great opening sentence, almost no kid had a great closing sentence. In fact, almost no kid had a great ending at all. While kids could start out with an interesting personal anecdote, they could not end on a similar note. Many tried to end their essays on a grand scale; they trailed off with platitudes and abstract, vague sentences that sounded as though they were on their way to ridding the world of hunger. It is often said that you have just one chance to make a great first impression. Well, your teenager has just one chance to make a great last--and, therefore, lasting--impression, too. As a sportswriter in college, I learned to end each story with some clincher--a line that was clever or funny or surprising or something else. It was one of the most useful writing skills I ever learned. Remember what the point is--If your teenager is telling a story as part of the essay, the story is not the point. What is the point? It’s what your teenager learned from the story or experience or how the experience impacted his or her life. The story is a means to an end; the point is the end. The point is very likely the answer to the question posed in the prompt. Make sure that your teenager doesn’t get bogged down in the details of the story; the reader doesn’t need to know every single thing that happened.       For example, if the essay is about that over-used championship game (even though I have already said that a championship game might not be the best essay choice), then the reader doesn’t need every play in the last five minutes of the game. I am not making this up. Make every word count-- For the main essay in the Common App, there is a limit of 650 words, which is not really a lot. Make sure that your teenager doesn’t waste them. I think kids should use all 650 words, if possible.       However, tell your teenager not to write 650 words if he or she has only 550 words to say. Just leave it at 550. Extra sentences that duplicate thoughts that have already been stated will simply weaken the writing and make it less impressive rather than more.

As I have written before, here is some insightful advice that I don’t believe anyone will take. I gave it again recently and am still waiting for a first taker:

Tell your teenager to try writing about a few different ideas to see which one works best. I know that sounds like more work—and, in a way, it is—but all writers know that, all too often, many attempts have to be started and abandoned before a piece of good writing takes shape. I had an English teacher once who reminded the class that the word “essay” comes from the Old French “essai”—meaning a trial, attempt, or effort. So, it is perfectly reasonable to write several essays—that is, to make several attempts—before finding the one that actually works best. In other words, kids, you might think that Prompt #2 is for you, until you try Prompt #3 and you see how well that one turns out! 2. Supplemental Essays

Let’s turn briefly to supplemental essays. These are required by quite a few colleges, especially by highly selective colleges. Some of the topics for these essays are, in a word, ridiculous. I can’t imagine why they were chosen, but I guess someone believed that they would show an applicant’s creative side. When given a choice among essay topics, I rarely recommend that a kid choose one of the more outlandish ones--unless that kid is particularly creative. However, there are three often-used topics that your teenager should already be thinking and writing about:

“Why are you a good fit for this college” or some version of that--I think that this topic virtually requires your teenager to read up about the college and somehow reference, in the essay, what he or she has learned from that research. For example, an applicant could reference the college’s diversity or academic strengths or research opportunities for students or community outreach efforts or faith-based mission or something else. This is an essay that is not easily used from college to college, so tell your teenager to be careful about trying to get double duty out of it. “Why are you interested in the field of study you are proposing to major in” or some version of that--I frequently see applicants write a version of this topic for the main Common App essay. That is a mistake. Tell your teenager to save any talk about his or her field of academic interest for this supplemental essay. For example, what led to his or her interest in computer science or music or biology or whatever--all of that is fair game for this topic. This is the place that I suggest pre-med majors write about why they are drawn to the field of medicine, and the story should be a good one. Pre-med majors are a dime a dozen, but if an applicant has a compelling story, then the pre-med choice seems more genuine. For example, I recall a young woman who explained that her mother has the breast cancer gene (which she and her sisters have a 50 percent chance of inheriting) and that her brother has a genetic disorder, perhaps related to the breast cancer gene (just now the subject of new research). This young woman made a truly compelling case for her interest in studying genetics and then medicine. “Describe an activity that is important to you” or some version of that--I frequently see applicants write a version of this topic for the main Common App essay. Again, that is a mistake. Tell your teenager to save any talk about an activity that is especially meaningful or significant to him or her for this supplemental essay. This is the place for the story about playing on the championship softball team or tutoring in after-school programs for underserved populations or writing for the literary magazine or playing the violin or doing gymnastics or whatever it is your teenager does. One recent essay I read was about participating in an improvisational comedy tournament. That was a new one for me.

Parents of younger students, I am speaking to you now: This likely supplemental essay topic is just one more reason that your kid should have at least one activity that really means something to him or her and that he or she works really hard to excel at--rather than just a bunch of various random activities that fill after-school time and change from one year to the next.

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.

Ask your questions or share your feedback by... Leaving a comment on the show notes for this episode at http://usacollegechat.org/episode98 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 Connect with us through... Subscribing to our podcast on Google Play Music, iTunes, Stitcher, or TuneIn Liking us on Facebook or following us on Twitter Reviewing parent materials we have available at www.policystudies.org Inquiring about our consulting services if you need individualized help Reading Regina's blog, Parent Chat with Regina

51. Episode 97: An Overview of Your Teenager’s List of College Options
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In our last four episodes, we have been suggesting some steps to take in order to narrow down your teenager’s long summer list of college options. But let us be the first to say that we are okay if your list is still long--say, 15 colleges or so. Let us say again that we know many “experts” will complain about a longish list, including guidance counselors or college counselors, who understandably see long lists from seniors as a lot of extra work. But we really don’t want your teenager to lose out on a good option next spring because of some extra work this fall.

And, let us say once more: Fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, and file it now. No reason not to!

Finally, we know that some of you have Early Decision and Early Action deadlines just days away, and we wish you all luck and calm as your teenager wraps up those applications.

So, where do we stand? Well, after 10 summer assignments to expand your teenager’s list of college options and four episodes devoted to filtering that list a bit, you are just about ready to finish the college applications that, we hope, you have already started. But, there is still plenty of time, even if you are running behind and your teenager has yet to open up that Common App. Wherever you are in the process, you should have a list of college applications your teenager plans to submit on time--or early!

1. The Overview

It probably makes sense to look at that college list now as a group of college options, rather than as individual colleges. In other words, we believe that your teenager should have a number of bases covered. Let’s look at a few.

The most obvious is some variety in the selectivity of the colleges on the list. We talked about that as the first filter in Episode 93. Your teenager’s list should have perhaps two or three selective colleges that might be a reach, perhaps two not-so-selective colleges that could serve as safety schools (including, ideally, a reasonable public four-year school in your home state), and maybe 10 or so colleges that seem just about right academically.

Personally, I think there should be some variety in the size of the colleges on the list (in terms of undergraduate student enrollment). I do not believe that high school seniors in the fall are well equipped to know whether they would prefer a small or large college--or even whether the size makes any difference at all to them. I would like them to have some size options to consider next spring after acceptances come in.

Similarly, I think there should be some variety in how traditional or innovative the colleges are academically (in terms of their schedules and grading practices and distribution requirements). I would love to see every teenager have a choice next spring between a traditional college program and one that breaks a number of the rules. I believe that, as the time to go to college gets closer and as teenagers mature in their final year of high school, they might be better able to consider which academic environment is more appealing to them.

And it is no surprise to our regular USACollegeChat listeners that I think there should be variety of college locations on the list. Obviously, that means some out of state and some in state. I am less concerned that some be in urban, suburban, small town, and rural areas, though I certainly wouldn’t fight that idea if your teenager is not sure of the community surroundings he or she would prefer.

Here are some other things you might look for from the colleges on the list, keeping in mind that including colleges with these various characteristics will help make your teenager’s selection from among acceptances next spring a better experience--even if every college on the list can’t have every characteristic:

Attractive on-campus housing options Many engaging extracurricular activities and clubs Great sports teams, either to play on or to cheer for, whatever your teenager prefers (of course, sports teams can be seriously important for those students who are hoping to get an athletics-based scholarship, but that is a whole separate topic) Availability of fraternities and sororities (especially if your teenager is accustomed to hearing you or other family members talk about theirs) Sponsorship of study abroad programs (although students can usually take part in study abroad programs operated by other colleges or by independent organizations, like the excellent American Institute for Foreign Study, it is just easier to do one that the college itself sponsors) 2. One More Question

As your teenager and you look over the final list of college options, we would say that it is important for you to ask him or her one more question about each college: “Would you want to go to this college if you got in?” If you and your teenager have been diligent in putting together an expanded list this summer and then in narrowing it down, if necessary, in the past month or so, we know that you two know quite a bit about each college still on the list. We would say that it is likely that you know more about each college still on the list than the majority of students applying to it. But knowing all about a college doesn’t make you want to go there.

Can your teenager tell you several pros for each college on the list--that is, several reasons why he or she would be happy going there? Does your teenager seem proud of his or her options--for example, does he or she talk about them with friends? If the answer is “yes” to these questions, then it is likely that your teenager would want to go to each college if he or she got in. Now, of course, there are some colleges on the list that your teenager prefers. Maybe there is a first choice; maybe there are several top choices. But no college left on the list should make your teenager feel sad, I think.

3. The Community College Option

And that brings us to a topic we haven’t discussed much recently: Do you put a two-year public community college on the list? Although we remain concerned about the low graduation rate and the low transfer rate of most community colleges, it is still possible that a community college is your teenager’s best or only choice or best safety school choice. If you can be sure that your teenager will be admitted to a public four-year college in your state, personally I would go with that option instead of a two-year community college option.

However, if you cannot be sure that your teenager will be admitted to a public four-year college in your state or if your family circumstances would be too strained by sending your teenager to a public four-year college (either financially or otherwise), then put the local community college on the list. If you are fortunate enough to live in an area that has more than one conveniently located community college option, then choosing among them can be as important as choosing among four-year college options. All community colleges are not created equal, any more than all four-year public or private colleges are. So do your homework or give us a call.

4. What About Cost?

One final word about cost: Sometimes I think that almost all some parents talk about is the cost of a college before allowing it to stay on the list. We understand how cost affects your lives, but we are concerned that it is very difficult to judge what kind of financial aid package your teenager might get from what kind of college. Therefore, using cost as a filter for taking colleges off the list is risky.

Again, we would advise that you make sure you have a good public four-year college in your home state on your teenager’s final list--maybe more than one. Those colleges would be your best defense in a world where cost is going to have to be a major part of your teenager’s final decision in accepting a spot in a college next spring.
 

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.

Ask your questions or share your feedback by... Leaving a comment on the show notes for this episode at http://usacollegechat.org/episode97 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 Connect with us through... Subscribing to our podcast on Google Play Music, iTunes, Stitcher, or TuneIn Liking us on Facebook or following us on Twitter Reviewing parent materials we have available at www.policystudies.org Inquiring about our consulting services if you need individualized help Reading Regina's blog, Parent Chat with Regina

52. Episode 96: Narrowing Down Your Teenager’s College List--Step 4
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In our last three episodes, we have been suggesting some steps to take in order to narrow down your teenager’s long summer list of college options in case it is too long. However, as we have begun to say--and frankly, I am a bit surprised by this--perhaps your list is not really too long. Let’s say you still have about 15 colleges on the list. Even though we said in our book (How To Find the Right College: A Workbook for Parents of High School Students, available at amazon.com) that applying to 8 to 12 colleges seemed like a reasonable number to shoot for, I am beginning to like the number 15. As we have said before, don’t take colleges off the list if you believe your teenager could be happy there. And while you and your teenager probably can’t survive 25 applications, I am thinking that 15 might be survivable. But let’s see what you think by the end of this episode.

And again, let us remind you to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA. Fill it out and file it now. Get whatever help you need to fill it out. But do it, even if you are not sure you will need it and even if you are not expecting to qualify for a lot of financial aid.

And, let us remind you for the last time, that many of those Early Decision and Early Action deadlines are coming up in about 10 days. I cannot see any good reason not to apply for Early Action if colleges your teenager is interested in offer it. But to do that, you would need to be pretty far down the track in completing those applications by now, including having asked for recommendations from teachers and having requested that your high school transcript be sent.

So, let’s recap where we stand in narrowing down the list--to 8 or 12 or even 15 colleges. In Episode 93, we took Step 1 in narrowing down your teenager’s list by looking at college selectivity--in other words, is your teenager likely to get in, based on his or her academic record. In Episode 94, we took Step 2 by looking at the college’s academics--that is, the availability of your teenager’s current favorite major, the presence of any core curriculum or distribution requirements, and the attractiveness of traditional and innovative college term schedules or grading practices. In Episode 95 last week, we took Step 3 by checking whether you might want to use college enrollment as a filter—that is, how many undergraduate students there are, what the class sizes and student-to-faculty ratios are, and what the breakdowns of the student body are by race, ethnicity, gender, or another demographic characteristic.

1. Step 4: Location Filter

Now, let’s look at one last filter, and it’s the one that I fear you have used from the very beginning, perhaps subconsciously or perhaps very consciously. Step 4 in narrowing down the list is using college location as a filter. Let me start off by saying that I don’t think you should use college location as a filter at all. In fact, as those of you who listen to USACollegeChat know, there is no filter I like less than this one. I never used it when I was looking at colleges, and I never used it when my three children were looking at colleges. With that said, there are two different aspects of college location that either your teenager or you might find yourselves considering.

The obvious first aspect of location is how far the college is from your home. This is what our summer assignments started with. That is, we said, “Pick one college from every state and put all of them on your teenager’s list.” Now, we didn’t really expect you to do that (though I would have been thrilled if you had), but we did hope that it would cause you to spread your wings a little and look beyond your own backyard.

This is also what our virtual nationwide tour of colleges (Episodes 27 through 53) was all about. It was an effort to take you outside your geographic comfort zone and get you to realize that the chances aren’t all that good that the best college for your child is in your hometown or even in your home state. Now there are exceptions to that, of course. But, there are many, many colleges out there--most of which you will never even consider. And that is too bad.

We understand the exceptions, and we respect them. We understand that some families for cultural reasons want to keep their teenagers close to home, perhaps in order to participate in family events or religious events. We understand that some families need to have their teenagers live at home in order to make college even remotely affordable or in order to help with family responsibilities. In those cases, we hope you find a great college choice nearby.

We also know that, for some kids, the perfect college is right at home. That happened with my daughter, who was planning a dance major, and we like to think that the best college for that is in our hometown—that is, the joint Fordham University and Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater’s B.F.A. program here in New York City. Of course, I made her apply to out-of-town colleges with good dance majors, too; but, when she got her acceptance letter from Fordham, I knew she wasn’t going to any of the other ones. In Polly’s case, the perfect college was right at home.

At my real job at Policy Studies in Education, I have had the great privilege of doing projects for a couple hundred colleges across the U.S. I have had the chance to visit many of them in many states--huge universities you all know and little colleges you never heard of. I have seen a lot of colleges, far and wide--and I wish you could, too.

Now, let me speak for Marie for a minute. Marie, as you can probably tell from all of our episodes, is always the more practical and realistic of the two of us. Marie would say, “Have the serious talk with your kid right now. Don’t let your teenager apply to a bunch of colleges all across the country if you have no intention of letting him or her go to them. If location is a deal breaker for you, tell your kid now rather than disappoint him or her in April after the acceptances come in.” Marie, I see the value in that, but I still have to hold out hope that an acceptance to a great college in Colorado might cause a parent in New York to think twice next spring before insisting that the kid choose a college close to home.

Let’s look at location a second way, as we did in Assignment #6 (in Episode 86). There we took a closer look at the community that the college is actually located in--that is, whether it is urban, suburban, small town, or rural and what kinds of cool stuff the community surrounding the college has to offer (for example, biking and hiking trails, lakes and beaches, historic sites, cultural facilities and events, or fantastic restaurants). For some teenagers and parents, the perceived safety of a suburban or rural location warrants filtering out all of the urban campuses on the list. For others, the excitement factor of living in a cosmopolitan city warrants filtering out all of the campuses except the urban ones. I heard my own recent college graduate say to an anxious high school senior last week, “You might be a little scared of going to college in a city right now, but you will be happy you did by the time you are a junior or senior and you are getting bored with the college campus life. You will be glad that you have a whole city to explore and take advantage of.” Spoken like a true New Yorker.

