Private Colleges in Distress

Despite the rise in applications to many of the country’s most highly selective colleges and universities, a significant number of small, mostly regional, private liberal arts colleges are suffering and the future is daunting.  Inside Higher Ed recently reported the following:


“Some private colleges that managed to weather the recession are finding new troubles.


So they are announcing layoffs, cutting programs and more. Almost all of these small to mid-sized privates are tuition-dependent and lack large endowments. National declines in the number of traditional college-age population mean students just aren't showing up to privates, which are facing competition from public colleges that are more stable now than a few years ago and the reality that privates cannot afford to indefinitely lure students by cutting prices with generous financial aid packages. And this could become a huge problem.

College presidents, private college trade groups and higher ed consultants blame a confluence of long- and short-term trends for battering some private colleges, particularly the small to mid-sized privates that depend on tuition dollars because they don't have significant endowments.


It’s hard to tell if there is an existential threat brewing that could close a significant number of colleges, as some pundits have grandly predicted. But a sampling of the cuts — primarily driven by falling enrollment — suggests serious challenges for many institutions.


The outside causes of recent troubles are numerous: a decline in high school graduates, worries about loan debt, students looking at college programs that would seem to ensure a job after college, new technology, competition from for-profit colleges, a decline in the amount of government aid, the recent economic downturn, the bond market and, because of some rebounds in the economy, a loss of graduate students coming back to college to get new skills.


Private colleges have their own unique challenges, too: small endowments mean they depend on enrollment to bring in tuition dollars, they have smaller class sizes so can’t subsidize operations with large lectures, they traditionally have mostly tenured faculty, they are often in rural areas with shrinking populations and they are perceived as being unaffordable.”





Most Generous Colleges

When searching for colleges that offer the most in financial aid, we know to jump first to the most highly selective, which reject the vast majority of their applicants. But it is heartening to learn that there are others that provide excellent aid and accept the majority of their applicants. Lynn O’Shaughnessy of The College Solution has done the research. The following colleges offer to meet 100% of demonstrated need, with those in bold type offering 94%.

. Amherst College (MA)
. Barnard College (NY)
. Bates College (ME)
. Boston College (MA)
. Brown University (RI)
. Bryn Mawr College (PA)
. Bowdoin College (ME)
. Bucknell University (PA)
. California Institute of Technology
. Carleton College (MN)
. Claremont McKenna College (CA)
. Clark University (MA)
. Colby College (ME)
. Colgate University (NY)
. College of the Holy Cross (MA)
. College of Wooster (OH)
. Colorado College (CO)
. Columbia University (NY)
. Connecticut College (CT)
. Cornell University (NY)
. Davidson College (NC)
. Denison University (OH)
. Dickinson College (PA)
. Duke University (NC)
. Dartmouth College (NH)
. Emory University (GA)
. Franklin and Marshall College (PA)
. Franklin W. Olin College
. Georgetown University (DC)
. Gettysburg College (PA)
. Grinnell College (IA)
. Hamilton College (NY)
. Harvey Mudd College (CA)
. Haverford College (PA)
. Harvard University (MA)
. Johns Hopkins University (MD)
. Kenyon College (OH)
. Lafayette College (PA)
. Lehigh University (PA)
. Macalester College (MN)
. Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MA)
. Middlebury College (VT)
. Mount Holyoke College (MA)
. Northwestern University (IL)
. Oberlin College (OH)
. Occidental College (CA)
. Pitzer College (CA)
. Pomona College (CA)
. Princeton University (NJ)
. Reed College (OR)
. Rice University (TX)
. Saint John’s College (NM)
. Saint Olaf College (MN)
. Scripps College (CA)
. Sewanee: The University of the South (TN)
. Smith College (MA)
. Stanford University (CA)
. Swarthmore College (NY)
. Thomas Aquinas College (CA)
. Trinity College (CT)
. Tufts University (MA)
. Tulane University (LA)
. Union College (NY)
. University of Chicago (IL)
. University of Notre Dame (IN)
. University of Pennsylvania (PA)
. University of Richmond (VA)
. University of Rochester (NY)
. University of Southern California
. Vanderbilt University (TN)
. Vassar College (NY)
. Wabash College (IN)
. Wake Forest University (NC)
. Washington and Lee University (VA)
. Washington University, St. Louis, (MO)
. Wellesley College (MA)
. Wesleyan University (MA)
. Williams College (MA)
. Wheaton College (MA)
. Yale University (CT)


