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USACollegeChat Podcast


NYCollegeChat is a weekly podcast for parents and high school students about the world of college options hosted by Regina Paul and Marie Segares. NYCollegeChat 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 Connect with us! Follow us on Facebook or Twitter as NYCollegeChat. Contact us with questions at 516-900-NYCC or


New York, NY


NYCollegeChat is a weekly podcast for parents and high school students about the world of college options hosted by Regina Paul and Marie Segares. NYCollegeChat 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 Connect with us! Follow us on Facebook or Twitter as NYCollegeChat. Contact us with questions at 516-900-NYCC or




Episode 177: Why the College’s Cost Matters

Well, we are just about done. We are on Step 14, the final step in researching colleges on your son or daughter’s LLCO (that is, one last time, the Long List of College Options). And, one last reminder: Feel free to rush online and get our workbook How To Explore Your College Options: A Workbook for High School Students (available at Amazon). It’s a steal at $9.95! Step 14 is, to many people, the most important step and even the only step. I find it ironic that we would end our podcast--for now--on this note and that we would give our last piece of advice about college cost. Why? Because cost is the thing I care about least in helping your kid find a great college. Perhaps it is because I do believe that where there is a will, there is a way. Perhaps it is because borrowing money for college is not something that I find offensive--since I can’t think of a better reason to borrow some. Perhaps it is because I know that college can be a once-in-a-lifetime chance--one chance to do it exactly right. Of course, you can come back to college as an adult and be very successful; but why wait, if you could have made it work right at 18? Perhaps it is because I want every kid to get the best possible start in life and because I believe that a great college choice is that best possible start. Well, enough about me. We hope that college cost is not the most important step for YOU when deciding where your son or daughter should apply, especially because it is very hard to predict what financial aid you might be able to get from a college, from your state government, from the federal government, and from outside organizations. It is also true that financial aid at a good private college on your kid’s LLCO could make that college as affordable as any good public university on the LLCO. But that is something you won’t know before you apply. We understand that paying attention to cost might be a sensible thing to do; it’s just not the only thing. 1. Tuition and Fees Finding and understanding tuition and fees on a college website isn’t always as easy as you might expect. College Navigator offers a straightforward table of college costs, but it will be for the preceding year--and not for next year, which is what will matter to you. And by the way, some college websites display tuition and fees separately, while some provide one combined figure. Try to use a combined tuition-plus-fees figure for each college so that the figures will be comparable from college to college. Furthermore, some websites display information by term (e.g., by semester, by quarter), while others display information for the full academic year. Make sure you know which you are reading! For example, remember to multiply by 2, if the information you see is for just one semester. (I have actually made that mistake and wondered why the numbers seemed too good to be true!) Question 50 asks students to jot down the tuition and fees for the current academic year or, if possible, for the next academic year, and to record the year, too (so you know exactly what you are dealing with). 2. Tuition Incentives Remember that some colleges have attractive and even compelling tuition incentives, which they will proudly announce on their websites. For example, some colleges freeze tuition for four years at the price a student starts with as a freshman. Some colleges allow students to take an extra semester for free if the college is at fault for not offering, on an accessible enough schedule, all of the courses needed to graduate on time in four years. Some colleges provide generous discounts to students from contiguous states or to students in the region (like the West or the Midwest or New England). It makes sense to see whether each college on your kid’s LLCO has any tuition discount that could help you at any point in your kid’s undergraduate years. Question 51 quite simply asks students to jot down any tuition incentives. 3. Residential Housing Costs And finally, there is...


Episode 176: Why the College’s Admissions Practices Matter--Obviously

Well, this is where it gets serious. Researching Step 13 will give you and your son or daughter an idea about how likely it is that he or she will be accepted by a college. 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 might turn out to be what stands between your kid and one or more colleges on his or her LLCO (that famous Long List of College Options). Your kid will need to use both each college’s website and College Navigator to research this crucial topic and to answer Questions 40 through 49 on admission practices. Just to remind you, these steps are based on our workbook How To Explore Your College Options: A Workbook for High School Students (for further information, get one at Amazon). While we could talk for days about admissions practices and while many consultants and their websites do only that, we will keep it brief for now. Let’s start with one complication in researching this topic, as we explained to students in the workbook: 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 on College Navigator 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. Question 40 asks students to check off whether the data they will be using are for admitted students or for enrolled freshmen. In a few cases, it might be both. Remember to try to use comparable data when comparing colleges. For a more detailed discussion about where to find each piece of data we are going to discuss now, check out the workbook. 1. Acceptance Rate Let’s start with a college’s acceptance rate. Here is what we said in the workbook: One way to judge the selectivity of a college is by looking at the number of students it accepts compared to the number of students who applied. Let’s call this “acceptance rate.” You should understand that, generally speaking, colleges like to boast that they have a low acceptance rate; that makes them feel more exclusive. There are many ways for a college to manipulate its acceptance rate, such as by encouraging applicants who are really not qualified and who will be rejected when they apply--a practice that is just as mean-spirited as it sounds. There have even been some news stories, opinion columns, and general criticism lately of colleges that seem overly impressed with their own super-low acceptance rates--say, below 10 percent. Without looking too closely at small differences in acceptance rates (like the difference in selectivity of a college with a 15 percent acceptance rate and a college with an 18 percent acceptance rate), you should know that the higher...