So, a charming small college town, with great coffee shops and recreation areas or a giant city with everything anyone could want or something in between? This is really your call.

2. Do You Have Enough Left on the List?

So, do you have enough colleges left on the list? Try to let your teenager talk through his or her opinions about location and type of surrounding community, but let your teenager know that neither of these has to become a filter--unless, of course, you say so.

As we said last week, we are beginning to think the fewer filters, the better. You can always apply these filters next April once you see where your teenager has been accepted. That’s especially true if you are holding off on college visits (or, at least, some college visits or final college visits) until then--when you can really judge the distance from home, the ease of transportation to and from the college, and the type of community firsthand.

So, Step 4 is done. Remember that we are okay if you still have 15 or so on the list as we move into an overview of the full list next week. But, as we said last week, if you are already down to just a handful of colleges, you might want to back up and reconsider some of those colleges that you took off the list or add some new ones.

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.

Ask your questions or share your feedback by... Leaving a comment on the show notes for this episode at http://usacollegechat.org/episode96 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 Connect with us through... Subscribing to our podcast on Google Play Music, iTunes, Stitcher, or TuneIn Liking us on Facebook or following us on Twitter Reviewing parent materials we have available at www.policystudies.org Inquiring about our consulting services if you need individualized help Reading Regina's blog, Parent Chat with Regina

53. USACC095: Narrowing Down Your Teenager’s College List--Step 3
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In our last two episodes, we have been talking with you about how to narrow down your teenager’s long summer list of college options in case it is too long. As that list begins to get shorter, I am beginning to feel as though we should have let you keep it long. Well, not crazy long--but 15 colleges or so is still reasonable to me, at this point in the process. As we have said before, there are quite a few colleges out there that would likely be a good match for your teenager. Don’t feel that you need to take colleges off the list if you can imagine your teenager’s being happy there. You should not be aiming for some arbitrary number of options.

Again, let us remind you to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA. Fill it out and file it now. Get whatever help you need to fill it out. But do it, even if you are not sure you will need it and even if you are not expecting to qualify for a lot of financial aid.

And, let us remind you again, that those Early Decision and Early Action deadlines are coming up quickly--mostly around November 1. I cannot see any good reason not to apply for Early Action if colleges your teenager is interested in offer it.

In Episode 93, we took Step 1 in narrowing down your teenager’s list by looking at college selectivity--in other words, is your teenager likely to get in. In Episode 94, we took Step 2 by looking at the availability of your teenager’s current favorite major, the presence of any core curriculum or distribution requirements, and the attractiveness of traditional and innovative college term schedules or grading practices.

1. Step 3: College Enrollment Filter

Today, we are discussing Step 3 in narrowing down the list--if you think it needs to be narrowed down any further--and that is using college enrollment as a filter. In our previous episodes, we have looked at college enrollment in a variety of ways, and you might want to use some of those ways as a filter now.

First, does the size of the student body matter? You can look back at summer Assignment #1 (in Episode 81) and double check the size of the undergraduate enrollment (and the graduate enrollment, if you think it is desirable to send your teenager to a college that also offers graduate study). Personally (and I think I might be alone in this attitude), I think that this filter is over-used by lots of teenagers and their parents.   I hear kids say things like this, “I think I would like to go to a small school. (Fill in the blank) university seems too big to me.” Okay, I get it. A big university might seem overwhelming at first to a high school senior. But perhaps that is because that teenager has had no reason at all to be in a large university setting, and I believe that a teenager has no rational basis for making a valid judgment about it.

Furthermore, I don’t think you can judge the size of a college based on the size of your high school, though I am sure it is tempting. I can understand that a teenager coming from a small public high school or a small private school might feel that he or she would get lost in the shuffle in a large university. I can understand that, for such a teenager, a large academic setting might be outside his or her 17-year-old comfort zone. But that is no reason to assume that such a teenager would not do well in that larger academic setting, given half a chance.

When my husband was applying to college many years ago, his parents thought that he should go to a small liberal arts college. I am not sure why they thought that, but they did. As a result, he applied only to good small liberal arts colleges, and so, of course, he ended up attending one. He did well at it and liked it, but I believe he would have done equally well at a large university and would have liked it equally well. (By the way, he went on to Columbia University for graduate school and did not seem one bit fazed by its size.) In other words, size should never have been a filter for him--and I believe it should not be a filter for most teenagers. My guess is that many of you parents have some intuitive feeling about the best college size for your teenager (just as my in-laws did)--let’s call it a bias. I don’t know where you got it--perhaps from your own college education or from your own view about how outgoing and self-sufficient your teenager is or isn’t. Unless you have some kind of actual evidence that you are right, you might want to think twice about using college size as a filter for taking colleges off your teenager’s list.

Second, let’s look at size a different way, as we did in Assignment #5 (in Episode 85). There we took a closer look at both student-to-faculty ratio and class size (that is, how many students are sitting in the classroom when your teenager is trying to learn organic chemistry). As we said in Episode 85, student-to-faculty ratios are usually lower at small private colleges than at large public universities, which is not surprising. Small private colleges advertise the college culture that comes with a low ratio as one of the reasons to choose a small private college instead of a large public university. Further, when you see a very selective private university with a student-to-faculty ratio that makes it look more like a small private college, you have to be impressed. And I have to admit that there might indeed be a difference in faculty accessibility between a college with a student-to-faculty ratio of 9-to-1 and one with a ratio of, say, 18-to-1. If personal attention from and personal relationships with professors is something that is quite important to you or your teenager, you might want to think about a student-to-faculty ratio filter.

Let’s recap the class size discussion we had where I claimed that class size might just be a matter of personal choice. I said that I had preferred large classes in college--huge lectures by a brilliant professor. But I allowed that many students prefer small seminars where students get to express their own opinions and talk back and forth with each other and with the professor. What I truly believe is that there is a good chance that your teenager doesn’t know which of these he or she would prefer--since most high school students have never experienced huge lectures by brilliant professors, or indeed small seminars that are intellectually demanding, for that matter. Does that make it difficult to choose class size as a filter? I would say that it does.

So far, it seems that I am arguing against a lot of these filters. All of these characteristics of colleges are good information to have, but maybe aren’t necessarily filters to use before even applying. Maybe I just hate for you to rule out too many options before you see where your teenager might be accepted and what decisions might be available to him or her next spring.

Let’s try a third filter, and that is whether the breakdown of the student body matters. You can look back at summer Assignment #4 (in Episode 84) and double check the percentage of part-time vs. full-time students, the male-female split, the variety and size of various racial and ethnic groups, and the states or foreign countries that students come from. For many students, none of these might be necessary as filters. However, your teenager might have some thoughts about attending a college where his or her own racial or ethnic group is only a very small minority of students. Or, your teenager might not want to attend a college that does not have a substantial mix of students from many racial and ethnic backgrounds as well as from many states and foreign countries. Attitudes about the inclusivity of students of all backgrounds might be linked strongly to your values as a family. Or not. Is your teenager more comfortable with students like himself or herself or with students just from your own geographic area? Should he or she be?

Now is the time to have that discussion with your teenager and to remember that college is one great time to broaden his or her views and explore key values about diversity. While you are doing that, take a quick look back at Assignment #10 (in Episode 90) to see whether you want to re-think your decision to include HBCUs, HSIs, single-sex colleges, or faith-based colleges on your list or to eliminate them at this time. Some of these colleges obviously offer less diversity than others, though they serve a different and perhaps equally valuable purpose.

2. Do You Have Enough Left on the List?

So, are you losing any colleges from your teenager’s list, based on filtering for overall enrollment size, the class size or student-to-faculty ratio, or the breakdown of the student body by race, ethnicity, gender, or some other important demographic characteristic? Try to let your teenager talk through his or her opinions about each of these, but let your teenager know that none of these has to become a filter.  

In one sense, the fewer filters, the better. Each filter gives your teenager fewer chances to be happy next April.

So, Step 3 is done. Enrollment breakdown and size have been considered. Did you lose any colleges from your teenager’s list? I’m okay if you still have 15 or so on the list as we move forward to Step 4 next week. If you are already down to just a handful of colleges, you might want to take a few Steps back and reconsider some of those colleges that you have lost.

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.

Ask your questions or share your feedback by... Leaving a comment on the show notes for this episode at http://usacollegechat.org/episode95 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 Connect with us through... Subscribing to our podcast on Google Play Music, iTunes, Stitcher, or TuneIn Liking us on Facebook or following us on Twitter Reviewing parent materials we have available at www.policystudies.org Inquiring about our consulting services if you need individualized help Reading Regina's blog, Parent Chat with Regina

54. Episode 94: Narrowing Down Your Teenager’s College List--Step 2
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In our last episode, we started narrowing down your teenager’s long summer list of college options.  It made me sad to do it, but I had to admit that fall was here and it was time.  But we hope that you have plenty of colleges left on that list--at least 15 for now.  And we know that many of them would be a great choice for your teenager, because, as we said last week, there is not just one perfect choice for him or her. 

First, let us remind you that you can now complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, known to all as the FAFSA.  Fill it out and file it now.  Fill it out by yourself, get help from your teenager’s high school or a local library, or buy help from a service.  But, however you want to do it, get the form filed, even if you are not sure you will need it and even if you are not expecting to qualify for a lot of financial aid.  There is no reason not to fill it out and file it.

Second, let us remind you, as we have been doing for the past couple of weeks, that those Early Decision and Early Action deadlines are approaching--mostly around November 1.  While Early Decision is a serious and binding agreement, Early Action is not.  I cannot see any good reason not to apply for Early Action if colleges your teenager is interested in have it—unless perhaps you are waiting and hoping for improved SAT or ACT scores from November or December test administrations.  However, as we have said before, even students applying to colleges under Early Decision or Early Action plans will need some colleges on their lists in case those early acceptances don’t come in. 

In Episode 93, we took Step 1 in narrowing down your teenager’s list.  We looked at college selectivity, as many counselors do, and offered the following advice:  Be brutal in considering colleges that are too academically demanding for your teenager (based on the GPAs, admission test scores, and sometimes class ranks of admitted or enrolled freshmen and based on required and recommended high school courses) and be equally brutal in considering colleges that are not academically demanding enough for your teenager.  You need only two or three super-demanding ones on your teenager’s list, and you need only two not-very-demanding ones, at least one of which should be a public four-year college in your home state that you feel okay about sending your teenager to.  That leaves a lot of spots open for colleges that seem to you are just about right--perhaps 10 or so.

1.  Step 2:  College Academics Filter

Step 2 in narrowing down the list--if it is indeed needs to be narrowed down any more--is to look at college academics from several perspectives.

First, does each college left on the list offer the field of study that your teenager is most interested in at the moment?  You can look back at summer Assignment #1 (in Episode 81) and double check the academic departments and the majors that each college has and the majors your teenager recorded as being most appealing to him or her. 

Now, we have to say that this step worries us a bit.  We have seen many, many students change their major, their academic department, and even their school within a university after a semester or a year or even two years of college.  It is not unusual, as anyone with any experience in higher education will tell you.  We worry most when an option on your teenager’s list is a specialized college or a specialized school within a larger university and does not offer a liberal arts alternative in addition to the specialty.  Fortunately, I think that more and more specialized institutions--including well-known fine arts colleges and well-respected technical colleges, such as engineering schools--are requiring that students take some core liberal arts courses, which can be used as the basis for transferring to another academic field when the first one doesn’t work out quite as the student expected. 

But to take the other side for a moment, if your teenager is dead set on majoring in civil engineering or genetics or French or art history or sports management or anything else, make sure that the colleges on the list have that major--and, preferably, have a well-respected program in that field.  You will know if it does because the college will happily claim that on its website.

Second, does the college have a core curriculum/general education curriculum/distribution requirements plan and is that a positive or a negative for your teenager?  Look back at Assignment #7 (in Episode 87) to see what your teenager recorded for each college on the list.  You will recall that we talked about many kinds of core curricula.  Some seemed easy to manage, some seemed far more demanding; some required many courses across many fields, some required far fewer fields to be covered.  You and your teenager might not agree on whether a core curriculum is a plus or a minus.  Just remember that your teenager is the one taking the courses.  If a college has core curriculum requirements that are super-objectionable to your teenager, now would be a good time to take that college off the list.

Next, let’s look at the college schedule, recorded back on Assignment #9 (in Episode 89).  Sometimes the academic term schedule can make the existence of various curriculum requirements more or less attractive or manageable.  For example, if you can take just one course at a time, maybe a math requirement would not be as scary to some students.  Or, if you can take courses on 7-week or 10-week schedules rather than 15-week schedules, maybe a student would be more willing to take courses outside his or her comfort zone.  And maybe now that your teenager sees the variety of innovative schedules out there, the idea of traditional 15-week terms is just plain boring.  So, take a careful look at the schedules of the colleges left on the list.

Finally, let’s look at a part of college academics that we did not zero in on when we did the summer assignments, and we should have.  (Don’t worry; it will be in the new book when it comes out.)  This particular piece of information might have shown up way back in Assignment #1 (in Episode 81) when we asked you to note on the worksheet “other appealing and/or unusual things about this college.”  That piece of information is the college’s grading practices.

Now, I am going to say that, in most cases, the college’s grading practices are pretty traditional.  And that might be fine with you and your teenager.  However, there are some colleges that are anything but traditional when it comes to evaluating student progress.  I was reminded of that when I read recently an exceptional statement by Jonathan Lash, the president of Hampshire College in Massachusetts.  You might recall that we spotlighted Hampshire in our virtual nationwide tour of colleges, back in Episode 43, where we said this:

Hampshire is the fifth member of the Five College Consortium, centered in Amherst.  It is by far the newest of the five colleges, having been founded in 1970 after a long planning process, and it is the least traditional of them as well.  Its students are bright, creative, and motivated.  While very selective in admitting freshmen to a student body of just 1,400 students, Hampshire does not consider college admission test scores “in any way” for admission or for financial aid awards.  Its students study in five interdisciplinary schools and create their own individualized majors—called “the concentration” at Hampshire.  The concentration includes courses and required volunteer work at Hampshire or in the community and required work from various cultural viewpoints as well as fieldwork and internships, if they make sense for the self-designed program.  As seniors, Hampshire students complete a self-designed rigorous final independent project, which includes original work, similar to a graduate thesis.  The campus is lovely and idyllic.  The price tag is predictable at about $47,000 in tuition per year.  My visit to Hampshire with my son about five years ago made me want to go back to school and go there myself. 

And so, I read with interest what President Lash had to say in an opinion piece in The Hechinger Report, (September 15, 2016) entitled “Why do schools use grades that teach nothing?”  While I would happily read you the entire piece, you can go do that yourselves.  By the way, his piece also includes an eloquent defense of Hampshire’s decision to ignore college admissions test scores.  But here are quite a few paragraphs that cast an insightful light on the issue of grading and whether grading should perhaps make a difference in the college your teenager chooses: 

A few years ago I was speaking to a group of parents whose children had just started Hampshire College. A father asked a question that was on many minds: “How can your college be rigorous without grading student work?” Before I could respond, another parent stood up and asked, “May I answer that?” I nodded with interest.

 “I run a company,” he said, “and I have a few thousand employees in multiple locations. They’d be mystified if our managers started to give them grades. We manage by setting goals, evaluating progress, and mentoring employees on how to improve their performance. What would a letter grade tell them?”

At the college where I serve as president, we do evaluate student work; we just use a higher-quality method. Our students receive written evaluations not only on every assignment, but also for every course and learning activity. These evaluations are designed to be formative teaching tools….

When we reduce students to numbers and grades, they and we focus on test-taking skills and grade requirements rather than on learning.

At Hampshire, instead of grades, our professors weigh performance against course goals using criteria such as a student’s demonstration of analytic thinking and writing skills, research abilities, use of primary and secondary literature/substantiation of claims, ability to use data, integration of theory and practice….