Early Admission Results

We’re fast approaching the final days of colleges handing out their decisions for Early Decision, Early Action and Restrictive Early Action applications.  Some students and their parents are excitedly celebrating an acceptance, while others are confronting the sadness – and sometimes disbelief – that comes with the denial decision.  Still others find themselves in an uncomfortable limbo, having been deferred to the regular decision round.  For those who find themselves in these latter categories, it can be daunting to digest the news, put it into perspective, pick up and proceed to complete the college admissions process and wait until spring to receive even more decisions.


But this is what must happen.


For most students, choosing a college is the first truly independent decision they make.  They work hard in school for many years, prepare for and take strenuous tests, participate in multiple extracurricular activities, write multiple drafts of essays, and then spend countless hours completing and submitting applications.  When they are thoughtful, students apply to a mix of colleges that will fit their academic and social needs.  They choose the colleges to which to apply, but they do not choose where they are ultimately granted admission.  That is the sole prerogative of the colleges and it can sometimes seem quite mysterious.


Though college admission is not necessarily a mystery, it is complex.  A student can easily research the academic standards of a particular college (median GPA and ACT/SAT scores) to see if they fall within admissible standards.  But after that, things become much less clear.  There is something called “institutional priorities”, which means the particular goals a college has for shaping its entering class, and those priorities are not shared with the public.  They can include things like needing a particular symphonic instrument for orchestra, or a second base player, more students from the Prairie States, and frequently underrepresented students.


It is important to remember – critical really – that there is never just one perfect school for any student.  There are many schools that will turn out to be “perfect” in terms of offering that student an exciting, challenging and fulfilling four years of college.  Helping students remember this fact is the job of parents, counselors and teachers who assist them during this process.


Students will remember the colleges that accepted them and those that didn’t.  What matters, though, is how they respond to the decisions they receive.  That is truly an independent, adult action.






Early Applications and the Common Application

Though there were many glitches associated with the introduction of the new Common Application this year and much confusion and consternation as a result – including many colleges adding the Universal Application to its accepted application – there seems to have been little impact upon the numbers of early applications submitted to selective colleges.  Students persisted in getting their Early Decision, Early Action and Restrictive Early Action applications in on time, and the results have been impressive gains for many colleges:

Brown University:  up 2%

Columbia University:  up 5.4%

Dartmouth College:  up 6.7%

Duke University:  up 26%

Georgia Tech:  up 37% (note:  Georgia Tech is a first-time user of the CA)

Kenyon College:  up 17%

Northwestern University:  up 14%

Princeton University:  essentially the same as last year

Reed College:  up 43%

Swarthmore College:  up 8%

University of Pennsylvania:  up 6.6%

University of Virginia:  up slightly from last year

Yale University:  up 5.6%

Stanford University:  up 14%

For reasons yet to be determined, a few highly selective colleges saw a decrease in early application submissions:

Williams College:  down 12%

Middlebury College:  down a little from last year

Bowdoin College:  down a little from last year

Harvard University:  down 6%


April Advice For Juniors

Stay focused on academics

Nothing is more important than doing your very best academically through the end of your junior year.  The single most important factor that colleges across the country weigh when assessing your application credentials is your grade point average.  They all want to see your academic performance at the very least remaining stable, ideally showing an upward trend.  Even though you are probably looking longingly to the end of the semester, now is the time to marshal all your energy and sprint to the end!

College list

Your College List should be firming up by now, including a balanced group of the so-called “reach”, “match” and “safety” schools, all of which you would be happy to attend.  Basic search tools such as CollegeBoard.org and Naviance allow you to put in characteristics you want in colleges and create and initial list.  When you do research, be sure to consult a variety of resources.  Visiting the colleges’ own websites is a must.  This is the place to get the facts about academic programs, student activities and student services, and application requirements.  Familiarize yourself with the specific application requirements, because this is “official” information.  Guidebooks and websites like The Fiske Guide to Colleges, The Insider’s Guide to the Colleges, and UNIGO.com provide additional perspective.