Episode 175: Why the College’s Activities and Sports Matter

Well, listeners, the end is in sight. Today is Step 12 out of the 14 steps we want your son or daughter to take this summer to make his or her search for colleges more effective. Just to repeat, these steps are based on our workbook How To Explore Your College Options: A Workbook for High School Students (there is one with your name on it waiting at Amazon). Step 12 asks your son or daughter to investigate what the colleges on his or her LLCO (that’s his or her Long List of College Options) have to offer outside of the classroom--extracurricular activities, community service activities, fraternities and sororities, and intercollegiate and intramural sports. These activities that help enrich students’ lives outside of the classroom can make the difference between a great college experience and a just-okay college experience for lots of kids. Tell your son or daughter to go to each college’s website to answer Questions 35 through 39 on activities and sports. 1. Extracurricular Activities Let’s start with extracurricular activities--something that a lot of you will soon know a lot about since you will be facing questions about high school extracurricular activities on college applications. This is what we said to students in the workbook: Many of you participated in extracurricular activities in high school. Some of you did that because you really enjoyed the activities, and some of you did that because you thought it would help you get into a good college. Whatever your reasons were in high school, extracurricular activities in college will increase your network of friends, give you something worthwhile to do in your free time, give your mind a break from academics, and possibly lead to a career or to a hobby that could last a lifetime. College is truly more than academics. When we did our virtual college tour [feel free to review Episode 27 through Episode 53 of USACollegeChat], it was astounding to us just how many activities are available on most college campuses, and it seemed clear that a student could start a club for almost any purpose that interested him or her if such a club did not already exist. It was not uncommon to find that large universities had literally hundreds and hundreds of student activities and clubs--truly, something for everyone. There is everything you had in high school, plus so much more--theater groups, music groups, newspapers, yearbooks, literary magazines, student government organizations, agricultural organizations, engineering associations, honor societies, and so on... Don’t underestimate the importance of activities--either now in high school or later in college. Keep in mind that some college applications ask you to write an essay about your most important high school activity and that many college applications ask you whether you plan to continue with your various activities once you get to college. It’s a good idea to say “yes.” Question 35 on our College Profile Worksheet asks students to jot down how many extracurricular activities each college on their LLCO offers and to list some that they are interested in. 2. Community Service Activities Question 36 on our College Profile Worksheet asks students the same question about community service activities. In the workbook, we wrote this to students (and see the workbook for some great examples): Many of you participated in community service activities in high school. Some of you did that because you really enjoyed the activities, some of you did that because your high school required it, and some of you did that because you thought it would help you get into a good college. Whatever your reasons were in high school, community service activities in college will increase your network of friends, give you something worthwhile to do in your free time, give your mind a break from academics, and possibly lead to a career or to a way of life that could last a lifetime. Again, college is truly more than academics, and what is more...


Episode 174: Why the College’s Security Measures Matter

Today is Step 11 out of the 14 steps we want your son or daughter to take this summer to make his or her search for colleges more effective. As you know by now, these steps are based on our workbook How To Explore Your College Options: A Workbook for High School Students (get one at Amazon ASAP). Step 11 brings us to the safety of students on campus and the security measures that a college takes to keep its students safe. Parents: Getting information about security measures on campus is one way to help alleviate your concerns about letting your son or daughter go away to college and live on campus. Information can be found on each college’s website and from College Navigator for answering Questions 32, 33, and 34 on our College Profile Worksheet. You will also notice and definitely hear about security measures if you visit a college and take a campus tour. Before we go on, let’s say a word to those of you who plan to have your son or daughter commute to campus from home. Safety is an issue for your family, too. You will still need to pay attention to all of the security measures on campus, but you will also have to worry about the convenience and safety of the commute. As we said last week in our episode on campus housing, what about commuters’ 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 the car or the safety 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? Safety issues might be even more important for commuters than for residential students, and the college cannot be responsible for the safety of your kid’s commute once he or she leaves the campus. 1. Security Measures Question 32 asks students to check off the types of security measures offered on campus by each college on their LLCO (that, is, their Long List of College Options). Here’s what we said about security measures in the workbook for students: If you are going to live on campus and you have a chance to visit a campus housing facility, notice whether there is an adult uniformed security guard with a sign-in and sign-out book at the entrance of that residential facility. Ask whether the security guard is there 24 hours a day. We know that many college students find these security guards to be a bit annoying, and we know that this amount of supervision is one reason some students prefer to move into off-campus housing after the freshman year. But, we can also tell you that parents love seeing those security guards at the entrances to residential facilities, and we don’t blame them. 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. Some colleges, in fact, do not have anyone at all on duty to monitor the flow of people in and out of residential facilities; students just go in and out with their own keys or cards. Whether you are on a campus tour or reading about a college on a website, look for daytime and nighttime security measures like these: Shuttle buses or vans to take students from one part of campus to another, especially when the campus is big Blue-light call boxes on recognizable stand-alone towers with a blue light on top, which are placed along walkways, in parking lots, or in distant parts of the campus and which 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 provide more information for the police or security guards) Students who serve as walking escorts from building to building or from buildings to the parking lots after dark. Here are some more questions to research or to observe on a campus visit: 2. Crime Statistics Now,...


Episode 173: Why the College’s Housing Matters

Well, we are up to Step 10 out of the 14 steps of your kid’s summer homework. So far, so good. Keep checking our workbook How To Explore Your College Options: A Workbook for High School Students for further detail and more examples (it’s still available at Amazon). Step 10 calls for your son or daughter to investigate on-campus housing options, which could make some difference in where to apply and where to enroll if you are planning for him or her to live in college housing. Some students, of course, will be commuting to campus, so these questions might seem less important; however, plans change, so housing is still worth a look--both freshman housing and upperclassman housing. By the way, there are some colleges where the majority of students live in campus housing well past the freshman year, including colleges that actually have a multiple-year housing requirement. What are all those colleges--and their students--thinking? So, send your son or daughter to each college’s website to answer Questions 28 through 31 on this topic. 1. Freshman Housing Requirement Question 28 asks students to check off whether each college on their LLCO (that, is, their Long List of College Options) requires freshmen to live in on-campus housing. Why would there be a freshman housing requirement, you might ask? Here’s what we wrote to students just like your son or daughter: Let us start by saying that we think you should live on campus as a freshman if at all possible, given whatever financial constraints your family has. As a matter of fact, many colleges actually require it--for both good and not-so-good reasons. 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. Perhaps a not-so-good reason, though an understandable one from a college’s point of view, is that colleges need to fill those dorm rooms and bring in the revenue that comes from filling them. The importance of living on campus is similar to the importance of going away to college, in our opinion. Both provide you with a way to spread your wings in a relatively safe and protected environment before you are ready to be completely on your own. Living in campus housing requires you 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 comparative ease of living at home. So, even if you are going to a college in your hometown or within commuting distance of home, try to live on campus--especially if you can afford it, but even if you need to use scholarship funds or loans to cover it. Why? Because it is an integral part of the college experience--especially if you are attending a college close to home. 2. Types of College Housing If you have visited any colleges so far in your search, you probably already know that not all residential facilities are created equal when it comes to attractiveness, comfort, convenience, supervision, and security. But prospective students should also remember to think about what residential life will be like not only as freshmen, but also as upperclassmen with more and/or different housing options, including apartments nearby, but off campus, and perhaps fraternity and sorority houses. The residential facilities that a college provides are usually well described--even bragged about--on a college’s website, can be seen on virtual campus tours on the website, and can...