After almost five decades of our professors’ assessing students using written evaluations, we’ve seen and documented their benefits as an alternative to grades. Grades tell students the absolute minimum about their abilities; they tell them only whether they have earned enough points under a teacher’s rubric to get a good mark.

Too many students use grades to figure out how to do only what’s required, asking their teachers questions like “What do I have to do to get an A?” At the same time, they’re trying to determine the minimum they can “know” to pass. “How can I game the system?” “What are the fluff courses that will get me an easy A?”

Grading systems also risk pitting students and teachers against each other through arguments about a grade and create counterproductive competition as students vie to outperform one another.

At many elite institutions, grades are absurdly inflated by professors with the result that students across the board receive more A’s than C’s. This has reduced the A-F grading system to little more than one of pass/fail.

In narrative-evaluation systems, students never have to worry about accumulating a GPA. Instead, they focus on the quality of their work, with guidance from teachers who are often learning with them. Evaluations create closer relationships between teacher and student and enhance the teacher’s role as mentor.

Evaluations enable teachers to diagnose weaknesses, reflect on growth, and present constructive ideas for improvement and intellectual development -- and discuss it all with their students.

Using evaluations, students can concentrate on learning. Progress toward graduation is measured by the development of intellectual skills rather than the accumulation of credit hours….

Narrative evaluations suggest ways to keep building on student effort and success. Any student can improve. Intelligence isn’t fixed; it’s malleable. And education is about growth and improvement….

How do our students compare with the alumni of traditional, GPA-reliant programs? According to federal data compiled and reported by the National Science Foundation, Hampshire College ranks in the top 1.4 percent of U.S. colleges by alumni who advance to earn a doctorate. By this measure, we rank #30 in a nation of 4,000 colleges, side by side with the most distinguished institutions of higher learning.

And that’s without ever giving any student even one grade.  (quoted from the article)

Enough said, President Lash.  So, maybe grading practices should be something your teenager and you look at closely.

2.  Do You Have Enough Left on the List?

What I would do if I were you is check first to see whether my teenager’s likely major is available at every college still on the list. I would probably take any college that doesn’t have that major off the list--unless it has something else fabulous to recommend it.  I would also make sure that many of the remaining colleges offered a liberal arts program, just in case my teenager changed her mind even before next April.

With that done, I would make sure that my teenager felt comfortable with any core curriculum requirements or felt equally comfortable not having any.  Personally, I like some distribution requirements, but not a ridiculous number.  But that’s my view.  What’s my teenager’s view?  After figuring that out, I might narrow down the list, if necessary.

Finally, I would talk with my teenager about college schedules and grading practices.  Some sound so intriguing--much more intriguing than any options I remember from 1970.  I wouldn’t see myself taking any schedule options or grading options off the table, but my teenager might.  Act accordingly.

So, Step 2 is done.  I hope you didn’t lose too many options from your teenager’s list.  Maybe you didn’t lose any.  I’m okay if you still have 15 or more colleges on the list as we move forward to Step 3 next week.

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.

Ask your questions or share your feedback by... Leaving a comment on the show notes for this episode at http://usacollegechat.org/episode94 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 Connect with us through... Subscribing to our podcast on Google Play Music, iTunes, Stitcher, or TuneIn Liking us on Facebook or following us on Twitter Reviewing parent materials we have available at www.policystudies.org Inquiring about our consulting services if you need individualized help Reading Regina's blog, Parent Chat with Regina

55. Episode 93: Narrowing Down Your Teenager’s College List--Step 1
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We have put off narrowing down your teenager’s long summer list of college options as long as we can. I hate to start the narrowing because it always seems to me as though the colleges taken off your list might be opportunities missed. But we all have to remember that there is not just one college that is a good choice for your teenager. There are likely quite a few colleges that would be not just good, but excellent, choices for your teenager. So, in that spirit, let’s see where we stand here at the end of September.

First, let us remind you that October 1 marks the opening up of the online avenue for filing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, lovingly known as the FAFSA. There is no earthly reason not to fill it out and file it ASAP. We are not FAFSA experts, but there are many people who are. If you are unsure about FAFSA, look at available websites or seek help from your teenager’s high school. But, whatever it takes, get the form filed, even if you are not sure you will need it and even if you are not expecting a financial windfall in financial aid.

Second, let us remind you, as we have been doing for the past couple of weeks, that the first deadlines are approaching for Early Decision and Early Action admissions--mostly around November 1. If your teenager is interested enough in a college to apply under an Early Decision plan or interested enough in one or more colleges to apply under an Early Action plan, then you have already narrowed your teenager’s list of college options. However, your teenager will need to keep a few extra colleges on the list in case the Early Decision choice or the Early Action choices don’t work out. In that spirit, let’s look at Step 1 in narrowing down the list.

Let’s review your 10 summer assignments because, if you didn’t do them, there might not be much of a list to narrow down:

First, you and your teenager expanded his or her long summer list of college options by choosing colleges across the U.S. (and maybe even outside the U.S.) to add to the list--that is, colleges outside your geographic comfort zone. Next, you checked out four key admission standards for the colleges on that list--namely, average high school GPA, high school class rank, SAT or ACT scores of admitted and/or enrolled freshmen, and both required and recommended courses to be completed in high school. After that, you looked at each college’s undergraduate enrollment, broken down by part-time vs. full-time study, gender, race/ethnicity, and place of residence. Then, you checked out the student-to-faculty ratio and class sizes for each college on the list. You went on to look at the type of community each college is located in and what it has to offer off campus. Next, you found out what kind of core curriculum requirements--if any--are in place at each college. Then, you checked out the types of campus housing available at each college and what some of its security measures are. Then, you examined the way each college divides up its academic year into terms--both the traditional and the innovative ways. And finally, you took one last look at some categories of colleges you might have overlooked or you might have thought were not right for your teenager the first time around--namely, faith-based colleges, HBCUs, HSIs, and single-sex colleges.

We are hoping that you still have at least 20 or so on your list right now. 

As we look back at the 10 assignments, we notice that some have to do with college location, some with size, some with selectivity, some with the student body, some with academics, and some with logistics, like housing and safety. We did not talk much this summer about the cost of attending each college because it is hard to figure out cost without knowing what kind of financial aid package your teenager might get from any given college, based on your family’s income, your state of residence, and the academic or other qualifications of your teenager. Everybody else seems to want to talk only about cost, so we would like to start somewhere else.

We found it difficult to choose which filter to look at first, knowing that it would knock some colleges off your list right away and being sorry about not giving those colleges a chance to stay on your list based on their other really great qualities. But something has to go first. So, let’s look at selectivity of the colleges on your list.

1. Step 1: College Selectivity Filter

As we said in our book How To Find the Right College: A Workbook for Parents of High School Students (on sale at amazon.com through 2016), this question is the one most high school guidance counselors bring up first. You have probably heard people say that a student should apply to a “safety” school that he or she is sure to be admitted to; a couple of “reach” schools that would be great, but might be beyond or just beyond what the student’s high school record warrants; and then some others in the middle that the student has a reasonable chance of being admitted to, though not guaranteed. Of course, that is really nothing more than common sense.

As for a safety school, we like to say that you should consider public four-year colleges (especially branch campuses of your state flagship public university, rather than the main campus, or a second-tier state system of public colleges that is not as prestigious as the state flagship university system). Some states have more public options than others, thus providing an array of safety school choices. We continue to focus only on four-year colleges in our search, believing that you can add the local public community college as an option at any point without too much difficulty.

As we find we still have to say to parents of teenagers, it is our opinion that not-very-selective private colleges that could reasonably serve as safety schools for most high school students are not likely to be academically better or more respected than whatever well-regarded public colleges are available in a student’s home state. Why would you pay more money to have your teenager go to a college that is not better? And, as we said many times during our nationwide virtual tour of colleges in Episodes 27 through 53, there is no prestige in going to a private college that is not as good as a great public college.

As for “reach” schools, keep in mind that applying to colleges is time consuming and not free (unless you have application-fee waivers, which are sometimes based on family income and sometimes based on a student’s excellent high school record). Applying to reach schools that enroll a majority of students with significantly higher high school GPAs (that is, the grade point average of high school courses) and/or or with significantly higher SAT or ACT scores than your teenager has might turn out to be a waste of time. So, should your teenager rule out applying to the most selective schools, given the chances that being admitted are slim, even if he or she is a good student? No, but perhaps consider applying to just two or three--and only if your teenager is truly interested in going to them. Applying to too many will likely make a disappointing acceptance season for your teenager.

What should you be looking for in terms of selectivity? I would say that you should feel okay about colleges where your teenager’s high school grades and SAT or ACT scores are average or just above average for that college. But, further, you should feel good about colleges where your teenager’s grades and test scores are above the 75th percentile of admitted and/or enrolled freshmen. This is part of the information--along with class rank--that we asked you to research and record back in Episode 82 in Assignment #2.

As we have said before, the two obvious academic problems for applicants are that their GPA is not as high as it might be or that their SAT and/or ACT scores are not as high as they might be. Either of these problems makes choosing to put too many truly selective colleges on your teenager’s list a risky move. However, as we have said before, having mediocre or low test scores is likely an easier problem to solve than having mediocre or low high school grades.

While students’ test scores are important to most top-ranked colleges, there are some colleges--including some really good colleges--that do not put so high a priority, or indeed almost any priority at all, on these test scores. Check out our book or earlier episodes of USACollegeChat for more information about and a long list of what are referred to as “test-optional” colleges and “test-flexible” colleges, which might be a help for your teenager if those scores are not what you had hoped for. You can also search for and find all kinds of lists of “test-optional” and “test-flexible” colleges online, including at the National Center for Fair and Open Testing website.

Remember that admissions policies change, and you should check on a college’s website to tell just exactly how the college does or does not require or use SAT or ACT scores. For example, some colleges require standardized test scores for some applicants, like homeschooled students and international students, but not for others, like students who are U.S. citizens and went to high school in the U.S. So do your homework--again.

The next part of the college selectivity filter is something less obvious, and that is to double check the number of credits or courses required or recommended for admission to the college or to the college or school that you are interested in within the university, along with any specific courses required (e.g., Algebra II). We asked you to research and record this information for each college on your list back in Episode 83 in Assignment #3. Keep in mind that a college does not usually penalize a student whose high school does not offer a course that the college requires for admission--like the third year of a foreign language. However, the closer your teenager can get to meeting all of the required courses and all of the recommended courses, the better chance he or she has for admission--obviously. 

2. Do You Have Enough Left on the List? 

So, what I would do if I were you, is look back at the data my teenager recorded for Assignment #2 and compare each college’s figures to my own teenager’s high school GPA, SAT or ACT scores (that is, whatever scores you currently have, even if he or she will retake the test this fall), and class rank (if he or she has one). I might divide the colleges into three piles: (1) those that look out of reach or almost out of reach, given the grades and scores of admitted or enrolled freshmen; (2) those that post average grades and scores about like my own teenager’s; and (3) those where my teenager’s grades and scores look well above average.

With that done, I would keep all of the colleges in the second pile on the list for now, especially if my teenager had taken or will take this year the required and recommended high school courses.

Next, I would talk with my teenager about the colleges in the first pile--that is, those that seem like a real long shot academically. I would look particularly favorably on those where my teenager had taken or will take this year the required and recommended high school courses. I might keep my teenager’s two or three favorites from that pile on the list for now, but I would try to help my teenager let the others in the first pile go.

Finally, I would talk with my teenager about the colleges in the third pile, where my teenager’s grades and scores are well above average, to see whether my teenager is holding on to too many “safety” schools, especially ones that are not truly appealing to him or her. I often find myself saying something like this to kids: “Why is that on your list? You are going to get into a better private college than that and you are also going to get into a better public flagship university than that. You don’t need it on your list, and you shouldn’t go there even if you get in.”

So, Step 1 is to narrow down your teenager’s list of college options by being brutal in reviewing the first pile (those that are too academically demanding of their applicants) and equally brutal in reviewing the third pile (those that are not academically demanding enough). We would like you to have at least 15 still on the list as we move forward.

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.

Ask your questions or share your feedback by... Leaving a comment on the show notes for this episode at http://usacollegechat.org/episode93 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 Connect with us through... Subscribing to our podcast on Google Play Music, iTunes, Stitcher, or TuneIn Liking us on Facebook or following us on Twitter Reviewing parent materials we have available at www.policystudies.org Inquiring about our consulting services if you need individualized help Reading Regina's blog, Parent Chat with Regina

56. Episode 92: Don’t Use These Two Filters for Your Teenager’s College List!
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Well, it is time to start narrowing your teenager’s long summer list of college options--that is, if he or she made such a list by using our 10 assignments this summer. Of course, if your teenager did not make such a list, there is still time to do so, but get moving. I would recommend taking his or her top 20 college choices and running through the 10 assignments at breakneck speed, because the time to narrow down that list is fast approaching.

1. The Numbers Game

We have promised you some ways to filter your teenager’s long summer list of college options, and I guess we will have to pay off on that promise. But, I have to say, that I don’t want to make the final list too short. We have said in our book (How To Find the Right College: A Workbook for Parents of High School Students, available at amazon.com) that we would expect to see about 8 to 12 colleges on your teenager’s final list--that is, the list of colleges that he or she will actually apply to. However, if our summer challenge led you to put more colleges on your teenager’s list of options than you had expected and if you now hate to see them go, I could be happy with a somewhat longer list than 8 to 12. Maybe not 20 applications, but surely as many as 15.

We know that applying to too many colleges has become an unpopular notion, partly because people believe that applicants themselves have caused colleges’ increased selectivity by applying to a slew of colleges and, thus, giving too many colleges too many applicants to choose from. Regardless of that, we still believe that kids should have the best selection of colleges possible--both when applying and hopefully when choosing, after admissions decisions have been sent out.

And we know that it is not free to apply to most colleges, unless you have received a waiver based on your income or based on your teenager’s excellent high school record, and we know that money does not grow on trees. But I think it is hard to argue that paying $50 or $75 to add a college to the list is a bad investment--if that college might indeed accept your teenager.

If our 10 assignments this summer worked correctly, you and your teenager should have found yourselves putting colleges you had never before considered on your list. We wanted you both to branch out, look outside your geographic comfort zone, and consider types of colleges you had not thought about before. We challenged you to pick one college in every state, for goodness’ sake. We were serious about persuading you to look beyond what you already knew about colleges.

We have found that the biggest problem many of you have is that you don’t know anything at all about most colleges. That’s not your fault, of course. Worse yet, there is really no one to tell you about most colleges. That’s why we started this free podcast.

Let us say again that you should not rely on your teenager’s guidance counselor or college counselor in school. I was reviewing the college options of the daughter of close friends of mine last month. Let’s call her Kate. Kate and her parents had met with the counselor at Kate’s private school to have the college discussion. Kate’s father came away impressed by what the counselor knew and by the counselor’s advice to them. I could not have been less impressed. Not only did the counselor suggest colleges that made little sense to me, given what I know about Kate, but she also took colleges off of Kate’s list that made far more sense for Kate than the ones she put on. This is not an isolated example. Parents, you have to do your own homework. Most counselors know only what they know--and what they know tends to be about colleges that many previous graduates of the school have attended and colleges that are located in their home state. That’s not good enough.

And so, it’s a numbers game. Keep enough colleges on the list to ensure that your teenager ends up with some choice. If the colleges are chosen well to begin with, that number should be 8 or 12 or maybe 15. But don’t adopt an arbitrarily low number now and use it to filter out too many colleges on your teenager’s list before he or she can even apply.

2. The Visiting Game

Here is another filter we are concerned about: the college visit. Recently, I spent some time talking with parents who were in the process of taking their daughter on several college trips in August. Let’s call her Maia. I listened to Maia’s reaction to a college that I had thought would suit her fairly well. Maia didn’t like the college. I asked her mother why. This is what her mother said: “She liked the campus. But everyone she met was snotty, and the tour people had no idea what they were talking about. She hated the feel of the school.”

