This is the month when high school seniors must decide where they will attend college.
It’s not surprising then that I’ve been getting emails from families agonizing about their choices. Here is one of those notes from a mom named Carmen:
I would appreciate your professional advice in the following matter: My son has narrowed down his choice to two schools; SUNY Geneseo and SUNY Binghamton, (he was accepted into Binghamton’s School of Management). Both academically are good schools. Geneseo is a lovely school, great size & strong academic values but unfortunately does not have the recognition that Binghamton has.
Binghamton recently has had a little more recognition in the news sadly to say regarding their basketball scandal. I guess my question is, in your opinion does one school stand out academically over the other (my son will be a finance major) and should I be concerned about Binghamton’s scandal permanently damaging its academic mission?
Your expertise in this matter would be greatly appreciated.
Where Should This Teenager Go to College?
I don’t know which of these schools in New York state would be best for her son, but I will offer a few observations. I also would love to hear what you would advise this mom about her son’s choices.
Here are my thoughts:
1. I wouldn’t give a hoot about Binghamton disasterous experience with Division I basketball. I can’t imagine an employer not hiring a finance major because of the escapades of some basketball players.
2. I also wouldn’t get hung up on which school has the better reputation. Both are well regarded schools in the SUNY system. US News & World Reports’ college rankings are horribly flawed. Here is one of the posts that I’ve written about rankings
How College Rankings Can Hurt You
3. When evaluating schools, I’d recommend focusing on their missions not their reputations. Binghamton is a doctoral research university while Geneseo is a public liberal arts college. Binghamton has nearly 1,600 graduate students while Geneseo has just 56.
As a mom and a higher-ed journalist, I happen to believe that institutions that are not devoted to graduate education (colleges) are preferable for undergrads. The professors at colleges are more inclined to focus on the education of the undergrads. And, as a practical matter, when grad students attend a university, they are more likely to be the ones teaching the undergrads. In this setting, the professors get to devote most of their time to their own research.
I wrote a blog post last year that focuses on the different types of higher-ed institutions and their missions. I’d urge you to read it:
What is the Difference Between a College and a University?
What Matters More
4. No school is going to automatically boost a student’s chances at success in a career or in life. You have to work at it. A motivated student can succeed anywhere. My own daughter illustrated this quite nicely:
5 Secrets to Getting a Job After College
A friend of mine recently asked for my opinion about how her son could decide between four schools — three on the West Coast and one in Texas – still left on his list. This week I’ll share the stepsthat I suggested they take to narrow down the list.
What Do You Think?
In the meantime, if you want to weigh in on where the New York teenager should attend school, please share your thoughts in the comment box below.
I just learned late last week that the second edition of The College Solution is going to be released nearly three weeks earlier than scheduled. The release date is now May 6. If you like my blog, you should love the book
You asked for reader opinions – careful what you wish for, LOL!
Please feel free to edit. I’m not a writer. This is too long for you, I’m sure. These suggestions are in addition to those mentioned by your other readers.
In addition to CollegeProwler and Unigo, I heartily recommend CollegeConfidential. Yes, it is slanted towards the elite schools. But there is plenty of discussions about all the lower schools, colleges AND universities, as well as Financial Aid, test prep, and a whole forum just for us ‘involved parents’. With 1,800 institutions in the US, even this forum can’t address them all – if a school isnt’ listed, I’m sure someone would help regardless. People are very friendly and helpful with advice. If you can’t get into one school, someone will be happy to recommend another.
I recommend a student do a sleepover at as many schools as can be fit in, even before admissions arrive at the end of March. With so many schools offering Early Action, a student who is accepted by December can schedule a February President’s weekend visit. My son applied to both Claremont McKenna and Pomona Colleges, and arranged a back to back sleep-over since both schools share a campus as a consortium. After his CMC night, he was handed over to the Pomona hosts. Within two hours he knew he was not a Pomona kid, and so we were relieved when he did not get the ‘thick envelope’ – one less agonizing decision. By the time he did his fifth sleepover at the college he selected – he was a savvy judge of campuses, and he knew it was the right place for him and so far he is doing well.
I also recommend a student meet with kids outside the official channels. For example, I arranged for my other son, a Comp Sci hopeful, to meet with an Engineering Frat student. My thoughts were that many frats can be something other than party machines: I told him to think of them as an academic and networking support group which can extend beyond the school’s alumni circle after they graduate. Sure enough, although this fraternity does its share of partying, they also keep tabs on each other and make sure everyone gets through the academic rough spots together. They also organize charitable events, affording the members valuable organizing skills. The Frat student took off the rose colored glasses (a live College Prowler report) that are put on during the standard info session/tour and shared some cautions about the school and his academic department. My son asked if this student would pick this school again, and in spite of its flaws, said he would.
Next: the key question I have learned to ask is not ‘are you happy at this school?’ A nerd asking a jock at a jock school isn’t likely to get a good answer for him/her. Rather, I ask ‘what type of student would be happy here, and what type of student should look elsewhere?’
Lastly, I look at the common data set for the spread of majors and numbers of students enrolled/graduated. I think a school that has an even spread of academic areas is more desirable than a school that focuses too much in fewer areas. A student who is absolutely sure that he/she wants to major in STEM, goes to a STEM heavy school, and then wants to switch to communications may find that the department is too small to support sufficient faculty and classes, as well as career support later down the line.
Students concentrate on getting INTO a particular school; now it’s time to investigate what it takes to GRADUATE from the school. I would advise the student to compare the general graduation requirements for each school as well as the requirements for his presumed major. In terms of graduation requirements, further foreign language, writing courses, and/or math/science study would be a deal breaker for some students.
I forgot to mention the school’s treatment of AP classes – what score is needed and does the school award credit or placement?
Thanks Paula for your suggestions. I think investigating graduation requirements is important.
I was just talking to a friend the other day about the schools that her son is debating whether to attend. One of the schools is Willamette University that has a tough language requirement. That was one reason why my own son ultimately decided not to attend that school. I don’t know if the requirement is still in place, but a couple of years ago I believe students, who didn’t test out of the language requirement, had to take four language classes!
Lynn, my son is a senior at Willamette and he had to take 2 years of a language. And the requirement is still in effect (it may also be met by AP score, IB score, or department exam).
With the a typical course load of 4 classes per semester at many private colleges, 4 semesters of a foreign language represents 1/8 of all your collegiate classes. Students would be well advised to know what they are getting in to.
Thanks Paula for letting me know that Willamette’s (over-the-top) language requirement is still in effect. I bet they lose students over that one!
My son, a junior in high school, has no idea at this point what his college major will be and he very well may not know next year at this time either. I think it’s important to keep in mind that her son might decide to change to a different major at some point.
Very good point Julie. Many teenagers have no idea what their major will be and why should they know when they are just 17 or 18 years old? Many students will end up switching their majors just as I did (history to journalism). Unfortunately too many parents get stressed out if their child hasn’t picked out a major.
Are either of the two schools more attractive socially? What things about each school over and above academics interest your child? Which offers opportunities to make new friends and contacts while sharing similar interests? College life is very important as students grow and mature.
Great points Susan. If students don’t feel comfortable socially, they are less likely to fare well in the classroom. Thanks so much for sharing.