Episode 172: Why the College’s Schedule Matters

Today’s episode is about Step 9 of your kid’s summer homework. All 14 steps are being explained in our series of episodes this summer and have been explained, with more examples and details, in our workbook How To Explore Your College Options: A Workbook for High School Students. Workbooks are still available from Amazon if you want one for your son or daughter. Step 9 looks at the components that make up the college schedule. For many colleges, these questions will produce a rather traditional response, something like this: a fall semester and a spring semester, each running about 15 weeks. There will also be a summer term or two, and there might even be a super-short winter term between the regular terms. But there are also innovative scheduling options that your son or daughter has probably never heard of and might find attractive. Tell your kid to go to each college’s website to answer the three questions on this topic. 1. Term Length and Course Length First, let’s talk about the length of academic terms and, therefore, of college courses. They might be more varied than you think. This is what we wrote, in part, to students in the workbook: 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 intensively in short bursts, but have trouble sustaining interest and attention over longer time frames. Other students are just the opposite. Whatever your preference is, there is a college for you. You might not want to make college schedule the main reason for choosing a college, but you might find that it contributes to your thinking about how successful and comfortable you might be at a particular college. On the other hand, you might find a college schedule so intriguing that the schedule alone could push a college to the top of your list of options. Many colleges operate on a traditional fall and spring semester system, with each semester’s lasting from 15 to 18 weeks, depending how you count exam and holiday weeks. There are two semesters each year, and you attend both and take the summer off. . . . Some colleges operate on a trimester system (three terms a year) or a quarter system (four terms a year), and each college determines how long the terms run and how many you attend in a year. And then there are colleges that run shorter terms in which students take just three courses at a time instead of the traditional four or five and colleges that run courses of various lengths at the same time in the same semester. Parents: Chances are that college schedules are a lot more varied than you and your son or daughter thought. Questions 25 and 26 ask your kid to jot down how many weeks courses last (keeping in mind that courses might run different lengths of time at a college) and to check off whether each college on the LLCO (that is, your son or daughter’s Long List of College Options) uses semesters, trimesters, quarters, or something else. 2. Innovative Options What might that something else be? Well, for example, Colorado College has a unique Block Plan, where students take all of their courses on a one-at-a-time schedule, with each course about three and a half weeks long and taught typically from 9:00 a.m. to noon each weekday. That schedule is so intriguing to me that I would like to go back to college myself. Innovative scheduling options also come from universities that want to make room for significant cooperative (co-op) work experiences--meaning that students study full time in most terms, but then work full time in one or more terms in order to gain important job experience. (See the workbook for more details.) This is a great option for kids who are career oriented from the get-go and...


Episode 171: Why the College’s Academics Matter--Obviously

Today’s episode is about Step 8 of your kid’s summer homework. That’s 8 out of 14 steps, all of which are explained in our series of episodes this summer and also, with more examples and details, in our workbook How To Explore Your College Options: A Workbook for High School Students. Workbooks are still available from Amazon if you want one for your son or daughter. Step 8 is about the topic that most people think is most critical to choosing a college--that is, academics. Most people would say that it is what college is all about--or, at least, mainly about; or, at least, hopefully mainly about. Our College Profile Worksheet from the workbook has six questions in this section, which can be answered by reviewing each college’s website. 1. Schools and Colleges First, let’s talk about the divisions that make up universities, in case your son or daughter has any on his or her Long List of College Options (that’s LLCO, for short). And, by the way, we hope that there are at least two or three. Here is what we explained to students in the workbook: As you know by now, universities and large institutes (like Massachusetts Institute of Technology) are made up of schools and/or colleges that focus on different disciplines. Some of these institutions are composed of a small number of schools/colleges (say, four or five), but some are composed of quite a large number (as many as 15 or more). Some schools/colleges are only for graduate or professional students, who already have a bachelor’s degree; examples of these are law, medicine, dentistry, and veterinary medicine. Some schools/colleges within a university or institute are only for undergraduate students. And some schools/colleges within a university or institute serve both undergraduate and graduate students. You have to do some careful reading when researching which are which, but you will find all of them listed in the Academics section of a college’s website. By the time you answer this question for five or six institutions, you will see that lots of their colleges/schools have the same name, like Business, Management, Education, Health Care, Social Work, Journalism, Engineering, and Architecture. Some have quite similar names, like various versions of Arts and Sciences for the liberal arts and sciences school that virtually all large institutions have. But some have really novel and interesting names, too. You will need to figure out which school/college you are most interested in applying to because many institutions will not let you apply to more than one school/college within the institution. Think hard about that right now, while you are taking the time to read about all of them. Question 19 asks your kid to jot down the schools/colleges within each institution on his or her LLCO and, then, to check off the ones that serve undergraduate students and double check the one that he or she is most interested in. 2. Academic Departments and Majors Next, your son or daughter will need to go two steps further: first, to look at the academic departments at each institution and, then, to look at possible majors. This is what we said in the workbook: Universities obviously have more departments across all of its schools/colleges than smaller liberal arts colleges have. There is often an alphabetical listing of all of the departments in the Academics section of a college’s website. You can’t possibly write them all down and don’t need to. Just start focusing on the ones that interest you most. Even if you are not sure what you want to study in college, you will need to narrow the field in order to complete most college applications. We know that this will begin to seem like a lot of detail if you are not at all sure what you want to study. Unfortunately, many college applications will ask you to specify a major. Some applications will also ask you to specify a second choice and even a third choice for a major. We say “unfortunately” because we know that many high school...


Episode 170: Why the College’s Class Size Matters

Well, we are up to Step 7 of your kid’s summer homework, and we are officially halfway there. All 14 steps (7 down, 7 more to go) are explained in our episodes this summer and also at greater length with more examples and details in our workbook How To Explore Your College Options: A Workbook for High School Students. Remember to order a workbook from Amazon for your son or daughter if you want more explanation and the actual worksheets. Step 7 asks your son or daughter to consider class size as one indication of what his or her academic experience would be like at each college on the LLCO. In other words, we want students to think about how undergraduate enrollment is distributed into the actual classrooms and seminar rooms and labs that they will be sitting in on campus and how that might affect their relationships with their professors. The College Profile Worksheet has just two questions in this section. You will need to use both College Navigator and each college’s website to find the answers to Questions 17 and 18 on class size. 1. Student-to-Faculty Ratio First, let’s talk about student-to-faculty ratio, as we explained to students in the workbook: You should look to College Navigator to find the student-to-faculty ratio for each college--in other words, how many students are there for each faculty member. This is a statistic that we mentioned frequently during our virtual college tour [in Episodes 27 through 53, way back in the early days of USACollegeChat], and we know that it is one that many colleges themselves are very proud of. That’s why it is often included in advertising claims about a college. While you can usually find this statistic on a college’s own website--typically on the Quick Facts or At a Glance or similar page--you can also spend lots of time looking for this statistic and NOT finding it on the website. Trust us on that! So, it’s quicker to use College Navigator, which presents a college’s undergraduate student-to-faculty ratio on the last line of the opening section of each college’s profile. Question 17 asks your son or daughter to jot down the student-to-faculty ratio of each college on his or her LLCO. But why? Because . . . Most people believe that a student’s education is improved if he or she has more access to faculty members--in smaller classes, during less crowded office hours, and through a variety of activities, such as mentorships, special lectures, 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, or 10 students to each faculty member. We actually don’t have any evidence that this is true, though it certainly seems to be logical. We 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. Many students attend large universities, have relatively little one-to-one contact with their professors, and still get an excellent education. As a matter of fact, some students actually prefer that. Nonetheless, if you think that you would benefit from a closer, perhaps more nurturing connection to your professors, then checking out the student-to-faculty ratio makes sense. Or, if your parents would feel better knowing that there is a greater chance that a faculty member knows you and is looking out for you, then searching out 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. . . . When you see a very selective private university...