Let’s think about that for a minute. My feeling is that, if you visit a college in the summer, about all you can legitimately react to is the campus. I don’t think there is an obvious “feel of the school” when the regular students and professors are not there. I am not sure whom she could have met--perhaps other kids on the tour, perhaps kids there in some kind of summer program, who might not attend the college during the year. Finally, I never took a college tour where I thought the guide didn’t know a heck of a lot. I do know that colleges try very hard to choose personable guides and train them quite seriously. Look back at Episode 57, which focuses on college tour guides, if you don’t believe me. So, I am not sure what Maia was reacting to.

What I do know is this: It is very difficult to tell what a college is like when you visit it in the summer. I would urge you not to use a summer visit as a filter for ruling out colleges that you thought were otherwise appropriate for your teenager, unless it turned out that you or your teenager truly hated the actual campus or the surrounding area or the campus housing or felt that it was somehow unsafe. Those things don’t change from summer to winter.

As we have said before, visiting colleges is a time-consuming, hard-to-schedule, often expensive undertaking. There is actually plenty of time to visit colleges after your child has been accepted, when you can see the college in full swing in the winter or spring. If you have used reasonable criteria for putting colleges on your teenager’s list, that is a good enough first step. Once acceptances come in, you and your teenager can decide which ones are still worth visiting. It might be that you can narrow the choices down to just two or three among the acceptances, thus saving a lot of time and money and effort.

What is probably necessary is for your teenager to have seen a couple of college campuses, just to get the idea of what a college campus is. Showing your teenager a variety, even if they are all relatively close to home, would be most instructive--for example, a sprawling rural campus with many buildings and natural areas and its own transportation system; a walkable, enclosed suburban campus with ivy-covered buildings and manicured grassy quadrangles; an urban campus without any boundaries that tell where the campus stops and the city starts; and a commuter campus without housing. Giving your teenager an idea of what a campus could be might be enough for right now.

3. Next Week

As we mentioned last week, the first deadlines for Early Decision and Early Action admissions--mostly around November 1--are fast approaching. If your teenager is interested enough in a college to apply under an Early Decision plan or interested enough in one or more colleges to apply under an Early Action plan, then you have already started to use your own filters to narrow down your teenager’s list. However, you will still need a few colleges on the list to apply to if the Early Decision choice or the Early Action choices are unsuccessful. The rest of you will certainly need to start thinking about which colleges will stay on your list and which should come off now.

So, next week’s episode will focus on filters we think you should be using to get that list down to 8 or 12 or 15.

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

Ask your questions or share your feedback by... Leaving a comment on the show notes for this episode at http://usacollegechat.org/episode92 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 Connect with us through... Subscribing to our podcast on Google Play Music, iTunes, Stitcher, or TuneIn Liking us on Facebook or following us on Twitter Reviewing parent materials we have available at www.policystudies.org Inquiring about our consulting services if you need individualized help Reading Regina's blog, Parent Chat with Regina

57. Episode 91: Think Harder About Community Service
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Hopefully, you have finished your 10 summer assignments designed to expand and then investigate seriously the colleges on your teenager’s long summer list of college options. So, let’s review what those 10 assignments were:

First, you expanded your teenager’s long summer list of college options. Next, you checked out four key admission standards for the colleges on that list--namely, average high school GPA, high school class rank, SAT or ACT scores of admitted and/or enrolled freshmen, and both required and recommended courses to be completed in high school. After that, you looked at each college’s undergraduate enrollment, broken down by part-time vs. full-time study, gender, race/ethnicity, and place of residence. Then, you checked out the student-to-faculty ratio and class sizes for each college on the list. You went on to look at the type of community each college is located in and what it has to offer off campus. Next, you found out what kind of core curriculum requirements--if any--are in place at each college. Then, you checked out the types of campus housing available at each college and what some of its security measures are. Then, you examined the way each college divides up its academic year into terms--both the traditional and the innovative ways. And finally, you took one last look at some categories of colleges you might have overlooked or you might have thought were not right for your teenager the first time around--namely, faith-based colleges, HBCUs, HSIs, and single-sex colleges.

You will recall that our original challenge when the summer started was to do these assignments for 50 colleges--one from each state. But even if you did it for just half that many colleges, congratulations. And, as we said right before the Labor Day break, we hope you did it for at least 20.

Now the time has come to start narrowing down that list--finally! As the first deadlines approach for Early Decision and Early Action admissions--mostly around November 1—you and your teenager will want to skinny that list down to a manageable number of colleges, perhaps 15 or so. It seems likely to us, however, that if your teenager is interested enough in a college to apply under an Early Decision plan or interested enough in one or more colleges to apply under an Early Action plan, then you have already skinnied your list down substantially. That doesn’t mean, however, that you don’t need a few colleges still on the list to apply to if the Early Decision choice or the Early Action choices are unsuccessful.

So, we are going to help you with that narrowing process starting next week. This week, we want to make a few comments on a subject that we believe in strongly and that we have talked about in two of our summertime Facebook Live chats--and that is community service. Today’s episode, however, addresses community service through the lens of the college application essay, which we hope all of you are starting or maybe even already editing this month.

Watch our Facebook Live chats on community service here and here.

1. Community Service: The Background

Let’s start with some background. Some months ago, back in Episodes 61 and 62, we took a look at a new report that grew out of a meeting hosted by a Harvard Graduate School of Education project called Making Caring Common. The meeting brought together college admissions deans, high school folks, and others to discuss the state of college admissions. The report is entitled Turning the Tide: Inspiring Concern for Others and the Common Good through College Admissions. We have referenced this report from time to time in subsequent episodes as well.

The list of “endorsers” of the report included every Ivy League institution plus an impressive list of about 50 more higher education institutions, including some of our nation’s best small liberal arts colleges, best public flagship universities, and best private universities.

The question we have asked about the report and its endorsers is this: How much do they mean it? The jury is still out on that and might be for some time to come. But without getting into the politics of all that, which we believe are quite significant, one thing that is addressed strongly in the report is the value of community service. Four of the 11 recommendations in the report revolve around community service done by high school students, and personally I think that these might be the most sincere recommendations in the report. Let’s listen again to just the first of these recommendations:

Meaningful, Sustained Community Service: We recommend that students engage in forms of service that are authentically chosen—that emerge from a student’s particular passions and interests—that are consistent and well-structured, and that provide opportunity for reflection both individually and with peers and adults. We also recommend that students undertake at least a year of sustained service or community engagement . . . . This service can take the form of substantial and sustained contributions to one’s family, such as working outside the home to provide needed income. Just as important, it’s vital that the admissions process squarely challenges misconceptions about what types of service are valued in admissions. Some students seek to ‘game’ service by taking up high-profile or exotic forms of community service, sometimes in faraway places, that have little meaning to them but appear to demonstrate their entrepreneurial spirit and leadership. The admissions process should clearly convey that what counts is not whether service occurred locally or in some distant place or whether students were leaders, but whether students immersed themselves in an experience and the emotional and ethical awareness and skills generated by that experience. (quoted from the report)

Here’s what that probably means: that the service should be something that your teenager is actually interested in and invested in; that the service should be something your teenager thinks about, talks about with other kids and with adults, and learns from; that the service should last at least a year; and that the service may be something that your teenager does in order to support or help your own family, such as working at a paid job if financial help is needed or taking care of a younger sibling or an elderly relative if that kind of family support is needed. As we have said before, Marie and I saw kids at the high school we co-founded in New York City with substantial family responsibilities, which made it very difficult for them to engage in the other kinds of service that students without such responsibilities had the free time to undertake.

I think that the report’s notion that the service last at least a year is also significant. The report is talking about sustained interactions over time that would speak to the genuine concern that a student had for whatever the community service project was. In other words, the college might not look so favorably on “high-profile” and “exotic” one-week community service projects in “faraway places”--unless perhaps a student did those projects summer after summer in some structured way and perhaps during other school vacations as well and/or had some other kind of follow-through during the rest of the year.

2. Frank Bruni’s Op-Ed Piece

Enter Frank Bruni’s excellent and though-provoking op-ed piece in The New York Times on August 13, 2016, provocatively titled “To Get to Harvard, Go to Haiti?

I would like to read you the entire piece, but The New York Times might be slightly annoyed by that. So, let me offer a few quotations that are likely to send you off to read the full piece yourself, and you should absolutely do that. Here is how Mr. Bruni begins the piece:

 

This summer, as last, Dylan Hernandez, 17, noticed a theme on the social media accounts of fellow students at his private Catholic high school in Flint, Mich.

‘An awfully large percentage of my friends--skewing towards the affluent--are taking ‘mission trips’ to Central America and Africa,’ he wrote to me in a recent email. He knows this from pictures they post on Snapchat and Instagram, typically showing one of them ‘with some poor brown child aged 2 to 6 on their knee,’ he explained. The captions tend to say something along the lines of, ‘This cutie made it so hard to leave.’

But leave they do, after as little as a week of helping to repair some village’s crumbling school or library, to return to their comfortable homes and quite possibly write a college-application essay about how transformed they are.

‘It rubs me the wrong way,’ Hernandez told me, explaining that while many of his friends are well intentioned, some seem not to notice poverty until an exotic trip comes with it. He himself has done extensive, sustained volunteer work at the Flint Y.M.C.A., where, he said, the children he tutors and plays with would love it ‘if these same peers came around and merely talked to them.’

‘No passport or customs line required,’ he added.

Hernandez reached out to me because he was familiar with writing I had done about the college admissions process. What he described is something that has long bothered me and other critics of that process: the persistent vogue among secondary-school students for so-called service that’s sometimes about little more than a faraway adventure and a few lines or paragraphs on their applications to selective colleges.

It turns developing-world hardship into a prose-ready opportunity for growth, empathy into an extracurricular activity.

And it reflects a broader gaming of the admissions process that concerns me just as much, because of its potential to create strange habits and values in the students who go through it, telling them that success is a matter of superficial packaging and checking off the right boxes at the right time. That’s true only in some cases, and hardly the recipe for a life well lived. (quoted from the article)

 

Well, Mr. Bruni and Mr. Hernandez, it bothers us here at USACollegeChat as well. And I suspect it bothered the endorsers of the college admissions report, too. We know that it is tempting to pursue some community service option that looks spectacular on your college application, but it seems that those spectacular options are meeting with more and more skepticism by the college admissions officers. That problem is compounded when a student writes the all-important college application essay on such a community service experience. Here is what Mr. Bruni said about that:

 

‘The running joke in admissions is the mission trip to Costa Rica to save the rain forest,’ Ángel Pérez, who is in charge of admissions at Trinity College in Hartford, told me.

Jennifer Delahunty, a longtime admissions official at Kenyon College, said that mission-trip application essays are their own bloated genre. (quoted from the article)

 

“Their own bloated genre”--that’s quite an indictment, I think. What that means is that kids have to be careful when they undertake to write their primary application essay about a mission trip or about other community service work. While Mr. Bruni says that he and Pérez and Delahunty don’t doubt that many students doing this kind of community service “have heartfelt motivations, make a real (if fleeting) contribution and are genuinely enlightened by it,” he also tells a number of rather surprising anecdotes in the piece about upper-income parents who can and do buy short charitable experiences for their kids just so their kids have something to write about. Those are the essays that college admissions officers are on the lookout for--essays that don’t appear to come from some genuine and long-term interest on the part of the kid.

Looking at the other side of the issue for a moment, we can sympathize with kids who are faced with community service requirements from their high schools or who believe they are faced with community service as a necessary aspect of their college applications--even it that is not their essay topic. We know that kids have lots of demands on their time, including after-school clubs and sports and SAT prep and music lessons and dance lessons and the very real family responsibilities that many kids have. We know that community service can become just one more thing to do—not for its own sake, but for the sake of the college application. And, as Mr. Bruni writes, “Getting it done in one big Central American swoop becomes irresistible, and if that dilutes the intended meaning of the activity, who’s to blame: the students or the adults who set it up this way?”

So, who’s to stop that cycle? My vote would be you, parents. It is your responsibility to ensure that any community service activity that is undertaken by your own teenager is done for the right reasons and is carried out with genuine interest on his or her part and with respect for those being served. That is not the high school’s or the colleges’ responsibility. And your responsibility for this doesn’t start when your teenager is a senior. It starts much earlier, perhaps even in middle school, if we are to take into consideration what the new report says--that is, that colleges should start looking for “at least a year of sustained service or community engagement.”

Mr. Bruni has a great ending to his piece, thanks in part to the words of Mr. Hernandez. Here it is:

 

There are excellent mission trips, which some students do through churches that they already belong to, and less excellent ones. There are also plenty of other summer projects and jobs that can help students develop a deeper, humbler understanding of the world.

Pérez told me that his favorite among recent essays by Trinity applicants came from someone ‘who spent the summer working at a coffee shop. He wrote about not realizing until he did this how invisible people in the service industry are. He wrote about how people looked right through him at the counter.’

Helicopter parents, stand down! Pérez’s assessment doesn’t mean that you should hustle your teenagers to the nearest Starbucks. It means that whatever they do, they should be able to engage in it fully and reflect on it meaningfully. And if that’s service work, why not address all the need in your own backyard?

Many college-bound teenagers do, but not nearly enough, as Hernandez can attest. He feels awfully lonely at the Flint Y.M.C.A. and, in the context of that, wonders, ‘Why is it fashionable to spend $1,000-plus, 20 hours traveling, and 120 hours volunteering in Guatemala for a week?’

He wonders something else, too. ‘Aren’t the children there sad, getting abandoned by a fresh crop of affluent American teens every few days?’ (quoted from the article)

 

That’s a stunning question from a 17-year-old. It makes me doubly proud of the work that some of our local teenagers do at Adventures in Learning, the nonprofit after-school program for low-income kids that we talked about in one of our Facebook Live chats. Maybe it isn’t as glamorous as going to Costa Rica to save the rain forest, but it’s something real that high school students can do, and they can see the results of their work in the lives of those kids every day.

One last word: Mr. Bruni writes, “A more recent phenomenon is teenagers trying to demonstrate their leadership skills in addition to their compassion by starting their own fledgling nonprofit groups rather than contributing to ones that already exist--and that might be more practiced and efficient at what they do.” Agreed, Mr. Bruni. It’s hard to create a nonprofit organization, especially one that has significant impact. So, teenagers, think about finding one near you and lending your support to it. And do that over time, not for a week. And look for ways to be a leader in that context—recruit other teenagers, make presentations at local community events, spearhead a fundraising campaign. We mentioned in one of our Facebook Live chats that Heifer International is a wonderful organization to volunteer with and that it offers suggestions on its website for volunteers leading their own activities.

Kids, there’s plenty of work to be done. Do some of it and then consider how to write about it thoughtfully in your college application essay. Be reflective. Be specific. Be persuasive. And be thankful that you had the opportunity to serve.

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

Ask your questions or share your feedback by... Leaving a comment on the show notes for this episode at http://usacollegechat.org/episode91 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 Connect with us through... Subscribing to our podcast on Google Play Music, iTunes, Stitcher, or TuneIn Liking us on Facebook or following us on Twitter Reviewing parent materials we have available at www.policystudies.org Inquiring about our consulting services if you need individualized help Reading Regina's blog, Parent Chat with Regina

58. Episode 90: Assignment #10—It’s Never Too Late To Add One More College
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This is an episode we like to call “It’s Never Too Late To Add One More College.” Now, if your teenager and you have done your nine assignments this summer to expand and then investigate seriously the colleges on your teenager’s long summer list of college options, you are probably wondering what we mean by “adding one more.” But, first, let’s review the nine assignments you have already done—and it’s an impressive group:

First, you expanded your teenager’s long summer list of college options. Next, you checked out four key admission standards for the colleges on that list--namely, average high school GPA, high school class rank, SAT or ACT scores of admitted and/or enrolled freshmen, and both required and recommended courses to be completed in high school. After that, you looked at each college’s undergraduate enrollment, broken down by part-time vs. full-time study, gender, race/ethnicity, and place of residence. Then, you checked out the student-to-faculty ratio and class sizes for each college on the list. You went on to look at the type of community each college is located in and what it has to offer off campus. Next, you found out what kind of core curriculum requirements--if any--are in place at each college. Then, you checked out the types of campus housing available at each college and what some of its security measures are. And finally, you examined the way each college divides up its academic year into terms--both the traditional and the innovative ways.