Consider the results of any ACT or SAT tests you have taken and review them in light of the requirements of the colleges to which you want you to apply.  If your scores are not yet where you want them to be, consider tutoring.  Depending on your application deadlines you can take additional tests all the way through December of your senior year.  Additionally, if you are completing AP courses, now is the optimal time to sign up for SAT Subject Tests in May or June.  You will never be as well prepared as you will be after taking your AP exams.


Develop a College Résumé, which will be used to organize all of your out-of-classroom activities for your applications, to leave with Admissions interviewers, and to help your teacher and counselor recommenders to know you better.

Teacher Recommendations

Most, but not all colleges will require that you submit one or two teacher recommendations with your application.  It is strongly advised that they come from junior year teachers in solid academic subjects.  Please consider who could write the strongest academic recommendation and then ask that teacher(s) before the school year is over.  This at least alerts them that you’d like them to plan to do this for you (during the summer or in the fall) and will give you a chance to see if they readily agree.

College Visits

Many families like to visit colleges during summer vacation.  Though the experience can be very different in the summer when students are not on campus, particularly for smaller schools, it is still worthwhile actually to see the school, meet admissions officers and some faculty members, and to get a feel for the campus and the surrounding environment.  This is a time, also, to make some “virtual” visits either by utilizing many college websites’ “360 degree virtual tours” or by going to the following websites:  campustours.com, ecampustours.com, YOUniversity.com.

Summer Plans

Use your summer productively.  Colleges want to know how you’re using your weeks away from school, whether it be working, traveling, volunteering, doing research or anything that engages you and broadens your perspectives.  It’s a very good idea also to work on your college essays and applications so that when you return for that all-important senior year, you have the majority of your application work complete.  It’s a big responsibility and you’ll feel greatly relieved in September to have most of the work behind you.



April Advice For Seniors

This is the month you’ve been waiting for, working for over the past three years of high school, and now it’s time to make your choice. Here are some things to think about:

Weigh your options

After all the time and effort that have gone into your applications, now you need to consider carefully and thoughtfully your options for college and which is the right choice for you.  Though some of you are clear about your first choice, many have to weigh the benefits of several colleges before making a final selection.  Attending “Admitted Students Day” programs is an excellent way to help your decision-making, and it’s still not too late to visit your top colleges.  Seeing a college through the eyes of an “admitted student” gives you an entirely different perspective than that first visit when you were worried about being admitted.

Take a close look at the financial letter

Not sure how to read your financial award letter?  Call the financial aid office at each college and ask a few questions.  The goal is to determine just how much you are being offered in grants and loans, and how much more you will have to cover as a family – not just for next year, but for the next four years.

Make a choice by May 1

Make sure you accept one – and only one – college by the May 1 national deadline.  If you are waitlisted at your top choice and have chosen to pursue that option, you must still accept another college and pay the deposit fee to insure a space in the class.  The same thing applies if you are considering a Gap Year.  You must first confirm your place at a college, and then later ask for a deferment to pursue a Gap Year.  It’s always a good idea to submit your acceptance a few days before May 1, just in case the Internet doesn’t cooperate during the final hours when millions of high school seniors are logging on at the same time!

Share your decision

If you haven’t already done so, now is the time to share your decisions with all of those nice people who wrote recommendation letters for you – your teachers and your counselor.  They care about you and they put a lot of time and effort into advocating for you.  Talk to them in person and send them an actual “thank you” note.  They will appreciate it.

Stay focused

Senioritis is real.  Do your best to fight it.  There is a lot to gain from ending the year with good grades, as you’ll be well prepared for final exams and AP tests, too.  Remember that colleges have the right to pull their admission letter, and they do this when warranted.  Use your best judgment at all times!

Be optimistic, not disappointed

If you have received rejection letters, even though they are tough, don’t take them personally.  Admissions offices have to make difficult decisions, knowing all the time that very accomplished, worthy, likable students will not get in.  Focus on your next steps and don’t look back.  Enjoy exploring the colleges that accepted you.  They are lucky to have you!