Episode 169: Why the College’s Enrollment Matters

Today we are going to talk about Step 6 of your kid’s summer homework, as explained in our episodes throughout the summer and also more elaborately in our workbook How To Explore Your College Options: A Workbook for High School Students. So, order a workbook from Amazon for your son or daughter if you want the longer version and the actual worksheets. We are up to Questions 8 through 16 on the College Profile Worksheet this week as your kid answers nine questions about student enrollment at each college on his or her Long List of College Options (or LLCO, for short). The questions are about how many students are enrolled and what their personal characteristics are. By the way, it occurs to me that your kid could be following along with us and doing the “questions of the week” for each college on the LLCO, but that means that he or she is going back to each college website or College Navigator profile every week as new questions are posed. That seems a bit inefficient. On the other hand, when your son or daughter gets accustomed to finding information on a college website or on College Navigator about a certain topic, it might turn out to be efficient to find that information in a similar place on each website or in each College Navigator profile--thus, making the whole process not really so inefficient as it seems. Of course, you could advise your kid to do some of each: Go along with us each week for a handful of colleges to make sure it is clear what to do and then, at the end of the summer, go back and finish up the other colleges by doing all of the questions for one college at a time with only one trip to the website and College Navigator profile. That’s your family’s call. With that said, although today’s Questions 8 through 16 on the College Profile Worksheet can be answered from a college’s website (especially by looking at the common data set), we think that it is actually easier to get most of the answers by using a college’s profile at College Navigator. You might think that enrollment is just a matter of a number or two, but you are going to see that there’s a lot more to think about here. 1. Number of Undergraduate Students Let’s start with the obvious: number of undergraduate students. This is what we explained to kids (though the workbook provides additional detail about exactly where to find the right numbers): Here is one very important thing to remember when you are jotting down undergraduate enrollment for each of the colleges on your LLCO: Be consistent about what statistic you use. For example, some colleges include part-time and full-time students in their enrollment count; others separate them. Sometimes, it is hard to know what students are included. Ideally, you should use numbers that mean the same thing from college to college so that you can compare the sizes of the undergraduate student body as accurately as possible. Our vote for where to find that undergraduate enrollment number is College Navigator. After you search for your college, you will see many categories of data that are available. Click on Enrollment. You will refer to this category a lot as you fill out this section of the College Profile Worksheet. Under Enrollment, you will notice that the figures are probably for the fall of the preceding school year. Those figures are fine to use, because most colleges do not have huge enrollment changes from year to year. Question 8 asks students to jot down the undergraduate enrollment of the college. That’s the easy part. Here is what we said about my personal pet peeve in judging the size of that undergraduate enrollment: Eventually, you will have to consider whether the size of the undergraduate student body matters to you. We think that this issue is given too much weight by many high school students and their parents. We often hear kids say things like this: “I think I would like to go to a small school. The University of (fill in the blank) seems too big to me.” Of course, a big...


Episode 168: Why the College’s Community Location Matters

Today we are going to talk about Step 5 of your kid’s summer homework. If you have forgotten, this summer homework is based on our workbook How To Explore Your College Options: A Workbook for High School Students. Get one from Amazon for your son or daughter before they are all gone! In the last episode, we asked your kid to do some research about the history and mission of each college on his or her Long List of College Options (or LLCO, for short) and to answer the first four questions on our College Profile Worksheet. Well, there are only 48 questions to go, so let’s knock a few off in this week’s episode. 1. College Location and Type of Community All three of today’s questions on the College Profile Worksheet can be answered easily by looking at a college’s website. The first one, Question 5, is really simple: It’s the location (that is, the city/town and state) where the college is located. I am just going to say that your son or daughter should have already known this, but maybe didn’t. We have actually worked with kids who were convinced they wanted to go to a certain college and yet had no idea where it was located. I mean, they knew might have known the state, but had no idea what the town was. That’s really not okay. And, that brings us directly to the next question, which we wrote about this way: The type of community a college is located in might be very important to you and your parents, but for very different reasons. 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. You need to know the community setting for each college on your LLCO so that you can decide whether the setting makes a difference to you. How will you think about that decision? . . . Are cities great? They are. Urban centers offer a general sense of excitement, along with many cultural opportunities (museums and theaters and concert halls and so on). They have ethnic, racial, and cultural diversity, which is a plus for many families. Many cities also have good public transportation, which is a plus for college students who don’t have their own cars. Finally, many cities have more than one college (and some have a lot 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 in the minds of lots of students (and lots of parents). They are also likely to be cheaper in terms of everyday living expenses, including movies, drug store items, groceries, and off-campus meals. They also might offer convenient commuter transportation options for getting into a nearby city, so that you can have the best of both worlds. But are rural communities great? They are, again in a different way. Similar to suburbs, they are likely to be safe and low cost, when it comes to everyday spending. But, maybe more important for the students who are attracted to rural colleges, many rural communities offer a scenic and unspoiled environment, which lends itself to loads of outdoor sports and recreation, like hiking and biking. But are small towns great? They are, too, in a still different way. Small towns are not really rural themselves, though they might be set in a rural area. They are not really suburban themselves, because they are not right outside a bigger city. And they are certainly not urban in terms of size, though they might have a substantial downtown, with cultural and social activities readily available. But, whatever they are, small towns are the locations of many of our nation’s colleges. Many of these small towns are “great college towns,” according to the students who go there and, interestingly enough, according to the people who live there. Question 6 asks students to check off the type of community the college is located in. 2. What About...