We are truly impressed if you got all that done. Even if you didn’t do it for 50 colleges--one from each state, which was our original challenge--we are impressed. Even if you did it for just half that many colleges we are impressed. But, let’s say that we hope you did it for at least 20. 

1. Your Assignment #10

Download the Assignment #10 Worksheet

And so, we come to the last assignment in building and investigating your teenager’s list. This assignment is not like the others. It is designed to give your teenager and you one last chance to consider a college you might have missed in your search, and it does that by looking at several categories of colleges you might have overlooked or you might have thought were not right for your teenager. At the end of this episode, you might be able to rule out each category we are suggesting; if so, your list is done. On the other hand, you might want to look further at one category or another and consider adding a few colleges to that long summer list of college options.

2. What About Faith-Based Colleges?

As we explained at some length in our book How To Find the Right College: A Workbook for Parents of High School Students (on sale at Amazon until we declare the summer officially over), “faith-based”--that is, religious--colleges and universities are a broader category than you might think. This category includes hundreds of small Bible colleges, which are indeed dedicated to religious life and the study of religion, but it also includes very large universities that offer all fields of study, though with an underlying religious or moral or service-to-others orientation.

Some faith-based institutions require more religious study than others. Some require students to take just a couple of courses in theology or perhaps philosophy instead, while others infuse much of their curriculum with their religious beliefs. Some require students to attend chapel services, but many do not.

In our experience, faith-based institutions are usually quite up front about what they are all about. They are not trying to trick your teenager into going there, because that wouldn’t be good for you or for them. Sometimes a college application will give you a clue by asking for your religion and the name and address of your church. Some ask for a recommendation from a minister. Many have a statement of their religious beliefs on their website or in their student handbook; you can read it and see whether your family supports it.

As a matter of fact, more U.S. colleges and universities than you might think have been founded by religious denominations--especially a lot of our earliest and most prestigious colleges, as you learned if you listened to our virtual nationwide tour of colleges (Episodes 27 through 54). Some of them retain their religious affiliation today, and many do not. Some faith-based institutions are Jewish, some are Catholic, and some are Protestant. One very interesting choice is Soka University of America (SUA), located in Orange County, California: “Proudly founded upon the Buddhist principles of peace, human rights and the sanctity of life, SUA offers a non-sectarian curriculum” and welcomes students of all beliefs (quoted from the website).   

Understanding the world of some 200 Catholic colleges and universities in the U.S. is particularly complicated because they have been founded by various orders (including the Jesuits, Dominicans, Franciscans, and more) and by other groups within the Catholic community. And, in case you didn’t listen to our virtual nationwide tour of colleges, many respected Catholic institutions, including some of the best-known ones, actually attract many students who are not Catholic. 

As I have said in previous episodes, I sent my daughter Polly to the Alvin Ailey/Fordham University joint dance B.F.A. program. Fordham is a Jesuit university, something I am always embarrassed to admit that I knew very little about before I sent Polly there to dance. For those of you who don’t know, the Jesuits--that is, 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. It is my belief that students of all faiths, including my daughter who is not Catholic, are welcome and comfortable at Jesuit institutions. When I heard Father Joseph McShane, Fordham’s president, speak at orientation, I knew that we had, accidentally, made a great decision in sending Polly to Fordham. Father McShane said that Fordham students were taught to wrestle with important moral and ethical issues, to care for others, to despair over injustice, and to give back to their communities.

So, if your teenager is interested in social justice, if your teenager has done extensive community service projects in high school and has valued those experiences, or if you would like this sort of underpinning for your teenager’s collegiate education, I am going to suggest that you put a Jesuit college or university on your teenager’s long summer list of college options now so that you can think about it over the next few months. There are 28 to choose from (actually 189 worldwide), and they include small and large institutions all over the U.S. Some that you have likely heard of, in addition to Fordham in New York City, are Boston College, the College of the Holy Cross (in Worcester, Massachusetts), Georgetown University (in Washington, D.C.), Marquette University (in Milwaukee, Wisconsin), Saint Louis University (which has a great campus in Madrid, too), Santa Clara University (in California), and the University of San Francisco.

3. What About Historically Black Colleges and Universities?

Commonly referred to as HBCUs, historically black colleges and universities were established with the mission of educating African-American students solely or at least primarily. Today, just over 100 HBCUs can be found in many states and in both rural and urban settings. They are public and private, large and small (even very small), faith-based and not, two-year and four-year colleges; some have graduate schools.  

HBCUs were founded to serve students who had been excluded from many other higher education institutions because of their race. The three earliest HBCUs were founded in Pennsylvania and Ohio before the Civil War, but many were founded in the South shortly after the Civil War. Those Southern HBCUs share a proud tradition of becoming the first collegiate homes of family members of freed slaves.

Some HBCUs have produced great black leaders--like Booker T. Washington, who attended Hampton University, and like Thurgood Marshall, who attended both Lincoln University and Howard University School of Law. Some have put great black leaders from many walks of life on their payrolls as professors and administrators--like Fisk University, where Charles Spurgeon Johnson, the intellectual architect of the Harlem Renaissance, served as Fisk’s first black president and where Harlem Renaissance writers and artists, like Arna Bontemps, James Weldon Johnson, and Aaron Douglas all worked. If you have listened to many episodes of USACollegeChat, you probably know that Fisk is my favorite HBCU, precisely because of its history (and if you don’t know about the Fisk Jubilee Singers, organized in 1871, you should).

Today, HBCUs enroll students who are not black--just as historically white colleges and universities now enroll students who are not white. Some observers say that it has become harder for HBCUs to recruit African-American students now that they are welcome at both selective and nonselective colleges across the U.S. That is probably true to some degree. Nonetheless, there is still a strong sense of community among the alumni/alumnae of HBCUs and a strong sense of tradition on HBCU campuses. For some African-American students especially, that could be a good fit for what they are looking for in a college, and a shared culture could go a long way toward helping them feel comfortable on a college campus, especially if it is far from home.

So, if your teenager is interested in living and studying in the shared culture that characterizes HBCUs or if you would like this sort of cultural and historical underpinning for your teenager’s collegiate education, I am going to suggest that you put an HBCU on your teenager’s long summer list of college options now so that you can think about it over the next few months. There are plenty to choose from, including some small and very accommodating ones that might be a perfect choice if your teenager has not gotten the high school grades or test scores that you might have wished for.

4. What About Hispanic-Serving Institutions?

There are over 250 colleges and universities that have been designated during the past 50 years as Hispanic-serving institutions (HSIs), meaning that they have a student enrollment that is at least 25 percent Hispanic. For example, The University of New Mexico in Albuquerque, a federally designated HSI, was one of the first minority-majority universities, with an approximately 45 percent Hispanic student body and an Anglo student population of just about 35 percent.

HSIs are located in states across the U.S. from California to Massachusetts and from Washington to Florida. Some HSIs are large public universities, some are large public community colleges, and some are small private liberal arts colleges. Many HSIs receive federal funds to support programs and scholarships that are designed to help low-income Hispanic students succeed in college.

Although HSIs do not have the same kind of historical traditions that HBCUs have--perhaps because they were not founded originally with a mission to serve Hispanic students--they do offer an environment where Hispanic students might more easily find classmates with a similar cultural background. First-generation Hispanic college students--that is, students whose parents did not attend college--might find it easier to fit into this supportive college environment, thus improving their chances of long-term success.

So, if your teenager is interested in living and studying with a substantial number of students from a similar cultural background or if you would like this sort of cultural underpinning for your teenager’s collegiate education, I am going to suggest that you put an HSI on your teenager’s long summer list of college options now so that you can think about it over the next few months. Remember that many HSIs are two-year colleges, so look over the options carefully.

5. What About Single-Sex Colleges and Universities?

Let’s start by remembering that 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 Ivy League institutions served only male students when they were founded in the 1600s and 1700s. Only my alma mater, Cornell University, the youngest of the Ivies, was founded as a co-educational university, which is, frankly, one reason I went there. 

As time went on, many of the 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 Marie’s alma mater, Barnard, remains.

The tradition of single-sex colleges is particularly strong in the Northeast, perhaps because that is where so many of our country’s oldest higher education institutions are located. But there are well-known women’s colleges located in other regions of the U.S. as well--like Mills College and Scripps College in California, Stephens College in Missouri, Hollins University and Mary Baldwin College in Virginia, Saint Mary’s College (the sister school of the University of Notre Dame) in Indiana, and Agnes Scott College and Spelman College in Georgia. Spelman has the distinction of also being an excellent HBCU. Interestingly and for whatever reason (probably rooted in financial issues), some of these women’s colleges now allow men to enroll in their graduate programs or in their special programs for returning adult students, thus maintaining the traditional women’s college atmosphere for their undergraduate residential students. Today, there are just over 40 women’s colleges in the U.S.

If you have a daughter interested in a women’s college, check out the Women’s College Coalition website and the available downloadable guide Why a Women’s College? Or, you can just have her listen to Marie talk for the next few minutes.

Okay, what about the men? Interestingly, only a handful of men’s colleges remain. There 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--and that is quite a range. Hampden-Sydney College was founded in 1775 in Virginia and has a fascinating history (Patrick Henry and James Madison were among its first Trustees). And there is Wabash College, which is located in Indiana and is my father-on-law’s alma mater. Wabash is 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. If I had a teenage boy at home who needed to focus on his studies so that he could become all that he could be, I would strongly consider Wabash.

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.

So, if your teenager is interested in living and studying in a supportive environment typically with high expectations or if you would like this sort of social and intellectual underpinning for your teenager’s collegiate education, I am going to suggest that you put a single-sex institution on your teenager’s long summer list of college options now so that you can think about it over the next few months.

And let me make one point here: Even though I don’t prefer single-sex institutions now, I had two on my own list of colleges that I applied to. It was only after I had been accepted to them that I figured out they weren’t for me. But I was glad that I had the options and could consider them calmly over some months. And Marie, even though you chose to attend Barnard, you also applied to co-educational colleges. So, having both types of institutions on your teenager’s long summer list of college options might be just the thing to do.

So, have your teenager take the Assignment #10 worksheet and take one last look at whether to add another college to his or her long summer list of college options. And, since Monday is Labor Day, we are going to take a week off while you all enjoy your last three-day weekend of the summer season. Fortunately, this next week will give you and your teenager some time to let that long summer list of college options sink in--right before we start helping you narrow it down and begin the serious application process. We will see you back with us on September 15!

Download the Assignment #10 Worksheet

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

Ask your questions or share your feedback by... Leaving a comment on the show notes for this episode at http://usacollegechat.org/episode90 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 Connect with us through... Subscribing to our podcast on Google Play Music, iTunes, Stitcher, or TuneIn Liking us on Facebook or following us on Twitter Reviewing parent materials we have available at www.policystudies.org Inquiring about our consulting services if you need individualized help Reading Regina's blog, Parent Chat with Regina

59. Episode 89: Assignment #9--Looking at College Schedules
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Assignment #9 is going to give your teenager and you a chance to see some of the most innovative ideas some colleges have, in my opinion. And it’s such a simple topic: that is, how is the academic year scheduled into terms--semesters, trimester, quarters, or whatever. But, first, let’s review what you have already done (and that’s a lot with eight assignments completed, we hope):

You have expanded your teenager’s long summer list of college options. You have checked out four key admission standards for the colleges on that list--namely, average high school GPA, high school class rank, SAT or ACT scores of admitted and/or enrolled freshmen, and both required and recommended courses to be completed in high school. You have looked at each college’s undergraduate enrollment, broken down by part-time vs. full-time study, gender, race/ethnicity, and place of residence. You have checked out the student-to-faculty ratio and class sizes for each college on the list. You have looked at the type of community each college is located in and what it has to offer off campus. You have seen what kind of core curriculum requirements--if any--are in place at each college. And you have checked out the types of campus housing available at each college and what some of its security measures are.

That list is getting so long that it’s hard to review it each week. Good for you, listeners, if you are keeping up with all of the assignments. 

1. Your Assignment #9

Download the Assignment #9 Worksheet

So, for Assignment #9, your teenager and you are going to examine the way each college divides up its academic year into terms. This information is readily available on the college’s website. For many colleges, this question will produce a rather traditional response something like this: a fall semester and a spring semester, each running about 15 weeks, give or take a week. Yes, there will also be a summer term or two, and there might even be a super-short winter term between the two semesters. But there are other ways to skin that cat. 

2. Why Does Scheduling Matter?

Various schedules can be differently appealing to various students. Some students prefer working on several subjects and projects at the same time because that keeps them from getting bored and the ones they like a lot help make up for others that they have to do, for example, to meet distribution requirements. Other students prefer concentrating on one subject or project because that allows them to pay close attention to that one thing and do the very best job they can with it.

Some students like to study something over many weeks because that allows them time for calm reflection and for breaks every once in a while. Other students like to study something over a shorter time period because that keeps them better engaged and focused and allows less time for forgetting.

Some students can do very well when asked to concentrate on subjects or projects in short bursts, but have trouble sustaining interest and attention over longer time frames. Other students are just the opposite.

Colleges can take all of these factors into account in putting together a schedule that does not have to conform to the traditional semester schedule.

3. Examples of Innovative Scheduling

Here are some innovative scheduling options we mentioned when we did our virtual nationwide tour of colleges (Episodes 27 through 54).   Maybe your teenager would be intrigued by schedules like these:

Carleton College (in Northfield, Minnesota) operates on a trimester schedule of three 10-week terms, with students taking just three courses at a time, rather than the typical four or five. This schedule allows for the in-depth thinking Carleton prides itself on having students do in their courses. At Bennington College (in Bennington, Vermont), some courses run three weeks, some seven weeks, and some the full 14 weeks each term, with credits assigned accordingly. So, that is something for everyone and allows for lots of changes during the semester as courses come and go. Sterling College (in Craftsbury Common, Vermont) is a federally recognized Work College—one of seven in the U.S.—which means that all residential students earn money toward their tuition by working in a job that supports the operation of the College or nearby community. Interestingly, Sterling operates three full semesters per year—fall, spring, and summer—and students may attend all three (and finish college 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. Perhaps the most interesting thing about Colorado College (in Colorado Springs) is its unique Block Plan, where students take all of their courses on a one-at-a-time schedule, studying in each course for three and a half weeks, typically from 9:00 a.m. to noon each weekday—followed by a four-day break to relax and enjoy the natural beauty of Colorado’s mountains and forests and canyons. Each block is the equivalent of one college course; students take four blocks per semester, or eight blocks per year, or 32 blocks during their time at the College. Personally, I find this schedule totally persuasive and wildly appealing.  4. Examples of Cooperative Education Schedules

Let’s take a look at two colleges that do something even more dramatic in their scheduling, which is to make room for significant cooperative work experiences:

A hallmark of Drexel University (in Philadelphia) is its cooperative education program, described this way on Drexel’s website:

Drexel Co-op is based on paid employment in practical, major-related positions consistent with the interests and abilities of participating students. The benefits are obvious—during their time at Drexel, students experience up to three different co-ops.…

Through the co-op program: 

Students choose from more than 1,600 employers in 33 states and 48 international locations, or conduct an independent search.

The average paid six-month co-op salary is more than $16,000.

Co-op students are entrusted with projects vital to the day-to-day functioning of the workplace. (quoted from the website)

Drexel operates on 10-week quarters (rather than two longer semesters), which helps when it comes time to schedule co-op programs.