Episode 167: Why the College’s History and Mission Matter

Today we are going to talk about the Step 4 of your kid’s summer homework. Regular listeners know that this summer homework is based on our workbook How To Explore Your College Options: A Workbook for High School Students. It’s not too late to get one from Amazon for your son or daughter. In the last two episodes, you and your kid have been getting ready to start the real work. You have hopefully completed Step 1 by creating the all-important Long List of College Options (or LLCO, as we like to call it). And you have hopefully completed Step 2 by reviewing our College Profile Worksheet and Step 3 by browsing both a variety of college websites and College Navigator, the excellent online tool provided by the National Center for Education Statistics. So, here we go with Step 4: Research the College’s History and Mission. From now on, your son or daughter (and/or you) will need to answer every one of our questions about every college on the LLCO. So, get a copy of the College Profile Worksheet out of the workbook, or make your own. Just remember there are 52 questions in all! Yes, we know that sounds like a lot of questions. But is that too much to know about a place where your kid will be spending four years? 1. College History This is what we wrote to high school students about our very first category of questions about a college’s history and mission: We believe that lots of students are proud of the beginnings and traditions of the college they choose to attend. In fact, some students choose a college because of its history and its traditions. By the way, don’t forget that the reasons why a college is public or private are part of a college’s history and mission. This category might mean more to you than you expect. As you complete Step 4 by researching each college on your LLCO on its website, you will see that some colleges started out as private colleges and became public for lots of interesting reasons. Some colleges started out as single-sex colleges, serving only men or only women, and became coeducational colleges for lots of interesting reasons. Some colleges started out as faith-based colleges and became less so for lots of interesting reasons. And some colleges just have truly remarkable stories--including, for example, the many HBCUs (historically black colleges and universities) that have taken a longtime stand on behalf of the rights of African-American students to a college education. There is lots for you to learn in this category. Our loyal listeners all know that college histories are one of my favorite topics. I find them fascinating. When we were writing the workbook, Marie kept making me cut down the number of histories I wanted to present as examples of how rich and varied college histories are. I was allowed to include only 9. I could have written 99. At this moment, I would like to read you all 9, but I know Marie will think that is excessive. So I am settling for reading you just 4 (please, go read the others): University of IowaUniversity of DelawareUniversity of PennsylvaniaFisk University I know that one reason I chose the college I did for my undergraduate studies was because of its history as the only Ivy League school that was coeducational from its founding. That was important to me and to my father, who had graduated from an Ivy School that did not have a similar history. Sometimes history--even if it happened a couple of hundred years ago--can make a difference. Will it make a difference to your kid? Question 1 on the College Profile Worksheet asks your kid to jot down a brief history of the college, as told on the college’s website. 2. Claims About the College And here’s what Question 2 is about, as we wrote to high school students in the workbook: You might have noticed some “firsts” in the website’s explanation of the college’s history (e.g., the first public university in the South, the first college to award a bachelor’s degree to a woman, etc.), but there might be another...


Episode 166: Getting and Organizing College Information

Today we are going to talk about Steps 2 and 3 of your kid’s summer homework. If you haven’t gotten our workbook for your son or daughter, How To Explore Your College Options: A Workbook for High School Students, then you haven’t done your summer homework. So, get one from Amazon, or listen very carefully to this episode and the next 11 like it. In the last episode, you and your kid hopefully completed Step 1 of your summer homework by creating the all-important Long List of College Options (or LLCO, as we like to call it). And it should be long--perhaps 20 to 25 colleges, all of which your kid will start researching seriously very soon. You might think you already know a lot about some of the colleges on the list. In fact, you might have visited some of the colleges on the list. But I bet neither you nor your soon-to-be senior can answer all of the questions we have in mind. 1. Step 2: Reviewing the College Profile Worksheet So, here’s the work in Step 2. It is really quite easy. We simply want your kid to preview the research he or she will start conducting soon in order to be mentally set for the task ahead. We created what we are calling the College Profile Worksheet in order to help your kid gather the information you both need in order to move forward in the college search process. This is what we said in the workbook about our 11-page--yes, 11-page--College Profile Worksheet: 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 we know that it is going to sound like a lot of work to your son or daughter. But we insist that he or she should not be making a decision about attending a college--or even applying to a college--if you all know any less about it. We guarantee that the 52 questions on our College Profile Worksheet and the 52 answers your kid will discover while doing the research will give both of you a better picture of colleges in the U.S. than most educated adults have. How can that be a bad thing? 2. Step 3: Reviewing College Websites and Other Sources And now, here’s the work in Step 3: figuring out where your son or daughter is going to get...


Episode 165: Your Kid’s Long List of College Options

Today we are going to talk about the first step of your kid’s summer homework. As we said last week, we know that summer vacation is still a couple of weeks away for some of you, but I have to believe that no real work is still being done in most high schools, especially not for seniors. So, let’s get busy! If you haven’t gotten our workbook for your son or daughter, How To Explore Your College Options: A Workbook for High School Students, there is still time. 1. What You Are About To Do Wrong Your kid’s first summer homework assignment is what we call Step 1 (from our workbook): Expand Your College List. We opened the chapter by speaking very unpleasantly to your about-to-be 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 . . . . 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. Parents: We know that some of you probably feel right now that you have done enough searching and that it is time to narrow down the list. That’s possible, but not likely. So keep listening. If you can truly say that you and your son or daughter have done all the things we are about to suggest, then our hats are off to you. But, if not, then you still have some summer homework to do. 2. So, What Is Step 1? So, what is your most likely mistake? It’s this, as we explain to your kid in the workbook: 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. 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. We also know that you can sometimes get into a better college when it is far from home. Why? Because almost every...


Episode 164: The Most Important Step in College Admissions

Before we start today’s episode about the most important step in the college application and admissions process, we want to let you know that we are headed into our final season of USACollegeChat. Well, I wouldn’t rule out coming back on Netflix or something by popular demand from our listening audience, but we are at least going to need to go on hiatus for a while. Maybe we will be like Game of Thrones (which I have never seen) where there can be a year between seasons. I am headed out to Phoenix and leaving my beloved New York City for a work-related commitment for a year or so, and Marie and I will have to figure out when it makes sense to bring back USACollegeChat, given our other commitments. But don’t be sad. We have a blockbuster set of summer episodes coming up for you, starting with today’s episode. This episode is going to describe your upcoming summer homework. We know it is summer vacation for only some of you, with others of you (like our fellow New Yorkers) still having to wait almost a month. But those of you who live where school is already closed, you can get a head start. Now, this homework is really for your upcoming high school senior, but our guess is that you parents will get dragged into it quite a bit. And our further guess is that most of you will want to be dragged into it. As we were planning out what to talk with you about this summer, we thought first of all the thought-provoking articles we have been reading about this and that and the other in higher education. Then, we realized that those are intellectually interesting to those of us who spend our lives thinking about higher education, but that they are likely far less urgent to those of you who have a kid headed to college, you hope, in a year. And so, we switched our plans and decided to do a series of summer assignments to help you take what we believe is the most important step in the college application and admissions process. I am sure that people might argue about what that step is. There are many other podcasts and Facebook groups and private consultants that focus on many different parts of the process--like how to write a great essay or how to finance a college education or how to get into an Ivy League school. Some of them even charge a lot of money to do what they do, and we are sure that some of them do a good job. But our focus for you this summer is more important than any of theirs. Let us explain why. 1. The Most Important Step in College Admissions You might think this is obvious; but, if it is, there are a lot of families out there not doing the obvious. The most important step in the college application and admissions process is getting enough colleges on your list of options in the first place. That’s it. Just get enough colleges on your list so that you have enough options to consider. Most students do not do this--even students who have college-educated parents and even students who attend great high schools that send most of their students to college. A corollary to that, by the way, is to get enough of the right colleges on your list. But that can’t happen if the first step doesn’t happen. So, for now, we are back to just get enough colleges on your list so that you have enough options to consider. Let’s tell you how to do that. Several years ago, we wrote a book for parents: How To Find the Right College: A Workbook for Parents of High School Students. It was a discussion guide for you to use to talk with your kids about whatever deal breakers each of you had when thinking about colleges to put on the list. The book was a map of the college world, which is like a foreign land for many parents. We thought that it would be especially helpful for those parents who did not attend college themselves or who attended college in their home countries outside the U.S. But, it turned out to be helpful to all kinds of parents. The book is still useful and still available at Amazon, so take a look, if you think it would be...


Episode 163: What High Schools Do Colleges Visit?

Welcome back to our new series entitled Looking to Next Year. Today, we want to look at a well-known college recruitment practice and its ramifications. That practice is the visiting of high schools by college admissions staff. Maybe our discussion today won’t come as a surprise to you; but, whether it does or doesn’t, it’s a sad commentary on the U.S. in 2018. 1. A New Study Just a few episodes ago, we quoted from an article in Inside Higher Ed by Scott Jaschik, and today we find ourselves doing that again. This article is forebodingly titled “Where Colleges Recruit . . . and Where They Don’t." Here is the story: [F]or many colleges, reaching out to students in person at high school events is a key part of the recruitment process. And even for the [elite colleges], this is an important part of outreach and regularly results in applications from those who might not have otherwise applied. But where do the [colleges] go to recruit? A new study being presented at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association suggests that these visits favor those who attend high schools where family income is high. And these high schools are likely to be whiter than the population as a whole. Two of the researchers--Ozan Jaquette, an assistant professor of education at the University of California, Los Angeles, and Karina Salazar, a doctoral candidate at the Center for the Study of Higher Education at the University of Arizona--published a summary of their findings in The New York Times. (quoted from the article) So, let’s look at that opinion piece in The Times by Mr. Jaquette and Ms. Salazar. They wrote about their findings, based on data from college visits--not any other kinds of student recruitment--made in 2017 by 150 colleges. Here are some of those findings in their own words: The clearest finding from our study is that public high schools in more affluent neighborhoods receive more visits than those in less affluent areas. Only about a third of households across the country earn more than $100,000 annually, but nearly half of high schools receiving visits by private colleges and universities were in neighborhoods where average incomes were higher. Connecticut College visited neighborhoods with an average median household income of $121,578. Private colleges also disproportionately visited private high schools over public high schools. Andy Strickler, dean of admissions at Connecticut College, said the school targets high schools that have historically provided students, or other schools that have a similar profile. He said there was a good reason Connecticut College doesn’t always visit other areas: “There’s a trend for these students to stay closer to home for college.” (quoted from the opinion piece) I get that colleges understandably visit high schools that have sent students in the past or schools with demographic characteristics like those high schools. I get that colleges need to recruit as cost-effectively as possible. I get that kids in high schools in less affluent neighborhoods probably do “stay closer to home for college,” for better or worse. But I still am a bit disappointed by all of it. Nonetheless, let’s not single out Connecticut College. There is a chart in the opinion piece that shows that plenty of other colleges do exactly the same thing--that is, visit high schools in neighborhoods with higher median incomes than high schools they don’t visit. And, what’s worse, lots of those colleges are public universities. Let’s look back at what Mr. Jaquette and Ms. Salazar write about that: While public research universities visited rich and poor neighborhoods nearly equally when recruiting in their home states, they visited the same affluent high schools targeted by private colleges when recruiting elsewhere. Most public colleges also visited far more high schools out of state than in-state. The median income of areas where the University of Pittsburgh recruited out of state, for example,...


Episode 162: The High School Courses That Colleges Require

We are starting a new series today because we think that the college ship has sailed for almost all of our listening families with seniors. Of course, some of you are still looking at a few options; some of you have even put down deposits at more than one college, or so we hear; and, some of you might be frantically searching for a new choice that offers rolling admissions or very late deadlines in the next couple of months. As always, if any of you are in the still-undecided group, give me a call if you want some personalized advice. I am happy to help, and the advice is free, of course. We are going to assume that the rest of you out there have juniors (or even sophomores) and that you are relatively early in the college admissions process. It is amazing to me, as I look at posts in a number of online groups for parents of prospective college applicants, how many of you with younger kids are already well into the college search. So, this series, entitled Looking to Next Year, is going to offer a few reminders for parents of high school juniors as you start down a long--but hopefully exciting and not too painful--road. 1. Oh, No! Not the Right High School Courses! Part I Let me start by saying that I love to complain about how far too many--I would say, even most--high school students do not take enough foreign language courses. They don’t take enough courses either for their own good in life or for their optimal chances of getting into a great college. We discussed this as recently as Episode 155, which was scarcely the first time we have brought it up. But today’s episode expands way beyond my foreign language criticism about high school students’ own course decisions to a criticism that is almost unthinkable: Many states’ high school graduation requirements will not meet all of the admissions requirements of their own public state universities. Let me repeat this fantastical and sobering claim in the words of Catherine Gewertz in Education Week where she reported on a study released on April 2 by the Center for American Progress (CAP) and authored by Laura Jimenez and Scott Sargrad, both employed by CAP: The think tank found that in most states, in at least one subject area, students must exceed their state’s high school graduation requirements in order to cross the threshold of the public four-year institutions in their state. The CAP study describes two big problems. Most state diploma requirements: Frankly, it’s hard to believe. But the data don’t lie. Listen to the number of states whose high school graduation requirements do not meet their own public four-year university’s entrance requirements: If I were a taxpayer in any of those states, I would be marching on the state capital. If I were the governor in any of those states, some state education department employees would be losing their jobs, and some state board members would be having serious discussions with me. Interestingly and for whatever reason, physical education (including health) is the only subject field in which all states’ high school graduation requirements meet college entrance requirements and, in fact, 39 states’ high school graduation requirements exceed college entrance requirements. Comparatively speaking, only two states’ high school graduation requirements exceed college entrance requirements in foreign languages. Perhaps not surprisingly, English is the subject field where high school graduation requirements are most in line with college entrance requirements: 44 states have high school graduation requirements that meet English college entrance requirements and three states exceed them. In other words, almost all states require four years of high school English in order to graduate, and almost all state universities require four years of English to get in. So, let’s take a glance at a few states of particular interest, using the data in the CAP study: no 2. Oh, No! Not the Right High School Courses! Part II So, where does the...