Northeastern University (in Boston) describes its co-op program this way on its website:

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. (quoted from the website)

About 90 percent of students at Northeastern do at least one co-op program (with one of the 3,000 co-op employers worldwide); many students do two. In fact, many students actually stay for a fifth year in order to complete a third co-op program.

So, have your teenager take the Assignment #9 worksheet about college scheduling and complete one for each college on his or her long summer list of college options. 

Download the Assignment #9 Worksheet

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

Ask your questions or share your feedback by... Leaving a comment on the show notes for this episode at http://usacollegechat.org/episode89 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 Connect with us through... Subscribing to our podcast on Google Play Music, iTunes, Stitcher, or TuneIn Liking us on Facebook or following us on Twitter Reviewing parent materials we have available at www.policystudies.org Inquiring about our consulting services if you need individualized help Reading Regina's blog, Parent Chat with Regina

60. 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:

You have expanded your teenager’s long summer list of college options. You have checked out four key admission standards for the colleges on that list--namely, average high school GPA, high school class rank, SAT or ACT scores of admitted and/or enrolled freshmen, and both required and recommended courses to be completed in high school. You have looked at each college’s undergraduate enrollment, broken down by part-time vs. full-time study, gender, race/ethnicity, and place of residence. You have checked out the student-to-faculty ratio and class sizes for each college on the list. You have looked at the type of community each college is located in and what it has to offer off campus. And you have seen what kind of core curriculum requirements--if any--are in place at each college.

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

1. 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 on the show notes for this episode at http://usacollegechat.org/episode88 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 Connect with us through... Subscribing to our podcast on Google Play Music, iTunes, Stitcher, or TuneIn Liking us on Facebook or following us on Twitter Reviewing parent materials we have available at www.policystudies.org Inquiring about our consulting services if you need individualized help Reading Regina's blog, Parent Chat with Regina

61. USACC087: Assignment #7--Looking at Core Curricula
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Well, this is Assignment #7, which means that your teenager and perhaps you have done a lot of work so far. Take a look back and look at all you have accomplished this summer:

You have expanded your teenager’s long summer list of college options. You have checked out four key admission standards for the colleges on that list--namely, average high school GPA, high school class rank, SAT or ACT scores of admitted and/or enrolled freshmen, and both required and recommended courses to be completed in high school. You have looked at each college’s undergraduate enrollment, broken down by part-time vs. full-time study, gender, race/ethnicity, and place of residence. You have checked out the student-to-faculty ratio and class sizes for each college on the list. And you have looked at the type of community each college is located in and what it has to offer off campus.

This episode’s assignment takes us back inside the college and right into the middle of the college curriculum, especially as it plays out for freshmen and sophomores.

1. Your Assignment #7 

Download the Assignment #7 Worksheet

For Assignment #7, your teenager and you are going to look at whether the college has a “core curriculum”--or what might be called “general education” credits or requirements or what we called “distribution requirements” in the old days. 

2. What Is a Core Curriculum?

For the purpose of this episode, we will refer to this likely centuries-old curriculum concept as a “core curriculum.” What it means is that all students in a college, or in a specific college or school within a larger university, have to take typically one or two courses in each of a broad range of academic disciplines, such as mathematics, or in each of a broad range of groups of disciplines, such as natural sciences, languages and literature, social sciences, and so on. Each college seems to have its own unique way of defining these groups of disciplines, with some more understandable than others.

Some colleges have quite strict requirements, meaning usually that there are many different requirements that have to be met and that might amount to a double handful of courses before it’s all over. Some colleges have a core curriculum, but have far fewer requirements for the courses or number of courses that have to be taken. And some colleges have no core curriculum at all. Would the presence of core curriculum requirements make a difference to your teenager in choosing a college?

3. What Is the Purpose of a Core Curriculum?

So, what is the purpose of a core curriculum? The concept comes from the liberal arts tradition, where students are supposed to be well rounded in their studies and in their understanding of the intellectual content and issues of many fields. People in favor of this tradition would say that students do not know exactly where their careers and lives will take them and that the ability to solve problems and think critically across a range of content could make the difference in how well they succeed in their careers (likely in their multiple careers) and indeed in their lives. It is no surprise that liberal arts colleges and that the arts and sciences college or school within large universities would support and require a core curriculum for its students.

However, some non-liberal-arts colleges and schools within large universities also have instituted a core curriculum. My favorite example of this (and we have talked and written about it before) is the Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science at Columbia University, which has this impressive and perhaps surprising statement on its website:

Engineering has been called the newest liberal art. At Columbia Engineering, students not only study science and mathematics and gain technical skills but also study literature, philosophy, art history, music theory, and major civilizations through the Core Curriculum in the humanities.

Students are encouraged to consider the wide range of possibilities open to them, both academically and professionally. To this end, the first and second years of the four-year undergraduate program comprise approximately 66 semester points of credit that expose students to a cross-fertilization of ideas from different disciplines within the University. The sequence of study proceeds from an engagement with engineering and scientific fundamentals, along with humanities and social sciences, toward an increasingly focused training in the third and fourth years designed to give students mastery of certain principles and arts central to engineering and applied science. (quoted from the website)

So, at Fu, students are required to take some liberal arts courses early on in their engineering program in order to provide some humanities balance to the heavy load of mathematics and sciences that all engineering students take. The brilliance of this position comes in the notion that students who find that engineering is not what they had expected--for whatever reason--are well equipped to transfer to another field of study and move many of these core credits with them. For some engineering students, these liberal arts courses could be a drag; for other engineering students, they could turn out to save the day. 

One important advantage of a core curriculum is that it causes students to look into whole academic fields that are rarely taught in high schools—like anthropology or sociology or art history or linguistics. Without requirements in a variety of academic fields or groups of fields, many students would never take a look at some of them and would never know what they had missed.

As it turns out, some colleges go one step further and require certain courses of all students—the actual courses, not just the academic fields. So, instead of saying to students that they must take two courses in the languages and literature, for example, the college will specify that all students must take Writing 101 and Public Speaking 101. In those cases, the college has decided to require those specific courses that its professors feel are most fundamental to developing the foundation for more advanced college study and to developing a broad understanding of and ability to engage in the modern world. Because all students have taken these same required core courses, professors can use that shared knowledge to help students make connections across subject fields every year from then on.

4. Examples of a Core Curriculum

When we did our nationwide virtual tour of colleges back in Episodes 27 through 54, we often talked about the core curriculum requirements of a college. We did that for two reasons. First, we were super-impressed with some of them, even though we could tell that they would be quite demanding of students. Second, we knew that some students would love the idea of a core curriculum, while other students would hate the idea of a core curriculum. There are two groups of students who are likely to hate the idea the most. One group is students who do not feel confident in a range of academic fields (this often comes in the form of “I’d like to go to a college where I don’t have to take advanced science or math”). The other group is students who are anxious to get on with what exactly they already know they want to study and don’t want to waste time with other things (this often comes in the form of “I want to be a computer scientist, and I don’t see a need for these humanities requirements”).

Nonetheless, here are a handful of examples of some of the core curricula we talked about during our nationwide virtual tour of colleges:

Let’s start with a tiny Catholic college with a student enrollment of fewer than 200 undergraduates: Wyoming Catholic College, located in Lander and the only four-year private college in the state of Wyoming. According to its website, this faith-based college offers a classical liberal arts curriculum, which includes a study of the Great Books of Western culture and a serious set of distribution requirements, which includes 24 credits of theology, 13 credits of leadership, 10 credits of philosophy, and 16 credits of Latin. Interestingly, students graduate with a B.A. in Liberal Arts—not in a specific subject field.

Grinnell College in the “rolling farmland” of central Iowa offers a unique Individually Advised Curriculum, described this way on the website: 

Every first-year student at Grinnell enrolls in the First-Year Tutorial, a small group of students [limited to 12] working with a faculty member to study a subject of interest to both students and tutor. The tutor also is the academic adviser for each student in the group, so that teaching and learning are closely linked with the planning of programs of study. In teaching, the tutor discovers the aptitudes and interests of the students, who in turn receive academic advice, not from an infrequently consulted stranger, but from a teacher who sees them several times each week. In planning a program of study, the student and the tutor balance the cultivation of existing interests with the discovery of new ones. An entering student should regard the first year as a time for gaining breadth in the arts and sciences, confidence in exploring a variety of disciplines, and a more mature understanding of the place of each of these in liberal education as a whole. (quoted from the website)

Grinnell does expect students to become proficient in written English by taking at least one appropriate course, to develop knowledge of mathematics and/or a foreign language, and to take courses in these three areas: humanities, science, and social studies. So, there are some distribution requirements, but extreme freedom in what exactly to take. When a student finally chooses a major, his or her academic advisor will be assigned from that subject field.

Let’s turn to St. John’s College, which has two campuses, with students often transferring for a year between the two: St. John’s Annapolis in Maryland and St. John’s Santa Fe in New Mexico. But the real unique idea at St. John’s is its liberal arts curriculum, based on collaborative inquiry in small class discussions, with the professor acting as a tutor and mentor—all based on the original texts of great authors in almost every subject field. The Seminar, as St. John’s calls it, is the foundation for the curriculum, and it is described this way on the website:

Students participate in far-reaching and free but disciplined conversations about major works of literature, philosophy, political theory, theology, history, economics, and psychology from Homer and the Greek historians, playwrights, and philosophers in the freshman year, through the Renaissance in the sophomore year and the Enlightenment in the junior year, to the contemporary world in the senior year. (quoted from the website) 

Students at St. John’s are also required to take four years of mathematics, three years of laboratory science, two years of music (including singing in the Freshman Chorus together), and four years of a second language (two years of Ancient Greek and two years of modern French). Clearly, this is one serious set of core curriculum requirements.

Let’s move on to Middlebury College in Vermont, perhaps best known for its excellent language programs for a hundred years. In the classic liberal arts tradition, Middlebury students must fulfill two sets of distribution requirements: (1) one course in seven of eight academic fields (including foreign language); and (2) one course in each of four cultures and civilizations areas:

a. Courses that focus on some aspect of the cultures and civilizations of Africa, Asia, Latin America, the Middle East, and the Caribbean

Courses that focus on the process of comparison between and among cultures and civilizations, or courses that focus on the identity and experience of separable groups within cultures and civilizations Courses that focus on some aspect of European cultures and civilizations Courses that focus on some aspect of the cultures and civilizations of northern America (United States and Canada) (quoted from the website)

Georgetown University, the oldest Catholic and Jesuit university in the U.S., offers its undergraduates the opportunity to study in the schools of foreign service, business, or nursing and health studies or in Georgetown College, the liberal arts college that first established the institution. Before pursuing one of more than 40 majors, students in the College must complete core requirements in a wide range of humanities and science fields, including two courses in theology, starting with either The Problem of God or Introduction to Biblical Literature as freshmen.

Colgate University, a small liberal arts university in upstate New York, has undergraduates studying 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.

Undergraduate students at Morehouse College, the all-men HBCU in Atlanta, are required to complete a core curriculum, which includes four courses in the humanities—one in religion, one in philosophy, one in art history, and one in music history. That is about as liberal arts as it gets.

But it’s not just small private colleges that have a core curriculum. The huge flagship University of Texas at Austin puts all of its freshmen into the School of Undergraduate Studies, where they explore their interests through a liberal-arts-and-sciences core curriculum of 42 credits. In their freshman year, students take UT’s Signature Course, which is actually an array of 150 course offerings for students to choose from, all of which provide college-level experiences in thinking and writing and speaking and research. Students are encouraged to go outside their comfort zone when choosing from the Signature Courses, which are often interdisciplinary, like Astronomy and the Humanities. UT students leave the School of Undergraduate Studies by the end of their second year to pursue their major course of study.

At Penn State, typical undergraduates take almost one-third of their courses in the College of Liberal Arts. All students are required to take 45 credits of General Education courses, including three credits of writing-intensive coursework, a course in U.S. cultures, a course in international cultures, and coursework that covers social and behavioral sciences, humanities, natural sciences, quantitative skills, the arts, and health and physical activity.

It is hard to do this episode without a nod to our own two undergraduate alma maters, so let’s look at them. Here are the “distribution requirements” and the “breadth requirements” in Cornell University’s College of Arts and Sciences curriculum (and these are in addition to two first-year writing seminars, a serious intermediate-level foreign language requirement--which many high-ranked colleges have, two physical education courses plus a swimming test): 

2 courses in physical and biological sciences 1 course in mathematics and quantitative reasoning 1 course that is in either sciences or mathematics Five arts and sciences courses from at least 4 of the following social sciences, humanities, and arts categories: Cultural analysis Historical analysis Knowledge, cognition, and moral reasoning Literature and the arts Social and behavioral analysis Geographic breadth requirement: 1 course that focuses on an area or a people other than those of the United States, Canada, or Europe Historic breadth requirement: 1 course that focuses on an historic period before the 20th century

While I would applaud these requirements for my own children and for the children of all of my friends, I can tell you that the requirements were not quite so demanding in the early 1970s. And, for that, I believe I am grateful. 

So, let’s take a look at Barnard College’s brand new curriculum, called Foundations, which I know you didn’t have, Marie, because it applies for the first time to students entering this fall. Barnard has what it calls “distributional requirements” and “modes of thinking” (in addition to a first-year writing course, first-year seminar, and one physical education course):

2 courses in the languages 2 courses in the arts/humanities 2 courses in the social sciences 2 courses in the sciences (1 with a lab) 1 course in thinking locally--New York City 1 course in thinking through global inquiry 1 course in thinking about social difference 1 course in thinking with historical perspective 1 course in thinking quantitatively and empirically 1 course in thinking technologically and digitally

I would have to say that those requirements are also quite demanding, especially for a student who, right or wrong, is not interested in broadening her horizons. 

So, if all this is just too much, take a look at just a few colleges that do not have a standard core curriculum of courses:

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

At Hamilton College in upstate New York, 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. 

Pitzer College, one of the five undergraduate colleges in The Claremont Colleges consortium in California, offers its 1,000 students about 40 fields of study in an “interdisciplinary liberal arts education emphasizing social justice, intercultural understanding and environmental sensitivity” (quoted from the website). Students are expected to engage in community service and are given the freedom to create their own academic programs; there are no traditional core course requirements.

So, have your teenager take the Assignment #7 worksheet and complete one for each college on his or her long summer list of college options, and I hope it is still long. First, note whether there is a core curriculum, or general education course, or distribution requirements, or breadth requirements, or whatever that college might call the list of academic fields or groups of fields or even specific courses all students must take. Remember, if it is a university, make sure that your teenager checks the college or school of interest to him or her; requirements may well not be the same for all of the colleges and schools in the university. Second, write down exactly what the requirements are. When the time comes to decide which colleges stay on the list, the number and rigor and breadth of the requirements might be something you all will want to consider.

Download the Assignment #7 Worksheet

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

Ask your questions or share your feedback by… Leaving a comment on the show notes for this episode at http://usacollegechat.org/episode87 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 Connect with us through… Subscribing to our podcast on Google Play Music, iTunes, Stitcher, or TuneIn Liking us on Facebook or following us on Twitter Reviewing parent materials we have available at www.policystudies.org Inquiring about our consulting services if you need individualized help Reading Regina's blog, Parent Chat with Regina

62. Episode 86: Assignment #6--Looking at College Location, Not Distance
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Your teenager and you should be learning a lot about colleges if you have been keeping up with your assignments. Yes, we know it’s summer, but you will thank us in September. Let’s review what you have done so far (we hope):

You have expanded your teenager’s long summer list of college options. You have checked out four key admission standards for the colleges on that list--namely, average high school GPA, high school class rank, SAT or ACT scores of admitted and/or enrolled freshmen, and both required and recommended courses to be completed in high school. You have looked at each college’s undergraduate enrollment, broken down by part-time vs. full-time study, gender, race/ethnicity, and place of residence. And you have checked out the student-to-faculty ratio and class sizes for each college on the list.