Episode 161: College Wait Lists

As we said last week, most of you have made a decision about what college your kid is going to by now. You all have compared and contrasted the colleges that accepted your son or daughter and made the best decision you thought you could. However, there might be one or two of you still holding out some hope for coming off the wait list of your kid’s favorite college choice. I know that some of you have even put a deposit down on a sure thing while not entirely giving up hope on the long shot that is the wait list. This episode is not so much about giving you advice, but rather about making you feel not so bad. While we are not experts in the practice of wait listing, I can tell you anecdotally that I have seen kids this year and last year not get into colleges from the wait list when those kids were absolutely qualified to attend those colleges. I imagine we all have stories like that. 1. Are Wait Lists a Waste of Time? Let me read you some excerpts from a short piece that was heard recently on National Public Radio (NPR) on All Things Considered, as presented by Clare Lombardo and Elissa Nadworny. Here we go: [High school seniors have] opened their mail--or, more likely, an online portal--to finally hear decisions from colleges. But many didn’t get one. The number of students placed on college waiting lists has climbed in recent years, leaving students hoping for the best--even when they might not have any reason to hope at all. “Many students ... think they’re very close to getting in, and that there’s considerable hope for them to be admitted to the college,” says Cristiana Quinn, a private college admissions counselor in Rhode Island. That’s not the case. In the spring of 2017, Dartmouth College, a small Ivy League school in New Hampshire, offered 2,021 waitlist spots to applicants. Of the 1,345 who chose to stay on the waitlist, not a single person got in. The University of Michigan offered 11,127 potential freshmen a place on their waitlist that spring--4,124 students accepted spots on the list, and 470 eventually got in. The odds aren’t as slim elsewhere: At the University of Wisconsin–Eau Claire, 100 of the 450 students on the waitlist were accepted in 2017. And some schools, like North Carolina A&T State University and the University of Alabama, don’t use a waitlist at all. According to 2017 numbers from the National Association of College Admission Counseling, about 40 percent of colleges use waitlists. (quoted from the NPR piece) Well, those numbers are arresting. According to these statistics, top-tier colleges with long wait lists admit very few of those candidates--maybe 10 percent, at best. Less-selective colleges might offer better odds, but my guess is that kids are not holding out hope for those spots the same way they are holding out hope for spots at great colleges or near-great colleges. You don’t want to advise kids not to stay on the wait list if they really have their hearts set on someplace, but I think you also have to help kids understand just how uphill that climb is going to be. And lest we forget, there’s this: Colleges are not really ever doing anything to help the applicants; whatever they are doing with wait lists, they are doing for themselves. It’s like Early Decision and Early Action and various phases of both. While some of those plans help applicants, there is no doubt that colleges are getting a lot out of them, too. Otherwise, colleges wouldn’t be offering them. The NPR piece notes this: The schools that do make applicants wait for a final decision do so to keep their options open, says Quinn, who works with students and families during the college application process. “They want to have a very large pool to choose from--so that, for instance, if they don’t have a student from South Dakota, they can pull one from South Dakota. If they don’t have a student who plays the oboe, they can pick an oboe player, and on and on,” she says. When schools keep their admission rates low,...


Episode 160: The Best Advice About Choosing a College

Well, most of you have made a decision about what college your kid is going to by now. You all have sifted through the acceptances (hopefully, there was more than one), weighing all manner of things while making the decision. However, I know there are still a few of you out there who have not quite decided yet. I know because I talked to a mother just a few days ago who was in the throes of helping her daughter make her decision. Our meeting was quite accidental; she was the physician’s assistant in the surgeon’s office where my daughter and I were contemplating my daughter’s emergency knee surgery. As soon as the physician’s assistant found out what I did, after I had volunteered some unsolicited advice, she engaged me in a longer discussion of her daughter’s options. I was happy for the distraction. 1. Here We Go Again Her daughter had an array of options: several okay acceptances, but not from truly selective colleges; an acceptance from Fordham University; and wait list spots at Wake Forest University and Colgate University. The mother, I’ll call her Leeann, had planned to keep one of the okay colleges on the list, as her daughter pursued the wait list possibilities. Leeann said that she and her daughter had not visited Fordham (although they live right here) because her daughter had hoped to go away to college and try something different from New York City. Guess what I said? It’s the advice we always give (and this is the third episode this month that we have given it in, so maybe we think it is really important): Send your kid to the best college he or she got admitted to. Period. Wherever that college is and whatever it costs (to the degree that it is humanly possible). That’s the college to choose. The okay college that Leeann was keeping on her daughter’s list is not nearly as good as Fordham. Yes, it is a college that, for some reason I cannot quite explain, has become popular here in the East, though it is in the South. It is out of town, which was her daughter’s preference, and Leeann was worried that her daughter would come home every weekend if she stayed in New York City for college. My daughter, who, as you loyal listeners know, went to Fordham for the joint dance program with The Ailey School of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, assured Leeann that her daughter would not be coming home every weekend because there was plenty of fun and engaging stuff to do on campus. My daughter assured Leeann that she had had plenty of friends in Fordham’s Gabelli School of Business (where Leeann’s daughter would be heading) and that they had not gone home on the weekends. We continued to chat about the two wait list options--both very good options and both very unlike Fordham in location and size. And both head and shoulders above that other only-okay option that Leeann had been keeping on the table. When we left the surgeon’s office, Leeann had taken the only-okay college off the list and was headed home to talk to her daughter about taking a look at Fordham’s campus (which is quite lovely and self-contained, by the way, even if it is in the middle of the Bronx). I can’t wait to hear the results. It continues to puzzle me that so many parents do not seem to put the academic caliber of the college as the number one criterion for choosing among several colleges in the final analysis. Perhaps it is because parents do not know how to judge the academic caliber of a college or how to compare colleges on that all-important criterion. So, parents, do whatever it takes to figure out which of the colleges your kid got into is the “best” college. And, by “best,” I mean best academically, according to its national reputation or, as a second choice, its regional reputation. 2. Some Support for Our Position While I don’t feel any real need for support for our position (other than the decades of life experience in the world of higher education we already have), I am always glad to get some. The support I want to share with...


Episode 159: Going to College in California?

This is the third episode in our series, Decision Time Again, because, of course, it is actually decision time for lots of parents and kids out there. Although USACollegeChat is headquartered on the East Coast, we have some loyal listeners in California, and California colleges, including its public universities, are increasingly popular among students back here in the East. So, with that in mind, we have today’s episode. It is designed to make some of you feel better if your senior applied to a California college or two and did not get in. It is also designed to help those of you just starting on the application process with your juniors in case you want to consider California public universities--or not. 1. The California System Although we have described California’s elaborate system of public higher education in many previous episodes and in our books, let me do it quickly one more time now. California’s public higher education system has three tiers: the University of California (abbreviated as UC), the California State University (abbreviated as CSU), and the California Community Colleges. The most prestigious tier is the UC system, which has nine campuses (plus UC San Francisco, which offers only graduate and professional programs): UC Berkeley, UC Davis, UC Irvine, UCLA, UC Merced, UC Riverside, UC San Diego, UC Santa Barbara, and UC Santa Cruz. We have spoken many times about UC Berkeley, clearly one of our nation’s finest colleges, public or private, with its long history of excellence. We have also spoken many times about UCLA, which has risen in prestige in the past 50 years, is increasingly popular nationwide, and, some say, is now as difficult to get into as UC Berkeley. The other seven campuses are less famous outside of California, but that does not mean that they aren’t excellent schools in their own right. The middle tier is the CSU system, which has 23 campuses, spread from Humboldt in the north to San Diego in the south. Many of these colleges are not well known to those of us who are not from California, but that does not mean that they aren’t good schools. The third tier is the California Community Colleges system, which comprises 114 colleges, with over 2 million students. Understandably, these two-year institutions are attended mostly by California residents who live near the campus they are attending. Now, a note to California: It is especially confusing to those of us who do not live in your state to wrap our heads around the fact that, for example, there is a UC San Diego; a CSU at San Diego, known as San Diego State University; and a University of San Diego, which is a private Catholic university. So, those of you non-Californians interested in a California university, pay attention to what you are looking at. 2. College Acceptances in California That was a long introduction to the point of this episode, which is the runaway application numbers and crazy difficulty of getting into schools in the UC system, the top-tier system and the one that most out-of-staters are most interested in. I came across an article recently in Inside Higher Ed, written by Scott Jaschik, with this sad headline: “Wait-Listed, Rejected and Frustrated in California.” Here is the opening to Mr. Jaschik’s article, which, though anecdotal, is quite revealing, even for those of us who are not Californians: [A] counselor said that he is seeing students either wait-listed or rejected from UC Davis or UC Santa Barbara--students with “straight A’s and maybe one or two B’s” and SAT scores above 1400 or near-perfect ACT scores. He has seen even stronger students--among the top of his school’s graduating class--getting rejected from UC San Diego. “Our San Diego decisions look like Berkeley and UCLA decisions from years past,” he said. “Students we told that ‘this was a likely school’ aren’t getting in.” Parents--many of whom rely on out-of-date senses of colleges’ competitiveness--are particularly shocked. “We are...


Episode 158: Does the College Matter?

This is the second episode in our new series, Decision Time Again. It’s “again” for us because, as we said last week, we always do some episodes about college decision making in April, for obvious reasons. 1. Isn’t This Counterintuitive? Every year at this time, pundits and educators write articles and op-ed pieces about how it doesn’t matter if your kid didn’t get into an Ivy League school, how admissions at top schools is an insane process that turns down thousands of perfectly qualified students, and how, in the end, he or she will still turn out fine. Of course, that is basically true, and everyone knows it. For a great take on this issue, go back and listen to Episode 121 from last year, which quotes extensively from an article by writer Michael Winerip, entitled “Young, Gifted, and Not Getting Into Harvard,” published in The New York Times on April 29, 2007! It could have been written yesterday and is probably more true today than it was when it was written 11 years ago. But does the choice of which college to send your kid to really matter as little as some people say? Because although your kid might not have a choice of one of the top 20 colleges in the U.S., that leaves a lot of other ones--thousands, to be exact. Are they virtually interchangeable? Is one just as good as another so why spend more? The advice we always give--and the advice we gave again to one parent last week in Episode 157—is simply this: Send your kid to the best college he or she got admitted to, even if it costs a little more or is farther away than you had wanted or is not what you had imagined for your kid. But that advice is clearly not everyone’s view, so let’s look at the other side. 2. It Doesn’t Matter Where They Go to College? “TIME Ideas hosts the world’s leading voices, providing commentary on events in news, society, and culture,” according to its own website. Well, one of those leading voices is evidently William Stixrud, co-author of The Self-Driven Child: The Science and Sense of Giving Your Kids More Control Over Their Lives, with Ned Johnson. The title of his piece in TIME Ideas is “It’s Time To Tell Your Kids It Doesn’t Matter Where They Go To College.” Well, that is a bold statement--bolder than most. Let’s take a look at what he wrote early in that article: . . . [W]hy don’t we tell our kids the truth about success? We could start with the fact that only a third of adults hold degrees from four-year colleges. Or that you’ll do equally well in terms of income, job satisfaction and life satisfaction whether you go to an elite private college or a less-selective state university. Or that there are many occupations through which Americans make a living, many of which do not require a college degree. I am not against being a good student, and there are clear advantages to doing well in school. But you don’t need to be a top student or go to a highly selective college to have a successful and fulfilling life. The path to success is not nearly so narrow as we think. We’ve all heard the stories of the college dropout who went on to found a wildly successful company. (quoted from the article) Well, all of this is true. Yes, there are many roads to success. Yes, many different colleges can get you there, if you need college at all. And yet, does that really mean most parents can or will take the position that it doesn’t matter where their kids go to college? I don’t think so, and I don’t think they should. Because while there are many roads to success and while many colleges or no college at all can get you there, most people also believe that a great college--or a great college match--for a kid can only be a plus as that kid heads into his or her future. I don’t know many parents--if any at all—who would try to convince their own kids to turn down college and suggest that their kids try to make it on their own instead, even if Mr. Gates and Mr. Zuckerberg managed to do it. So, let’s see what else Mr. Stixrud has to say: I’ve...