This episode’s assignment will be, I think, one of the more enjoyable ones--not so many facts and figures. 

1. Your Assignment #6

Download the Assignment #6 Worksheet

For Assignment #6, your teenager and you are going to look at the location of each college--that is, the type of community the college is located in and the cool things about that community. So, in this assignment, we are not talking about the college itself at all, but rather the surroundings your teenager will be living in for four years.

2. Urban, Suburban, or Rural

As we said in our book (How To Find the Right College: A Workbook for Parents of High School Students, on sale just for the summer from Amazon), the type of community a college is located in is a lot more important than you might think to some students and some families. Furthermore, some students can’t wait to get away from the type of community they grew up in, while others can’t imagine being comfortable in a new physical and cultural environment. For example, both Marie and my oldest child, Jimmy, wanted to stay in the kind of urban environment that they both grew up in. In fact, going to school in a city was Jimmy’s number one college requirement when he was looking.

Are cities great? They are. Cities offer a general excitement and many cultural opportunities (museums and theaters--and the ballet, of course); they have ethnic, racial, and cultural diversity among their residents, which is a plus for many families. Most cities also have good to great public transportation, which is a help to college students who don’t have their own cars. Finally, most cities have more than one college, which gives students an opportunity to meet all kinds of students and make all kinds of friends.

But are the suburbs great? They are, in a different way. Suburbs are relatively safe, for one thing, making them a good choice for lots of students. They are also likely cheaper in terms of everyday living expenses, including movies, and drug store items, and the occasional off-campus meal. They also might offer convenient commuter transportation options for getting into a nearby exciting city--the best of both worlds.

But are rural communities great? They are, again in a different way. Like the suburbs, they are likely to be safe and low-cost, when it comes to everyday spending. But, most important for the students that are attracted to rural colleges, many rural communities offer great expanses of unspoiled environment, which lends itself to loads of outdoor sports, like hiking and biking.

So, whether Broadway or the Pacific Ocean or Pikes Peak is your teenager’s thing, you can find a college there.

The first task on the Assignment #6 worksheet, is simply to classify the location of each college on your teenager’s long summer list of college options as urban, suburban, or rural. I am also thinking that adding a category called “small town” makes sense, given the locations, especially, of many small private colleges in the small towns of the U.S.; these small towns are not really rural themselves (though they might be set in a rural area), are not really suburban themselves (because they are not outside a big city), and are not really urban themselves, for sure.

3. Cool Stuff About the Community

The second part of Assignment #6 is something we like to call “cool stuff about the community.” Now, we can’t tell you exactly what to look for here, but you will know it when you see it. We will tell you that some college websites have whole sections devoted to talking about the community that surrounds the college. I have noticed that this is especially true for colleges in lovely rural settings; those colleges like to talk about the nature trails and bike trails and waterfalls and lakes and forests and so on that the college’s students have ready access to.

Some colleges boast about their place on one commercial list or another, like “the best college towns in America” or “the most affordable college towns” or whatever, published by various magazines and college-oriented publications. I know that we quoted these from time to time in our nationwide virtual college tour (Episodes 27 through 53). Some colleges will even reference the spots they earned on these lists in the “At a Glance” pages or lists of awards that the college has won. I recall that one of my favorites among these lists was from Travel + Leisure magazine, which is actually called “America’s Best College Towns.” Deb Hopewell opened her article in Travel + Leisure with the following paragraphs:

‘Depending on how you look at it, Santa Cruz is either the best or the worst place to spend your college years,’ says Keijiro Ikebe, a Silicon Valley visual designer who graduated from the University of California Santa Cruz in 2002. 

‘With the town surrounded by shimmering water and lush forests under sunny blue skies, the last thing you want to do is spend a beautiful day taking notes in a lecture hall.’ 

After all, ivy-covered walls, stately libraries, and cafeteria meals don’t make a great college town. It’s more about the distractions--and Santa Cruz is overflowing with them. There are miles of beaches with some of the best surfing in the country; mountain-bike trails at Wilder Ranch State Park; artisanal coffee bars almost as numerous as craft-beer taps; and your nightly choice of any genre of live music. 

This kind of lively atmosphere earned Santa Cruz a place among the top 20 college towns in America, as chosen by Travel + Leisure readers in our latest America’s Favorite Places survey. They evaluated hundreds of towns for live music, pizza, dive bars, hamburgers, and other qualities that add up to a great college town.” (quoted from the article) 

And, by the way, historic sites also figure into the equation. If you are curious, here are the top 20 college towns, according to Travel + Leisure readers:

Syracuse, NY Lafayette, LA Charlottesville, VA Fort Collins, CO Duluth, MN Saratoga Springs, NY Asheville, NC Flagstaff, AZ San Luis Obispo, CA Boulder, CO Santa Cruz, CA St. Augustine, FL Burlington, VT Annapolis, MD Ann Arbor, MI Williamsburg, VA Bozeman, MT Boone, NC Athens, GA Oxford, MS

In case you want a different view, you can look at Forbes magazine, which has its own method of calculating its list of best and worst college towns by using 23 academic, social, and financial measures. At the top of the Forbes list, as reported last December by Kathryn Dill, is Ann Arbor (MI), followed by College Station (TX), Iowa City (IA), Provo (UT), and Gainesville (FL). At the bottom of the list is Paterson (NJ), preceded by Yonkers (NY), Germantown (MD), Bridgeport (CT), and Arlington (VA). 

There are plenty more lists you can look at, including the most bike-friendly campuses (either the University of Texas at Austin or Stanford University, depending which list you use--yes, there are two such lists!). But you can also just read up on the community surrounding the colleges on your teenager’s long summer list of college options. If those colleges are in communities worth being proud of, the college will undoubtedly write about it on the website. 

So, the second task on the Assignment #6 worksheet is to jot down all the cool stuff you can find about the community, community attractions, and the natural beauty (if any) surrounding each college on your teenager’s long summer list of college options. While your teenager shouldn’t choose a college to attend based on its surrounding community, it is clear that some communities are far more attractive to some students than others--and it never hurts to have the information available when choosing.

Download the Assignment #6 Worksheet

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

Ask your questions or share your feedback by… Leaving a comment on the show notes for this episode at http://usacollegechat.org/episode86 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 Connect with us through… Subscribing to our podcast on Google Play Music, iTunes, Stitcher, or TuneIn Liking us on Facebook or following us on Twitter Reviewing parent materials we have available at www.policystudies.org Inquiring about our consulting services if you need individualized help Reading Regina's blog, Parent Chat with Regina

63. USACC085: Assignment #5--Looking at College Size
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Four assignments down and several yet to go in this summer college search process that we hope you are undertaking with us. We hope that your teenager and you are learning a lot about colleges in general and a lot about the colleges that are on your teenager’s long summer list of college options. We hope that your teenager’s list is still long--because there is plenty of time to shorten it after September comes. 

To recap, in your first four assignments, you have expanded your teenager’s long summer list of college options--for now, anyway. You have checked out four key admission standards for the colleges on that list--namely, average high school GPA, high school class rank, SAT or ACT scores of admitted and/or enrolled freshmen, and both required and recommended courses to be completed in high school. You have also looked at each college’s undergraduate enrollment, broken down by part-time vs. full-time study, gender, race/ethnicity, and place of residence. That’s a lot of information, but we believe we can add a couple more pieces of data that might affect what your teenager and you think about a college.

As we have said before, get your teenager to do this research assignment. But if you want to help, feel free to do so.

1. Your Assignment #5

Download the Assignment #5 Worksheet

In this episode, we will look further into the size of each of the colleges on your teenager’s long summer list of college options--that is, size in terms of enrollment, not in terms of physical campus area. We want to examine two specific aspects of size--things that you might not think about right off the bat.

You will recall in Assignment #1, you had to fill in the undergraduate enrollment of each college on your teenager’s long summer list of college options. Then, in Assignment #4, you looked at that enrollment by the characteristics of the students themselves. Today, we want to look at how the enrollment is distributed into the actual classrooms and seminar rooms and labs that students sit in on campus and how it might affect your teenager’s relationships with his or her professors.

2. Student-to-Faculty Ratio

Again, let me recommend that your teenager look to College Navigator, the impressive online search tool provided by the National Center for Education Statistics, for finding out this first statistic we are going to talk about. Let me say that sometimes you can also find this statistic on a college’s own website, often on the “Quick Facts” or “At a Glance” or similar page. During our nationwide virtual college tour (Episodes 27 through 53) here at USACollegeChat, I spent loads of time looking for this statistic and not finding it on individual college websites--only to discover now that it was right there at College Navigator all along. This is a statistic that we mentioned very often during our virtual tour, and we know that it is one that colleges themselves are often very proud of. It is student-to-faculty ratio--in other words, how many students are there for each faculty member.

So, what is the big deal about student-to-faculty ratio? It is this: Most people believe that a student’s education is improved if he or she has more access to faculty members in smaller classes (more about that in a minute), during less crowded office hours, and in more chances to meet up outside of class and office hours to discuss things or take part in activities of some sort together or develop a professional relationship or mentorship of some kind, and so on. Most people believe that faculty members can and will give each student enough time and attention if they are not spread too thin over too many students. Hence, a student-to-faculty ratio should be as low as possible, ideally in single digits or low double digits, like 10-to-1.

Let me be the first to say that I actually don’t know if this is true, though it certainly seems to be logical. I also don’t know how valuable a low student-to-faculty ratio is for students who are not particularly looking for this kind of personal relationship with faculty members. I went to Cornell University, a large Ivy League university, where I did not have a close relationship with virtually any of my professors. The only one I probably ever spoke to outside of a formal class setting was the great historian Michael Kammen, who autographed a copy of his Pulitzer Prize winner for me and who realized, when he thought about my name, that he read my sports articles with my byline in The Cornell Daily Sun. I admired many of my professors, including Professor Kammen, but I really didn’t feel the need for more attention from any of them.

So, I am the perfect candidate for a college with an unimpressive student-to-faculty ratio. However, if your teenager would benefit from a closer, perhaps more nurturing connection to his or her professors, then checking out the student-to-faculty ratio makes sense for your family. Or, if you would feel better knowing that there is a greater chance that a faculty member knows and is looking out for your teenager, then looking for that low student-to-faculty ratio is important.

Generally speaking, student-to-faculty ratios are lower at small private colleges than at large public universities, which is not surprising. Small private colleges advertise the college culture that comes with a low ratio as one of the reasons to choose a small private college instead of a large public university. For example, you have Amherst College at 8-to-1, Vassar College at 8-to-1, Reed College at 9-to1, Hamilton College at 9-to1, Colorado College at 10-to-1, and so on. And, if I read you a list of good public flagship universities, those ratios might be more like 16- or 17- or 18-to-1. 

When you see a very selective private university with a student-to-faculty ratio that makes it look more like a small private college, you have to be impressed--like Rice University’s 6-to-1 or Duke University’s 7-to-1. Though perhaps the most interesting is California Institute of Technology (commonly known as Caltech), with a student-to-faculty ratio of 3:1--so low a ratio that it is virtually unbelievable. A low ratio might make that private university a more attractive choice for your teenager and you--and probably a more expensive choice. But that’s your call.

I do want to add that I suspect that these ratios are not calculated exactly the same way from college to college, regardless of what anyone claims. I also imagine that the ratio is a lot harder to calculate for a large university with, say, 12 schools and colleges in it, which likely have different student-to-faculty ratios; in that case, one student-to-faculty ratio doesn’t even make much sense. In fairness to College Navigator, colleges do get directions for completing the standard data collection forms. And, if you were wondering, student-to-faculty ratio is supposed to exclude both students and faculty in what we would think of as professional programs that are solely for graduate students--like medicine, law, social work, or public health. So, NCES is trying to make the ratios sensible and comparable from college to college.

The bottom line is this: I wouldn’t put a lot of weight on the difference between a student-to-faculty ratio of 9-to-1 and 10-to-1 or even 11-to-1. Rather consider that there might, however, be a difference in faculty accessibility between a college with a student-to-faculty ratio of 9-to-1 and one with a ratio of 18-to-1.

Have your teenager do the necessary college searches and write down the student-to-faculty ratio on the Assignment #5 worksheet. Get it from College Navigator; or, if you are curious, take a look at a college’s own website to see what the college is advertising.

3. Class Size

Watch our Facebook Live video on class size for more perspectives.

Class size is exactly what you think it is--how many students are in the classroom when your teenager is trying to learn calculus. Some colleges are very proud of their small class sizes, and some others that think they don’t have that much to be proud of in this regard do the best they can to make a good case for their own class sizes. This information is not on College Navigator (at least not that I could find). But you can find this information on many, many college websites, though you might have to look around a bit.

For example, here is what you will read under “Quick Facts” on St. John’s College’s website: “Seminars have between 17 [and] 19 students, led by two faculty members. Tutorials (mathematics, language, and music) and laboratory sessions have 12 to 16 students, led by one faculty member.” That is believable, given that St. John’s (with campuses in Annapolis and Santa Fe) is a super-small and super-intriguing college (with about 450 to 475 students on each campus). Those classes are a lot smaller than many, many classes would be at a large university.

On the website of the College of William & Mary (a prestigious public college of about 6,300 undergraduates and 2,200 graduate students in Virginia), you can find this statement under “W&M At a Glance”: “84 percent of courses have fewer than 40 students.” Clearly, William & Mary thinks that is worth advertising, though it is quite different from what St. John’s advertises.

Or, on other websites, you can look for the “common data set” and check out a display of class section sizes under “I. Instructional Faculty and Class Size” (by the way, you will also find student-to-faculty ratios here). You can see how many class sections have 2-9 students, 10-19 students, 20-29 students, 30-39 students, 40-49 students, 50-59 students, and all the way to 100+ students. There are also subsections displayed--that is, the supplementary tutorials and labs, for example.

But again, class size is a matter of personal choice. Frankly, I preferred large classes--huge lectures by a brilliant professor. But many students prefer small seminars where students get to express their own opinions and talk back and forth with each other and with the professor. There is also a good chance that your teenager doesn’t know which of these he or she would prefer--since most high school students have never experienced huge lectures by brilliant professors. Nonetheless, the topic of class size is something you should think about and talk about with your teenager before you start narrowing down your list of college options.

For now, have your teenager do the necessary college searches and jot down whatever claims each college is making about class size--if any. Or take a look at the common data set on each college’s website and get the figures there.

Download the Assignment #5 Worksheet

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

Ask your questions or share your feedback by… Leaving a comment on the show notes for this episode at http://usacollegechat.org/episode84 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 Connect with us through… Subscribing to our podcast on Google Play Music, iTunes, Stitcher, or TuneIn Liking us on Facebook or following us on Twitter Reviewing parent materials we have available at www.policystudies.org Inquiring about our consulting services if you need individualized help Reading Regina's blog, Parent Chat with Regina

64. Episode 84: Assignment #4—Looking at College Enrollment Breakdowns
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We hope that all of you parents and/or high schoolers have finished the first three assignments we gave you for starting or continuing your college search process. We have a handful more ahead. There’s nothing like having homework all summer. However, if these assignments can make your autumn a little better, you will be glad you spent the time now. When everyone else is running around looking up information about colleges, you can be relaxing. Sort of.

In your first three assignments, as you will recall, you have expanded your teenager’s long summer list of college options—on your way to narrowing it later on in the fall months. You have also checked out four key admission standards for each of the colleges on that hopefully long list—namely, average high school GPA, high school class rank, SAT or ACT scores of admitted and/or enrolled freshmen, and both required and recommended courses to be completed in high school.

Now, our picture of your assignments is like this: You should have an Assignment #1 for each college on your teenager’s long summer list of college options—that is, the two-page worksheet you should have downloaded that calls for an overall description of the college, including lots of key facts and figures you should have filled in. Then, stapled to that, you should have an Assignment #2 worksheet and an Assignment #3 worksheet; these two describe the four college admission standards for the college named in Assignment #1. So, in other words, we think you are building little stapled-together packets of information for each college on your list. These will be invaluable to you when it is time to sift through them in September—and, please, not before September—when you start to narrow down the list to the colleges your teenager will actually apply to.

As we have said previously, the more of this research your teenager does, the better it is for you. Oh, we mean, the better it is for your teenager, because your teenager is likely to remember better what he or she has researched personally and because your teenager is learning how to research a topic and get information when it is not always presented in an easy-to-find manner. I can tell you that, as an experienced professional, it would take me quite a while to fill out college profiles like Assignments #1, #2, and #3—and sometimes, as you will see, the information will simply not be available anywhere.

1. Your Assignment #4

Download the Assignment #4 Worksheet

In this episode, we will examine various breakdowns of the enrollment of each of the colleges of your teenager’s long summer list of college options. You will recall that, on the Assignment #1 worksheets, your teenager had to fill in the undergraduate enrollment of each college on the list as well as the graduate enrollment (if any). Assignment #4 is going to ask you to take a closer look at the students who make up that enrollment—just in case what you find out would have any effect on your teenager’s interest in a college or in your interest in sending him or her to that college.

By the way, whether a college (or, more often, a university) has graduate students at all is an important aspect of choosing a college for some students. Some students and parents like the idea of advanced scholarship being available on campus and of professional schools (like law and medicine and journalism) being right there either just to add prestige or to serve as the next stop for a successful undergrad. On the other hand, some students and parents think that graduate students distract the college from paying adequate attention to the needs and education of the undergraduates and that too many graduate students (rather than professors) end up teaching the freshman-level courses in too many disciplines.

Whichever way you think about it, knowing whether there are graduate students at a college and how many of them there are is one reasonable thing to consider in choosing a college and in narrowing down your teenager’s summer list of college options when the fall months come.

So, here we go with four enrollment breakdowns of the undergraduate student enrollment that you might want to examine. Get ready to fill in those Assignment #4 worksheets!

Download the Assignment #4 Worksheet

2. Part-Time vs. Full-Time Study

When your teenager was looking up enrollment at the colleges on his or her long summer list of college options, you all might have noticed that there were often both full-time enrollment and part-time enrollment figures. (By the way, sometimes an enrollment figure given on a “Quick Facts” kind of page on a college’s website is not explained as being full time, part time, or both. So, be careful.) Is the percentage of full-time undergraduate students something that you and your teenager want to consider when choosing colleges to apply to?

Some colleges—especially prestigious private four-year colleges—have relatively few part-time students compared to, say, large public universities with many schools and many diverse programs. For example, Kenyon College (a great private liberal arts college in Gambier, Ohio) has just 1 percent part-time undergraduate enrollment. On the other hand, Kent State University (a good public university, though not Ohio’s flagship university, at the main campus in Kent, Ohio) has 19 percent part-time undergraduate enrollment. Or, to take a different state, Hunter College (one of the best campuses of the public City University of New York) has 28 percent part-time undergraduate enrollment, while New York University (an excellent private university about 60 blocks away in Manhattan) has just 5 percent part-time undergraduate enrollment. You get the picture.

Obviously, students could choose to study part time at a college for many reasons, including financial constraints, family responsibilities, and work obligations. Part-time students are not necessarily worse students, though I imagine that they might have that reputation. But part-time students do likely live fuller, more complicated, more non-campus-oriented lives than traditional freshmen enrolling right out of high school, especially if those freshmen are living on campus. As a result, colleges with high part-time enrollment might have a bit of a different feel on campus compared to colleges where almost all students are there full time (and, furthermore, where many of them are living in campus residential housing).

College Navigator, the exceptional online search tool provided by the National Center for Education Statistics, which we have mentioned many times, has an excellent part-time vs. full-time enrollment display under the “Enrollment” heading for each college you search. Trust me when I tell you that it will be quicker for your teenager to get this information from College Navigator than to find it on a college’s own website—though the college’s website might have just slightly more updated information in some cases.

Have your teenager do the necessary college searches and write down the part-time vs. full-time enrollment figures for undergraduate enrollment on the Assignment #4 worksheet.

3. Gender

Unless your teenager has been talking about going to a single-sex college—remember that women’s colleges (there are just over 40) vastly outnumber men’s colleges (there are only a handful)—this statistic might not be on your radar screen. But it might be something worth thinking about, depending on your teenager’s comfort level with members of the opposite sex in an education setting.

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 is working hard at it, we would say.  

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 hard at it, we would say. Interestingly, 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. Yet, 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, though unfortunate, reasons.

I want to note here that I have not seen data reported and presented across colleges on enrollment of students with gender identities other than male and female. However, if your teenager is looking for a college that is particularly accepting of other gender identities, that is a topic that can and should be pursued by calling the admissions office and asking about relevant data and policies.  

Have your teenager do the necessary college searches and write down the gender enrollment figures for undergraduate enrollment on the Assignment #4 worksheet. (By the way, we will be talking about single-sex colleges later on this summer.)

4. Race/Ethnicity

Unless your teenager has been talking about going to an HBCU (historically black college or university) or about seeking out Hispanic-serving institutions, you might not have been thinking hard about the racial and/or ethnic background of students at a college of interest to your family. But, again, it might be something worth considering, depending on your teenager’s comfort level with members of other racial and ethnic groups in an education setting. For example, if your teenager comes from a racially and ethnically mixed high school, he or she would likely feel comfortable in a similar sort of college population. However, if your teenager comes from a high school that is not racially and ethnically diverse, it might be even more important to find a college that is—in order to prepare him or her better for the world of work and for life.

We have talked about the racial and ethnic diversity of colleges at USACollegeChat, and we noted in Episode 58 that some colleges—including large public flagship universities—are not nearly as diverse as we would like to see or as we might have guessed they were.

For example, let’s look first at the percentage of “black, or African American, non-Hispanic/Latino” students who are “degree-seeking undergraduates,” according to the figures submitted to the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (known as IPEDS) at the National Center for Education Statistics. Here are the percentages for some well-known flagship universities that we have discussed in earlier USACollegeChat episodes (these data are for the 2014-2015 academic year):

University of Colorado Boulder—2% The University of Iowa—3% University of Washington in Seattle—3% University of Massachusetts Amherst—4% University of Michigan—4% The Ohio State University—6% The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill—8% Louisiana State University—11% The University of Mississippi—14%

These are large and small flagships, highly selective and less selective flagships, and geographically diverse flagships. I have to say that I was astonished at the tiny fraction of black undergraduates at some of them. While we often looked at the racial and ethnic breakdown of students during our nationwide virtual tour of colleges, these small numbers seem to have a bigger impact when they are all lined up together.

Here is are the percentages for what IPEDS calls “Hispanic/Latino” “degree-seeking undergraduates”:

The Ohio State University—3% The University of Mississippi—3% University of Michigan—4% University of Massachusetts Amherst—5% Louisiana State University—6% The University of Iowa—6% The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill—7% University of Washington in Seattle—7% University of Colorado Boulder—10%

These percentages aren’t any higher. In fact, when combining the two figures, you get a range of just 8 to 17 percent black and Hispanic/Latino undergraduates at these flagship universities.

Interestingly, I know of quite a few very selective private colleges and universities where the percentages of black and Hispanic/Latino students exceed these public university numbers—like Columbia University with 7 percent black and 13 percent Hispanic/Latino undergraduates or Pomona College with 7 percent black and 14 percent Hispanic/Latino undergraduates or Rice University with 7 percent black and 15 percent Hispanic/Latino undergraduates—all exceeding the upper range of the flagship universities we examined. That is worth thinking about.

Have your teenager do the necessary college searches and write down on the Assignment #4 worksheet the racial/ethnic background enrollment figures for undergraduate enrollment for whatever groups you are interested in considering—black, Hispanic/Latino, Asian, American Indian or Alaska native, and more.

5. Home Residence

Well, here is a topic that is familiar to USACollegeChat listeners. We have spent lots of time in our episodes talking about how important we think it is for students to get outside their geographic comfort zone when considering—and even attending—college. That was the motivation for our nationwide virtual tour of colleges in every state (Episodes 27 through 53), and it was the motivation for Assignment #1, where we strongly encouraged you to put one college from every state on your teenager’s long summer list of college options. We firmly believe that the best school for your teenager might not be located in your home state.

It is also interesting to see just how many undergraduate students at a college are from the state where that college is located. Generally, I think it is better to go to a college where a student will meet other students from all over—that is, all over the U.S., but also from all over the world. Living and working with students of all national backgrounds in a relatively safe and protected environment, like college, is one way for students to gain the interpersonal skills they will need for a lifetime.

So, geographic diversity of college students is a big plus for me. It also turns out to be a big plus for colleges, as we have said many times at USACollegeChat. Almost all colleges like the idea of having students from all over the country and, indeed, from all over the world. Many, many colleges proudly say on their websites how many states and how many foreign countries their students come from. While public universities have a duty to serve the students of their own state—and while some take that more seriously than others—even they like to draw students from other states.

All that is to say that your teenager might get into a college far away from home that he or she could not get into close to home—because, for that faraway college, your teenager brings desirable geographic diversity. We will talk more about this is an upcoming episode.

Let’s look at a few public university examples. The University of Alaska at its flagship campus in Fairbanks enrolls 90 percent in-state students (for reasons we might guess), 9 percent out-of-state students, and 1 percent foreign students. The University of Washington at its flagship campus in Seattle enrolls 66 percent in-state students, 18 percent out-of-state students, and 15 percent foreign students. But the University of New Hampshire at its flagship campus in Durham actually enrolls just 41 percent in-state students, 58 percent out-of-state students, and 1 percent foreign students. So, just from these three examples, you can see how different the make-up of public flagship universities can be when it comes to where they are getting their students.

And, perhaps not surprisingly, private colleges are all over the map, too, when it comes to the make-up of their student bodies—thought it is clear that highly selective private colleges enjoy boasting about the many states and many countries their students hail from.

Have your teenager do the necessary college searches and write down on the Assignment #4 worksheet the student residence enrollment figures for undergraduate enrollment. By the way, a college’s own website will often break down enrollment even further than College Navigator to tell you things like the five states most represented in undergraduate enrollment or in the new freshman class or the percent of students who come from neighboring states or who come from the region the college is located in. All of that might be food for thought as you consider colleges on your teenager’s long summer list of college options.

Download the Assignment #4 Worksheet

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

Ask your questions or share your feedback by… Leaving a comment on the show notes for this episode at http://usacollegechat.org/episode84 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 Connect with us through… Subscribing to our podcast on Google Play Music, iTunes, Stitcher, or TuneIn Liking us on Facebook or following us on Twitter Reviewing parent materials we have available at www.policystudies.org Inquiring about our consulting services if you need individualized help Reading Regina's blog, Parent Chat with Regina

65. Episode 83: Assignment #3—Looking at One More College Admission Standard
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So, parents of juniors (and parents of freshmen and sophomores who are thinking ahead) you have had your first two assignments in the college search process. We hope we are keeping you busy, but—more importantly—interested in what can be a fascinating and actually enjoyable process.

So far, we have had you expanding your teenager’s long summer list of college options so that you are truly ready to narrow it in the fall. And we have had you check out key admission standards for the colleges on that list—namely, average high school GPA, high school class rank, and SAT or ACT scores of admitted and/or enrolled freshmen.

1. Your Assignment #3

Download the Assignment #3 Worksheet

In this episode, we will examine a fourth admission standard that you and your teenager should be looking at carefully. I think it is the one that is less often considered and more often taken for granted—and that is the courses that applicants are expected to have taken in high school, usually listed in terms of credits in each subject area, but also sometimes including specifically named courses, especially in math and science.

You should have your teenager go to the website for each college on your teenager’s long summer list of college options and find the high school courses that an applicant should have completed or the number of credits of each subject that an applicant should have earned. This information can virtually always be found by starting with the Admissions home page. You will find that the high school course or credit expectations of colleges do, in fact, differ, usually according to how selective the college is. But there are always a few surprises (like colleges that require students to have earned career and technical education credits in high school, for example).

Have your teenager write down the required and the recommended courses or credits. Then you can compare them from college to college, and you can see how well they match up with what your teenager has taken so far and will be taking as he or she finishes up high school.

As we have said in earlier episodes of USACollegeChat, the courses that kids take in high school matter, including the courses that kids take in their senior year. Colleges will tell you that slacking off in the senior year is never a good move. So, ideally, your teenager’s program next year would still include the next real step in core subjects, like math and science, rather than a bunch of random electives. In other words, a fourth year of math and a fourth year of science would be the best ticket, for most kids—and might be a mandatory ticket for entrance to some college programs, like engineering, for example. If your teenager doesn’t have a rigorous senior year planned, changes can still likely be made when school starts next fall. It is worth thinking about—hard.

2. Just a Word About Foreign Languages

And let me say one word (or maybe two) about one of my favorite, and often overlooked and underappreciated, subjects, and that is foreign languages—sometimes called “world languages” or “languages other than English” these days.

As I said in my ParentChat with Regina blog some months ago, you might want to read up on the value of foreign language study in two thought-provoking articles in Education Week, written by Global Learning blog curator Heather Singmaster, assistant director of education at Asia Society—“Bilingualism: Valuable for the Brain and Society” and “Foreign Language Policies: Is Everyone Else Really Speaking English?”:

She talks about economic, socioeconomic, cultural, cognitive, and national defense arguments in favor of increased attention to language study in U.S. schools. She talks about reasons that are important to our country and reasons that are important to individual students. She talks about language learning requirements in other countries and how we stack up—or actually don’t. 

Some of it is common sense, and some isn’t. For example, here is something I didn’t know, and it should be especially interesting to you if you still have any elementary school children at home. Ms. Singmaster writes about Jared Diamond’s book, The World Until Yesterday: What Can We Learn from Traditional Societies:

An entire chapter is devoted to the importance of bilingualism and multilingualism, and the development and spread of languages. In traditional societies [like those in New Guinea and the Amazon Basin], multilingualism was (and is, for the very few that remain) widespread. While many in the West fear that our children will be confused if they are exposed to more than one language at a time, kids in traditional societies begin learning additional languages from birth—and not just one or two. Diamond can’t think of a single person he has met in New Guinea that speaks fewer than five languages (and yes, they are all “mutually unintelligible languages,” not dialects). (quoted from the article) 

We have been told that the early years are the best for learning another language; it is one argument that has been used in favor of elementary school foreign language programs for a long time. But Diamond’s work in New Guinea takes that argument to a whole new level.

And, by the way, there is also research available that shows that bilingual children can communicate better with others and have better social skills than children who speak just one language. Some benefits even accrue to children who are exposed to multiple languages, even if they are not bilingual themselves. (Thank you, Katherine Kinzler, in her article in The New York Times entitled “The Superior Social Skills of Bilinguals,” March 11, 2016). Of course, we cannot claim that taking even four years of a foreign language in high school would make a student bilingual, but it would certainly “expose” them to another language. 

Last fall, I visited a school district in a Far Western state. The state awards scholarships for college study to its high school graduating seniors. Among the requirements are two years of foreign language study and three years of math and three years of science in high school or no foreign language study and four years of math and four years of science. How does that make sense? In what world are two years of foreign language study equivalent to a fourth year of math and science, regardless of which you believe to be more important? If those were college distribution requirements, no college in the country would agree to that swap.

While I am not arguing against the value of a fourth year of math and science (indeed, I just argued in favor of that), I am arguing that studying a foreign language (or more than one) provides students with a completely different kind of intellectual and cultural experience—one that students shouldn’t miss out on in high school. It goes without saying that being able to communicate in a second language—even at the most basic level, which is all a student is likely to get out of two or even three or four years of high school study—could be a help to students as they enter the working world, especially if they live in or move to a location that has a large population of workers who speak other languages, as many urban and rural areas do.

Furthermore, there are still many colleges, including most of our best colleges, that are expecting to see foreign language study on your teenager’s hi